Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fashionably Victorian -- Part 1

I'm taking a sanity break between homework and studying today ... blogging sounds like too much fun, by comparison:

During some of my fashion design studying today on historical costumes, I ran across an editorial in the October 1980 Vogue. The editors summed up a few of the under-documented elements of the relationships of fashionable ladies of the Victorian years with their seamstresses and couturiers. Ironically, the Old World societies which were typically derived from the European aristocracy were still trembling from the 18thC beheadings and revolutions over flour-powdered wigs and skirt-hoops too wide to fit through doorways. This top level of society actually made a practice in public (and especially when traveling) of wearing their oldest and even threadbare clothes – but in the finest cuts and fabrics – which the untrained eye wouldn’t associate with aristocratic roots yet aptly identified them to their own ilk. Accordingly, the top levels society were notorious for such subtlety and this practice was typical of the notable Boston Brahmins. Old world society attempted not to incite reactions to their attire -- partly fear of reprisal, partly confidence in their social standing.

Onto conspicuous consumption...

The House of Worth set the groundwork for a change in societal opinions about tailors and seamstresses which up to this point in Western history were not considered part of proper society, even if they were proper in all their respects. Worth attracted societal matrons and youthful royalty such as the Empress Eugenie to his shockingly sumptuous salons and made them at home with leisurely fittings that required endless hours out of a day. Such organized in-house social hours were societal events in and of themselves and featured lavish entertainment which allowed for moments away from public censure with discreetly served (scandalous) fine wines, etc. The society women would vie for prestige while visiting with each other and being coddled in the couturier salons. The whole process was a bit of a game and much gossip was mongered. Haute couture came into being.

Onto international scapes:

Women of means on the American continent or even from Africa and the Colonies would travel to the Continent for fittings regularly, and then await their new gowns with over eagerness. An American woman could, for once, be dressed in a similar manner to royalty. Until this time, the term ‘designer’ wasn’t in usage, and there was no social prestige to the job as there is today. Worth’s magical touches as a "couturier" propelled him to greatness and to near-Sainthood in the eyes of his Society patronage. Subsequently, his price tags skyrocketed.

As demand for expressions of growing wealth from American ventures peaked, other designers began emulating Worth in his business approach and women could “pretend” to have *gasp* obtained their gowns from his salon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

---women could “pretend” to have *gasp* obtained their gowns from his salon.---

The things you never knew about fashion. This was great,
Kristin-Marie. I can't wait for the next part.