Log in

16 November 2008 @ 03:52 pm
Victorian/Edwardian Dress Reform  
A recent post on 'Celtic steampunk' brought to mind Rational dress, some of my favorite styles from the Victorian/Edwardian era: Aesthetic/Artistic styles, bloomers and bicycling costumes, and the pre-Raphaelite gowns made famous by the lush and beautiful paintings of that alliance of artists. I've toyed with the idea of making such a costume, either in a classical style, such as the gowns worn by Mucha's girls, or in a 15th century 'kirtle' style. One challenge of costuming as such is how to appear as a Victorian/Edwardian 'rational dresser' rather than as if I'm on my way to a toga party or Renaissance Faire. I've been researching gowns and in the spirit of squirrelmadness ' pictorial posts, here are some images and links you might enjoy. Hopefully you'll be inclined to share your own Rational Dress images and links and feel free to correct any misinformation contained herein.

Oscar Wilde was probably the most famous advocate of dress reform. He was an anti-corseter, and advocotate of flowing gowns, Turkish trousers, and low heels or clogs for ladies, loose coats, cloaks, soft boots, and wide-brimmed hats for gents. Wilde did not consider this form of dress to be a costume, though he often alluded to classical, High Middle Ages, and Restoration-era clothing. It was rational dress, comfortable and beautiful, and somewhat utilitarian/Arts & Crafts in its philosophy. In this well-known photo, he looks very dashing and romantic in his wide-brimmed hat, long cloak, and soft velvet jacket.

"This I quite admit, and its significance; but what I contend, and what I am sure Mr. Godwin would agree with me in, is that the principles, the laws of Greek dress may be perfectly realized, even in a moderately tight gown with sleeves: I mean the principle of suspending all apparel from the shoulders, and of relying for beauty of effect not on the stiff ready-made ornaments of the modern milliner - the bows where there should be no bows, and the flounces where there should be no flounces - but on the exquisite play of light and line that one gets from rich and rippling folds." - Oscar Wilde on Aesthetic Dress

Another photo of Wilde lolling on an exotic array of furs and Oriental carpets, clad in knee breeches, patent-leather pumps, and a smoking jacket with quilted lapels.

Jane Morris nee Burden, wife of artist William Morris and pre-Raphaelite muse, in an artistic gown. The Morrisses expressed unconventional ideas - nudism, vegetarianism, and open marriage - and were central to the pre-Raphaelite/Arts & Crafts movement. As a side note, Morris wallpaper is so highly valued that if you are lucky enough to purchase a home papered with it, you may need to sign a contract agreeing not to remove it because of its historical significance.

Photos of ladies in bloomers, Turkish trousers, and bicycling costumes are not uncommon, but I took a shine to this cabinet card of two young ladies in dress-up imitation of young boys. This is from a truly marvelous Flickr album called Lovely Ladies - Early Days which is a helpful resource for costumers. Victorians loved costumes and amateur theatrics, and many photography studios offered an array of clothing and backdrops. Cross-dressing either as a lark or as a marker of homosexuality was not uncommon, but it's difficult to put 19th century romantic friendships into a modern context, whereas the concept of homosexuality is more of a 20th century idea. Regardless, these two ladies look adorable in their juvenile masculine attire.

The caption says "Taken by The Fancy Dress Studio, 37 Oxford Street, London."

Finally, here are some ready-made interpretations of the pre-Raphaelite gown from The Victorian Trading Company. They are my favorite neo-Victorian merchants. Most of their fancy-dress gowns are by Jessica McClintock. They are a bit pricey for someone of limited financial means, but relatively speaking, if you need a red-carpet calibre gown, their prices are not unreasonable, ranging from $100 - $1000 or so.

Old pre-Raphaelite Dress sold by Victorian Trading Company (on the verge of being discontinued), $89.95. This is not unlike gowns you can purchase from RenFaire vendors or even sew yourself, as the pattern is not complicated.

The gown that replaced the above in their most current catalog, $169.95. I don't entirely agree with their description of this in the print catalog as a 'pre-Raphaelite gown,' but it is lovely nonetheless.
Current Location: sitting at my steamer trunk
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Anne Stewart: mucha - nature girltsukara on November 16th, 2008 09:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, this pleases me greatly! Always good to see more of reform and Aesthetic dress. These were the alternative fashionistas of their time, after all!
mllevioletmlleviolet on November 16th, 2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I agree, they were not dissimilar from modern-day steampunks and any seamstress or tailor would agree with Wilde's recommendation to let the beauty of the fabric rather than the froufrou be the focus of the ensemble. Although sometimes I like froufrou, I'm not a big fan of wearing corsets and high-heels. They look divine, but I'm more of an adventuress than a lady, and I always like to dress in a way that would not preclude self-defense/running-like-hell if such extreme measures should be required. Your avatar is so apropos, btw :)
Anne Stewart: Me all bad-ass and steam-punk'd outtsukara on November 16th, 2008 11:04 pm (UTC)
Exactly, thouh I am quite fond of my corset and my boots with just enough thick heel. I've managed to climb trees in a corset (it's...a long story), but I'd much rather do it in something much more comfortable. In addition, I sing a fair bit (filker), and while it's possible it's just not fun or as good. Alas.

Yes, I'm a big fan of the PRB, Mucha, Art Nouveau, etc. (I was the girl with te PRB-inspired outfit a bit back.)
lookfarlookfar on November 17th, 2008 02:20 am (UTC)
Lovely pictures, thanks. I love your description of Jane Morris, and I now plan to have calling/business cards made up, saying

Lookfar Mantis
Pre-Raphaelite Muse

At home Tuesdays
mllevioletmlleviolet on November 17th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! Jane Morris was a beauty and a fascinating self-made woman.

You might enjoy Victorian Trading Company's calling cards, they have the most exquisite stationery. I'm too cheap so I get those freebie $5 shipping ones for my freelance business.