And For Something Different…

Just for something different, here is a picture of myself from last weekend at a First World War living history event. I am in a German infantry uniform, circa 1915-18 consisting of the 1915 pattern Bluse and 1907 pattern infantry trousers. I am wearing a Feldmütz bearing the national cockade of Imperial Germany on top and the state cockade for the Kingdom of Prussia (the German Empire at this time was essentially a federation of states with Prussian having the dominant role).


Compared to the fashionable garments I normally work with, this is as utilitarian and ugly as it gets and it amply shows the contrast between the decorative and the functional and mirrors the profound changes that occurred as a result of the First World War.

But not too worry, I am back to my usual. 🙂


Nadezhda Lamanova- Between Two Worlds, Part 1

As with many of our posts, the subject of this one started with one topic but ended with a completely different topic. Initially, we came across some pictures of a ballgown that had been designed in the early 1900s for the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, consort of the Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. Then, we noted that the designer was a one Nadezhda Lamanova. What was interesting here was that it was both a designer that was unknown to us and even more striking was that she was female. While almost all of the labor force making Haute Couture dresses were female, it was rare that the designer was female, at least before the 1920s.

Who was Nadezhda Lamanova? Unfortunately, there is not a lot in English about her but here’s what we did find out: Lamanova was born on December 14, 1861 in Nizhni Novgorod, Russia and died in Moscow on October 15, 1941 at the age of 79. Due to her parents’ death at an early age, in 1877 she underwent training as a seamstress at the Moscow School of Sewing. Two years later, she went to work for a fashion house. In 1885, she opened her own dressmaking shop in Moscow and successfully built up her business;  until it had become the most popular dressmaking establishment in Moscow. At some point (the translation is unclear), she traveled to Paris and met up with Paul Poiret-  hopefully we can find out more about this in the future. Eventually, her work came to the attention to the Imperial Court and she was designated as “Supplier of the Court of Her Imperial Majesty” with her designs being worn by the ladies of the Court and the Empress herself.  Finally,  starting around 1901, Lamanova also designed costumes for theatrical productions.


Early portrait of Nadezhda Lamanova, date unknown.


Nadezhda Lamanova, portrait by Valentin Serov, 1911.

However, it’s after the Russian Revolution where Lamanova’s career became even more interesting. Arrested in 1919 by the Bolshevik Government (having been an officially designated designer for the Imperial Court could easily have been her death warrant), she was freed by the intervention of the writer Maxim Gorky after spending about 2 1/2 months in prison. Afterwards, she focused on designing theatrical costumes (presumably rehabilitating herself in the eyes of the Bolshevik regime in the process).

The Bolshevik Revolution- Big changes were coming to Russia…

By early 1920s, Lamanova had started designing clothing aimed at the masses, drawing upon traditional Russian dress and even some of her designs were incorporated in an official graphic “how-to” booklet called “Art in Everyday Life” in the form of simple clothing patterns. Below are two samples:

During the 1920s and 1930s, Lamonova’s designs were successfully displayed in various exhibitions outside of Russian and at the same time she continued to design costumes for both the theater and film. Below are just a few examples of her work:

Outfit by Nadezhda Lamanova inspired by traditional costumes of northern peoples, 1923; modeled by the actress Alexandra Hohlova.

Actress Alexandra Hohlova modelling another dress design by Lamanova, 1924.

Lilichka Brik (seated) with her sister Elsa Triolet in folk-inspired dresses by Lamanova, 1925.

Lamanova fashions from the 1920s.

So, what dress is it that got us travelling down this unusual path? Here is is:

Ballgown, c. 1900, Nadezhda Lamanova; presumably in the collection of the Hermitage.

Close-up of Bodice

Close-Up of the Dress

This is a ballgown that was created in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, specific details (in English, at least) are scanty but based on the dress style, we are probably looking at sometime around 1900. While there is a tipped waist line, the bodice does not display the “pigeon breast” effect characteristic of the early 1900s. For materials, we have white satin with tulle and chiffon that has been decorated with sequins and embroidery. As with any of these dresses, the hours of hand-labor put into the embroidery and attaching the sequins is simply mind-numbing.

This ballgown is stunning and it epitomizes the luxury of the Russian Court. At the same time, know some about the designer, it’s amazing that  Nadezhda Lamanova was able to successfully reinvent herself at a time when anyone with an association to the Ancien Regime, no mater how remote, was suspect and oftentimes a one-way ticket to the firing squad. In the next installment, we will look at some more of Lamanova’s work prior to 1917. Stay tuned!

To Be Continued… 

What Color Is It? Some Notes In Regard To Dyestuffs And The 1911 Service Coat…

And just for something a bit different today…in an earlier post, we discussed the development of aniline dyes and their impact on clothing. Here is one major example of this although it did not involve the fashion world.

Amazing how little details impact the larger ones in the clothing world- in 1914, Germany was the world’s largest manufacturer of aniline dyes and when the war broke out, shortages developed which in turn caused difficulties here in the US even though we would not be entering the war until April 1917.

The Titanic and the “Titanic Era” in Costume History, Part 2

We continue our discussion on the “Titanic Era”, or more properly, “Fashions that were in style in 1912” with some more compare and contrast. So you think that the past post was overly concentrated on evening wear? Well, yes, guilty as charged. So, we are going to show some “practical” examples drawn from day wear. 🙂

To begin, the 20th Century opened up with styles structured around the infamous S-bend corset which was developed around 1901 (ironically enough, the S-bend corset was originally marketed by Inez Gaches-Sarraute, a corsetiere with a degree in medicine, as a “hygienic” corset intended to counter the ill-effects of previous models). While discussion of the characteristics and fit of the S-bend corset is beyond the scope of this article, it is safe to say that created a distinct silhouette that in turn influenced the style and cut of women’s clothing.

And just to refresh your memories, here are some images of the S-bend corset:

S-Bend corset

French Advertisement


Advertisement, c. 1903

Summary of corset sillouettes

Summary of corset silhouettes.

And now for some pictures of the S-bend corset in action:


Arlette Dorgère, c. 1906.

Picture 1

The above two examples are probably somewhat extreme in that they portray the “ideal” figure. The top image is of Arlette Dorgère, a French actress who posed in a number of portraits in which she is wearing dresses with S-bend corsets that seem to defy the laws of physics.

The bottom fashion plate is a bit less extreme but it still amply demonstrates the pigeon breast (aka “mono-bosom”) characteristic of the body shape created by the S-bend corset. Now we continue our story showing some examples of early Edwardian day dresses:

Day Dress, c. 1903 - 1905; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo.

Day Dress, c. 1903 – 1905; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo.

Day Dress, c. 1905, British; Crisp-looking blue and white dresses such as this were popular for boating and seaside wear. This dress was worn by Miss Heather Firbank (1888-1954), daughter of the affluent Member of Parliament Sir Thomas Firbank and sister of the novelist Ronald Firbank. Summer day dress consisting of a bodice, skirt and two belts. Flared skirt composed of four 28-inch widths of printed blue and white striped cotton pleated onto the narrow waistband. The bodice is pouched at the front and slightly bloused at the back. The circular yoke consists of tucked Broderie Anglaise frills and a pin-tucked cotton infill, and with a high-boned (using five bones) pin- tucked collar finished with a tape lace frill. Sleeves with short flared striped over sleeves which are gathered into the armholes bordered with Broderie Anglaise and frills. The inner plain white cotton sleeves are narrow, tucked and reach the elbow. The bodice is lined with white cotton, and fastened with original hooks, eyes and loops. Pearl buttons. Pleated belts with five bones and hook and eye fastenings concealed by a rosette. Machine stitched. There is evidence of minor alterations. Victoria & Albert Museum (T.21 to C-1960)

Day Dress, c. 1905, British; Crisp-looking blue and white dresses such as this were popular for boating and seaside wear. This dress was worn by Miss Heather Firbank (1888-1954), daughter of the affluent Member of Parliament Sir Thomas Firbank and sister of the novelist Ronald Firbank.  Victoria & Albert Museum (T.21 to C-1960) For more about this fascinating dress, click HERE.

Day Dress, c. 1904 - 1905, Gustave Beer; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999.135a–e)

Day Dress, c. 1904 – 1905, Gustave Beer; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999.135a–e)

The above examples are only a small sample of the wide variety of day dresses that existed and were available in a variety of fabrics and trims. The earlier day dresses tended to have a lot more lace and trim that tended to obscure the curve of the breast (or pigeon breast) but as the century progresses, the lines tend to become more clean. In terms of the influence of the S-bend corset, day dresses were a bit less extreme in their silhouette but the general line still exists.

However, at the same time, there are those who argue that the S-bend corset was by no means as extreme and uncomfortable as what the popular conception is and in fact were no worse than their predecessors. We will leave that debate for another time but you may find this article from Foundations Revealed presents some compelling arguments in this regard.

However, the reign of the S-bend corset did not last long and as early as 1905, styles began to shift towards a more upright “barrel”-shaped silhouette.  Below are a few examples:

First, some illustrations from the September 1911 edition of the Parisian fashion magazine La Mode:

1911lamodedesigns3 1911lamodemaidofhonor French Plate 1911

And let’s not forget Vogue Magazine:


Vogue Magazine cover, c. 1912

Day Dress, c. 1912; Augusta Auctions

Day Dress, c. 1912; Augusta Auctions

Day Dress, American, c. 1912 - 1915; Constructed of cotton; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.245a–c)

Look familiar? Day Dress, American, c. 1912 – 1915; Constructed of cotton; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.245a–c)

So from the above, we see the silhouette in transition away from the “pigeon breast,” returning to the straight, flowing lines characteristic of the empire line, a style last seen nearly a 100 years earlier with the Regency Era. The years from 1900 through 1912 saw an ever-accelerating process of fashion change, pushed along by designers like Paul Poiret, which was the elimination (or at least reduction) of the corset and a major fashion influence. Of course, it could also be argued that while the influence of the corset was waning, the advent of the hobble skirt seemed to make up for it. However, the hobble skirt was merely a small bump in the fashion continuum having no lasting influence. On the other hand, the gradual elimination of the corset as a major fashion influence had far more profound an effect on fashion.

Garments, and their attendant underpinnings, were becoming less restrictive to the point where outerwear was no longer got its structure and form from the corset but rather relying more on the cut and drape of the garments themselves. The end result was the nearly seemingly formless fashions of the 1920s (although it must be noted that foundation garments were still employed but in a more muted manner).

I will stop with this survey here in 1912 and while one can easily point out many exceptions to the above, it is safe to say that the styles as worn by the female passengers (at least the more upper class ones) on the RMS Titanic were not static but rather, represented a single snapshot of a moment in fashion history that only lasted for a brief moment.

To be continued…in the next installment, we’ll actually look at some at “The Titanic Era” and film. Stay Tuned! 🙂


For an excellent treatment of this “moment in time”, I would highly recommend the book Titanic Style: Dress and Style on the Voyage by Grace Evans:

Titanic Style