Mantles- 1880s Style

When building a period wardrobe, outerwear such as mantles are often overlooked even though they were a key element in just about any lady’s wardrobe. Broadly speaking, mantles are a lineal descendant of cloaks and shawls and as such, are basically a more refined version of these loose garments, designed to follow the lines of the underlying dress. One of the most distinctive characteristics of 1880s mantles was that the front was cut significantly longer than in the read in order to accommodate the bustle/train of the dress. To begin, here’s an example from circa 1875 made from a Kashmir/Paisley shawl:

Mantle, c. 1875; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.85)

Kashmir/Paisley shawls were extremely popular as outerwear during the 1850s and 1860s but were not always the easiest to wear due to their large size and especially with a trained dress. Many of these older shawls were converted to more manageable mantles during the 1870s. The above example is relatively loose which goes together with some of the exaggerated bustles/trains characteristic of early 1870s styles. Here’s an example from circa 1884 that continues this trend:

Mantle, c. 1884; Victoria and Albert Museum (T.43-1957)

But the choice of fabric was not limited to Kashmir/Paisley; other fabrics were utilized with velvet being a major favorite:

Mantle, c. 1880s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.50.36)

The above example is a more loosely fitted example with wide sleeves and a lot of ease in the front. In the example below, we see a more tailored version with a peplum running along the bottom. In this profile, one can see that the back is cut to accommodate the prominent bustle characteristic of the later 1880s. Also, one can see a more structured, rigid sleeve setting the lower arm at a 90 degree angle; this was often referred to as a “sling sleeve.”

Mantle, c. 1885; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.299-1983)

The mantle front often had a long length as with this example:

Pingat, Mantle, c. 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.337)

Pingat, Mantle, c. 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.337)

To get a better idea of scale, here’s a picture of the mantle being worn over a dress:

View of mantle worn over a dress.

And for something a little different, here’s an illustration from the January 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Here we see a mantle with the cylindrical silhouette characteristic of the Mid-Bustle Era. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any actual extant examples so illustrations will have to do. Here’s a couple more variations on the basic design:

The above is just a mere fraction of the possibilities with mantles- with just one or two basic shapes, one can create a wide variety of mantles utilizing all manner of fabrics and trim and that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing in the future. 🙂

And For A Little Color…

Dior has always been a source of inspiration for us, both in style and color. Today, we came across these views from Dior’s Fall 2018 Couture Collection:

The color palette is simply exquisite, consisting of a series of cool shapes of green, and here’s the requisite palette:

All of the above colors are appropriate for the late 19th Century and here’s just a few examples from extant dresses:

Ballgown, Worth, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

Felix, Day Dress, c. 1889; Albany Museum of History and Art (u1973.69ab)

Worth, Ballgown, 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.68.53.11a, b)

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1890 – 1893; Kerry Taylor Auctions

Tea Dress, Worth c. 1895; Palais Galliera (GAL1964.20.4)

Now that’s some color inspiration! 🙂

Off To The V&A For A Little Dior, Part II

Image result for dior atelier production 1950

And the journey continues in the Land of Dior, aka the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibit at the V&A Museum…one of the most striking things about the exhibit was that it was not only a sampling of Dior’s works as well as his successors, but it also gave some insight into the design and production process. All too often, fashion exhibitions make it look like garments are seemingly created out of thin air…well, they’re not and the exhibit documented this quite well:

It first starts with sketches…lots of sketches…and then fabrics are selected:

And before any fashion fabrics is cut, a toille or mock-up was created to ensure that garment fit properly. Here is what we call the Wall of Toilles:

Image result for house of dior atelier fabric

Just to appreciate the magnitude of “The Wall of Toilles,” here’s a more full picture, courtesy of the V&A Museum.

This display filled all four sides in a separate room from floor to ceiling (it was at least 50 feet high) and was simply impressive- this is an aspect of  haute couture that’s almost never seen nor discussed in a museum setting, It’s definitely thought-provoking and good to see. Stay tuned for more…



Off To The V&A For A Little Dior, Part I

We’ve arrived in London and we’re ready to roll! Today, it’s off we go to the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibit at the V&A Museum. Opening in January, this exhibit has been especially popular and has been extended from May to September 2019 and currently is sold out (we were lucky to have bought our tickets online back in January). The exhibit is a retrospective of Dior’s work along with his successors who designed under the House of Dior name following Dior’s death in 1958.

It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!

– Carmel Snow, Editor-in-Chief, Harper’s Bazaar, February 12, 1947

So where to start? The volume of garments on display, along with other supporting items,  is simply staggering…well, let’s start at the beginning. 🙂 First up is the quintessential “Bar Suit” or “New Look” dress from Dior’s 1947 collection that put Dior on the map:

While it may seem pretty ho-hum by today’s mega-event standards, the New Look marked the beginning of a new era of fashion and a major departure of the war-influenced styles that had dominated most of 1940s fashion. It also marked the re-emergence of France as the fashion capital of the world, free from the deprivations of the war years (at least in theory). Officially named La Ligne Corolle by Dior, it was more often referred as the “New Look Dress” and that’s how it’s known today. Also, Dior referred to this outfit as the “Bar Suit” because it was intended to be worn in elegant public places such as bars (at least, that’s the best definition that we’ve been able to find). Just for some context, here’s a picture of the Bar Suit in action:

Live Model

Also, here’s some “official” photos of the suit itself:

Christian Dior, Skirt Suit, 1955 (V&A Museum; T.376&A-1960); Interestingly enough, this particular example was made in 1955.

As can be seen from the above, this suit was based on extreme curves characterized by  a wasp waist created by a waist cincher combined with a skirt supported by a large petticoat. In this design, one can see several elements that were part of 1880s and 90s styles and all share the common characteristic that they were sculpted over rigid underpinnings. OK, admittedly we’ve gone a tad overboard with the Dior Bar Suit so we’ll pause at this point…but stay tuned for more!

Costume College 2019

It’s official! I’m pleased to announce that I will be once again teaching at Costume College for 2019. Held annually in late July, Costume College is an event devoted to costuming in its many forms, whether historical, fantasy, or somewhere in between. Classes and presentations consist of both lecture and hands-on workshop formats and are all taught by volunteers. For the past several years, I’ve been giving presentations on various aspects of costume to include American Army uniforms of the WWI Era, Paul Poiret, and Couture of the 19th and early 20th Century.

This year I will be reprising my Paul Poiret presentation (revised and expanded) as well as presentations on designers Charles Frederick Worth and Elsa Schiaparelli. When I presented the class on Schiaparelli last year, it was definitely outside our comfort zone but in it was well received and one of the attendees had even recreated Schiaparelli’s iconic Lobster Dress 🙂 :

One of the fundamentals of our design philosophy is that here at Lily Absinthe, we are interested in all eras of fashion and as such, we draw inspiration for all eras when it fits the particular design objective we may have in mind and especially when it comes to designers who came after the Belle Epoch.

Image result for dali schiaparelli

Schiaparelli in particular has always been a source of fascination for both Karin and I in that she combined the shocking and outrageous with the practical and down-to-earth ranging from surrealist-inspired shoe-hats and immaculately tailored suits and elegant evening dresses. Moreover, we’re fans of her widespread use of pink- she even has a distinct shade of pink she named “shocking pink.” 🙂

Image result for shocking pink schiaparelli

July is a ways away but I’ll be busily preparing my presentations and it promises to be an exciting time. More to follow! 🙂