The Museum of the City of New York has just given us Nerdy History Girls (as well as all other lovers of history, fashion, impeccable stitching, Gilded Age New York City, Edwardian London, and fin-de-siecle Paris and all-around gorgeous clothes) a most splendid gift: they're presenting their incredible collection of couture clothes by master designers Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1925) and Mainboucher (1891-1976) in an online exhibition. No matter where in the world you live, if you have internet access, you can visit Worth/Mainboucher: Demystifying the Haute Couture – and wow, do I hope you do!
Hands down, this is the very best presentation of historical fashion that I've yet seen online. The clothes are beautifully photographed, most with multiple views. Click on the close-up feature (that little magnifying glass), and you can view each piece in astonishing detail, with every exquisite stitch and seam distinct. Ever garment has an accompanying short history, plus actual garment measurements and technical details outlining fabric content.
While those of you who enjoy sleek 20th c. elegance will relish the Mainboucher section of the site - he dressed such style-setters as the Duchess of Windsor, Babe Paley, and C.Z. Guest - my own taste runs more to the lavish, often fanciful, 19th c creations of Worth. For nearly seventy-five years, Worth's Parisian atelier was a mecca for wealthy fashion-conscious ladies from Europe and America, and his one-of-a-kind gowns exemplify the luxuriant excess of Gilded Age New York in the time of the Astors and Vanderbilts.
The ice-blue ball gown c 1886, left, includes many of the features that make Worth gowns so special. Masterful draping, an eye-catching combination of fabrics (including uncut velvet, satin, chiffon, glass beads, lace, & silk plush!) that create an interplay of textures, and dramatic asymmetry all help create a gown that would make the wearer stand out even in the most crowded ball. (Here's the link to the page for the complete description and more photos - and don't forget that magnifying glass feature!)
But modern 19th cladies required fashion beyond the opera house and ballroom. Once owned by a princess, the c 1890 coat, right, was designed for ice skating. Rich brown wool duvetyn is trimmed with mink, and lined with blood-red silk that would have showed through the back vent as the skater glided by. Wouldn't you love to add this to your own wardrobe for blustery days? (Here's the link to the coat's page.)
Photographs courtesy The Museum of the City of New York. *Wondering why I now have two names? Here's the scoop.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.