Monday, March 14, 2011

"Accessories Head to Toe": Day One

Monday, March 14, 2011
Susan reporting:

As I mentioned here last week, I'm going to be blogging this week from Colonial Williamsburg while I attend their symposium Accessories: Head to Toe. There's an ever-growing interest in historic dress, and it's fascinating to see what a diverse group the attendees are (from twenty states and five foreign countries) , including re-enactors, museum curators, representatives from historic sites, theater costume designers, historical seamstresses, and writers, plus a goodly measure of people who just plain love this stuff.  In other words, it's a total Two Nerdy History Girls crowd.

First introductory session Sunday night featured Susan North, co-author of one of our fav historic fashion books Seventeenth & Eighteenth Century Fashion in Detail, and curator of fashion, 1550-1800, from the Victoria & Albert Museum. A few tidbits from her talk:

• The way that historic clothes are often displayed in books and museums – a single garment isolated on a headless mannequin – doesn't give a fair impression of how that dress or suit was actually worn. To show an 18th c. gown without its accompanying stays, shift, hoop, petticoats, stockings, shoes, scarf or neckerchief, jewelry, cap, and hat (whew!) is the same as showing a modern man dressed for the office in his suit - but without his shirt, necktie, socks, belt, or shoes.

• The manufacture of 18th c. accessories had evolved into very specific trades – glovers made only gloves, shoemakers made only shoes, etc. – that were often sold in item-specific shops as well. This concept lingers today both in accessories-specific stores, and in how the departments in modern department stores are arranged. You wouldn't go to Payless looking for a jacket, would you?

• Being thoroughly clothed by clothing and accessories from head to toe in the 18th c. was as much a health issue as a fashion one. An uncovered head or bare feet was thought to invite disease, and from the moment an infant was born and immediately swaddled until a corpse was dressed for the grave, the goal was to be as covered as possible.

Alas, I haven't yet had the chance to check out the accessories exhibition in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, but I will today, with pictures to come. I'm especially interested in seeing The Spruce Sportsman, left, finally come to life.


Rowenna said...

Enjoy the symposium! I have some friends there and can't wait to hear what they learn. It's funny, too, how all those pretty accessories have a purpose. Dressed in the my eighteenth-century clothes, if I leave off my hat and mitts, I'm squinting like a crazy person and my fingers are freezing. Add them on, and I'm far more comfortable (and look less batty).

Kara in Heath said...

Thank you for reporting back to those of us who cannot attend. Can't wait for your next report!

Anonymous said...

Though it was hard to notice any other details except the hair!!!!, I did notice the shoes. The women are wearing what looks remarkably like pumps-- court heels. I find this interesting becasue most description of Regency era shoes , have them flat, and made of fabric. I'd think that leatehr shoes with small heels would have been more comfortable and practical.
I look forward to more information on 18th century clothes. Fashion certainly changed drastically.

LorettaChase said...

Anonymous, I too found it very interesting that women stopped wearing heels altogether when their dresses went "classical" and vertical, at the start of the Regency, and didn't start wearing them again until some years into the Victorian era. I could understand it when they were trying to look like Greek statues--the flat shoes being their version of sandals, I guess--but even when the dresses became more structured in the 1820s and 1830s, and the skirts were ballooning out again, the women were still wearing those flats that look like ballet shoes. And I do agree, the little heels look much more comfortable than those thin little ballet-style soles. Also more flattering to the foot, I'd think. But then, fashion so rarely has anything to do with comfort or what's flattering.

Dixygrl said...

Is there a book for sale that went with the symposium. If so, what was the title please. Thank you

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