Oh, Making Decisions is Hard!

As I mentioned in my look back at 2012 post, one of early 2013’s projects will be to paint and decorate my recently purchased American Duchess Kensingtons.

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Kensingtons, yay! And the buckles came in that cute little bag. Love it!

When I first thought of buying Kensingtons, I was set on painting them yellow, either a lightish shade of yellow or medium yellow, like the images below.

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1775-1785. Colonial Williamsburg.
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Mid-18th Century. Bata Shoe Museum. (Those buckles are so pretty!)

But then I started looking at fashion plates… Some of them had very cute yellow shoes, but there were also some that had pink shoes that caught my eye. I love pink things… so I started thinking about painting the shoes pink.

First, fashion plates with cute pink shoes from the 1770s and 1780s.

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PINK shoes. 1778.
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PINK shoes. Gallerie des Modes, 1778.
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PINK shoes. 1778-1787.
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PINK shoes. Magasin des Modes, June 1787.
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PINK shoes. Magasin des Modes, March 1789.

Second, fashion plates with cute yellow shoes from the 1770s and 1780s.

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YELLOW shoes. c. 1776.
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YELLOW shoes. c. 1776.
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YELLOW shoes. Gallerie des Modes, 1779.
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YELLOW shoes. Magasin des Modes, April 1787.

Then I went back to looking at extant shoes and thought “perhaps two-tone shoes?” Either yellow with pink accents or pink with yellow accents… perhaps like the ones below? Here’s a fashion plate showing two-tone shoes, and there are more extant examples a little farther down in the post.

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Two-tone pink shoes. The Dress of the Year 1775 by Ann Frankland Lewis.

Another thing, I’ve noticed that many of the extant shoes I see are cloth, not leather. Well, the Kensingtons are leather, so that’s what I’ve got to work with (and I like it in a way, because the shoes will be much more durable). So then I started thinking about what I need to do to capture the 18th century in leather shoes that already have the right 18th century shape. I took a close look at the details in these next photos and analyzed what I saw.

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Light blue satin shoes with silver braid. c. 1770. The Charleston Museum. STUNNING!
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Silk. 1770s. Met.
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Silk and leather. 1770-1789. Met.
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Silk and leather. c. 1775-1785. Shoe Icons.
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Silk. 1780s. Met.

If that isn’t enough examples, you can see more on my pinterest board: Shoes: 1770-1789. The details that strike me are: the binding around the ankle opening and latchets (often in a contrasting color) and the 3D quality of the trim and fabric of the shoes… the decorations are not simply painted on, but sewn on. That’s hard with leather, but glue is a good alternative to stitching.

I’ve seen other styles of painted and decorated historic shoes on my costuming friends. And at American Duchess, Lauren has done multiple posts and tutorials about 18th century shoes that she has painted and decorated.

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Two-tone painted and bound Devonshires, from American Duchess.
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Two-tone painted and bound Devonshires, from American Duchess.

What materials to use for decorations? Lauren used what looks like cotton bias tape, and on later Regency shoes narrow grosgrain which comes in a wide variety of colors. But the extant shoes look like they are bound with silk, so that’s what I’m going to aim for.

“What will I wear these shoes with?” is an important question I asked myself. “Well, everything I own from the 18th century until I buy another pair of 18th century shoes,” I answered. In the works right now are a taupey-brown silk petticoat, blue wool petticoat, Waverly mineral felicite jacket, and creamy quilted petticoat (you can see most of these fabrics in this previous post). In the future, I’m inspired by a purple and yellow color combination, as well as green and pinkish/red (these colors all in the fashion plates above!).

I’ve been ruminating over this decision for months so I make a choice I’m really happy with. I had all these options to think about: pink, yellow, both… It was tough. But I finally made a decision to go simple: yellow with champagne silk binding and champagne heels (saving pink for later, or removable ribbons, or other accessories). The latchets might also get pained champagne, I’m undecided on that point. Do you have thoughts about that? (More opinions is always better in these situations, you know!) I’ve got the paint from my Astorias, so that was easy… and the silk ribbon has been ordered! More to come soon!

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Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part I: Initial Research

I’ve decided to attend 2 events in September which require clothing from the last quarter of the 18th century (1775-1799). This decision is rather at the last minute when it comes to building new historic clothes: I now have exactly three weeks to make a decision about what to wear, pick out fabrics, make patterns, and complete the construction of the garments. Yikes!

So I’ve been busy researching this period because it is not within the realm of my previous historic clothing projects, which have generally focused on the 19th century. Unlike women’s clothing in the 19th century, for which I can recall silhouette, construction details, pattern shapes, and fabric choices and colors with far less research for each garment (because I’ve already done all that research and it’s all in my head…), I really need the research to be able to consider reproducing historic clothing from the 18th century. Here are some inspirational images I thought I would share!

Here’s how this conversation went in my head: “Where do I start?” I asked myself. “Silhouette?” I replied. “Ah, yes. That sounds good. But… what is the silhouette during this period? Hopefully not panniers!” because panniers, you see, require a lot more effort to produce and a lot more fabric to cover. “Well, let’s start by looking for some images,” I suggested. And here we go!

c. 1770 Silk Robe a l'Francaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Now, you can see by looking at the above image that these gowns require panniers to achieve the exaggerated hip shape. You can also see that these gowns are Robes a l’Francaise, meaning robes in the French style. This style of gown has the characteristic pleating at center back that falls from the back neck line to the floor in one piece. This style, with the panniers and the Robe a l’Francaise, is not what I have the time to make in three weeks. So we move on!

1770-1775 Silk Robe a l'Anglaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In contrast to the Robe a l’Francaise, I am actually interested in the style of dress on the left: the Robe a l’Anglaise, or English style robes. This style evolved from the Robe a l’Francaise: over time the side back seams of the Robe al’Francaise were cut close enough together that the characteristic pleats were no longer used.

Below, you can see another two examples of gowns in the style of a Robe a l’Anglaise. These two are from the 1780s and you can see that the width of the hips has diminished from the 1770s. Note that all of these gowns have open fronts that show the petticoat underneath.

c. 1780 Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1780 Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
1780-1785 Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
1780-1785 Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
There are other options for this period as well: there is the style Robe a la Polonaise, which has a characteristic  bunching of fabric across the back side as well as the skirt and jacket combination. I’m not interested in making a Robe a la Polonaise at this point, but a skirt and jacket combination is a possibility. You can see these styles below. There is another style as well: the Chemise Dress, but you’ll have to wait for my next post to see and read about it!
c. 1780 Linen Robe a la Polonaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1785 Silk Jacket at the Metropolitan Museum of Art