Vernet Project: Basic Witzchoura Descriptions

It’s time for a little more information about witzchouras! Back in January, I shared my round-about journey to figure out what a witzchoura is. Now it’s time to look at witzchouras in more detail to determine what qualities define them.

In that last post, we left off with this enlightening sentence from the book Empire Fashions by Dover Publishers: “Around 1808, a high-waisted, fur-lined woman’s coat appeared, the witzchoura [wi choo ra].” Here is an example of what a witzchoura looks like.

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Costume Parisien from 1813

My go-to source when I get geeky about word history is the Oxford English Dictionary, and lucky for me, it has an entry for witzchoura! The OED tells us it as an obsolete noun from the French vitchoura and the Polish wilczura (a wolf-skin coat) that is defined as “A style of lady’s mantle fashionable c. 1820-35.”  The OED also shares four uses of the word from period sources. Here they are, with slight edits:

1823 La Belle Assemblée Dec. Witzchoura pelisse of gros de Naples,..trimmed with a very broad border of swansdown.
1833 Ladies Pocket Mag. The witchoura is a very ample mantle, made with a very deep collar, and cape, and long, loose sleeves.
1835 Court Mag. [The mantle] is of the Witzchoura form, drawn close at the back, with large Turkish sleeves, and a deep falling collar.
[1898 M. Loyd tr. O. Uzanne Fashion in Paris Witzchouras had not yet [c1806] come into vogue.]

So far, our qualifications for a witzchoura include: a high waist for earlier witzchouras (to correspond with the fashionable silhouette), fur lining, fur trim, the fact that a witzchoura is a coat or mantle (for outerwear, with another garment worn underneath), that it was most popular c. 1820-1835, and that it had not yet become fashionable c. 1806. Other sources add to a witzchoura’s qualifications those of its being full length, having large sleeves and a wide collar (or sometimes hood or cape layers over the shoulders) especially in the 1830s when the silhouette changed, as well as the general period of the “early 19th century” for its popularity, which makes sense since we’ve just looked at sources that mention dates between 1806 and 1835.

There is some information telling us that the garment became popular after Napoleon gained a Polish mistress in 1808 and other information that tells us that the garment was Russian in origin and became popular after the Napoleonic Wars brought the style back to France and England. (For more information about these early witzchoura influences, check out this post at the Sewing Empire blog.)

I’m excited the word has Polish or Russian origins, because “witz” sounds Polish or German to me. Also, I love that the last quote from the OED tells us that witzchouras weren’t popular just a few years prior to the year 1814. Oh, how fashionable is a merveilleuse!

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Subdued “Coeffure a la Chinoise” In Red And Gold

I attended a small Regency ball last weekend. It was charming and not nearly as packed full of people as I have grown accustomed to at these events in recent years. The smaller crowd made for a much more subdued (but still pleasant) evening than I was expecting.

The only downside was that the hall was exceptionally cold and not being full of people did not warm up very quickly! Few of us had planned for the situation and we were mostly scrambling to find any scarves or sweaters to wrap ourselves in. Many of us were resorting to items that we’d worn to keep ourselves warm outside, sacrificing fashion for warmth (it’s been below freezing here in Boston for at least the last three or four weeks consistently). I, for example, wrapped up in my pink cashmere scarf despite wearing a red dress. I thought it looked odd, though I was told that the colors looked good together. But there were a few lucky solutions that were both fashionable and warm: a large paisley shawl and a plaid scarf/wrap that looked very Scottish were the two most fashionable looks in my opinion. After some dancing and about midway through the evening, many had warmed up enough that scarves were being discarded, though I do believe I kept my scarf wrapped over my shoulders and chest throughout the entire evening.

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Elegant, fashionable lounging during the refreshment break.
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Delicious refreshments alluringly laid out.

I wore my red 1813 evening gown and my homemade red and gold tiara. (I had hoped to finish and wear my 1811 elusive blue evening gown, but I would have had to do a lot of last minute sewing to finish it in time and after my recent skating costume last minute sewing adventure I was not inclined to do so again so soon. It is very satisfying to have a closet of options for an event, especially when plans to complete something new go awry.) I also brought along my red and gold reticule, because it matches the outfit so perfectly (although the only thing I kept in it was my phone… which is the reason for the slightly blurry, grainy photos).

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All the red and gold Regency pieces in my wardrobe put together in one outfit!
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It was so cold getting dressed that I was not inclined to do a complicated hair style. Heeheehee, fake hair to the rescue! I just put my hair in a pony tail, braided it, and wrapped it around itself. Simple! The big braid is what makes it look complicated, but it is pre-braided fake hair. I think it completes the style perfectly and has a bit of a “chinoise” look to it, too.

What do I mean by “chinoise”? The word itself is from the French adjective meaning Chinese. In terms of fashion, there are scarce references to “chinoise” styles in Regency fashion plates (compared to the abundance of Regency fashion plates showing other styles). Here are a few examples. This Merveilleuse from 1814 has a “Coeffure Chinoise,” this lady from 1812 has a “Coeffure a la Chinoise,” and this fashion plate shows “La Toilette Chinoise.” (I do sort of wonder how some of these attributes, and the hairstyles in particular, said “Chinese” to people during the Regency, but of course the world was perceived very differently then and people had access to vastly different quantities and types of information than I do today.)

I’ve often noticed that “chinoise” hairstyles make use of braids that wrap around the head. In addition, there seems to often be a vertical emphasis to the hair and to a bun, if one is present in the style. It is these attributes that say “a la chinoise” when I look at my own coiffure from last weekend. Sometime, I’ll have to try to make a more exaggerated “chinoise” style with a very tall and flyaway bun such as the Merveilleuse from 1814 has. I’m pretty sure my hair will have no trouble with that since it is naturally curly and wanting to fly away!

Project Journal: 1822-1824 Ensemble Part VI: Muff and Tippet

One thing I actually did finish for the recent ball was the muff and tippet. For visual reference, the picture below shows the garments I’m discussing.

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1822 walking dress with muff and tippet (and a bit of the 1824 ball gown peeking out).

What is tippet, exactly? Merriam-Webster defines it, thus:

1: a long hanging end of cloth attached to a sleeve, cap, or hood
2: a shoulder cape of fur or cloth often with hanging ends

 

So, how did I make my tippet? First, I cut a piece of high loft polyester batting the length and width that I wanted. (I know they didn’t have poly batting  in the 19th century… but it’s super warm and sometimes just worth it!) Then I cut a piece of my faux fur that was double the width of the batting plus an extra 3/4″ or so on each side as well as about 1″ longer on each end. I centered the batting on the wrong side of the fur, wrapped the fur around to the back, turned one edge under, and pinned. The ends of the fur I just turned up and under the other pinned bits. Then I whip stitched that folded edge down using pretty large stitches. The stitches disappeared in the fur… and voila, tippet! Too bad I didn’t take pictures of the construction!

The muff was slightly more tricky, not because of construction details, but because I agonized over what color lining to use! (To construct the muff, I made two tubes, one out of fur and one out of silk lining. I stitched one end of each tube to the other, turned the whole thing right sides out, inserted a tube of poly batting (warm!), pulled the lining through the middle, and pinned the open side of the fur to the silk, with the fur edge turned under. Then I simply whip stitched it like I did the tippet.

But before I could make the muff, I had to pick the lining color! Did I want it to match my walking dress trim (and be lavender?) Did I want to pick a color from a fashion plate? What colors were used in fashion plates? So many questions! I determined that of the muff linings I could see in fashion plates from that general period, there were three recurring colors: pink, blue, and white. Here’s what I came up with, image-wise:

PINK

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January 1823 Walking Dress. La Belle Assemblee.
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December 1822 Promenade Dress. Ackerman’s Repository.
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January 1826 Promenade Dress. Ackerman’s Repository.

BLUE

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March 1823 Walking Dress. Ackerman’s Repository.
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December 1825 Carriage Dress. Lady’s Magazine.

WHITE

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1825 Promenade Dress.
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1829 Walking Dress. Ackerman’s Repository.

UNKNOWN/OTHER

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c. 1810 Redingote (and muff!). KCI. (Also a tippet, though they call it a “palantine”: which M-W defines as a fur cape or stole covering the neck and shoulders.)
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November 1814. La Belle Assemblee.
Volare Digital Capture
November 1817 Walking Dress. Ackerman’s Repository.
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1823 Carriage Dress

So pink came in with 3, blue and white tied with 2 each, and then there were an assortment of unknown/other. But I didn’t like the idea of pink with my dark pinkish wool (you can see what that would look like in the December 1822 fashion plate: that’s the inspiration for my walking dress), so I settled for the light blue, which I think is delicate and softly Regency. Also, I had just a small amount of that color silk, and it’s a color that doesn’t really complement my skin, so I wasn’t likely to use it for a bonnet or something similar… but with a muff most of my skin is hidden! You can see the predominance of white fur for the muffs in these fashion plates (one of the reasons I chose white fur for the muff and tippet). There are brown, too, but a lot of white! 7 out of the 11 I included are white. Well, there you go. That’s my rationale for the muff and tippet.

All of these images are on my Pinterest pages with lots of other beautiful garments. Specifically, these are on the 1810s Inspiration1820-1824 Inspiration, and 1825-1829 Inspiration pages.

Newport Vintage Dance Week Part VIII: 1890s Soiree at Roger Williams Park Casino

Wow! I am so pleased that you are still here with me to share my copious yet fabulous memories from Newport Vintage Dance Week. The end is near, but not here yet… These pictures are from the last formal event Newport Vintage Dance Week will ever host: the 1890s Soiree at the Roger Williams Park Casino.

Built in 1896, the Casino at Roger Williams Park features a brick exterior and verandas…[in the] Colonial Revival architectural style of the late nineteenth century. The interior walls of the first floor are constructed of hand-finished wood panels, the original maple floors are intact, and details such as beveled mirrors and an emerald green tiled fireplace lend a formal and elegant air to the surroundings. Upstairs, the…grand [ball]room, with it’s birch floors, is painted in warm, rosy tones to evoke a sense of well being, a priority during the “Gay Nineties”. Plaster friezes and frescoes of cherubs and musical instruments adorn the 20-foot ceilings.

We arrived after sunset, due to a lot of last minute sewing, thus I didn’t manage to get pictures of the exterior of the building, but here is one courtesy of one of the catering companies that often does events at the venue (found via google).

The exterior of the Casino.

Now, before we proceed any further, I think we must ponder the definition of the word “casino.” To our modern minds, the word evokes a house of gambling, but that is not the appropriate definition for this particular venue. Here is Merriam-Webster’s first definition of the word: 1-a building or room used for social amusements; specifically: one used for gambling. Clearly, we were going out for social amusements! An example of the word in use (and related to our ball!): “on summer evenings dance bands would perform in the seaside casino.” So fitting!

This is Friday afternoon. The ball was Friday evening…
Getting ready to go wound up taking awhile because this decade needed lots of hair teasing and fussing from all of us to compliment the tiaras and bling!
Dressed! And blinged!
Three all new dresses that were finished the evening of the ball!
Another last minute finish.
Luckily, everyone made it to the ball wearing clothes!
I made an all new 1893 silk ball gown for this event. I received many lovely compliments, including some that expressed the feeling that I had achieved both the silhouette of the period as well as the overall style and that I really looked as though I had stepped out of the past. Yay! Goal successfully reached!
Another TNG picture. The bling was borrowed amongst all of us so everyone had sufficient sparkle.
Such a great ensemble! Adorable dress, fabulous feathers, and really awesome shoes!
A little blurry, but aren’t all the penguin-look-alikes fabulous?
Dancers at the ball. This is the upstairs ballroom.
More wonderfully dressed dancers.
A figured dance, I believe. Isn’t the atmosphere amazing?
Directing traffic around a tight turn in the Grand March. This particular Grand March went up and down stairs multiple times!
The Cake Walk. It’s a silly dance that where you prance and posture around the room, or, if you are in TNG, you might participate in the “Zombie Cake Walk.”
The ceiling of the upstairs ballroom.
Some TNG-ers dancing in the downstairs ballroom.
The ceiling of the downstairs ballroom.
The ballroom grew quite warm, but we discovered air vents in the floor!
Then we had people stand on them but didn’t tell them ahead of time about the nice, cool air… (insert sneaky laugh)
Preparing to leave. It was a long, fabulous week.

Final tally: 20 pictures out of 468 from this event.

Project Journal: 1815-1820 Regency Ensemble Part I: Corset Research and Patterning

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving!

I have a whole list of projects to work on during this Thanksgiving period: I need to reinforce some trim and closures on various gowns that will be worn during the next few months, I need to build a flowered hair accessory (I hesitate to say wreath) to match my blue 1860s ball gown, Belle, and I need to construct a Regency corset! I’ll pass over the stitching of the trim and closures (because, really, I don’t think that would be an exciting post) and save the hair ornamentation post for later. That leaves us with one more topic… The Regency corset.

I don't have very many good pictures of this gown (I'll have to get some!) but I'm on the far right. Click on the link to the left to read more about this ball!

Here’s the background on this plan: I have a Regency dress that I built last February. At the time, I could not build the undergarments that would accompany this gown at that time. (You can read the story of the dress here.) Now I have time and so I plan to backtrack to this project and make the right undergarments! I have a chemise which will work (you can see it under my 1780s corset in the photos in this post) because chemise styles were unvaried from the late 18th century through the first quarter of the 19th century; however, I do not currently own a Regency period corset!

First of all, what is the Regency period? The term brings to mind Jane Austen books and films and general ideas of the early 19th century, but upon closer inspection Regency is actually more specific than I was thinking. I’ve got two relevant definitions for you from the Oxford English Dictionary.

  1. Noun: Senses relating to government or rule by a regent. Usu. with capital initial. The period during which a regent governs; spec. the period in France from 1715 to 1723 when Philip, Duke of Orleans, was regent, or in Britain from 1811 to 1820 when George, Prince of Wales, was regent.
  2. Designating a style of architecture, clothing, furniture, etc., characteristic of the British Regency of 1811–20 or, more widely, of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, featuring neoclassical elements often with Greek and Egyptian motifs.

Regency is a more specific period of time than that of the overarching Georgian period, which includes the reins of George I, George II, George III, and George IV of Great Britain. The Georgian period is from 1714-1830 and sometimes includes the years 1830-1837 as well. 1837 marks the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, which is where the term Victorian comes from.

Upon reflection I realized that I had forgotten the year my dress is from! Certainly it is Georgian, but is it really Regency? I had made the gown in a rush and so I had to retrace my steps and really think about what specific span of years the gown fits into to answer that question. It turns out that the gown is, in fact, from the Regency period: it is from 1816-1819! Whew!

Once that information was determined, I could move forward and research the corset shapes and patterns of that specific period (that is, 1816-1819). It turns out that patterns in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines jump from the late 18th century to the 1820s; however, I did find images of extant corsets from the first part of the 19th century. “Oh well,” I thought, and used the images and the 1820s pattern in Corsets and Crinolines to drape a pattern.

Here are some of the research images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve included a wide span of years so you can see the development of the corset shape over time. Note the bust and hip darts as well as the beautiful quilting that begins to define the waist by the 1840s.

c. 1811 Cotton Corset
c. 1811 Cotton Corset Back
1815-1825 Corset (I really like the simple lines and straight forward color combination in this garment: this is my most inspiring image. It is interesting that the lines of this corset are so simple, relative to these other examples. This corset seems to be lacking hip darts or an inward angled front panel plus side panel.)
1820-1839 Cotton and SIlk Corset (the embroidery on this corset is great)
1820-1839 Cotton and Silk Corset Back (I especially like the back)
1830-1835 Cotton Corset
1830s-1840s Corset

I am including these last ones because I think they are lovely, even thought they are not from the period I need to build. I’ll have to keep them in mind for future!

1820 Corset (this is in the Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute)
1830-1839 Cotton Corset

Bolero jackets in the 20th century: 1930-1950

Evening Ensemble designed by Elsa Schiaparelli 1938

A few posts ago, we took a look at Bolero and Zouave jackets from the mid-19th century and Bolero jackets from the 20th century: 1900-1909. While I was looking at images related to those posts I found a few amusing boleros from the mid-20th century and decided to share those with you as well!

Let’s start here: with this evening ensemble designed by Elsa Shiaparelli at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My first thought about this was something along the lines of the following: “The dress has a lovely shape. What’s the abstract embellishment on the bolero?”

Gymnast bolero designed by Elsa Schiaparelli 1938
Well, look carefully at the Bolero picture. It’s decorated with gymnasts!
Evening dress by Elsa Schiaparelli 1938

Here’s the back of the dress without the bolero over it. Such lovely lines. In the picture on the right, you can also see the texture of the dress fabric. It’s difficult to discern what it is. Looks to me like it might be a jacquard  or watermarked fabric. Do you have other ideas about what the fabric is?

This next bolero was designed by Balenciaga in the 1940s. Its style is much more traditional than Schiaparelli’s gymnast bolero. The beading and other trimming on this Balenciaga bolero is exquisite!

Balenciaga Bolero 1946-1947
The Oxford English Dictionary includes these quotes regarding boleros in the definition. They are good context for the style and use of boleros in women’s clothing during the mid-20th century.
1941    ‘R. West’ Black Lamb I. 407   The boleros the women wore over their white linen blouses.
1968    J. Ironside Fashion Alphabet 35   Bolero, a short jacket reaching to the waist, worn open over a blouse‥sleeved or sleeveless‥worn by Spanish dancers and bullfighters.
I’m including this final bolero just for fun. I can envision it with a slinky black bias-cut 1930s evening gown with a low cut back… It even has a matching belt! This bolero strongly reminds me of the style of Ginger Roger’s dresses in her videos with Fred Astaire. I’ve also included just a few fun pictures of Ginger’s fabulous dresses below so you can see her general style. Beautiful!
Evening Bolero 1933
Evening Bolero 1933
Belt to go with Bolero 1933
Top Hat 1935
Carefree 1938
Flying Down to Rio 1933

Of flounces and dance cards: Part II (Nahant Victorian Day 1860s Ball 2011)

Part II: …and dance cards

Dance Card from the Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011

Last post, I shared with you my latest 1860s gown: Annabelle. This gown just recently had its debut at the Nahant Victorian Day Ball hosted by Vintage Victorian.

This ball included the use of dance cards, a practice I am aware of but have never participated in. It turns out that they are much more complicated than one thinks they might be! Why are the so complicated?

Well, it all sounds quite glorious and sophisticated. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “dance-card” as “a card bearing the names of (a woman’s) prospective dance partners at a dance.” In stories and books, a dance card is a memento one can keep so that after the ball is over she can muse about beaus and flirtations. Practically, a dance card might help a person remember who his or her next partner is, what kind of dance the next dance is, or allow a gentleman to ask for a dance later in the evening.

But wait! There are complications and confusions! Does everyone have a dance card, men and women? Does a person take off his or her gloves before writing in a dance card? (I attempted this both ways: it is quite challenging to write your name while wearing gloves…) Does one exchange dance cards with a prospective partner or ask the name of the person and write it herself? (It seems more effective to swap dance cards with your intended partner to allow for ease of spelling, etc. and, in a more romantic sense, so that you have that person’s handwriting in your dance card.) How does one attach the card to her wrist so that it doesn’t get lost? How does one attach the card to her wrist without the pencil sticking out (so that her white dress isn’t marked!)? Really, a lot of questions popped up that would not have made themselves apparent without practical application. Also, at least at this ball, not having a prearranged partner did not necessarily mean that you were not able to dance. I was able to dance most of the dances of the night, despite my somewhat empty dance card.

Interior of my Dance Card from the Nahant VIctorian Day Ball 2011

Below you can see a few historic dance card images and below that some images of the ball! If anyone has any research on the use or history of dance cards, please share. I’d love to learn more about the etiquette of dance card use!

1884 Dance Card
1912 Dance Card
I believe this dance is the Contradance: Hull's Victory. (Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011)
A different view of the same dance as above.
The Grand March. (Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011)
More Grand March.

Here’s a video of the Grand March in action!