It was super exciting to be able to attend Gatsby On The Isles again last year! There haven’t been many multi-day historical adventures of late, so that made this one extra needed and appreciated!
I’ve loved wearing my 1930s Beach Pajamas to this event over multiple years. They are super comfy and don’t show wrinkles (great for long car and boat rides!). I opted for them again this year but wanted to change them up to create a new outfit. After a look through my closet I decided to try wearing my 1922 silk blouse tucked into the pants for a new take on these old favorites.
I added a decorative head scarf for a bit of a jaunty flair and finished off the bottom of the outfit with my American Duchess Ginger shoes. The scarf is one I’ve had for over 20 years. I used to wear it in the belt loops of my jeans as a decorative belt, I think… I haven’t used it for anything in probably 10 years or so, but I held on to it, thinking that the dusty pink color and gold sheen would be useful for something someday… and it was! I like how it blends the bold color of the pants with the bright white of the blouse.
I might have been slightly distracted from drinking my tea at the clifftop gazebo by the opportunity to take photos (or be in them)… Some with a stereoscope!
Croquet the following morning was also well documented.
The weekend included other opportunities for fun photos, as well. The evening dance had a masquerade theme, for which I turned my 1926 Silver Robe De Style into a star-themed fancy dress outfit. There’s a whole post about the fancy dress inspiration that you can read here.
We also ‘played’ tennis! Or at least, we batted a ball around a bit.
I had no trouble running around in my heels. It was quite fun, actually! I felt very sporty in my Gingers and new 1928 dress!
In addition to playing tennis, we also wandered around the rocky back side of the island in pursuit of stunning photo settings.
We achieved great photos, some alone and some in groups. These are just a few of them… There are are so many fun ones that I’m going to do another post just to share rocky background photos!
My shoes had no trouble on the rocks! I did tread carefully, for safety and so I didn’t bang up my shoes unnecessarily, but I enjoyed proving to myself (as I have before) that one can clamber even in fabulous historical shoes.
It was so nice to have a getaway! And see people! And wear historical clothing!
The theme recommendation for the evening soiree at Gatsby On The Isles earlier this year was a masquerade. I took that to heart and decided to adapt an existing dress in my closet to make it fancy dress. (It turns out that the majority of people who attended didn’t adhere to the guidelines, so I was a bit out of place, but I enjoyed my fancy dress regardless!)
My requirements for this outfit were: to use a dress as a base that was already in my closet, to not cost much, to not take much time, and to have the elements of fancy dress be easily reversible.
I looked through my 20th Century Fancy Dress Pinterest board and settled on the image below as my inspiration. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a source for the image that isn’t Pinterest. If anyone has information, please share.)
I thought the idea of stars would work well with my 1926 Silver Lace Robe de Style. I briefly considered creating the stars myself and then I remembered that I didn’t want this too take too much time and I started researching purchasable stars. I wanted something nice looking but not costly, remember, and I also wanted to stay away from glitter–the shedding! Ugh! While considering various metallic and cardboard style stars I realized that: 1- those may not travel well (I didn’t want bent stars!) and 2- they probably wouldn’t be comfortable to wear. So I started researching felt stars!
I decided on these felt stars. They were a good size, I liked the color, and they weren’t supposed to be too stiff. Not being stiff would be more comfortable to wear and also easier to sew through! I’d considered making garlands of the stars but I figured they would get tangled, so instead I opted to sew the stars directly onto the lace.
I started by placing the stars in a line diagonally across the top of the dress. The goal was to capture the feeling of my inspiration but didn’t feel the need to add as many stars as the drawing has, so I stopped with the one line. I liked the stars hanging from the hem, so I did those next–one star per each dip in the pattern of the lace.
After that I didn’t have many stars left! I used a scrap of metallic knit fabric to make a veil and put a star on each corner. The veil is a square, with one corner turned under, gathered, and stitched to a hair comb.
I also used some black felt scraps to cut a few stars by hand to accent the star at the waist. I thought this might tie in the metallic knit veil and also draw attention to the grey stars on the grey dress!
I added some sparkly shoe clips, pearl bracelets, and sparkly stars for my hair (reused from my 1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress) and the outfit was complete! It pays off to reuse themes for fancy dress, I guess!
At the same sale that I purchased the base of my 1950s super-petticoat and the hat that I refashioned into a 1930s style I also purchased a rather sad 1980s style evening dress. I liked the brocade fabric and had an idea that I could remake the dress into a cocktail length 1950s style dress by removing the sleeves, changing the neckline, and shortening the hem.
I also had this dress in mind. I love the massive decorative butt bow and this remade dress seemed like a great opportunity to put the idea to use. The red had to wrap around the waist as well as making the bow, in order to cover up the original gold waistband, but I had a remnant of cherry silk in my stash that was nicely complimentary in terms of color and just the right size for the job!
From the front I feel generally ok about the dress, but from the back, I love it! Plus, that’s two things checked off the to-do list: I remade the 1980s dress into a wearable 1950s style and I put the butt bow inspiration into action. Plus the fact that I used up a fabric from the stash, which is a bonus!
But why the Queen of Hearts? I decided this was a dress I wanted to wear to an Alice In Wonderland themed event that I recently attended so I had to fit the dress into the theme. I decided on the idea of an elegant 1950s historical nod to Queen Elizabeth in The Crown (which I might have been watching right around the time I was looking for inspiration…). Aloof queen looks are totally my jam, so that works really well.
As long as I was going with a queen look, I decided that a royal order sash would be an easy way to say royalty and hearts all at the same time while also being easy to remove from the dress itself. I did some royal order sash research and decided I liked a sash with a narrow border of a contrasting color. Of course, mine needed to be made in Queen of Hearts colors: black, red, and gold seemed perfect. I pinned heart appliqués behind my shoulder brooch and on the bow to play up the Queen of Hearts theme.
It was fun to accessorize the dress and sash with long gloves, red drop earrings, a tiara, and my silver American Duchess Seaburys (the gold brocade fabric that makes up the back of the shoes complimented the gold brocade dress very nicely!). I think I like the butt bow with the sash even better than the butt bow by itself!
To make the sash, I googled ‘royal order sash’ and looked at lots of images to decide on a design. Mine is made of two rectangles, with an angled shoulder seam and tucks behind the bow loops for shaping. It’s made of red polyester with woven-in tiny black stripes and edged with sheer gold ribbon. For more detailed sash making information, Gina posted very detailed tutorial for making royal sashes that would probably be quite useful if you’re thinking of making one for yourself.
I’ll leave you with this silly shot of the Queen of Hearts with a flamingo. Croquet, anyone?
“When it comes to making, the actual sewing and finishing, the American dressmaker has nothing to learn from anyone. First class American dressmakers turn out the best work, so far as the mechanics of dressmaking go, of any dressmakers in the world. In point of fact, they make dresses too well. They might with advantage to themselves, and with no disadvantage to their patrons, unlearn something about sewing, and let some of the fussy details, over which they now bother their heads to very little purpose, go by default.
But the A-1 American dressmaker puts too much fine sewing into her dresses. They look well; they look about as well on the wrong side as upon the right side; perhaps if they were not such marvels of patience in the inside finishing, they might be more artistic to look like on the outside. Look at even the highest priced foreign made dresses; by comparison, they seem almost slovenly in workmanship, compared with American dress, but after all to what end put such an infinite amount of pains into finishing off a dress that, nowadays, is worn but a few times…house dresses and evening dresses might be slighted in finishing just as the Parisian dressmakers slight them without suffering an iota in looks or wearing possibilities, and with a notable saving in time and trouble.
The Parisian dressmaker is clever. She knows every trick in putting her work where it will make the most show. So long as she gets the effect she wants, and it stays as long…as it is required, which is not long, for instance, in a tulle party frock, she doesn’t try to make the sewing in every part of the sort that would win a prize at a school exhibition. The Parisian Milliner long, long ago, found that she could get effects by pinning on her hat and bonnet trimmings that absolutely defied sewing, and the Parisian dressmaker will catch a flounce of lace here and a ribbon there with fascinating grace, and never bother her head about what it looks like on the wrong side. Why should she?”
The passage immediately brought to mind my process for making historical garments, which is usually along the lines of the “American dressmaker” in that I put many hours of fine sewing into my dresses to make the insides just as much as work of art as the exterior.
The obvious and most current example that came to mind was the dress I was completing at the time, but there are many others as well. Here are a few made during the last few years and spanning the 19th century in terms of their origins.
I also had this passage in mind while working over the first part of this year on my recent 1885 Night Sky fancy dress. I decided with that ensemble to follow the suggestion to adapt to the “Parisian Dressmaker” style and not worry about the insides as I usually do. While still quite tidy, I did not spend time finishing unseen seams inside the skirt or finishing the edges of the vertical seams on the bodice, as you can see below. It was a bit of a struggle with my natural instincts, but worked out very well in terms of the working on this right up until the deadline and not having time for all the pretty finishing anyway.
There’s also the mention of pinning trim on hats. That is a suggestion that I often make use of! I can think of multiple examples of hats that have had trim pinned on for years even while the hats are in storage. For example, remember the hat that I wear with my 1895 Skating Ensemble? That’s the same hat from my 1883 Tailored Ensemble with fur trim and extra feathers that have been pinned on since early 2015. I’ve felt no need to sew those on!
Do you sew like American dressmaker or a Parisian dressmaker? Is it a conscious choice for you to pick one style or the other, or is it just your natural sewing method? What about hats? Do you ever pin your trimmings on?
It has been a goal to make a specifically fancy dress outfit for years, but particularly since I made a makeshift 1860s flower basket fancy dress outfit in 2015. This May I had the perfect opportunity in the form of a fancy dress ball!
I decided to make an 1880s bustle dress because I already had all the undergarments, including my still-new-feeling 1880s steam molded corset, and because it’s a period of dress that I rarely wear, especially for dancing. I wanted to experiment with dancing in a bustle to see how it worked and what it felt like.
I started my outfit in January and worked on it over the next four months or so, but despite all that preparation time I was still working on it right up until the day before the event. Luckily, I did the vast majority of the work of cutting, sewing, and fitting before March and April when I became super busy. Tasks left at that point included finishing the bodice edges, trimming, and closures.
In addition to the Mrs. Vanderbilt’s inspiration I also looked at other 1880s skirts for draping ideas and other 1880s fancy dress outfits for trimming ideas. You can see the most inspiring images and extant garments on my Pinterest board for this project here.
For ease of documentation, I’ll do the facts as with the HSF:
Fabric: 2-3 yards of navy blue cotton twill for underskirt, 6ish yards of navy blue polyester charmeuse, 1ish yard of pink cotton twill for flat lining, and 1-2yds of silver net.
Notions: A 3yd tinsel garland, 6 star brooches, 3yds of navy polyester ribbon for lacing, hook and bar closures for the skirt, and thread.
How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Recognizable in it’s own time, certainly. Reasonable construction, certainly. Materials, not so much. It was much more important to use what was on hand than to purchase new fabrics, especially since this is an outfit that I don’t see getting a lot of use.
Hours to complete: Tons. I didn’t keep track. Bustles are fussy and require lots of time with a dress form to achieve an elegant drape.
First worn: May 21.
Total cost: Most of the fabrics were in the stash with the exception of the silver net and most of the notions were purchased cheaply on eBay. Let’s say $20.
For the photos I wore the dress with my black Seaburys and the new rhinestone shoe clips that I purchased in March. It was quite sparkly and elegant, but for dancing I changed into navy blue velvet flats. They were just as cute but did not get the special treatment of being shown off in photos.
I had the grand idea to use my curly hair ends flipped up on top of my head like the curled fringe popular in the 1880s. It’s also long enough that I was able to make the bun shape on the back also using only my natural hair. I pinned in star brooches to match those on my dress as decoration.
All in all I’m quite happy with the final result! Dancing in the bustle was just as easy as any other Victorian style. The differences were that all the extra fabric was behind me making some movements more challenging due to space such as during a quadrille, and that the bustle and layers of fabric on the back gathered a fair bit of momentum when turning, creating quite a swish!
Construction wise the only change I would like to make after one wearing is to bone the center back edges so that the back lies flat when laced onto my body and to sew in a matching fabric piece behind the lacing holes to hide any white from undergarments that wants to peak out. I’ll also need to wear a different chemise or tuck the top down so there’s not white cotton poking out at the armholes. However, these are minor changes and I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to wear this again so it might be awhile before they happen.
For this ball we set up a double sided picture backdrop, one side of which you’ve already seen. The other side included a large stuffed jaguar/panther I dubbed Jaggy for the night. You often see backdrops in regular Victorian photos as well as fancy dress photos. Unfortunately, with my heels on I was too tall for them! Oops! Being too tall inspired me to take some fun sitting photos.
For decoration out of the ordinary, we had the lucky and unexpected use of the fabulous blue and turquoise lanterns in many of the pictures as well as multicolored paper lanterns with lights inside. We put the lanterns around the room in glass vases as bouquets. First, a picture from the set up part of the evening. Second, a picture with some lanterns creeping into the photo.
A few weekends ago now, I went to an event at The Down Town Association in New York. It was an event out of my usual ordinary line of events and so I took the opportunity to create something out of the ordinary to wear. The title of the post rather gives it away… but I only had a week to put my outfit together!
Using this image as my inspiration, I determined that I needed to make a flower basket, but that I could use Annabelle as the base for the floral dress. I also wanted to use only items from my stash, thus limiting my options a little bit. So I spent my weeknights creating a fabric basket that fit over my hoops and then furiously pinned flowers to my skirt the day we were leaving for New York in the hopes that they would look good and at least a little like my inspiration image…
In the end, I enjoyed my flower basket very much, but didn’t like the fact that my furious pinning job didn’t really achieve the cascading flower look I was going for and that Annabelle’s pre-existing flowers were rather heavier looking than I had hoped, also contributing to the lack of cascading flower look. Maybe someday I’ll try again with the same basket and a different, or differently modified dress, but it was fun to do something different even if the results were not as great as I hoped for.
As I mentioned, this event was held at The Down Town Association in New York, which was established in 1860 (perfect for my fancy dress!). As far as I can tell the association is still housed in the same building they’ve been in since 1860. It was quite lovely inside, with detailed architecture and beautiful rooms. One room was a library full of a rather random collection of books. I enjoy perusing books and so proceeded to examine the titles closely. And guess what I found? A volume of Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage from 1912!
This excited me quite a bit, not only because it was from 1912, but I think also because it reminded me of Persuasion, in which Mr. Elliot is described as putting Burke’s Peerage in a position of honor in his estimation of important things in the world. Regardless, I got distracted and insisted that I needed to take pictures and look through.
Burke’s Peerage certainly is an undertaking, and this volume only covered the alphabet through letter L! Unfortunately, I didn’t spot a second volume in the library, but I hope it’s there somewhere.