October 1932, and a crisis is facing the fashion world.
Luckily for us the writers at Britannia & Eve magazine were on hand to demystify matters. (Or make them more complicated. One or the other.)
The issue causing sleepless nights is that no one, but absolutely no one, can decide where the waist should be this season. Should it be high, or low, or somewhere in the middle? Apparently the good couturiers of Paris can’t decide either, and the solution is to have all three levels of waist IN THE SAME DRESS.
“Many clever couturiers,” asserts the magazine, “have made what one might call a ‘compromise waistline’ which is definitely in three places– one around the hips, one at normal, and one above. This requires much cutting and corseting… Molyneux has another method– he attaches the belt at the back in two little notches, leaves the rest of it free, and let it be wrapped about the middle or above, or below, as you like.”
“One house,” declares the magazine, “which made an immense success last season with high waists, keeps them aggressively high in front but lets them drop at the back just enough to suggest that even the highest may fall.” I wonder if they mean something like the example on the right below, which is by Chanel:
“Consider,” muses the magazine, “the tucks at the natural waistline in the dress from Jane Regny…and the false air of high-waistedness lent to the bodice by the cross-over fichu”:
The back of another Jane Regny example:
Then there’s this dress by Bruyere, “where a clever drapery obscures the waist in front, although a belt marks the normal waistline at one side”.
And a similar idea by Patou:
And “last, but not least in importance, is Patou’s six inch drop. An example of his hip-length waist and fitted medieval bodice is shown”:
Or, if you are still undecided, you can apparently “wear an enormous belt about ten inches wide and let people guess. Something like this must be done until the season is in full swing, and until we find that waists are here, there, or somewhere else.”
(You’d be presuming the ten inch belt is their little joke, right- not recalling many pictures of 1930s dresses with whopping 10” belts and everything? But then take a look at these belts featured in the article- and how modern they look with all their multiple straps and buckles!)
Well, I hope that makes everything perfectly clear. (Isn’t is a comfort that fashion was as fickle back in 1932 as it is now?)
The temperature here is in the high 20s (Celsius, that is, because otherwise that would obviously not be good at all…) And, despite the autumn leaves, everyone’s wondering round all bemused and smiley, hoping this in the Indian summer we haven’t seen for years come to atone for the summer that wasn’t.
So, of course, I’ve just finished knitting a pair of socks.
At the moment I just look at these and laugh. The comic mis-timing of the whole enterprise! Woolly socks, and just when I’ve had to dig my sandals out of hibernation! Ha. But then, there’s a corner of my mind that’s cosy in the knowledge that, come the cold dark days, these socks will be waiting, all snug and smug and ready.
The pattern is “Fenestra” by Jeanie Cartmel (Ravelry link requires login), and is knitted toe up. A lot of very intricate sock patterns I come across are generally written top down, and I much prefer to knit toe-up. And this is such a clear, well written pattern- and, providing you concentrate (and don’t talk, or breathe, or even think about anything else), not really as difficult as it looks.
The yarn is Wollmeise Sockenwolle in the colour “Blaue Tinte”- which is not an entirely different colour to the sky here today…
Right. My feet are about to mutiny unless I put them back into sandals where they belong…
Sandra remained perfectly still in an attitude of prayer: hands demurely clasped, eyes closed (well, almost) in devotion.
Of course she knew that her seat- right in the front pew, dead centre- was acknowledged by everyone to be Charlotte Smythe’s. And she knew that the entire congregation of St. Bridget’s were just gasping to see what would happen next.
Well, Charlotte could stand there glaring as long as she liked. She could stand there, hands on hips, lips pursed, and no doubt thinking all kinds of unholy thoughts. But Sandra wouldn’t be budging. Not this time. Charlotte had been the undisputed queen of Jonasville society for too long, and it was high time her place (both physically and metaphorically) was usurped. Starting right here, today.
“Amen,” intoned Sandra sweetly, and listened to Charlotte’s footsteps receding back up the aisle…
Back in 2009 I blogged about the “Beetlewing dress” worn by Victorian actress Ellen Terry to play Lady Macbeth- and the National Trust’s project to restore it. Well, the restored dress is now on display at Ellen’s former home, Smallhythe Place, and last weekend we paid a visit…
What can I say that could possibly do this amazing conservation project justice?
I could tell you that apparently it took over 1,500 hours to restore the dress, and that bits of the crocheted fabric had to be re-crocheted. I could tell you that the damaged beetle-wings were reinforced with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste…
Detail of the belt at the back
But, really, when you’re up close with this dress, you don’t consider the hours of painstaking restoration; the stunning design of the dress is all you see. As soon as you walk into the tiny room where it’s displayed, the gown demands your attention- its iridescent scales wink and beckon in the half-light.
Although essentially a Victorian take on a medieval costume, there is something timeless about the dress- it’s the kind of gown that probably wouldn’t look out of place at a Paris couture show today. You can just imagine the gasps that must have gone up in the audience in 1888, as Ellen walked out on stage. And what makes it so ageless and arresting is the texture- the crocheted tinsel yarn embellished with real beetle-wings. (Beetles are not killed to harvest their wings- they shed the wings as part of their lifecycle. More on the beetles and materials of the dress in my original post.)
The dress is behind glass, but it’s displayed on a cunning revolving pedestal- at the touch of the button you can view it from all angles. (How many times did I push the button? Let’s just say: quite a few…)
Small wonder that John Singer Sargent wanted to paint Ellen wearing the gown:
Oscar Wilde, who saw Ellen’s arrival at Sargent’s Chelsea studio, apparently said: “The street that on a wet and dreary morning has vouchsafed the vision of Lady Macbeth in full regalia magnificently seated in a four-wheeler can never again be as other streets: it must always be full of wonderful possibilities.”
Ah, Oscar, no one tells it like you do!
Here’s the cloak originally worn with the dress (you can just about see it in Sargent’s painting):
Detail of the sleeves:
The lovely outside of Smallhythe Place:
Also on display are a few other stage costumes worn by Ellen:
Now that’s what I call a dressing-up box.
When people told Betsy she was in denial, she just smiled and asked innocently “isn’t that a place in Egypt?”
Well, maybe she WAS in denial, but at least she knew exactly what she was denying. She denied winter- and autumn too. Friends might extoll the new season’s fashions, and mock her for wearing strapless dresses in October, but she would not be swayed. She failed to see how anyone could get excited about sweaters, or raincoats, or grey flannel trousers. To do so meant accepting the end of summer, and summer was very far from over. No, summer would last till November at the very least.
But the shops were clearly in league with winter, for they’d been full of winter propaganda- woollens and tweeds and such- since July. Betsy shook her head, and, as a gesture of defiance, took off her jacket. Yes, someone had to take a stand against that kind of insanity…
Finally, I’ve added Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Project Audrey! All my screenshots are up, and, as ever, you can navigate by choosing a costume here. Thanks to those of you who nudged me towards adding this film next- it was an absolute treat to watch it again! You see, it’s actually not a film I’ve seen very often- and I’m not even sure why that is. Maybe there are some films that are so iconic you think you already know them inside out?
But watching it I saw things I didn’t even remember. How could I have forgotten there’s a scene where Audrey “might be knitting a ranch house”?!? And there were heaps of new details I didn’t even notice before. I knew that the sofa in Holly’s apartment is half a bathtub, but this time I noticed the other half is used to keep plants on:
It’s little details like that which make the film such a total delight– and perfectly illustrate Holly’s Golightly’s quirkiness. And these details are fun, but they’re not intrusive, they don’t detract from the film’s clean ‘60s look, or the subtlety of the acting (Mickey Rooney aside) or the script. In fact, this film is note-perfect on the every front, from the set-dressing, to the make-up (which made me rush to the mirror to try and perfect the smoky eye- no, I still just look like a bruiser), the hair, the costume. Every time I paused the film to screenshot, I could imagine that still as part of a magazine photoshoot….
(Isn’t that a potential Givenchy print ad campaign right there?!?)
It would have been so easy for them to have really overdone it on the costume front, but Audrey’s character is all the more believable because of the relative simplicity of her clothes. She wears what appears to be the same knee-length black dress in at least three separate scenes. But, but, crucially with very different accessories to create different looks. Perhaps this is partly because (having no money) Holly doesn’t have a lot of dresses? What she does have, of course, is jewellery, given to her, as she says herself, by male admirers: “you can tell the kind of person a man really thinks you are by the kind of earrings he gives you.” (Perhaps we also get the sense that Holly Golightly is a blank (or black) canvas- that even she isn’t sure who she really is, and that extends to her clothes?)
It was Givenchy who was responsible for Hepburn’s wardrobe in this film, but I was intrigued to read the iconic floor-length black evening gown she wears below was originally designed by him but redesigned by Edith Head to be more appropriate. Apparently Givenchy’s version had a split up the leg! A little more info on this (and the version of this dress that was auctioned at Christies in 2006) is on this page here.
By the way, on a slight tangent, has anyone seen the film Priceless (French title: Hors de Prix) starring another Audrey- Audrey Tautou? I rented it a few weeks back, and liked it so much that I actually bought it. It was apparently heavily inspired by Breakfast at Tiffany’s, although I didn’t make the connection at the time.
Basically, Audrey Tautou is a fortune hunter cruising the French Riviera for rich men, and mistakenly gets the idea that shy hotel barman Jean (played by Gad Elmaleh) is a millionaire. If Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Hepburn’s film, Priceless is Elmaleh’s. (Although Tautou is as good as ever, her character is perhaps not entirely a sympathetic one). Elmaleh manages to be utterly convincing and beguiling as he makes the transition from lovelorn barman to, well, shall we just say playing Tautou’s character at her own game… Priceless is more of a comedy that Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and a lot sharper (almost uncomfortably so at times) about the whole seducing-rich-men-into-picking-up-your bills thang…
Just a very quick post, but I had to share this amazing video by WestfieldStratford on Youtube. It chronicles a hundred years of East London style in a hundred seconds. (And a hundred years of dance…) Enjoy!