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Blooming fancy dress

September 28, 2009

Let’s talk about fancy dress, as Hallowe’en starts to rear its warty fake-bloodied head. Those of us frantically searching for an inventive and beautiful costume which doesn’t involve vampires, witches or cats might care to consider these gorgeous illustrations from an early Victorian French book called Les fleurs animees by J. J. Grandville. The ‘flowers personified’ include the spiky Thistle, above, and sociable Tea and Coffee, below:

Ok, so perhaps it might be just a little time consuming to engineer one of these costumes, but wouldn’t it an amazing project?And you’ve got a whole month! Which is plenty of time to turn yourself into a wary Hawthorn, below:

(All this reminds me of school plays when I was very young, in which I remember embracing various extremely challenging (and blessedly non-verbal) roles of a Tree, a Sunbeam, and… ahem… a Blade of Grass.)

The Victorians rocked at fancy dress- especially anything that was allegorical rather than a direct representation. They were very good at dressing up as concepts such as Music, Spring, Night, etc. This was possibly due to the wide artistic licence these ideas afforded- after all, Victorian fancy dress was generally all about enhancing one’s own natural charms and looking as stunning as possible. The thought of transforming yourself into a Witch with warts and mad hair and blackened teeth etc etc would surely have been anathema to a Victorian lady!

Instead, the wistful beauty might have made a good Pansy, while the more regal might consider being a Tulip (both below):

Read both volumes of this book (and a host of other books) over at Botanicus, a freely accessible portal to historic botanical literature from the Missouri Botanical Garden Library. There are many many more images of flower maidens too numerous for me to show here, and you can download them in large format.

All images courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nathalie permalink
    September 28, 2009 5:43 pm

    That is such a wonderful book. Showing the kind of ungratitude only children are capable of, as a girl I was given a beautifully framed original of Granville’s Forget Me Not flower – a young woman swathed in vibrant blue flowers waving goodbye to a Louisiana steam-boat – and whilst it is delightful and romantic, I was so disappointed I hadn’t been given the Thistle (above), or the Opium Poppy (who sprinkled people to sleep), or even the wonderful Hemlock (with its vomiting toad, if memory serves correctly!). I have a copy of the book (modern sadly – most originals having been taken apart to sell as prints!) somewhere, but the colours here seem particularly well reproduced. So nice to see them on your site!

  2. September 29, 2009 7:43 am

    What lovely and interesting things you have on your site! These flower costumes are quite stunning, I’m particularly partial to the Tulip one, with that wonderful turban-like headdress.

  3. glassoffashion permalink
    September 30, 2009 11:15 am

    Thanks- I’m glad you enjoyed them! I was so spoiled for choice deciding which illustrations to show on the blog. I didn’t realise there was a modern copy of the book available- I’ll have to look out for it…

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