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Twenties Look from the Contrast Fashion Show

This post from Ruby Pierce is the fourth of a series of four to share the text she wrote to accompany the four historic looks in the fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in October.

During World War I, women did a great deal of important work. ­­Some were on the front lines, acting as nurses, spies, and unofficial soldiers. By the end of the war it was clear that women’s clothing would never be the same. Women required much more freedom and less fuss with their wardrobes; thus the “boyish” silhouette of the 1920s was born. As we see here, the corset was banished, and a complete de-­emphasis of the waist began.

Many women rejected traditional femininity during this period, particularly as it had been expressed in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. This can be seen not only in the silhouette, but also in the popularity of short hair and suits. These changes were combined with a rising skirt hem. This look embodies an essential shift in women’s fashion and in women’s liberation — from the extremes of the robe à la française to the pouter-pigeon silhouette, the look of the twenties marked the beginnings of a new kind of personal freedom for women, the benefits of which we still enjoy today.

The model for this look was Christie Honore.


Helen Zenna Smith, Not so quiet: stepdaughters of war (New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1988).

The Victoria and Albert Museum, s. v. “Fashion Drawing and Illustration in the 20th Century”, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/fashion-drawing-in-the-20th-century/

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, s. v. “1920s in Western Fashion ”, accessed November 15, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1920s_in_Western_fashion

Blanche Payne, Geitel Winakour, and Jane Farrell-Beck, “Early Twentieth Century: 1900-1945,” in The History of Costume (New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. 1992), 568.

Edwardian Look from the Contrast Fashion Show

This post from Ruby Pierce is the third of a series of four to share the text she wrote to accompany the four historic looks in the fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in October.


Styles changed rapidly in the first 20 years of the 20th century, and this Edwardian period ensemble is an example of those changes. Several artistic factors influenced the look of the day, including the Art Nouveau movement, interpretations of Chinese and Japanese styles, the styles of ancient Greece, and many more. The hoops of the past had been utterly abandoned, in favor of a smoother, elongated silhouette. This silhouette consisted of a small waist and narrower hips, with additional fullness at the back of the skirt. Women’s undergarments during this period began to vary some. During the earlier years of the new century, the corset was still desirable for the creation of a small waist and full bust. Other, lighter options soon became available, including the bust bodice: a shortened corset meant to enhance the size of the bosom.

Around 1900, the desired womens’ silhouette was distinctly S-shaped in profile. This is now often referred to as the “pouter-pigeon” look. This was often achieved with a shirtwaist blouse: an independent dress shirt with a collar that was tucked under the skirt at the waist. These were usually very full, and could be starched like men’s shirts, or more feminine with frills and lace. The walking outfit you see here is an example of this, with a pouter-pigeon styled blouse and jacket, combined with a sweeping skirt with additional fullness at the center back area. Women at this time were doing more work in the public sphere, and the fashion reflected that. This look was ideal for more independent movement, with reduced interference around the legs and a slightly freer waist.

The model for this look was Hadley Seufert.

Blanche Payne, Geitel Winakour, and Jane Farrell-Beck, “Early Twentieth Century: 1900-1945,” in The History of Costume (New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. 1992), 555.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, s. v. “Corsets in the Early 20th Century”, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/corsets-early-20th-century/


Crinoline Look from the Contrast Fashion Show

This post from Ruby Pierce is the second of a series of four to share the text she wrote to accompany the four historic looks in the fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in October.

The Rococo look was long-lived in it’s influence on fashion, evidenced by the similarities present in the Crinoline look, almost 100 years later. The extremely small waist was in vogue again, emphasized by an enormous and full skirt. The skirt was supported by a cage crinoline, or hoop skirt, which was among the most significant fashion innovations of the Victorian era. This silhouette was seen by some as a revival of the hoops that were used for garments from the 18th and 16th centuries. This silhouette would have been first accompanied by a chemise: a slip-like undergarment, which would have been worn under the corset. A camisole or corset cover would have been worn over the corset, and the hoop placed over that. A petticoat (or perhaps a few) would have been placed on top of the hoop, in an effort to create additional fullness.

The hoop reached its peak size in the 1860s, however, the largest hoops were reserved for the wealthy and only worn on special occasions. The majority of women sought a relatively more comfortable and reasonable silhouette, like the one seen here. Most daily wear for women was made out of taffeta, cotton or linen, which were stiff enough to maintain the desired skirt shape, but also quite easy to clean. Photography at the time was black ­and ­white, but clothes certainly weren’t ­­– many women opted for wearing bold colors such as this. Synthetic dyes were developed in the 1850s, which produced shocking and vibrant colors such as mauve and red. This look would have been for an evening affair, such as a dinner or semi­-casual dance, which is evidenced by the dropped neckline and higher quality of the fabric.

The model for this look was Audrey Aller.


Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eubank, “Costume for Men and Women: The Crinoline Period,” in Survey of Historic Costume (New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc. 2005), 309.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, s. v. “Corsets and Crinolines in Victorian Fashion”, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/corsets-and-crinolines-in-victorian-fashion/.


Rococo Look from the Contrast Fashion Show

This guest post from Ruby Pierce is the first of a series of four to share the text she wrote to accompany the four historic looks in the fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in October.

This 18th century women’s garment is a product of the Rococo era. This era was characterized by pastel colors, curving shapes, and excessive detailing. These characteristics were present in all forms of art of the day: paintings, architecture, textiles, furnishings, and especially garments. Perhaps the most famous example, the wardrobe of Queen Marie Antoinette was lavish with these elements, and extremely influential for the world of fashion. This iconic silhouette combines an extremely wide skirt and a miniscule waist, exaggerating the natural curves of the human form.

A variety of intensive supporting undergarments created the desired shape of women’s costume during this period. Traditionally, a garment such as this is supported by an oval-shaped farthingale with graduated hoops of boning, or by wide side hoops called panniers. Both of these foundation garments support the structure of the gowns giving them an almost architectural appearance. This particular gown is called robe à la française, characterized by a full, pleated back and a fitted front. The term “Watteau back” is often associated with these gowns because they were commonly featured in paintings by the famous French artist, Jean Watteau. Sleeves usually ended just below the elbow, in order to flaunt the wearer’s beautiful forearms, and were finished off with one or more ruffles called engageants. Combined with the high pouf or pompadour hairstyle of the time, with additionally elaborate and descriptive decoration, this look was truly impressive.

The model for this look was Carrie Plover.


Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Rococo style”, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/art/Rococo-style-design.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, s. v. “Marie Antoinette”, accessed November 15, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinette.

Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eubank, “Costume for Women: 1730-1760,” in Survey of Historic Costume (New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc. 2005), 239.

2015 Art Center Fashion Show

In October we were very pleased to participate once again in a fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (FLLAC), here at Vassar College: “Intimates and Unmentionables: Constructing the Silhouette.” We collaborated with Contrast magazine, the Department of French and Francophone Studies, and the FLLAC.

Here are some photos from the event, by the photographers from Contrast:

The fashion show was preceded by a wonderful talk by Mary Davis on the subject of ”The Sound of Style: Music in Vogue.” Davis is the dean of the School of Graduate Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and specializes in cross-disciplinary studies of music, fashion, and culture.

In addition to the looks styled by the team from Contrast, the Vassar Drama Department Costume Shop provided four historic reproduction looks. These were coordinated by Ruby Pierce, Robin Piatt-Stegman, Kenisha Kelly, and Arden Kirkland. The models were Audrey Aller, Carrie Plover, Christie Honore, and Hadley Seufert. Narration for their looks was written by Ruby Pierce and presented by Olga Voyazides.

We also displayed two dresses from our historic collection, in the back gallery at the FLLAC. On the left is our Dress of Metallic Floral Brocade and Black Net (#VC1992102), from the 1910’s (see more of this dress on our collection website). On the right is our Pink Patterned Dress (#VC2001074) circa 1903 (see more of this dress on our collection website).

Many thanks to Francine Brown and Joann Potter from the FLLAC, and Susan Hiner from the Department of French and Francophone Studies, for making this possible!

Draping Project – Challenges of Historic Garments

This post is the third in a series with students’ reflections on their class projects to make patterns for reproductions of historic clothing.

This semester, Professor Kenisha Kelly’s advanced draping class was assigned a challenge: observe one dress from the Historic Vassar College Costume Collection and recreate it in muslin. We were also tasked with designing a small fashion collection combining the historic qualities and styles of our dress with modern fabric manipulations that we had recently done. We had two hours one day in which to take photos, record measurements, and formulate a plan for how we were going to take this image that was created over one hundred years ago and turn our squares of muslin into a spitting image.

Each student was assigned a specific dress from a particular time period; mine was a casual teal day dress from the 1890’s (you can see it in the online database at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/items/show/1146, and you can see a 3D rotating view of it at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/VR/2004.031/2004.031.htm). The 1890’s were defined by intricate bodices and much smaller and simpler skirts than previously seen. Petticoats became smaller, however corsets were still in fashion, as well as tall collars and cinched waists. For my fashion line, I tapped into the steampunk style, a futuristic imaginative concept that puts Victorian era clothes in an advanced technical age. This allowed me to modernize the Victorian style and play around with cuts and colors, while maintaining the basic structure of 1890’s clothing concepts.

When it got down to draping our pieces, we found that each dress had its own details and difficulties. Some elements that defined my dress were tucks across the center front and back, incredibly full two-piece sleeves, and a Watteau back. Also notable, compared to my classmates, was that I didn’t drape over a corset as it was presumed that mine was a wrapper, and thus would likely only have been worn inside the home.

After we had collected our research, both in person on the individual dress and online on the general styles and trends of the era, we were given just a little over two weeks to drape bodices, skirts, collars, belts, peplums, sleeves, cuffs, and more depending on the dress. Using what we had learned about fabric manipulation in the class up to that point in the semester, we created tucks, pleats, gathers, smocking, etc. I began with my bodice and skirt and the manipulations that were included in those pieces, followed by the sleeve, collar, belt, and finally, the finishing touch, gathered trim around the wrists, collar, belt, and tucks at center front and back.

In those two weeks, we all ran into a number of road stops where we needed to rethink our original plan and rework the fabric again and again. One of the challenges that arose for me personally was that the bodice and the skirt were one piece with no seam, so I needed to drape them together, creating some very oversized pattern pieces and awkward off-grain seam lines where the skirt became fuller. Another personal difficulty was in the sleeves, which were both gathered, tucked, and matched up differently than I am used to, due to the way the shoulder seams are set very far back. Both of these took a few tries with both fabric and paper patterns; however, it resulted in a dress that, although perhaps not identical, was incredibly reminiscent of the teal wrapper and evoked the characteristics of the 1890’s.


Draping an Outfit from the Historic Collection

This post is the second in a series with students’ reflections on their class projects to make patterns for reproductions of historic clothing.

For an assignment in our Advanced Draping class this semester, I recreated a two part dress from our historic collection, Dark Blue Ensemble with Crocheted Lace, which dates from the 1900s (see it online in our collection database at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/items/show/797)The first step was a close examination of the garment itself, taking pictures and notes along the way.

This was an interesting part of the process because usually when we work with pieces in the historic collection we focus on their preservation and storage, not on the nitty-gritty of their construction. The bodice, which is made up of many pleats, sloping shoulders, and a puff sleeve, took me a long time to create. By the time I’d finished the bodice (and around 3 versions of the sleeve), the skirt seemed a daunting task. I ended up taking out the skirt to look at it a second time since it’s made up of many sections with various fabric manipulations–pleating and smocking–and it was difficult to see these details in my pictures. Surprisingly, the skirt was relatively simple to assemble despite the fabric manipulations. All in all, the assignment was challenging but super interesting. Recreating a historic garment causes you to get to know the piece on another level than simply researching or storing it.


Fashion and Fashion Plates – Exhibition

For this year’s reunion weekend, we will host a new exhibition:

Fashion and Fashion Plates: An Exhibition of Selected Garments (dating from 1836-1956) Donated to the Vassar College Costume Collection


This will be on view in the Faculty Commons of Main Building, June 12-15 (specific hours are listed below). This show is free and open to the public.

The exhibition will feature a dozen historic garments accompanied by copies of fashion plates from the individual time periods.  Images from several nineteenth and early twentieth century fashion periodicals are represented including Lady’s MagazineThe Delineator and Costumes Parisiens.  The garments displayed will cover a span of more than one hundred years.

Fashion and Fashion Plates will be on view Thursday, June 12, 1-4 pm; Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14, 11 am-4 pm; and on Sunday, June 15, 11 am-2 pm.

“What Are You Doing” Video

Vassar’s Office of Communications just included us in a great series of videos they’re doing called “What Are You Doing,” showing behind-the-scenes work at the college.  They’ve shared a short video with me talking about the collection, and the link to the video was featured on Vassar’s home page last Thursday and Friday.

You have time to watch it – it’s only 1:44 long – short and sweet. Enjoy!

Recreating a Bustle Ensemble

This semester, some objects from our collection of historic clothing fell under some intense scrutiny from members of Kenisha Kelly’s Advanced Draping class here at Vassar. Each student was assigned one object from the collection to study and make a pattern for a reproduction. Some of the chosen objects, like the one discussed below, are not in good enough condition to re-mount on a mannequin for display, so the reproduction is the only way that we can truly appreciate what the shape of the garment would have been like on a body. This post is the first in a series with some students’ reflections on this process.

As a member of the Advanced Draping class, I was assigned the Blue and White Striped Day Ensemble from the historic collection (see it online in our collection database at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/items/show/679).  At first when I saw the dress, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of details; pleats, gathers, and other fabric manipulations covered the ensemble.  However, upon further examination, I found that almost none of them effected the structure of the garment.  Another immediate difficulty was that we viewed the dress on a flat surface, even though the dress is defined by the way that it creates shapes on the form, especially as this is a dress with a bustle.

As I started work on creating the top, I ran into problems with the pleats that run down the back.  First I had to figure out how to connect the pleats at the base to the peplum in such a way that it splayed beautifully over the bustle.  Then, after stitching I found that the pleats were not holding their shape, and it took a lot of hidden stitching to allow them to be structurally sound while being able to open and give motion to the back.  The most exciting things I found while working on the top skirt were the triangle tucks I had observed, created the body of the bustle.  The little tucks that had not looked like much when the skirt was lying flat on the table suddenly were the excitement of the skirt.  It mimicked the bustling that would happen under some skirts (thus the name the bustle) without having any contraptions underneath the skirt.

There was one aspect of the skirt that I did not attempt to replicate, simply because of the time that we had to work, but I found fascinating.  The lower skirt had cartridge pleats at the waist to allow for the extra fabric to cover the bustle (I used normal pleats).

It was amazing replicating a fully created ensemble, because it allowed me to just do techniques I saw without knowing what their final effect would be as well as figuring out how to create effects without knowing how they were caused.

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