Godey's Lady's Book introduced something new to American fashion plates in December of 1860: fold out fashion plates. In Godey's and other magazines, single page fashion plates had been appearing for decades, but two page engravings were something new. In the next few years, other magazines caught on to these larger embellishments with Madame Demorest's Mirror of Fashion publishing engravings up to four pages as early as 1862.
Stepping outside this morning, the chill in the air made me miss my annual November trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It also put me in mind of fur. Many images show women in fur collars or cuffs. Thrift stores are a place to find used furs to recycle and make into new to you items. In fact, one coat can go a long way in adding fur trims to coats for different eras. My mother gifted me her fur coat from the 1980s and I have used it for multiple projects and still have a big bag waiting to be used. This 1870s ferrotype presents two women ready for cold weather in their fur collars and cuffs.
When I decided to take part in the Modern Maker’s Historical Halloween Costume Contest, I already had idea for an ensemble in my head. I wear black almost every day in my modern clothes, but not in historical costuming. The contest allowed me to finish the black impression and take it to Halloween. Halloween is and has always been my favorite holiday. I have always admired Halloween photoshoots by historical costumers and wanted to give it a shot. The competition gave me the little push I needed to actually follow through with the ideas I had been tossing around in my head. The ensemble idea was a good jumping off point, but I needed to take it further. I like spooky, but not scary. My vision for the photoshoot was to reflect that.
In the process, there were successes and some issues along the way. I love the results. Even if I don’t win, I still had fun and got some great pictures.
The spencer is pulled from an extant in the DAR collection. The pattern will soon be available from Figleaf Patterns. I have the benefit of testing some of their patterns before they are released and this is one of them. I love the super long tight sleeves on this garment. It is entirely handsewn in licorice silk taffeta from Silk Baron.
The sheer petti-coat
I initially wanted a sheer petticoat with a train, but I didn’t have enough fabric to make the train as long as I hoped. I really had to do some creative piecing to make it work at all. It is entirely hand sewn. Unfortunately, the fabric, originally purchased at 96 District Fabrics, was no longer available, so I had to make do. Also, I forgot how much I hate silk organza and the way it puffs instead of drapes. I added two rows of velvet trim at the bottom of the skirt to weigh down the bottom of the skirts. When I finished petticoat , I added additional full length skirts underneath for the desired volume. With this addition, I really liked the way the skirts looked with the spencer.
My initial intention was to have most of the pictures with a black velvet poke bonnet. Once I had it all together, I didn’t like the poke bonnet with the spencer and petticoat. Probably because the bonnet shape I was using was 20 years fashion forward compared with the rest of the ensemble and looked overdone with the late 1790s silhouette. I decided a simple early soft crowned bonnet with a downward angled brim would be more suited to the rest of the ensemble. I used our Camillia Pattern. I added an original bonnet veil, but I needed more feathers! I always wanted a significant amount of feathers as part of this photoshoot.
I decided to make wings. For the shape of the wings, I looked at 18th century gravestones and actual bird wings. I cut the wings from poster-board as a template. I then cut the wings from buckram and wired the outside of the wings individually. At that point, the wings were still unruly, so I ended up sewing wire back and forth across the wings as I would with a bonnet brim. I wanted to make a soft curve, but still support the wing. I then covered both sides of the wing with black cotton fabric. Before attaching the feathers, I looked at the anatomy of wing feathers online and examined the wings of my chickens to get a natural look. I fortunately have a lot of feathers in different sizes to choose from. I ended up using black pins to pin the feathers to the wings, so I could reuse the feathers at a later date.
Hair and Makeup-
My initial idea was to wear my hair down, but with the wings and so much black I was afraid my dark hair would turn me into a big black blob. I decided to wear my hair up and paint my face and neck white. I have a long neck which would create nice contrast to the tops of the wings. I used lbcc historical paint for the face. My daughter helped me paint and powder my face and neck. We added a dark shadow around the eye and a red lip. The look was overall very simple, but worked well. I used a masquerade mask for many of the pictures, so you can’t really see the dark eyes, but when I took the mask off some of the pictures ended up looking like a wide eyed Edward Scissorhands.
To complete the look, I added an original silk parasol, plain black masquerade mask, American Duchess boots, jewelry by Dames a la Mode, and a random piece of dotted netting that acted as additional veiling and random drape. Once I made the wings, I needed a scythe. I didn’t want a plastic scythe, but finding someone who had one proved difficult.
I live in a town established in 1814, but the cemeteries and churches are even older. I initially wanted to use the oldest cemetery, but on further thought I realized that it was surrounded by modern buildings, so shooting would be difficult. We decided instead to use a very large cemetery on the edge of town. My husband and eldest son were to take the pictures. We had very little time for the cemetery portion of the shoot (you know kids have obligations!). I mean very little...less an a half an hour. My daughter and cousin acted as art directors to make sure everything looked ok in the shoot. Some of the shots in each of the locations are interesting artistically, but didn’t really show off the outfit.
When we finished, I received a text on my phone that friends had located a scythe for me, but I needed to use it near the owner’s house. We hopped in the car to the natural/farm location. We found some great old buildings, but it was a big muddy mess and traipsing through the woods in silk organza proved challenging. We ended up with some really great creepy shots, but some of the pictures really didn’t show the outfit well.
The last pictures we took were the field shots. We did the best we could to not destroy the dress or the farmer’s soy beans and avoid fire ants at the same time to get these shots. I love the natural look and composition of these shots, but for some reason some of the pictures came out blurry.
My Favorite Shots
I like the composition of this shot. It is really about the whole picture for me on this one. I am really an after thought.
I love this shot because of the tree, the house, and you can really see my vision for the skirts. I do not like that you can’t see the wings.
I like this shot because the wings are clearly visible while also showing the outfit. I like the contrast of the natural greens in the grass and ivy with my outfit and the stones.
I like the composition of this shot and that the red lip is clearly visible. Like the previous shot, I also like the shape of the wing and the contrast of the green. I wish you could see the bottom of the dress in this shot.
Creepy Editing and Final Thoughts
I really don’t care for edited photos other than a little cropping, but it was fun going a little crazy with some of these images to take them all the way to Halloween. I received help with editing from Kara Bocek. For the photo editing I used Photoshop. I used the subject selection tool and had fun playing with the background using filters, color selection, and blur tools.
This was so much fun. I want to do more and can’t wait for next year! A special thanks goes out to my family for all of their help and to the Daniel and the Owens families for help with the scythe and the natural portion of the photoshoot.
This late 1840s 1/6th plate daguerreotype has so many wonderful details. The drawn bonnet slightly flares at the brim to allow for many tiny blossoms which frame the face. Her tight sleeves sleeves feature beautiful lace cuffs. I really wonder about the silk dress and fine accessories with a child of this age. He is very still for the image. I imagine him jumping off her lap and running around the studio. Is it nap time or did they bribe him with a sweet?
The truly brilliant aspect of this mid to late 1850's ambrotype is the tinting. Of course, I bought this one because of the blue flowers and ties. If you really look, someone spent a lot of time on this photo. Not only is it tinted in the cheeks, but also her hands and forehead are carefully tinted bringing the sitter to life.
There are so many things that I find magical about this bonnet.
For one, it is blue. This is the first dark blue tight bonnet I have examined from the mid 1850s to early 1860s. Drawn yes, tight no. In fact, when people ask me to make dark blue bonnets, I usually encourage them to choose another color for the silk and add blue trimmings. Blue silk is just not seen on surviving bonnets. The fashion plates don't describe them either.
For a tight bonnet, it is in excellent condition. The silk is not shattered and it still has its trimmings. The majority of my extant bonnets are either drawn or straw and no longer have trimmings.
The movement of the flowers is truly magical. All the little rose buds and leaves are on thin stems that allow them to move. The ribbons are not woven in one piece. The edging is attached with a tiny seam allowance.
So say hello to my unicorn. I am proud to have you in my collection.
This cdv from New York City shows a woman who embraces all the trends for 1865. Her hair is dressed in rolls on top of her head. The fanchon bonnet sports no curtain and allows for a low chignon in the back. Her skirts are fashionably trimmed, but pinned up to reveal a decorative striped underskirt. You can almost feel the luscious texture of that paletot. Hello fashion icon! Thank you for stepping straight out of Mme. Demorest's Mirror of Fashions.
Bonnets in the mid 1860s were small... very small. So small in fact, that often when I find extant bonnets, they are listed as children's bonnets. The bonnets in from 1865 to 1867 let the hair come out from under the back and do not come much further forward than the top of the head. On extant bonnets, there is a crescent shaped piece that replaces the bavolet that helps keep the bonnet up on the head. So don't be fooled when you see them, they really are for grown ups.
Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine
Description of Steel Fashion-Plate for March.
Fig. 1.—Dress of pearl gray silk reps, trimmed with green velvet arranged in the sheaf style. Paletôt of heavy brown silk, trimmed with wide and narrow velvet. Rose Portugal silk bonnet, made in the Empire style. Bands of pink velvet edged with white lace are attached to the bonnet and strap the waterfall. Gloves of buff undressed kid stitched with black.
Fig. 2.—Dress of brown poplinette, trimmed with black velvet and steel beads. The dress is looped up by black velvet rings over a petticoat of the same material as the dress. The corsage is made with a very long basque, and worn with a belt and sash richly trimmed with velvet. The hat is of black straw, trimmed with black feathers, and a long black veil of spotted tulle which is turned round the hat and falls over the back.
Fig. 3.—Dress of pearl-colored gros grains, gored and trimmed with Magenta velvet and buttons. The bonnet is of pearl Terry velvet, trimmed with a long plume, crystal ornaments, and Magenta velvet. A long veil of white tulle is fastened on the right side of the bonnet.
Fig. 4.—Full suit of mauve linsey, trimmed with heavy silk cord and white llama fringe. The bonnet is of white silk laid in folds, and trimmed with mauve velvet. A long veil of white tulle covers the face.
Fig. 5.—Dress of white alpaca, trimmed with bands of blue silk edged with black lace. A wide sash of bias silk falls over the back of the dress. Black silk paletôt, made very short in front, and richly trimmed with bugle lace, cord, and buttons. Black Neapolitan bonnet, trimmed with blue velvet and white field daisies.
Everything about this mid-1850's daguerreotype says 1850s: the lace mitts, the wide hair, the large collar, and the bonnet. Yes, there really is a bonnet in there behind all of those ribbons. In the mid 1850s, bonnets shrunk to a very small size. The only part of the bonnet visible from the front were the trimmings which were in abundance.
Even though I hand sew almost every day, I do not use many different hand-sewing techniques every day. This morning I am sewing a rolled hem to finish a ruffle on a Lunardi hat for 1780s. Rolled hems are particularly helpful in sewing cap ruffles and other millinery projects, so I use this technique several times a year, but for some reason I forget how to get a perfectly formed rolled hem between the projects I use it on. There are several channels on YouTube I like to visit to brush up on hand sewing techniques.
Sewn Company by Sarah Woodyard has great videos on hand stitching and also offers classes. Sarah is not only an accomplished historical seamstress, but a delightful individual. I was honored to work with her at an event last August hosted by the Heritage Sewing and Skill Building Group in Savage, Maryland. The group offers classes and workshops on sewing from the colonial through the federal periods. They are now offering virtual programs as well.
Another place I like to look for hand-stitching technique videos is Burnley and Trowbridge. Most historic seamstresses and tailors know them for their beautiful historic fabrics and tools, but they also have a YouTube channel. Their page is filled with all types of videos to help you with your hand sewing and they have had classes and sew alongs this summer as well.
This ruby ambrotype has been in my collection for at least 10 years, but she doesn't get to come out to play. Broken and poor quality, I wonder about her story. Ruby ambrotypes are developed on purple rather than clear glass and usually of better quality and yet here we are with a barely visible image. I have enhanced her image dozens of times to get a better look, but this is the best I have come up with so far. Is it actually taken outside or in front of a backdrop? How did she survive all these years in pieces and so difficult to see? Is it an image taken of an image, or a novice photographer with little experience? Some how I feel she is special, or special to me any way and I will continue trying to get a better view as technology improves. One day, I will get a better glimpse of this early 1860s beauty.
This mid-1850s ambrotype is filled will details. From her lace mantel to her white work collar, a lot of hard work and skill went into her ensemble. Most of these items were probably purchased rather than homemade. Popular from late 1856 through 1858, this style of bonnet creates a tiny halo around the face with its full cap of netting. One noticeable detail from the photograph is the curtain. Fabric doesn't lay like that by itself without support. Many extant bonnets have a wire at the bottom of the bavolet. The wire allows the bavolet to flare and stand out from the bonnet rather than lay limp. One more simple detail that we should be adding to our reproductions to more closely create the look of the fashion plates and photographs of the mid-19th century.
American fashion plates? Unthinkable.
Many American living historians look to fashion plates to help interpret the clothing of the 19th century, but before the late 1820s and early 1830s only European fashion plates existed. Although Americans did closely follow European styles, there is an entire ocean between the United States and Europe and a unique American identity. The Ladies’ Magazine and Literary Gazette and The Lady’s Book introduced American fashion engravings to their publications in the early 1830s. Many people do not realize that the two were separate publications before Louis Godey purchased The Ladies’ Magazine. The combination of the two magazines would later become Godey’s Lady’s Book, the most widely read ladies’ publication in the 19th century. The early fashion plates in both magazines were not numerous, often poor quality, and lacking descriptions, but they are American.
Our new fashion plate book for 1830-34 is now available for digital download.
Many living historians talk about women dressing their age. Others insist society pressured women to dress to the norm. Others feel women purchased the fashions they could afford. There were probably all three types of women just as there are today. I do not find a lot of older women in outdated styles in photographic evidence. This older lady definitely fell in the last category. She is dressed to the nines including her bonnet. This extremely fashionable style of bonnet peaked in the fashion plates in the first half of 1864. Towering above the forehead and narrow at the cheek, this particular high brim bonnet ushered in the end of the popular spoon shaped style. By the second half of 1864 and the first half of 1865, the fashion plates began to show more conservative styles sitting closer to the head.
Vintage flowers don't go bad, but there is a limited supply. We do what we can to continue to bring you what we can find. Sales have been slow with most events cancelled, but we are still plugging along and building up inventory of these hard to find gems. If you like yellow or orange, you are really in luck. A lot of these flowers come in limited color choices, but I can always find yellow and orange. My favorites are usually from the German Democratic Republic or Czechoslovakia. Both of these countries haven't been around since the early 1990s. The 1990s don't seem like a long time ago to me. I graduated from high school then. Alas, I am vintage and so are these flowers.
A conveniently placed mirror in this fashion plate gives us a front an back view of this popular style of headpiece seen in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Engravers often used this technique to allow viewers to see different angles of a garment. The headpiece in question appears like a bun shaper that has been cut to lay straight, and placed oddly on the top of the head. I have always found this style odd, but they pop up in many fashion plates. The idea of it being velvet increases its appeal and the cap at the back to cover a small chignon makes it a useful addition to a fancy early Victorian impression.
The Court Magazine & Monthly Critic and Lady’s Magazine, a Museum of the Belles Lettres, Music, Fine Arts, Drama, Fashions, &c.
Description of the Fashion Plates in the Present Number.
[Having found that many of our Subscribers have been desirous of having a greater Number and greater Variety of Fashion Plates than we can possibly give in this Work, we beg to inform our Readers generally, that there are eighty-four Plates and upwards of the same description published by us annually in Paris (from which, monthly, we select two of the most novel and seasonable for the use of the Court Magazine), and that the same can be obtained from Mr. Dobbs, our publisher, at No. 11. Carey Street, or by the Order of any Bookseller in England, Scotland, or Ireland, viz., for three months, 12s.; for a year, ?2, in advance, as customary in France.
No. 2. – Dinner and Evening Dresses. – First figure. Dress of organdi (book muslin), embroidered in coloured worsteds; corsage en pointé and a la Sevigné with folded draperies across the bosom; the sleeves excessively short and full, but without trimming (see plate). Hair turned back entirely off the brow in the Chinese fashion, the back dressed low, in a rouleau with one small bow of hair in the centre (see plate); the wreath of roses is put on a la vestale. Long gold earrings; white kid gloves ornamented at the tops with a puffing of gauze. A bow of pink satin ribbon with long ends is placed at the point of the corsage. White silk stockings; black satin shoes.
Second figure. – Dress of striped gauze, with a very deep flounce at bottom. Châle manteau or mantelet, of black satin; this shawl is rounded at back in the style of the mantelet Châles we have so frequently described; the front ends are long and finished by thick tassels. This shawl has likewise the useful accessory of a large hood, which can be drawn over the head at pleasure. It is lined with white silk and wadded. Coiffure a la Berthe. This is the most fashionable style of coiffure at present adopted in Paris. The one on the figure on our plate, is composed of black velvet, and consists merely of a narrow head-piece, deep enough to admit of its turning up in a roll in front (see plate); a deep fall of black lace is put on at the edge (bord) and hangs low at the sides, forming a kind of oreillettes. A bouquet of flowers is placed at each side. Three gold-headed pins are stuck into the roll at the left side (see plate); the front hair is in braids en fer à cheval, the back in a single braid en rouleau. Half long black silk mittens; bracelets, worn high up on the arm. Antique fan; white satin shoes.
As a student of 19th century millinery, I do my best to make historical reproductions. When a customer purchases a Timely Tresses bonnet, they don't have to question the research. They know that it is true to the shapes and techniques of the desired era of interpretation. There are many milliners who don't mind hot gluing the flowers to their bonnets, cutting up straw hats from a thrift store, or trimming imported straw blanks that are just not the right shape, but I am just not one of them. I don't wish to put those milliners down. I am glad they have success in business. It is just not the right path for me. I have had to get over some things. Many period materials, like willow, are just no longer available. I carry the best the supplies commercially available, many of them vintage, to encourage folks to make more authentic bonnets. Constant examination and collection of extant bonnets, antique photographs, and fashion plates improves my product with little details like crossbands to take bonnets one step closer to the real deal. Authenticity brings me joy and that is what I choose for my business.
When I look at wet plate photographs, the first thing I notice is the bonnet. Shocker right? Sometimes, that means I end up with pictures where, let us say, the bonnet outshines the wearer. In this mid to late 1850s 9th plate ruby Ambrotype, the young woman's beauty definitely does justice to her bonnet. Most of my photographs show solid colored backgrounds, but some feature decorative backdrops. I especially love the little sailboat on the lake. Just today, I noticed that there appears to be a little flag on top of the mountain. Decorative backgrounds can help identify the photograph and give further information about the photograph like location and specific dates. Unfortunately, I haven't been so lucky with mine, so I guess I better get back to research!
When ever a new costume drama comes out, my friends and family call or text to see what I thought of the costuming. For the most part, I either have too much to say and the questioner glazes over or I just say it is a theatrical interpretation and move on to something else. A issue for me with costuming in film is that I inevitably have a customer who wants to look just like that character. Part of our mission at Timely Tresses is historical accuracy. How can I in good conscience dress a customer in a bonnet that is 20 years out of date to the impression or that is just a fanciful creation of a costume designer? Even when movies get the dresses right, the bonnets are usually terrible. I have started many times to review the millinery in a movie or series and ended up with a passage far too long to post. I have decided addressing one bonnet at a time is a far more manageable task.
When I think of bonnets in the movies that really impress me, this bonnet from the 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre always comes to mind. The shape is appropriate to the late 1830s and early 1840s. The brim flares neatly around the wearer's face. The curtain is an appropriate length. The crown goes strait back rather than earlier raised crowns. The tip (the tiny circle at the back of the crown) is sort of weird. Unlike the rounded blocked tip of most 19th century bonnets, It is super flat and the one thing that is strange about this bonnet. The rest of the bonnet is so phenomenal that I choose to ignore the tip.
Finally, the straw . . . . . the straw is just amazing. I can't say enough about the straw. I don't know who they found to do this straw work, but it rings true to the 19th century. Popular throughout the 19th century, fancy straws were a lighter than air option for summer. Usually the decorative work was produced in strips and then sewn together either to other strips or to straw braid. I purchased straw thread and a straw splitter years ago in the hopes of making a fancy straw. I realized after starting, the bonnet would end up being a ultra time intensive labor of love that I would be afraid to wear for fear of damaging it. For the Jane Eyre bonnet, my fear is that they took the straw off of an original bonnet. My hope is they paid someone an exorbitant amount of money to make this masterpiece. One day, I hope to finish my fancy straw bonnet. Until then, I will enjoy looking at this one.
Today when we want to see an image again we simply screenshot it on our phone or computer. It was not quite so easy in the 19th century. This ferrotype (tintype) is reproduction of an earlier image probably dating to the early 1850s judging by her clothing. The edge of the original image is visible and indicated by the black line around the outside. When I purchased this image off of eBay, I was hoping it was a daguerreotype mislabeled as a tintype, but I wasn't quite so lucky. Nonetheless, she is pretty interesting. Wet plate photography captured a phenomenal level of detail. Even though this is a copy, you can see the canes in her bonnet, the wrinkles in her hands, the print of her dress, and so much more.
This woman apparently was so frustrated with her bonnet falling off of the back of her head that she pulled her crossband down over her forehead. Crossbands often appear in extant bonnets and were used to secure the bonnet to prevent slipping off the back of the head. They aren't usually visible in photographs or mentioned in the magazines. Without combining different sources for research, I might of thought that this older woman was just wearing a really groovy headband. Unfortunately, this image doesn't have any back marks, so finding further information about her is difficult. She is a treasured member of my collection and always makes me giggle.
Currently, my goal is to make all of my dress lengths into various ensembles before purchasing any more fabric. With this particular fabric, I decided to recreate this mid-late 1860’s gown shown in the book Sous L’Empire des Crinolines. I don’t have enough of the fabric to make the under and overskirt out of the same fabric, but I found the exact same colors with a wider stripe for the detachable overskirt. Without the overskirt, the gown will be usable for balls and slightly earlier events. As I always do, I started with the skirts. I cut my panels, stitched them, added the facing, and hem. However, when I tried to balance the skirt, it was too short. I am not sure how this happened, I have not grown taller in at least 20 years. So, how to fix it… With the lovely horizontal trim on the skirts, I have an option. I will slice the skirts under the trim to lengthen the dress about two inches. Not looking forward to this, but I am not ready to throw in the towel on this dress yet! Everyone makes mistakes. Tricks and fixes are visible on a lot of extant gowns, so it isn’t just me.
This French plate from 1812 is one of our very favorites. Furthermore, one of our favorite creations was inspired by this plate. We started with a base from our Ophelia pattern with a few brim adjustments. We used sinamay fabric to achieve the flipped up brim with great success. The ivory silk was gathered flat and then placed on the bonnet and trimmed and bound with red silk taffeta bands. Twelve feathers were hand curled and sewn using period techniques to achieve the full look of the plumes.
There is so much to see in this 1860's ambrotype from the Timely Tresses collection: two well dressed women, a spiffy man, and even a dog. The bonnets in this image are stylistically very different. The woman on the right shows a high brim with narrow sides in the height of popularity in 1863. In contrast, the woman on the left has a rounder earlier bonnet appropriate to the very early 60s or even late 50s. Could this be a younger sister? The fashionable high brimmed bonnet sports two different colored ties, a trend seen in fashion plates, but not often visible on extant bonnets or in photographs.