Fashion on display- new images at Chelsea Library

Reference Librarian, Gillian Nunns, writes:

Chelsea Reference Library had a bit of space on the wall above our costume collection, and what better way to fill it than with some beautiful images from our fashion and costume periodicals?

Chelsea Fashion Collection & our new fashion images
Chelsea Fashion Collection & our new fashion images

Staff at the library were asked to pick their favourite images from a shortlist, and choosing was tricky! The images, depicting costume spanning the Regency and Victorian eras, were all picked from our own magazine archives of La Belle Assemblee, The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine and Les Modes Parisiennes. We like the fact that the winners show how the shapes and styles of fashionable dress changed over 5 decades:

La Belle Assemblee November 1808
La Belle Assemblee November 1808

Classical Greece influenced dress was at the height of fashion in 1808, featuring a high empire waist line and long straight skirts. Woman dampened the muslin draperies so that they clung to their figure!

 

La Belle Assemblee November 1812
La Belle Assemblee November 1812

This evening dress from 1812 features a great turban – indoor caps for daywear weren’t that fashionable in this era but essential for evening wear and turbans were a very popular choice.

 

La Belle Assemblee 1828
La Belle Assemblee 1828

By 1928 a very different silhouette was in fashion –with so called leg-o’-mutton sleeves and skirts with tiny waists and wide bases. Check out the elaborate trimmings and hats!

 

Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
Les Modes Parisiennes 1852

By the 1850’s ladies skirts were so domed that they had to be supported by hoped cages called crinolines and lots of petticoats.

 

 English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872

And then by the 1870’s the fashion was to have a flat front of the skirt, with lots of fabric pushed to the back… called a bustle. This image features a popular style called the Dolly Varden (Charles Dickens fans will get the reference) – where you have an overskirt which is shorter at the front with the sides and back bunched up.

Here are a few other images that were on the shortlist but didn’t make the final cut. We hope you like our choices!

Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
La Belle Assemblee 1828.
La Belle Assemblee 1828.

 

The colours of these prints are really vibrant even after all these years, but we also loved seeing some amazing pictures of the actual fabrics in one of the books that we have in our collection – Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy Johnston published by Victoria & Albert Museum:

Promenade Dress made of silk plush. British 1855-57
Promenade Dress made of silk plush. British 1855-57
Woman’s dress of woven silk with applied plated trimming, lined with linen. British, about 1805.
Woman’s dress of woven silk with applied plated trimming, lined with linen. British, about 1805.
Day dress (sleeve detail) of block printed cotton.  British, 1825-30 (page 194)
Day dress (sleeve detail) of block printed cotton. British, 1825-30 (page 194)
Evening Dress made of machine-made silk bobbin net, hand embroidered.  British, about 1810
Evening Dress made of machine-made silk bobbin net, hand embroidered. British, about 1810
Women’s shoes made of silk and linen satin lined with kid and linen with a flat leather sole.  British, 1830s-40
Women’s shoes made of silk and linen satin lined with kid and linen with a flat leather sole. British, 1830s-40
Bustle made of horsehair woven with linen  British, 1870-75
Bustle made of horsehair woven with linen, British, 1870-75

To find out a bit about costume in this era we also read History of Women’s Costume by Marion Sichel. Come along to Chelsea Library to find lots more about the world of Costume and Fashion, or log on to Berg Online with your library card!

 

Winter Kimonos

The books on Japanese costume in Chelsea Reference Library’s costume collection have caught our eye this week.  Although the early 20th Century saw the decline of the kimono as the everyday attire of Japanese people, we have discovered that this beautiful garment continues to inspire and influence Japanese culture and modern fashion around the world.  And as the nights get longer and colder, we have been looking at the kimono in winter. 

Traditionally, the choice of kimono reflects the season not only in how they are made, but also by the patterns that adorn them.  We were fascinated to learn about the many levels of significance that the motifs used on kimonos hold.  The natural world is the source of many motifs and symbols, many of which have a seasonal significance.  There is a Japanese belief in the figurative and also literal power of images, which makes the pattern and colour of a kimono very important for its wearer.  Winter kimono patterns include bamboo, pine trees and plum blossoms because they signify wealth and luck for the New Year.  The plum blossom in particular is popular for suggesting that it will be Spring soon.   Here are two amazing patterns depicting some of these things that we found in a book filled with images of patterns used on kimonos, called Kimono & the Colours of Japan.

Kimono Patterns
Kimono Patterns

 And here are two motifs depicting wintery scenes:

More Kimono Patterns
More Kimono Patterns
Yet More Kimono Patterns
Yet More Kimono Patterns

In winter time extra layers and heavier fabrics are used to keep warm, and cotton padding is added between each layer.  Here are some images we found in Kimonos by Sophie Milenovich of kimonos worn in the winter. Milenovich’s book focuses on how kimonos are worn in the present day.  The shape of kimonos has not changed over time, unlike some other things:

Wearing a Kimono at the Airport
Wearing a Kimono at the Airport
Clashing Kimono Patterns
Clashing Kimono Patterns

We were interested to find out about how much Kimono patterns have in the past reflected the social conditions of the time.  Wintery scenes can be a mark of a time of austerity, as with this photographed in Japanese Costume: and the Makers of Its Elegant Tradition by Helen Benton Minnich.  This kimono depicts grasses covered in snow, and was made in a time of Kimono austerity in the Kyoho era under the eighth Tokugawa shogun (1716-36):

Black and White Kimono
Black and White Kimono

As we read more, we discovered different examples of how kimonos reflect a culture based on ideas very different from those of Western culture.  In Beauties of the Four Seasons by Mitsuko Watanabe, we found out about how the clothes worn by women were not made to emphasise the shape of their bodies, as is the emphasis in the West, belying a very different relationship between clothes and their wearer.  In Japanese woodblock prints, beautiful women were not depicted for their bodies, such as can be found in Western art, but for the gorgeous kimonos that they wore.  Here is a print by Kitagawa Utamoro (c.1753-1806), The courtesan Madoka of the Tamaya-nai in which Madoka is wearing a winter kimono with lots of layers and padding:

The Courtesan Madoka of the Tamaya-nai
The Courtesan Madoka of the Tamaya-nai

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan started to be influenced by foreign cultures and the Japanese government encouraged people to adopt Western style of clothing.  So today the kimono is worn mostly for special occasions, but it continues to influence fashion design and is deeply rooted in a Japanese aesthetic.  Here is something we found in Making Things by Issey Miyake, who’s designs are heavily influenced by the kimono:

Kimono by Issey Miyake
Kimono by Issey Miyake

And here is an image of the fashion designer Kenzo Takada that we found in Kenzo by Ginette Sainderichin about the amazing clothing brand that he founded:

Kenzo Takada
Kenzo Takada

Gillian Nunns,  Tri- Borough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

Gillian Nunns, Reference Librarian
Gillian Nunns