Historic Costume: Greco-Roman Chiton and Lady Emma Hamilton’s Attitudes

Kali as Emma Hamilton
Me! In Ionic chiton, performing one of Lady Emma Hamilton’s Attitudes (I forgot to take off my glasses!). In some printings of Friedrich Rehberg’s sketches engraved, this is called “Cleopatra Seduttrice.” It is probably based on artistic rendrings of Agrippina offering libations at the tomb of Germanicus (suggested by John Wilton-Ely and confirmed by me). There is a priestess statue from the macellum (marketplace) shrine in Pompeii that strongly informs this pose and in its restored state includes a libation bowl in one hand. It is sometimes referred to as Agrippina.

Because I love Greco-Roman antiquity, I needed to make myself a chiton. Because I’ve performed Lady Emma Hamilton’s famous, classically-inspired tableaux vivants twice in the last twelve years, I needed to make myself a chiton. Because chitons are awesome and I like them, I needed a chiton.

By this point in the blog post, you might be asking yourself, “What the heck is a chiton? Who is Lady Hamilton? And those “tableaux” thingies?” I know it sounds like a strange combination of ideas, but it’s honestly not as complicated as it seems. In fact, the chiton – a very simple women’s  (and men’s!) garment originating in ancient Greece and widely used as a basic dress or underdress for women in Roman eras – is extremely easy to make and wear. But I’ll get to that in a second.

Emma, My Inspiration

Cleopatra Seduttrice
Rehberg’s drawing of Lady Emma’s “Cleopatra Seduttrice” attitude, likely influenced by both Roman and modern (as in, Renaissance onward) renderings of Agrippina (or others) offering libations to the gods.

First, the Lady Emma part of the explanation. Our English Regency society puts on various events dealing with events and culture from the late Georgian period of British history. In the course of preparations for a ball honoring the great naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson, I somehow got roped into playing a role. And not just any role; I would be recreating Lady Emma Hamilton’s famous “attitudes.” Lady Emma performed these silent tableaux from 1787 through the 1790s and into the early 19th century, sparking several high-profile imitations and influencing modern dance and other forms of performance art over a hundred years later. Now, this was 1999 and I was crazy busy trying to finish my last year of law school. The last thing I probably needed on my plate was a performance of some sort, but for Emma Hamilton I made an exception.

Priestess from Macellum in Pompeii
Restored priestess sculpture from the macellum (marketplace) shrine in Pompeii. Sometimes referred to as Agrippina, her pose is similar to Rehberg’s drawing of Emma.

Continue reading “Historic Costume: Greco-Roman Chiton and Lady Emma Hamilton’s Attitudes”

Edith Head: Star Costumer

Edith Head
Edith Head in the 1970s.

This piece was originally written for the Greater Bay Area Costumers’ Guild’s Finery newsletter, to introduce our Vertigo-themed costume event on February 11, 2012.

Despite her long studio career and a stunning cache of major awards (including a record-setting 8 Oscars, the most ever for a woman, and 35 Oscar nominations), costume designer Edith Head is a star whose name isn’t readily recognizable to most people. Her work, however, is instantly familiar to almost everyone. She’s the woman responsible for the iconic fashions appearing in mid century classics such as Roman Holiday, To Catch a Thief, Vertigo, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Head spent 43 years at Paramount, worked 14 years at Universal, and collaborated on various projects for other studios over the years, aggregating a portfolio of work totaling several hundred movies. “I do so many films that I would only like to send you work that is outstanding, or of importance to your collection,” she wrote in 1967 to the Wisconsin Center for Theatre Research, in response to a request to create an “Edith Head Collection” at the University of Wisconsin.

Her diverse collection of designs includes everything from period fashions to fantasy creations. Though she downplayed cutting-edge contemporary fashion’s influences on her work (“What is shown in Paris today is a dead duck tomorrow” she once said), Head was also in many ways a fashion trend setter. The popular demand for sarong-style dresses in the late 1930s and 1940s, for example, grew out of Head’s iconic designs for Dorothy Lamour in The Jungle Princess (1936). Continue reading “Edith Head: Star Costumer”

Outfit of the Day: New Year’s Eve Fashion!

Grace Dress action shot!
Grace Dress action shot!

So I thought I’d share my new favorite dress, which I happen to be wearing right now for New Year’s Eve festivities! It’s the Grace Dress from Laura Byrnes Black Label/Pinup Girl Clothing. Yes, I buy and wear a lot of Pinup Girl Clothing items. No, they aren’t paying me to pimp out their stuff. I just love their clothes!

Anyway, Grace features a well-constructed fitted bodice, a superfull circle skirt, and a really sumptuous red sateen fabric textured with a midcentury black flocked pattern. This one’s size xl, and it fits just right! More images after the jump…

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Happy New Year: Updates and Bloggy-dos and an Outfit of the Week!

So a few months ago I set out a list of blogging goals. Like many ENFP personality types, I tend to be very long on ideas and very short on attention span and time. To make matters worse, this past semester was one of my all-time busiest work periods, a frustrating reality further exacerbated by a bunch of extra life demands (some fun, like period balls, some not-so-fun, like expensive car repairs) that required time and money. My 2012 New Years’ resolution is to spend more time on my websites – particularly this blog, as it is both a way for me to reduce my rambling ideas into tangible goals AND an impetus for following through on those goals so I can share the results with you!

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year! Pinup Couture Evelyn dress in green satin.

I’m still plugging away on my to-do list from this past fall, and  I’m logging my goal progress to keep me honest! But before I bring you in on that, a goodwill gesture to prove that I’m working on it – an Outfit of the Week!

This is my Christmas Eve ensemble: Evelyn dress in green satin with reversible black velvet shrug from Pinup Couture, new Dian Von Furstenburg frames, homemade hairflower, and black suede-and-patent heels from Sofft Shoes.

Seriously, this dress is ace: rich satin sheen and Christmas green color, super-cute ruched bodice with adorable black velvet bow, and tremendous fit. When it comes to the Pinup Girl Clothing house brands, I usually hover around xl-2x; this one’s a 2x. There’s extra room in the waist (My inch measurements are 44-33.5-49), but it’s not baggy or ill-fitting. And the length is perfect for my 5’8″+ frame.

So if you’re plus or curvy or simply looking for a kick-butt, retro-style, made-in-the-USA clothing company, give Pinup Girl Clothing a shot!

Okay, now on to the rest of it. Click the link below to come out on the other side of the jump…

Continue reading “Happy New Year: Updates and Bloggy-dos and an Outfit of the Week!”

Outfit of the Day! Birthday Edition Part Two…

So I promised infos on my second birthday party outfit.  I didn’t get any great pictures from that night ( which was a fun evening on Boatel Queen Mary in Long Beach), but I can show you what I wore!

On Queen Mary, looking (ship)wrecked
On Queen Mary, looking (ship)wrecked. Yes, you can see my corset and bra and my arm looks like it's melting.
Trashy Diva 40s Dress
Trashy Diva 40s Dress - a slightly better view.
Trashy Diva 40s Dress
Trashy Diva 40s Dress - official shot.

My dress is the Trashy Diva 1940s dress in the Olivine Floral fabric.  The colors are perfect and the fit is just divine. I made a pretty purple magnolia hairflower to go with it. The white anchor necklace is also by Trashy Diva – perfect for dinner on a ship!  I didn’t wear the pictured white cardigan, though; instead, I added a light, short-sleeved, 1960s-style spencer jacket in a black jacquard fabric that I’d found at Lane Bryant ca. 2007.  A gorgeous vintage rose brooch (a gift from my friend Cynthia!) finished off the jacket perfectly.

 

Lane Bryant retro-style jacquard jacket with vintage brooch
Lane Bryant retro-style jacquard jacket with vintage brooch.

Outfit of the Day! Birthday Edition Part One…

Yesterday, I celebrated my birthday with my parents and my good friend Teri.  We went to Trader Vic’s in Emeryville, my favorite restaurant in the whole world!

I wore my Bettie Page Clothing “Surprised” dress from their Gil Elvgren pinup line, pearl necklace and screwback earrings that my mother and grandmother purchased in Japan in 1966, a hairflower I made from a Sally’s banana clip and a Michael’s silk special, my suede-and-patent Sofft bow pumps (which you can’t see here), and my beaded 1950s Saks Fifth Avenue clutch purse (which I blogged about last year).

Surprised!  Birthday dress!
Surprised! Birthday dress!

Next weekend, another party!  I’m not sure what I’ll be wearing, but I’ll definitely share here after all is said and done!  😀

Fashion Crap: And I do mean CRAP – recent costumes…

October was kind of a sewing nightmare. I really, really hate sewing. Like, I’d rather stab myself with a rake than have to deal with the cutting, the pinning, the seamripping, the rumpled fabric (right, I don’t even OWN an iron)…yeah, can’t stand it.

Well, since none of my beautiful Regency wardrobe fits (still), I had to pull together an 1814-ish evening gown out of my trusty-dusty purple silk sari (not a very period color, I know) for the Bay Area English Regency Society’s Congress of Vienna Ball. I had a role – Princess Bagration, the White Pussycat and Naked Angel – so I needed something that looked lush. At any rate, the job’s not TOO bad for a rush. I didn’t have time nor a proper pattern to make period stays, so the silhouette’s not the best. Oh well.

For Halloween, I made myself a Patrick Nagel “Rio” outfit, perfect for “dancing on the sand.” This image was apparently the alternate cover image considered for Duran Duran’s legendary sophomore album.

More images in my photo album.

Fashion Crap: Vintage beaded purses, anyone?

So nearly a year ago I promised to piggyback my antique jewelry post with a look at some of my spiffy vintage beaded purses.  Most of these purses came from my grandfather, the king of pawns and master of the Bay Area flea market.  It’s also possible that one or two of them belonged to my great-aunt Alice.

But FIRST, my awesome silk shawl from the 1920s.  This is the famous Shawlhead shawl, ifyouknowwhatImean.

Silk 1920s shawl.
Silk 1920s shawl.
Shawlhead
Shawlhead.
Shawlhead by Lani
Kali in 1920s silk shawl. Photo by Lani Teshima.

Okay.  So onto the purses.  First up is a cute, cream-colored purse with machine embroidery and white beading.  It has a sparkly clasp and metal chain, and looks to be from the 1960s.  There’s no maker or shop mark on the lining to identify it…

Continue reading “Fashion Crap: Vintage beaded purses, anyone?”