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
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.
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.
Cindy wore a mid-Edwardian dress she made herself. I wore my 1912 tea/luncheon gown (made by Tracie) and the 1911ish “Lunardi revival” hat I’d put together for the GBACG “My Fair Lady” event last August.
A new gown! Or is it? Actually, it’s a new variation on an old theme of mine: Winona Ryder’s Newport archery ensemble from Martin Scorsese’s 1993 Age of Innocence adaptation.
The ensemble is fiercely cute, with little faux pannier-looking things radiating out over the hips from a shirred panel on the skirtfront and layers of eyelet ruffles cascading down the skirt. It’s a little reminiscent of the gown on the left in this French fashion plate from the early 1880s:
My friend Tracie Arnold of Past & Present Creations made the fresh iteration of my original, beloved version of this gorgeous natural-form era ivy dress. The first dress – constructed by Victoria Riddenour, hand-embroidered by me, and photographed beautifully by Lani Teshima – had become too small to even THINK about wearing.
I wore the new ensemble to San Juan Capistrano on Halloween weekend, where my pal Cindy and I had tea and generally caroused around the old town area. Cindy wore a beautiful, embroidered black velvet ball gown that she’d made for Bat’s Day.
Outfit notes: The straw skimmer is a Victoria Riddenour original. My corset is Denise Nadine‘s late Victorian “Nettie” style. I made the combination undergarment (which you can’t see) from Truly Victorian’s 1876 combination pattern (TV105). My garnet earrings are from Lacis.