The National Library of Australia: An online treasure trove of fashion history? Yes!

When Christian Dior had tea in Paris with Ann Lowe, he looked like this.

When my Ann Lowe research led me to a hunt for very detailed recaps of Paris fashion shows she attended, my usual sources covered the topics in a frustrating and broad way. American newspapers gave the shows drive-by coverage.

This is from the Reuters news service and used internationally...slightly detailed and a good start...but not enough to help me set a scene...
This is from the Reuters news service and used internationally…slightly detailed and a good start…but not enough to help me set a scene…

American Vogue was OKAY, but their focus was more on the styles that were being translated into Paris copies. British Vogue was MUCH better—although a bit hard to get your hands on—and French Vogue would have been an outstanding source, if I understood French.

French Vogue from the 1940s...going straight to the source is always the best...if the language doesn't get in the way!! (Most Art History people know French...I do not.)
French Vogue from the 1940s…gorgeous, right? And going straight to the source is always the best…if the language doesn’t get in the way!! (Most Art History people know French…unfortunately, I do not.)



I’m not quite sure why an  Australian Newspaper Archive is such a fabulous source for detailed recaps of couture fashion shows in London, Paris and New York. But a newspaper search on the TROVE website brings back amazing results–mostly from “Australian Women’s Weekly.”Blog_6Blog_5Play with the date ranges and the keywords, and you’ll have hours worth of browsing ahead of you! Along with the amazing search functions, it is very easy to download pdfs and jpgs. I’m sure this would be helpful for topics outside of fashion too, so TROVE might be worth checking out whenever you are on a source hunt!

More Fairy Tale Fashion

Drowning my (mild) sorrows a bit this morning because I’m headed to New York City in early April—-but it’s a day trip for a very neat conference—- 10 blocks away from FIT—so I don’t think—-although I may try—but I don’t think I’ll be able to get over there. 🙁

I wonder how long lunch will be??  😉

To soothe my disappointment, I think this would be a good time for some more brochure!


I work with dresses like this (and fabric originally used in these 18th century dresses) at work, it is so nice to see on on a mannequin, instead of struggling to unpack it (and repack it---which takes three times as long!!) from a storage box!! Such gorgeous silk!
I work with dresses like this (and fabric originally used in these 18th century dresses) at work, but it is so nice to be able to enjoy this dress on on a mannequin, instead of being the cataloguer who is struggling to unpack it (and repack it—which takes three times as long!!) from a storage box so I can take a closer look and photograph it!! Such gorgeous silk!


I haven't stopped to count, but this dress has made it onto this website at least four times? I would wear it everywhere. To work, to Starbucks, out to the curb to get the mail...just simply everywhere. :)
I haven’t stopped to count, but this dress has made it to this website at least four times?  But you don’t mind, right? I *LOVE* this dress. I would wear it everywhere. To work, to Starbucks, out to the curb to get the mail…to Target to pick up laundry detergent…just simply everywhere. And with the fancy bodice? You don’t even need to figure out jewelry.
Practical Prada! This would probably be better for running that errand at Target. The colorful print on this is just lovely! This would definitely be for a fairy who is trying not to call attention to herself—and who is annoyed to have to  run errands with her sister, the idiot looking for the laundry detergent aisle who won’t stop swirling in that  flowing Marchesa gown! This is actually something that I could imagine happening in Target with my own big sister…she’d be the practical one in Prada, of course.

A convertible high heel shoe from the 18th century? I don’t want to wear this—but I do kind of WANT this to still exist

Leather shoe and patten, 1700s V&A Museum T.442-1920

The first time I held a shoe from the 18th century, it was a little silk slipper being passed around my costume history class. Yes, my amazing costumer instructor regularly brought dozens of objects from her personal collection to the Smithsonian Castle (home base for my grad program)  and we handled them and viewed them up close during lectures.

Silk from Spitalfields (England), 1749 Designed by Anna Marie Garthwaite (a very well known fabric designer of that time period). This is a typical Spitalfields silk damask pattern, and the more you see them, the easier it will get to identify them

The little silk slipper was a “straight” which means that it was not shaped especially for a left or right foot and the fabric was a creamy silk damask with a colorful floral design—-probably made from Spitalfields silk. I was actually amazed to see that it was designed to match a dress, and not just a white kid leather slipper,  but matching fabric shoes were actually very common.

An English shoe from the 1730s-1740s in our collection at Winterthur. That’s one of my working photos before it’s cropped and ready for the database.

I’ve never known very much about shoes, but I’m cataloguing some at work right now, I picked them as a plan B one day because the room large enough to lay out full length garments for photography was being used by someone else, so I needed to work with something small.

Pair of Leather and silk Pattens from 1730s-1740s,
Leather and silk pattens with iron bases V&A Museum. The iron ring raises your foot over the mud and muck of an 18th century road. Your pretty silk shoes would remain pristine
Yes, these shoes and pattens were not taking long strolls through the streets of London, but to step out of a carriage and into an opera house? It will do.

I’ve been working with silk and leather ankle boots, children’s boots, silk slippers with very low heels, silk heeled shoes and something kind of amazing. A heeled shoe that fits and ties into a flat leather base. The base is called a patten and it looks sort of like a sandal when it is empty. Add a shoe and you’ve got a high heel shoe that operates more like a flat.

Wouldn’t that be a great idea when you are in heels and it is raining and you are trying to get to the metro or catch a bus or something? 🙂

Women only wore pattens outside, and some were even raised to help navigate through muddy streets—or to at least get you from your carriage to the front door of the opera house, I think.

I couldn’t get enough of these shoes on Thursday, but that patten that impressed me so much actually isn’t original to the shoe—the colorful silk trim doesn’t match and the shoe is too big for it.

Our pair has a patten that doesn’t exactly fit the shoe. Not knowing a whole lot about shoes from this period, I didn’t realize this until I dug into some books and looked for some other examples. That’s one really interesting thing about my line of work. You can think you know SO much about something, and then you can turn a page or two and and realize that you, my dear, are just at the tip of the iceberg and thank goodness you didn’t finish writing this object’s description before you actually did some more digging to see what experts already thought about this design. These two objects are in our collection together to show their function—but they weren’t worn together and now I know that.

Imagine what Nike could have done with this concept! Too bad it fell out of favor before the 1800s.

Hark! The Google Newspaper Archive! Not completely dead…just hard to find!

IMG_4328Just a quick note to provide a link to the Google News Archive . I thought this was dead—-but it’s just not an active project for Google and it looks like they’ve stopped adding to it. They’ve also stopped actively promoting it and the only way I could find a link was through a Google search 🙂

What is the Google News Archive? And why am I so excited about it? It is an easy way—and one of the only FREE ways to search newspapers from the late 19th and early 20th century. The results turn up as scans from the actual pages.

black paper
Not a fashion related article—but a scan of the front page of a 1907 African American newspaper. Dozens of issues of this paper are available in full on Google News Archive “Published every Saturday in the Interest of the Race” I love this kind of stuff!!

While a digital subscription to the New York Times will also give you access to scans of their original issues, Google News Archive does a MUCH better job at providing content from hundreds of small, regional papers. The New York Times won’t give you many (or any!)descriptions of the gowns worn at an inaugural ball for a southern governor in 1914, for instance—but a patient search on the Google News Archive WILL and sometimes that’s the kind of stuff I need to find!

Just searching Google under the “News” heading won’t take you to this resource, you need to be a cool kid (which you are!) and know the link:

Here’s the full link again


I STILL didn’t get to Fairy Tale Fashion…but I’ve got the Brochure!!

I don’t think I’m getting to New York in time for Fairy Tale Fashion. Sigh. However, the giveaway FIT brochure has MANY MANY pages. Fifteen objects are represented! So, how about if we take a peek at a few objects every couple of days until we’ve finished?

Some of these were already shown when our fashion correspondent/my big sister shared her visit but now we have the curator Colleen Hill’s descriptions! If you ARE so lucky to be in the NYC area before mid April, don’t let the brochure be enough…head to this exhibit and drool over these beautiful pieces in person!!

A MILLION thanks to our little birdie and informal fashion correspondent! She ALSO happens to be an extraordinarily talented Embroiderix (I think I just made the variation of that word up!) Anyway, you can follow that link and check out her very cool Instagram

I think this one is my favorite!
And can we talk about color on this cloak!? 18th century and SO very bright. A lot of the 18th century silk I work with is still brightly colored, but I don’t know if I’ve seen any wool broadcloth or silk velvet in Winterthur’s collection from this period that is as bright!
And this? Well, I just love this. It reminds me of an early Gunne Sax dress (that is a copy of a 19th century indigo resist pattern–in an 18th century inspired dress style with a faux corset and way too much going on lace and ribbon-wise) that I own that is SO extreme and so bohemian—I wouldn’t be able to wear it anywhere. I look at this and just see a hem that would drag on every piece of city dirt in a NYC street—impractical, but I do love this.


Run, don’t walk….to your local magazine stand!!Conde Nast celebrates David Bowie

IMG_4573When was the last time anyone told you to rush to your local magazine stand? I’m guessing that it’s been quite a while. BUT there is a very fashionable and VERY shiny magazine in honor of David  Bowie’s style and his influence on style, and even though it is 14 dollars (!!) you may want to try to grab a copy. The Brilliance of David Bowie—- published by Conde Nast and a really fun collaboration between all of their fashion/lifestyle/music/technology and etc publications.

This was also the most fashionable item available in the Wilmington, Delaware Amtrak station today. By far.


headshotA coughing and sneezing historian’s note: My closer look at the MFA Boston’s Kimono Wednesday has been slightly sidelined by the sniffles! Sorry about that. (was it the Amtrak train to Amherst? The Peter Pan Bus to Boston? The fancy hotel that looked a little too clean? I only get colds when I come home from trips) Anyway, never mind, check back in a week or so—that Kimono post will be on the way soon!

A Peek into a Costume Collection (part one): From bronze ducks to Silk Kimonos—BOSTON edition

In Boston Common: The mystery knitters truly outdid themselves with this—the hats even had pom pons


I was in Boston this week!  It was still freezing there! The bronze ducks in the “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture on Boston Common were well prepared—- they’d been ‘yarn bombed’ with a set of hats and scarves for each little duck.  Too clever to not share.


But this trip reminded me of a beautiful Kimono collection at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and I thought that would be a fun thing to share this week.

Noh costume (nuihaku) Kimono Japanese Edo period 18th or 19th century
Noh costume (atsuita) Kimono Japanese Edo period 18th century (overpainted in late 19th)


This collection is especially interesting because it includes a number of examples from the Meiji period (1868 – 1912). The Meiji period is the first time period where you’ll see a number of synthetic dyes being used in Kimono fabric. I used a number of examples from the MFA’s collection in a grad school research paper about the use of Aniline dyes during the Meiji period—so I thought this would be fun to revisit.

Kimono (uchikake) Japanese Meiji era 1868–80 Synthetic dyes are used in this kimono
Kimono (uchikake)
Meiji era
Synthetic dyes are used in this kimono

But, an unexpected complication popped up while I was browsing for additional information about the MFA’s Kimono collection. Last summer, the MFA introduced an event called “Kimono Wednesday”, which was intended to be a series to share objects in MFA’s fine art collection  with related Japanese textiles from their decorative arts collection.

This didn’t go over very well—or at least, it would be fair to say that the response the museum received about this programming series surprised MFA Boston staff.

An article from the Boston Globe explains more from the protester’s point of view:  And this article may be a more helpful description of the situation.

Cultural appropriation is an incredibly important topic in the museum field. And the protests around this exhibit (from both sides) make some valid points that are worthy for some additional exploration.

So, instead of a light, pretty article about Kimonos at the MFA Boston, I’m going to hold up on my synthetic dye chat and take some time this week and work on a follow up post for next week that will look into the issue of Kimono Wednesday (and the way the museum responded and shifted their programming)  with some more depth.

Kimono (uchikake) Japanese Meiji era late 19th century
Kimono (uchikake)
Meiji era
late 19th century