Archive | April, 2011

Dress Like an Egyptian

28 Apr

Last night I saw a production of Antony & Cleopatra.  Costumes for this play always entertain me.  The show is clearly set at a certain time in history, and it can’t really be taken out of it.  Therefore designing the costumes is both limiting and boundless- has to look Egyptian-esque, but why not add some modern sex appeal?  It’s amazing how much my opinion about each production I see of Antony & Cleopatra is based on their costumes.  And without fail, the costumes always look like they belong to the decade they were made.

For instance:

Jane Cowl as Cleopatra, Lyceum Theatre 1924

Judi Dench as Cleopatra, Royal National Theatre, London 1987

Greg Wood and Lauren Lovett as Antony and Cleopatra, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival 2009

Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman as Cleopatra and Antony, Royal National Theatre, London 1998

Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh as Antony and Cleopatra, Ziegfeld Theatre, New York 1951

Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter as Antony and Cleopatra, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon 2006

The films use a slightly different script, but the costumes are at a whole new (rich) level.

Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra, Cleopatra, Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, 1934

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra, Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, 1963

For an idea of what Cleopatra actually wore, check out The Cleopatra Costume on Stage and in Film.


The House of Worth

26 Apr

Charles Frederick Worth is one of my favorite designers.  Not only did he create the first couture house in Paris, but his designs are some of the most exquisite things I’ve ever seen.  The dresses that have survived are detailed, multi-textured pieces of perfection that their original owners must have treasured.  And thank goodness they did.

Worth was born in England, but moved to Paris in 1845 when he turned 20.  After working as a salesman with a textile company, he opened his first shop, Worth and Bobergh, in 1858.  The shop became popular almost immediately with influential women.  After closing for the Franco-Prussian War, he reopened without Bobergh in 1871 as the House of Worth.

Charles Worth was meticulous in his use of colors, textiles and trim.  He not only fashioned original ensembles for his wealthiest clients, but created fashions quarterly in his workshop that were displayed on live models.  Clients could then purchase their favorites to be fitted to their needs.  Et voila!  The creation of haute couture.

Charles Frederick Worth enjoyed a long, creative life, and when he passed away in 1895, his son Jean-Philippe Worth became lead designer.  He had a similar aesthetic to his father, and was equally praised for his use of form with detailed trimmings and unique fabrics.

The House of Worth next flourished in the 1920s under Jean-Charles Worth, nephew of Jean-Philippe.  He led the house into a new era with a new silhouette, and made the designs simpler as noble patronage began to decrease.

The House of Worth eventually closed in 1952, but it left a large legacy behind.  Not only did Charles Frederick Worth change fashion design, he changed the way people viewed clothes.  Fashion became art.

Thank you, The Costume Institute at MET, for having such a wonderful collection of Worth.

The Philadelphia Story

22 Apr

I’d forgotten how great The Philadelphia Story is.  I remember liking it the first time I saw it, getting a big crush on Jimmy Stewart, and genuinely having no idea how the movie would end.  But watching it again last night reminded me that it’s simply brilliant.  The actors are well cast, the script is crisp and funny, and Katharine Hepburn straight up OWNS her character (Literally, too.  She owned the screen rights after she played the part on stage).

There are many fashion gems throughout the movie as well.  Released in 1940, it shows the start of the transition between the flowing, slinky gowns of the ’30s and the boxier shape of the ’40s.

Also notice the same shape to all of Hepburn’s clothes.  All of her dresses have a belt at the natural waist, with little feminine details to add some class.

Hats make an impressive appearance in the film as well.

My favorite:

As you have already seen, the men in the film look quite dapper and polished.   One just can’t go wrong in a well tailored suit.  (Did I mention Cary Grant’s character name is C.K. Dexter Haven?  Best name ever.)

And just for fun, since I love this shot and young Jimmy Stewart:

Ambrose “Sideburns” Burnside

15 Apr

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, I thought I would give a little shout out to one of my favorite fashions of the time.  It’s not the hoop skirt, or the strangely crunched military hats. It’s the sideburns.

Meet Ambrose Burnside, a Union Army general from Rhode Island.  He was a popular man, gregarious and quick with a smile.  He also happened to have very impressive and distinctive facial hair.  You can pick him out of this photo with no effort.

Burnside wasn’t a military mastermind, however.  He knew he shouldn’t have risen as high in the army as he did, and unfortunately he proved himself right.  His military career ended with losing multiple, high casualty battles.  After being placed on leave by General Grant, he resigned his commission in 1865.

.. Burnside had repeatedly demonstrated that it had been a military tragedy to give him a rank higher than colonel. One reason might have been that, with all his deficiencies, Burnside never had any angles of his own to play; he was a simple, honest, loyal soldier, doing his best even if that best was not very good, never scheming or conniving or backbiting. Also, he was modest; in an army many of whose generals were insufferable prima donnas, Burnside never mistook himself for Napoleon. Physically he was impressive: tall, just a little stout, wearing what was probably the most artistic and awe-inspiring set of whiskers in all that bewhiskered Army. He customarily wore a high, bell-crowned felt hat with the brim turned down and a double-breasted, knee-length frock coat, belted at the waist—a costume which, unfortunately, is apt to strike the modern eye as being very much like that of a beefy city cop of the 1880s.

Bruce Catton, Mr. Lincoln’s Army

Fortunately for Ambrose, modern society (not including the history buff or the re-enactor) remembers him for his contribution to facial hair fashion.  He was not the first or last to wear sideburns, but his name has ensured he will always remain connected to these fine fellows:

Or this version of Elvis, if you prefer:

Advice from Gary

13 Apr

A friend of mine shared some great advice with me a few months ago.  He told me that when he wakes up in a sour mood, for whatever reason, he puts on a tie before he leaves his apartment for the day.  Ties make him feel better, he explained, and he stands out since he does not work in an office where ties are the norm.  People compliment him all day long, and the bad mood from the start of the day disappears.

I think this is brilliant.  I’m not sure I have such a sure fix like a tie, but sometimes one simple item – a necklace, a favorite shirt, a pair of shoes – can make a world of difference in how you feel.

Wise words, sir.  Wise words.

Stripes, Houndstooth and Florals, Oh My!

11 Apr

I am really enjoying all the flower patterns that are coming out this spring.  A few of them should stay on the tablecloth, but the rest are sweet and Victorian and I want to wear them all at once.  And it turns out, I CAN, so long as I’m careful.

I like these rules from Real Simple on wearing multiple patterns:

  1. Make sure one color repeats in every piece of the outfit (for example, navy paisley with navy, red, and white plaid).
  2. Combine loose prints with structured prints (like swirls with stripes).
  3. Blend small designs with larger-scale ones (such as gingham with bold flowers).

How easy is that!  The results are fantastic.

I especially love the model on the left:

There is always the Iris Apfel version, but I find her look too strong for me.  I think it’s the huge pieces she uses.  There’s not a lot of subtlety.


Happy mixing!

Baseball and Fashion?

6 Apr

Baseball is back!  The next seven (hopefully eight) months of my life will now be devoted to following brawny men in their twenties to forties wearing tight pants and hitting balls.  And I LOVE IT.

What I don’t love, however, are the people that try to make baseball fashionable/cute/sexy.  It doesn’t work.  There is no way to successfully make baseball clothes look sexy without looking like you’ve shown up after a very long night at a dance club.   Or looking like you would prefer to be there instead.  Pink, with or without bedazzling, is not a baseball color.  EVER.  And please, if you are going to a game but you don’t care about baseball, DO NOT use it as an opportunity to wear your tightest and shortest outfit.  It’s great that you’re there, but I’m not there to see you and your assets, I’m there to watch the game.

Just saying.

A few years ago actress Alyssa Milano created a clothing line, Touch, for feminine sportswear.  I appreciated the thought, creating baseball clothes for women in women’s sizes.  But honestly, who wants to wear this?

The plain t-shirts work, like this one, because there is no added “style”:

Might as well just get a kid’s shirt though- I bet it will last longer.

Final request: please go to a game this summer and have a blast.  Drink lots of beer, cheer for the best team, and avoid anything with the “designer” name Alyssa Milano.