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The Norfolk Jacket

24 Feb

So a few days ago I had the pleasure of watching the final Season Two episode of Downton Abbey (aka the Christmas episode), which takes place in 1919/1920.  I could completely derail this post and squeal about how much I adore this show, but other people have done enough of that.  Focus, focus.

Near the start of the episode there is a long hunting sequence.  It is absolutely gorgeous, if you ignore the fact that they are killing birds for sport.  Apparently there was a little hoopla in the UK about the characters wearing the wrong boots for the time period, but that’s not what caught my eye.  I noticed Mary’s jacket.

It looks awfully similar to this print I have in my living room.

How cool is that?

The Norfolk jacket has quite the refined history.  It first appeared in the 1860s and is, to put it simply, the best sporting jacket ever.  The thick, neutrally colored wool keeps you warm, while the loose, boxy cut gives lots of room for movement.  Most of the jackets had front pleats and big pockets as well.

The other interesting thing about this jacket is that its use is very specific.  It is for hunting and outdoor adventures only, which makes it impractical for those with a limited budget.  Only the upper class could afford to buy a garment that would only be worn a few times a month or so.  It was also on its way out of popularity in the 1920s, to be replaced with a more fitted jacket.  When Mary wears this kind of jacket, she is telling the world that she comes from old money and is perhaps not so interested in being on the cutting edge of fashion.

For more info on the jacket, check this out.  And if you need a close up on her hat and collar, like I did, enjoy this too.



8 Feb


After spending almost an entire year searching for an actual boater hat that I could actually afford, I FOUND ONE in San Diego!


(the obsession started here.)

Spencers in the Fall

16 Sep

Now that autumn is FINALLY arriving (cider donuts cider donuts), it’s time to break out the thin jackets!  And what better way to celebrate than by ogling some gorgeous examples of my favorite thin jacket, the spencer.

The spencer was worn at the turn of the 19th Century as a little jacket over your empire dress.  They were important- the muslin dresses, though stylish, were thin and drafty.  The spencer allowed you to keep the silhouette of the dress while staying warm,  and even livened things up by coming in all sorts of shapes, colors and decorations.  You will notice a variety of details with braiding, buttons, ribbons, and even pompoms, like the last one.

Happy (almost) fall!

Beau Brummell, the Guy to Know

2 Sep

So you are living in England, the year is 1800.  The pesky Americans have just gained independence and Charles, Prince of Whales is the royal to know.  Women’s fashion is deflating from large panniers and exotic fabrics to a simpler Grecian look.  You have no idea who Jane Austen is, but you do know who Beau Brummell is.

Beau Brummell was THE fashion icon at the start of the 19th Century, and is credited with creating the modern suit.  Born George Bryan Brummell in 1778, he became friends with the Prince of Whales while they were at school together.  Brummell then followed him to court and quickly gained a reputation for his wit and style.

Brummell gentrified the new fashion of wearing a riding costume when not riding.  His understated elegance made him popular with all generations.  He was meticulous in fit, style and color, using fine fabrics, simple colors, and, above all, the best tailors to be found in London.  With Brummell, the cravat was the key to the ensemble.  There are stories of him taking hours to dress each morning, and at least half that time was spent creating the perfect cravat.  There would be a pile of white linen to be re-ironed once he left the room- cravats that did not make the cut.  He was also addicted to cleanliness, and made shaving and daily bathing popular.

Beau Brummell was such a force unto himself that he still remained popular after the Prince ceased to be his patron.  It was only when his debts became too much that he was forced to flee to France to escape prison.

He never recovered any of his former glory while living in France, but posthumously you can find him all over the place.  He’s a character in novels, plays, movies, operettas and radio shows.  His name is used by rock bands, a hair salon, and for a clothing manufacturing award.  There is even a statue of him in London.

Trip to England, anyone?

Family, Pt. 2

8 Aug

Time to post some more family photos!  You will be interested to hear that we’ve traced a branch back to Ireland, and one ancestor was even killed by a horse-drawn trolly in Brooklyn.  I’m still waiting to hear of someone in jail… though I guess that applies for the present too (HA!).

From my father:

Joseph was my father’s uncle who died young. Dad says that after Joe died, Frances went to work full time, which meant Dad inherited a younger “brother,” his cousin Donald, and was strongly encouraged to take Donald with him where ever he went, which didn’t always go over so well.  When I was about 10 or so, Donald worked at Shea Stadium during Mets games in the summers, running up and down aisles throwing bags of Cracker Jacks to fans.


At least she looked happier for her wedding:

We originally thought my great grandfather here was in WWI garb, but now believe this might be a uniform for the Boy Scouts (or some version thereof).  More research to come!

More Tails, Please!

3 Aug

The other night I sat out on the Boston Common to watch Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s All’s Well That Ends Well.  Right before the show started, some of the actors came out with collection bags to get donations from the audience.  This is, in itself, very uninteresting, except for the fact that they came out in costume!  A brief taste of what’s about to come.  And really, who doesn’t want to see Victorian costumes up close?  The actors closest to my area were men in tailcoats, MY FAVORITE.  Men just look better in tailcoats, especially period tailcoats.

Tailcoats, though only used for formal evening wear now, were much more popular at the turn of the 19th century.  They were originally designed for the English gentleman on horseback, and then became day wear in the hands of dapper Beau Brummell.

Today, there are two main types of tailcoats – the dress coat and the morning coat.  There are many little differences between the two, most of them nitpicky and only relevant to tailors, but the important difference between them is the cut at the waist.  The dress coat has evolved into a coat with a squared cutaway, while the morning coat gradually curves into the tails in the back.

Dress Coat

Morning Coat

You will also notice that you do not button your dress coat – all of those buttons are decoration only – but you can use your one button on your morning coat.

And finally, if you still need convincing that tailcoats are the way to go, I give you the cast of The West Wing.

It’s not the best photo, but all of the men are wearing tailcoats.  And if President Bartlett wants you in tails, I really see no reason to argue.

McQueen,the Sublime and the Frightening

18 Jul

I must ask you to go to New York City before August 7th.  Go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Wait in a long line for an hour and pretend to be interested in Mesopotamia.  And finally enjoy the epic-ness that is their summer exhibit, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.

McQueen is such a fascinating character.  His work is at once ferocious and majestic, sharp and voluminous, intricate and political.  In addition to all this, his work is very feminine.  His corsets have breasts and hips.  The tailoring has curves.

The exhibit delves into what they call his “romantic mind,” which includes elements of Victorian Gothic, nationalism, exoticism, primitivism, and naturalism.  I personally was drawn to the softer pieces, dresses that one could potentially wear in public without fear of hurting oneself.

And if softer isn’t your thing, never fear.  McQueen wasn’t really into “soft.”

“Life to me is a bit of a [Brothers] Grimm fairytale.”

Reuters, February 2001