Film Costuming – The Favourite

The Favourite is a beautiful looking film set in c. 1705. There are stunning wide angle shots especially of scenes at the sprawling Jacobean Hatfield House that stands in for Kensington Palace where the real story took place (Kensington was unavailable for filming as it currently houses a dozen or so members of the royal family.) The acting is also excellent, especially the parts played by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone. As for everything else — I have some issues…

The trailer implied this was a comedy – it is not. You could call it a dark comedy, but that would mean you find violence, sexual misconduct, bullying and all forms of behaviour that rely upon someone’s misfortune amusing. Also, the story is based on historical truth, but not the facts. The timeline of the actual events is compressed from over a decade to perhaps a year, and period gossip and innuendo is presented as having actually happened (the lesbianism subplot is pure conjecture.) This lack of historical accuracy bothered me at first but there are plenty of clues for the viewer to get that this is a loose interpretation – a re-styled version of history.

Someone who knows the period will spot that this is a superficially accurate period film. The costumes, which are very effective, are artistic re-imaginings of c. 1705 period dress. The costumer, Sandy Powell, uses a strict black and white palette, colours that were used minimally at the time for women’s court dress, and many anachronistic textiles and decorative techniques including laser-cut vinyl. Some gowns are pure imagination. Queen Anne’s white velvet gown with ermine tails was not based on anything the monarch ever wore. There are many images of Queen Anne wearing many different gowns, so this was a conscious decision to distort the truth. 

If you missed the fashion clues, there were other anachronisms and artistic licenses dotting the film. The dance sequence near the beginning includes moves from the gavotte, waltz, disco, and hip hop; the pooled draperies; visible hot air vents; flowers used in arrangements that weren’t yet introduced to English gardens…

So take this film with a grain of salt. It is beautifully styled, but so far from the facts that the only truth that remains are the names of the characters. The usual response to this type of criticism, which I often give, is that ‘It’s not a documentary’, and I agree. But must history be so fictionalized to make it interesting? In our world of alternative facts and truthiness, this film will become history by those who don’t google the facts.

Queen Anne in purple velvet and gold silk, 1702
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As Seen In – 1912 Paquin dress

French evening dress by Paquin from the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin, and the cover of the May 1912 issue of Les Modes with the same model being worn.

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100 Years Ago – The World and Fashion in 1919

In the wake of the end of the Great War and with the Spanish influenza pandemic in retreat, there must have been great relief to see 1918 come to an end and great hope for 1919. However, the new year got off to a bad start on January 19 when bizarre news came out of Boston Massachusetts of a two million gallon tank of molasses collapsing, creating a tidal wave of sticky black goo that killed 21 people and several horses. More would have died had there not been truth in the adage ‘slower than molasses in January’. 

Some of the more unusual news of the year include pianist Ignace Paderewski becoming the first premier of Poland, and the World Series in baseball being intentionally thrown by eight members of the Chicago White Sox who were bribed by a gambling syndicate.

Chicago White Sox, 1919

Extreme politics brought about general strikes, riots, demonstrations, and coups by Anarchists, Communists, Monarchists, Socialists, Bolsheviks, Nationalists, and Unionists in: Russia, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Korea, Afghanistan, India, Egypt, China, Ireland, Mexico, Argentina, Greece, Turkey, Costa Rica, Honduras, Canada, and the United States.

With the European powers knocked back by the war and economy, the United States rose to become a world power. American President Woodrow Wilson worked to resolve international conflict and dismantle Empires to create world peace through collective security, democracy, disarmament, negotiation and self-determination. His plan was not fully implemented but many points were realized with the creation of the League of Nations at the Paris Peace Conference in January.

Prime Minister Lloyd George, Premier Vittoria Orlando, Premier Georges Clemenceau, and President Woodrow Wilson, May 27, 1919

The terms of the Paris Peace Conference left Germany fractured, partially occupied, and fully blamed for the war.  John Maynard Keynes resigned his position with the British at the Conference denouncing the treaty was ruinous for Germany and damaging to the international economy. Pope Benedict XV described the treaty as a “consecration of hatred” and a “perpetuation of war.” The stage was set for another war when Benito Mussolini formed the Fascist political movement in Milan later that year.

The closing of wartime industries lead to soaring unemployment and inflation throughout Europe and North America. Governments over-reacted to demonstrations and labour strikes, fearing a reprise of the Russian Revolution. In England, tanks were sent into the streets of London to quell a worker’s uprising. The American Federation of Labour was considered a Bolshevist threat by the U.S. government and police were sent to arrest picketers. Mass meetings were prohibited in Pennsylvania, and in Gary, Indiana, the army took over the city and declared martial law. A general strike in Winnipeg lead to the Mounted Police charging into a crowd of strikers, beating them with clubs and firing weapons, killing two. Meanwhile, anarchists were mailing bombs to American politicians and officials. Most of the bombs were intercepted, but eight exploded, injuring but not killing anyone. This lead to raids and the arrest of 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists across the country. 

Winnipeg General Strike, June 1919

In business, the Canadian National Railway was formed from a number of failed private rail companies to create the largest rail network in North America, and United Artists was established by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith. Inventions of the year include the first pop-up toaster created by Charles Strite, Pyrex, and the paper shopping bag with handles made its debut.

Douglas Fairbanks, Oscar Price (president of UA), Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Feb 5, 1919

1919 was a year for aeronautic history. The first international air mail service took place between Seattle, Washington and Victoria, B.C.; the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight was completed by Arthur Brown and John Alcock, winning a prize of 10,000 pounds; the first successful parachute jump was made; the first wedding held in a plane occurred over Houston, Texas; the first scheduled passenger service by airplane from Paris to London began; and the first round trip transatlantic airship (dirigible) journey was completed.

Gloria Swanson in Male and Female

In the art world, Mondrian begins painting his grid-based compositions, and the Bauhaus design school was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimer. Top songs of 1919 included: After You’ve Gone; I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles; How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree; Till We Meet Again; Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own; Poor Butterfly, and A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody. The top three grossing films of the year were: Miracle Man starring Lon Chaney; Male and Female, starring Gloria Swanson; and Daddy-Long-Legs starring Mary Pickford. Best-selling books included My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse; Rainbow Valley by Lucy Maud Montgomery; The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham, and Night and Day by Virginia Woolf.

Backless dress modelled by Gladys Zielian, 1919

The ‘sunkist’ stamp first appeared on fruit from the California Grower’s Association, and the Hostess brand was created – chocolate cupcakes were their first big success. New words in 1919 included: airport, rum-runner, Soviet Union, pen-pal, pet-peeve, Ponzi scheme, sweet patootie, wonky, razz, rumba, shimmy, bimbo, basket-case, loony bin, compact (make-up case), backless (dress).

Fashion for men became more casual, even for business. Tall, stiff collars and black swallow tail coats were being displaced by tailored lounge suits and turn-down collars. Hard crowned top hats and bowlers were losing favour to soft felt hats like homburgs and fedoras, and wool caps. Trench coats transitioned from the battle field to city streets, and wrist watches became popular. Sportswear was on the rise – sweaters, slacks and blazers for men, jersey tops, knitted sweater coats, and even jodhpurs for riding and golf for women. In high fashion, the women’s silhouette was barrel shaped, consisting of cocoon-like coats, calf-length skirts (often pleated) and loose-fitting tunic tops and dresses with sash belts. High button boots were losing popularity in favour of shoes, although stockings remained opaque.

French fashions
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Dry Cleaning – Pearl Laundry

I am often asked “How did they used to keep their clothes clean?” Various forms of dry cleaning have been around for centuries, and many garments such as wool suits were wet washed that today we wouldn’t consider washable. The origins of modern dry-cleaning date to the middle of the 19th century when non water-based solvents like mineral spirits (turpentine) were used to clean garments. The less flammable Tetrachloroethene (aka perchloroethylene) displaced mineral spirits in the 1930s.

Pearl Laundry Company hangers, Kitchener, Ontario, 1920s (The date of the hangers can be determined by the 4 digit phone number – 4 digits were displaced by 3 letter, 4 digit phone numbers in the early 1930s)

I have been collecting hangers for a while, and so I thought I would start researching the history of some of the establishments that printed their company name on the hangers. There used to be many independent laundries who offered wet-cleaning services for garments like men’s shirts, collars, and cuffs, and diapers, as well as dyeing (and bleaching) services. Dry cleaning required using flammable solvents, and many cities required the cleaning process to be done outside of city limits. Because of this, the dry cleaning industry was one of the first to become operated by large companies who had a central facility for cleaning outside city limits and multiple store fronts within the city.

The Pearl Laundry Company was founded by David Charles Knipfel, at 90 Queen Street South, in Kitchener. The c. 1918 building, with its name set in stone, still stands. The business was sold in 1946 to Abraham S. Uttley, who had founded his cleaning and dyeing firm Berlin Dye Works, in 1905.

Photo of Abraham S. Uttley sorting shirts after they had been washed, steam pressed and folded

(Addendum: Libby Wheeler and Jim Uttley, grandchildren of Abraham Uttley, wrote with memories of working for their grandfather steam pressing men’s shirts or using the mangle to iron the sheets and towels from local hotels. Libby supplied the above image. She also supplied this local newspaper article about her grandfather from 1969.)

Uttley resold Pearl Laundry in 1966 to Newtex Ltd., but continued to work with the new owners until his 90th birthday in 1969. Newtex currently operates three dry cleaning locations in Kitchener, but the former Pearl Laundry location is no longer one of them.

Pearl Laundry Company, built c. 1918, 90 Queen Street South, Kitchener, Ontario
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The Year in Fashion – 2018

Fashion in 2018 was more about politics than style. Every fashion headline seemed to be about somebody making a statement or offending someone by their sartorial gaff. Nobody knows this better than Melania Trump whose controversial olive green Zara jacket with “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” scrawled on the back was the worst fashion choice any First Lady has ever made. She donned the borrowed jacket on a hot, humid day in Washington D.C. to board a plane to fly to Texas to visit children separated from their families at the U.S. border. Whether the jacket was aimed at how she felt about the purpose of her trip or something else doesn’t matter, it was a huge fashion faux pas.  

Even without a smarmy quip on her jacket, Melania got into trouble again when she dressed like the great white hunter for a safari tour in Africa. I gave her a pass this time since I do think the public and media are hyper critical of her. The former fashion model is the second trophy wife of Donald Trump, we shouldn’t expect Michelle, Nancy, or Jackie First Lady qualities from her.

Speaking of Trump, the name is now permanently politicized. This was evident when Ivanka shut her clothing brand down this year. Although she hadn’t been involved with the company since her father took office, as boycotts of Trump-associated brands were organized, retailers including the Hudson Bay Company opted to drop her line. The move only affected 18 American jobs!

Fashion was also politics in the world of entertainment when there was a ‘blackout’ at the Golden Globe awards. In the wake of #Metoo, attendees donned black evening gowns and ‘Time’s Up’ pins to turn the awards show into a political platform about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.

In the world of sports, Nike caught some flak when they made the new face of their ‘Just Do It’ campaign Colin Kaepernick – the San Francisco 49er quarterback who started the ‘Take a Knee’ protest during the American anthem to protest racism. Although there was some pushback from the right wing, Nike has reported 6 billion dollars in profits since the campaign launched.

Also in sports, Serena Williams caused a fuss when she appeared at the French Open wearing a black Nike catsuit which was not approved by the French Tennis Federation rulebook. Williams insisted it was for her health as the body suit was a better choice for her to avoid blood clots (a medical condition she experienced while pregnant last year.) In protest, Williams donned a tutu the following day. The French Tennis Association revised the rules after the tournament to allow mid-thigh length compression shorts and leggings, with or without a skirt or dress, on the court at next year’s Open.

Serena Willams in black catsuit at French Open 2018

The entire fashion industry is turning anti-fur. London Fashion Week confirmed it was now fur free, and designers and manufacturers including: Chanel, Burberry, Maison Margiela, Furla, DKNY, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors, Gucci, Armani, Tom Ford, Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Tommy Hilfiger, Yoox, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Coach have either already gone fur free, or will be fur free starting next year. The cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles also banned the sale of fur this year.

Victoria’s Secret fashion shows have been attracting criticism for years about the lack of body diversity. A greater push for sizing that is inclusive of real body shapes is underway in the industry from companies like Rihanna’s new lingerie line Savage X.

Gender identity is also a growing issue that has entered the public consciousness. In an attempt to neutralize any nurturing of gender roles by making pink and blue onesies, the Israeli children’s clothier NuNuNu has made Celine Dion the face of their goth-inspired skull-emblazoned baby and children’s line of fashions that look like they were designed by the Addams family.

Political correctness bit Dolce & Gabbana this year when they created promotional advertisements for a fashion show in Shanghai. What started off as a cute visual joke showing Italian food being eaten with chopsticks, ended up as an advertising campaign that offended the entire Chinese nation. Everything just got worse as leaked emails and accusations of computer hacking ended up costing Dolce & Gabbana 400 million euros in lost revenues.

Away from the scandals and politics of fashion, there were some actual trends worthy of noting. Without doubt, the most influential celebrity in fashion this year was Meghan Markle. Trench coats and bateau necklines became major trends thanks to the Duchess of Sussex. For women, there were some bright colourful prints in collage-like and vintage Versace patterns, more trousers, longer hemlines and softer feminine ruffles and materials. Many fashion houses reissued past styles, while many smaller designers took to upcycling — a trend that continues to grow. 

As the Hipster look waned, summer styles for younger men like Justin Bieber and Jonah Hill this year took on the ‘scumbro’ look of velour track pants, busy print shirts, or Grateful Dead-style tie-dye coloured athleisure. For more mature looks, dressing got a bit more old fashioned – 1960s ivy league style turtleneck sweaters, corduroy jackets, and tailored suits, worn with classic shoe styles, or heavy soled combat boots for an edgier chic. For both sexes there were plain, classic runner styles from Vans, or overly designed busy sneakers by Nike and Adidas. Puffer jackets were also big for both sexes. 

The fashion world lost Hubert Givenchy – one of the last masters of mid-century couture; American bag designers Judith Leiber and Kate Spade; American textile artist, illustrator and designer Michael Vollbracht, as well as paper dress manufacturing pioneer Ronald Bard. Glamour Magazine is also ending its 80 year run, joining Teen Vogue which ended last year. Seventeen will no longer be published regularly in 2019, and Brides and W magazine are both up for sale – fashion publications are in trouble as circulation dwindles…

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Fashion in Song – Pucci u say Love (1991)

When Emilio Pucci won the CFDA lifetime achievement award in 1991, Lady Miss Kier was asked to create a tribute in song and fashion.

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Ersatz – German Paper Fashions from the Great War

The Great War caused great shortages of wool, leather, and linen – materials required for making uniforms and airplane wings. These materials were in especially short supply in Germany and Austria where paper was developed as a substitute textile for making civilian clothing.  

Before the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, American publications ran articles about Germany’s inventiveness in developing ersatz materials. In January 1917, the New York Sun reported that the Germans had developed paper-based threads for making “…girdles, doilies, aprons, working garments… the inventors have discovered a way to give the ‘paper cloth’ great resistance to dampness…” Paper cloth, woven from tightly twisted paper threads, resembled a coarse linen or hemp burlap that had been originally developed for making sacks.

German corset made of paper cloth, c. 1917 – 1920

Shortages did not end with the war in Germany and Austria, where paper clothing continued to be made. In 1920, the U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce imported a selection of Austrian paper clothing items to display on a tour around the country. When the Washington exhibit opened in September 1920, the Associated Press reported that “one suit is quoted at fifteen cents, and is washable…” The Washington, D.C., Evening Star reported, German-made suits were selling in London for the equivalent of 46 cents to $1.95, and that a man could buy a new suit each week of the year for less than the cost of a wool suit.

The U.S. trade publication Textile Worldnoted “It seems quite evident now that the German and Austrian manufacturers intend to cover the markets of the world with their paper substitutes for real clothing… Officials in Washington do not believe that this competition will ever be felt in the United States. The material used in the German product is too coarse and crude to meet with favor here to any extent unless many refinements are adopted.” 

close up of paper fabric

Although paper clothing piqued curiosity, the public remained unconvinced and consumers preferred to wear cloth made of traditional fibres. Ironically, rayon, which was made from chemically processed wood pulp (the same raw material as paper), became the best selling new fibre of the 1920s.

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Crime and Punishment and Sneakers

22 year old Brit Isaiah Hanson-Frost, is about to have his 55 pairs of designer sneakers, valued at about $30,000 Canadian, sold by the police. Last April, Hanson-Frost was sentenced to six years in jail after admitting to firing a gun at a car in November, 2017 during a gang feud over drugs.  

“We are keen to put a stop to anyone who is living a lavish lifestyle which has been funded through crime” said Detective Inspector Dave Shore-Nye of the Gloucestershire police.

Items seized after a criminal trial are often sold, especially if money raised from the sale can be used to help victims of those crimes. Proceeds from the sale of Hanson-Frost’s sneaker auction will go to the High Sheriff’s Fund, which encourages activities that divert minors from a life of crime.

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Mending bags and Minivans

This sack came to the museum with a donation of pre 1940 clothing. I am not sure of the sack’s original purpose, but it was being used as a mending/laundry bag. What attracted my interest was that it had no side seams – it had been loomed on a circular loom. After an online search it turned out this bag had something in common with my minivan.

Seamless mending/laundry bag, c. 1930s

Sakichi Toyoda was born in 1867 and learned carpentry from his father. His interest in machinery lead to him visiting a machinery exposition in Tokyo in 1890. The following year he patented a wooden hand loom that could be used with one hand that increased the speed and efficiency of weaving.

This was the first of many inventions and improvements in textile manufacturing technology that Toyoda developed through a company he founded in Nagoya in 1894. His circular loom that used a shuttle that inserted and beat the weft into place in one motion was developed in 1906. However, it was a steam-powered loom he developed that was his first big success. Toyoda’s talent was in creative development, not facility management, and in 1910 Toyoda resigned from his own company. 

In 1911, after a tour of the world to see other loom technology, Toyoda started another company that by 1918 was called the Toyoda Spinning and Weaving Co. Ltd. This time, however, he brought in his son-in-law to manage the company. The company was successful and expanded in 1921 with a facility in Shanghai.

Circular Loom in the Toyota Museum

Improvements to his circular loom technology were made in 1924. In 1926, Toyoda developed a better method for changing shuttles without any loss of speed during operation of standard looms that lead to his most successful patent – the ‘Type G’ automatic loom. This resulted in the founding of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd. In 1929, the Type G technology was bought by the Platt Brothers & Co. in England for international use. 

Sakichi Toyoda died in 1930, three years before the Toyoda company set up an automobile development department, that produced its first car in 1935. In 1937 the automobile department was separated from the rest of the company and called Toyota Motor Co. Ltd., the forerunner of today’s Toyota Motor Corporation.

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Fashion in Song – In These Shoes? (2000)

Released on Kirsty MacColl’s 2000 album Tropical Brainstorm

I once met a man with a sense of adventure
He was dressed to thrill wherever he went
He said: Let’s make love on a mountain top
Under the stars on a big hard rock
I said: In these shoes?
I don’t think so
I said: Honey, let’s do it here

So I’m siting at a bar in Guadalajara
In walks a guy with a faraway look in his eyes
He said: I’ve got a powerful horse outside
Climb on the back, I’ll take you for a ride
I know a little place, we can get there for the break of day
I said: In these shoes?
No way, Jose
I said: Honey, let’s stay right here

No le gusta caminar No puede montar a caballo
(I don’t like to dance, I can’t ride a horse)
Como se puede bailar? Es un escandolo
(How can I dance? It’s a scandal)

Then I met an Englishman
Oh, he said
Won’t you walk up and down my spine
It makes me feel strangely alive
I said: In these shoes?
I doubt you’d survive
I said: Honey, let’s do it
Let’s stay right here

No le gusta caminar No puede montar a caballo
(I don’t like to dance, I can’t ride a horse)
Como se puede bailar? Es un escandolo
(How can I dance? It’s a scandal)

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