More WTF (What the Fashion) Shock Chic

This is an excellent example of a wearable art collection that presents itself as a provocative fashion idea, but is not intended to be taken as a serious fashion direction. These collections get far more attention than they warrant, mostly due to social media. This collection, which pretends to be a serious suggestion for transgender chic, isn’t made well and doesn’t present any new ideas not already seen in the Rocky Horror Picture Show over 40 years ago. Few designers can make successful ‘shock chic’ collections. The few who can make it work have superior design skills and technical prowess (McQueen, Herpen, Viktor & Rolf…)

Latest Menswear Collection by Spanish Fashion Label Palomo

Beefcake with your cheesecake

Sivil’s Drive-In, Dallas, Texas, April 1940

A recent article on Messy Nessy brought up a little known piece of sexist uniform history – beefcake carhops. According to Paula Bosse of Flashback Dallas in the late 1930s “Women were dressing in scanty outfits, hula skirts, midriff-baring costumes, to serve drive-in customers,” and so the owner of one of those restaurants in Dallas had the idea of appealing to female customers by putting men in scanty serving uniforms too. The hunky male server trend was short-lived though, in part because of the onset of WWII with young men enlisting to serve their country rather than hamburgers.

The First Fashion of 2017

Last year’s trend for making political statements through dress continues to be a strong influence in 2017.

The National Mall in Washington may become a sea of pink tomorrow. For two months, Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, founders of the Pussyhat Project, have called on those attending the Women’s March on Jan. 21 to wear a pink hat to create a strong visual statement at the march. The movement also allows those unable to attend the march to support the event by wearing a pussyhat wherever they are. The name of the hats were inspired by President Trump’s comments in a 2005 tape in which he said: “Grab them (women) by the pussy. You can do anything.”

A view of the march, January 21, 2017

The hats are simple, consisting of a crocheted or knitted rectangle folded in half and stitched up the sides. For those who aren’t crafty, hats can be found from various online sources.

Myth Information – Toque Blanche

As part of our occupational dress collection, the museum recently acquired a chef’s uniform worn in 1959/1960. In reading up about how the costume developed I found a lot of apocryphal stories about why the chef’s hat, known as the Toque Blanche, looks the way it does.

Bakers, 16th century

The stories range from how the earliest chefs from the Middle Ages were monks, and wore a black monk’s hat that looked similar. Another story is that the original caps were donned at the court of Henry VIII because one chef lost a hair in the king’s soup and as a result was beheaded, so the next chef wanted to be more careful. Fact is, early images show everyone wearing some form of practical head covering to keep hair and sweat out of food. The vast majority of kitchen workers have historically been women, so the white bonnet was the typical choice for them.

Chef with Cat, by Theodule Ribot, c. 1870

A commonly repeated story is that the chef’s hat first appeared in the court kitchens of Louis XVI and that the original design had 100 pleats — each pleat representing a way to cook eggs. While there are well over a hundred egg dishes (when you include egg based sauces and desserts), there is no evidence beyond hearsay of a connection between egg recipes and pleats. I have been unable to find evidence of any chef’s hat with anything near 100 pleats and the oldest hats appear to have gathered, not pleated, crowns. A more likely story is that Marie Antoine Careme, as the chef du cuisine to Talleyrand in the first decade of the 19th century, developed the chef’s uniform. He is credited with selecting the colour white to represent cleanliness and reportedly had his staff wear hats of various heights to represent their authority within the kitchen. The tallest, the chef’s hat, was called a casque a meche and was stiffened with card, however, I couldn’t find any evidence of tall chef hats existing before the 1920s.

The Chef, 1921, by William Orpen

Upon the fall of Napoleon’s France, Marie Antoine Careme went to England and brought his chef uniform and hat with him when he became the chef du cuisine for the Prince Regent.

With the professionalization and masculinization of the cuisine industry in the mid 19th century, French chefs like Escoffier wore toque blanches, as seen in the paintings of Ribot and Monet. The style is a tam, consisting of a band that fits snugly to the head to prevent sweat and hairs from getting into the food, and a puffed crown, resembling a soufflé (perhaps the origin of the egg connection) that allows a bit of air conditioning and a place to tuck up the hair.

This style of ‘traditional’ hat with the elongated crown has been around less than a century.

It’s really only in the last 100 years that chef hats have taken on more dramatic shapes with stiffened pleats and tall crowns. This seems to be tied to the rise of restaurant culture and the French cooking-school trained celebrity chef. In recent years, with the demise in popularity of French cooking in favour of Asian cuisines, the chef’s hat is on the decline, displaced by simple caps or bandannas. Click here for more information.

A History of Chef Hats: Tall Tales or Facts

The 1890s Bicycle Bloomer Brouhaha

Le Chalet du Cycle Jean Beraud

Le Chalet du Cycle, c. 1896, Jean Beraud

With a better understanding of the connection between exercise and health, many middle and upper class women took up sports activities during the 19th century including lawn games like badminton, croquet and tennis, as well as calisthenics and sea bathing. In the 1890s, bicycling became the latest obsession, but bicycling was done on the street and not everyone accepted the new activity, especially when female cyclists wore pants.

In 1851, American Amelia Bloomer published an article in her newspaper The Lily calling for dress reform. She, and her group of supporters adopted calf-length skirts over full cut ‘Turkish trousers’. The style received some acceptance and lots of ridicule – and the full-cut trousers became known as ‘bloomers’. Although the style did not succeed as a mainstream fashion it was retained for sporting activities such as bathing costumes and exercise outfits – and, in the 1890s, for cycling.

us567979-2Lady Florence Harberton, president of the Rational Dress Society, which she had co-founded in London in 1881, became a keen cyclist and advocated the adoption of divided skirts, or bloomer costumes for the activity. However, in October 1898 Lady Harberton was refused service at the Hautboy Hotel by the owner, Mrs Martha Sprague, because she was wearing her Bloomer cycling costume. There had been an agreement with Lady Harberton’s Cyclists’ Touring Club to be served in the coffee-room, but Mrs. Sprague denied her entry, insisting she go the bar, where working men smoked and drank. Lady Harberton brought action against Mrs Sprague in April 1899 on the grounds that she was obliged by law to honour the agreement between the cycling club and hotel and not discriminate by not offering service to anyone based on their dress. In her defense, Mrs Sprague insisted she had not refused Lady Harberton service, only directed her to another room because she had not allowed women without skirts into the coffee-room. The judge ordered the jury to address the issue of service, not dress, and after a short deliberation, the jury found in favour of Mrs. Sprague.

Canada too was caught up in the controversy. An account from the book Bicycle: The History cites a case in 1895, Victoria, British Columbia, where it had been declared by the police that “bloomers are not suitable for ladies’ street wear, even when worn as a bicycling costume”. Ethel Delmont, nonetheless, wore her bloomers for a ride about town, and received a warning from the police that “a repetition of her appearance in that costume would mean a court summons.”


Paper dolls depicting various Cycling costumes, 1895

The looking glass was the harshest critic for many women who saw Bloomer costumes as ugly, ungraceful and too masculine. Mrs. Reginald de Koven wrote in an August 1895 article ‘Bicycling for Women’, in The Cosmopolitan magazine: “The question of the proper dress for bicycling is still in doubt. In smaller cities like Cleveland, Buffalo, and notably in Chicago and Boston, the bloomer costume has been largely used. This tendency must be deprecated.” Mrs de Koven advocated a shorter skirt be worn over knickerbockers (closer fitting than bloomers) to avoid the “enormous loss of the gracefulness which every woman should religiously consider.”

The debate on how to successfully combine functionality, femininity, and respectability even included bicycle manufacturers. In 1895 the Pope Manufacturing Company, makers of the Columbia brand of bicycles, issued paper dolls through the Delineator magazine, publisher of dress patterns, that portrayed various costumes suitable for cycling, including bloomers and skirts.

In 1897 F. J. Erskine, English author of Lady Cycling: What to Wear & How to Ride, advocated the environment dictated what was suitable attire. A skirt might be more appropriate for a dry summer day in town, but knickerbockers were essential for a long tour in the countryside. The Brouhaha was dying down in 1900 by which time Most female cyclists had adopted calf length boots and paired them with shorter ankle-to-calf length (sometimes divided) skirts.

One of the six cycling costume paper dolls suggested by Pope Manufacturing with patterns available from Delineator, 1895:

His and Hers

Before unisex styling in the late 1960s, there was a dalience with His & Hers fashions that began in the 1940s and lasted into the 1960s, usually in the form of holiday sportswear – Hawaiian shirts and dresses, and bathing suits.

Myth Information – Queen Victoria was the first bride to wear white

English illustration of wedding dress from Ackermann's Repository, June 1816

English illustration of white wedding dress from Ackermann’s Repository, June 1816

Weddings didn’t used to be a big thing. In the 18th century, weddings were usually held in the morning. They consisted of a solemn religious ceremony followed by a wedding breakfast for everyone in attendance at the church – maybe a dozen people. Brides wore their best dress and although white wedding dresses have survived from the 1700’s, they are rare. Most Georgian wedding gowns  are made of anything but white silk: yellow taffeta, brocade green twill, cotton calico…

By the early 19th century the white dress was in fashion – they were the ‘little black dress’ of their day and could be found on the ballroom floor as easily as at the breakfast table. A woman’s best white dress, in cotton or silk, was often used as her wedding dress. Royal brides however, wore gowns that more closely resembled court wear – ornately embroidered in silver thread and having long trains.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their wedding day, February 10, 1840

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their wedding day, February 10, 1840

When Victoria married Albert in 1840, it was expected she would wear something regal. Instead, Victoria wore an elegantly simple dress of English-made cream silk with a honiton lace flounce, trim, and veil. Instead of a tiara, she donned a wreath of orange blossoms. The hand-made lace would have cost a fortune even in 1840, and there was a train 18 feet long, but with these exceptions, any middle class bride might otherwise aspire to wearing a silk wedding gown just like Victoria’s.

The white dress went from ‘probable choice’ to ‘mandatory wedding garment’ and the colour given significance. By 1849 the American publication Godey’s Lady’s Book was proselytizing: “Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.”

Bloomerism in Corning New York, 1851

photo 10This past summer we visited the Corning Glass Museum (well worth the visit), where Kenn took a photo of an 1851 painting in their collection depicting the earliest known view of Corning, before the glassworks were built.

photo 8The view of the town depicts a couple taking a stroll with the woman dressed in a Bloomer costume: an outfit named for Amelia Bloomer consisting of loose fitting ‘harem’ trousers, like those worn by women in the Middle East and Central Asia, under a short skirt.

The weight of multiple petticoats required to achieve the full skirt fashionable at the time caused editor Amelia Bloomer to advocate for dress reform in her publication The Lily: “The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.”

Bloomer was not the first to adopt the bifurcated costume. Both New England temperance activist Elizabeth Smith Miller and actress Fanny Kemble began wearing what they considered to be the more rational trouser costume during the day. Miller showed her trouser outfit to her cousin Elizabeth Stanton who wore one when she visited Amelia Bloomer. Bloomer immediately took up the fashion and it was her name that became associated with the style. Subjected to ridicule in the press and harassment on the street, Bloomer stopped wearing the fashion named for her in 1859, saying (surprisingly) that the crinoline was a sufficient reform from conventional dress as the crinoline took the place of multiple petticoats.

The bloomer costume survived in the form of bathing and gymnastic sportswear, as well as another name for pantaloons or knickers.