Is There a Museum of Folk?

I don’t know of a museum that specializes in European folk dress – those strange costumes worn for specific carnivals or traditional ceremonies. I am sure European regional museums collect local garments, but wouldn’t it be great to see these pulled together into one spectacular exhibition and catalogue! I don’t even know of any good book that covers this information…

Gilles costume from Carnival of Binche, Belgium – a local festival held in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday where men and boys dressed like the two pictured here, throw oranges to (and at) spectators.


Jester festival commemorating the battle of Murten in 1476 when the Thun army captured Charles the Bold’s court jester. The jester, called Fulehung, chases crowds through the streets of Thun, Switzerland and hands out candy to kids.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Centennial Costumes

Costumes worn July 1, 1967 for centennial celebrations in Alma, Ontario

Perhaps the first preparation to commemorate the  American Civil War (1860 – 1865) centennial began with the publishing of McCall’s pattern #1759 in 1952 – identified as a “Centennial Costume”. More patterns followed throughout the 1950s and early 1960s from the ‘Big Three’ pattern publishers: McCall’s, Simplicity, Butterick. All the patterns produced were very loosely based recreations – I have yet to see one 1960s Centennial dress that has made me look twice to consider if it might be a real dress from the 1860s. The centennial patterns were created to suit modern figures with ‘lift and separate’ brassieres and uncorseted waists. The resulting dresses were also invariably run up on a machine and made from poly-cotton, rayon satin, or nylon taffeta. Virtually all American Civil War Centennial costumes were made from one of these patterns, as well as Canada’s 1967 Centennial costumes (with the addition of one pattern produced by McCall’s specifically for Canada’s Centennial that featured a late 1860s silhouette.)

Centennial costume party in Marmora, Ontario

As celebrations geared up in Canada throughout 1967, newspapers featured front cover photographs of community elders and school children dressed in these inauthentic costume creations, often accessorized with vintage muffs or parasols, collars and hats found in attic trunks and dress-up boxes. I don’t know how many of these costumes I scornfully flipped through on racks at garage sales and thrift stores in the 1980s and 1990s, but by the time I realized I should acquire an example or two for the collection, they had all disappeared.

Fortunately, in 2013 I found two, advertised on Kijiji that had been worn on July 1, 1967 for celebrations in Alma, Ontario. The mother/daughter dresses in red gingham and mauve, were even featured on the front cover of the July 1 local paper.

Bat girl, c. 1887

Bijoux Electriques!

crownIn 1879 Scientific American reported “…there is nothing more curious than electric jewellery.”

A Parisian watchmaker who enjoyed creating mechanical birds, Gustave Trouvé also invented the Lilliputian battery that could be tucked inside a pocket or hidden within an evening coiffure to power-up various forms of illuminated and mechanical jewellery. Trouvé’s bijoux electriques made their debut in 1879 at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Metiers at the Hotel Continental in Paris. A journalist from La Nature that attended the event reported:

bird“Some of the guests are wearing Trouvé’s charming electric jewels: a death’s head tie-pin; a rabbit drummer tie-pin. Suppose you are carrying one of these jewels below your chin. Whenever someone takes a look at it, you discreetly slip your hand into the pocket of your waistcoat, tip the tiny battery to horizontal and immediately the death’s head rolls its glittering eyes and grinds its teeth. The rabbit starts working like the timpanist at the opera. The key piece, a bird, was a rich, animated set of diamonds, belonging to Princess Pauline de Metternich…the princess could at will make the wings of her diamond bird flap.”

In 1884 The Folies Bergère commissioned Trouvé to create illuminated crowns and brooches for twenty flower costumed dancers for their Le Ballet des Fleurs. In England, Trouvé provided illuminated helmets, shields and spears for 50 Amazon women costumes for London’s Empire Theatre’s production Chilpéperic: Grand Music Spectacle. The audience, which included a young Oscar Wilde, burst into deafening applause in the final act when the Amazons appeared on stage.

Most of Trouvé’s bijoux electriques were destroyed in 1980 when the building in which his archives was held burned to the ground. For more information about Trouvé and his electrical jewellery see this article:

Electric Jewellery and the Forgotten Genius who Lit Up Paris

Too much of a good thing – Michael Travis (1928 – 2014)

Three costumes made by Travis for Liberace, including his hated patriotic outfit, from the Liberace museum collection.

Three costumes made by Travis for Liberace, including his hated patriotic outfit, from the Liberace museum collection.

Michael Travis, the creator of Liberace’s flashy stage costumes, has passed away at the age of 86. Although he created stage costumes for other performers including Tony Orlando and The Supremes, Travis will be best remembered for his crazy costumes for Liberace. Travis was making costumes for Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In in 1969 when he began his 16 year long association with Liberace. The first outfit he created was a mink trimmed, bugle-beaded and sequined chauffeur uniform. The only outfit Travis wasn’t proud of making was the patriotic red, white, and blue hot pant suit — Travis felt the costume was vulgar. The bulk of Travis’ creations remain in the Liberace museum collection. The museum closed in 2010 due to the downturn in the economy but there are plans to reopen later this year.

Cocoa Chanel?

Salon Du Chocolat 2012 - Fashion Chocolate Show

Actress Kim Yoo Jung models a chocolate lace coat during the 18th Salon Du Chocolat at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on October 30, 2012 in Paris, France.

My friend Liz sent me a link to an article about this and more chocolate couture. What could be stranger than edible frocks? How about a wedding party who made their clothes from the bi-product of a Christmas dinner staple — Last week Liz  sent me a link to this article about a Turkey feather bridal party from 1948!

aWEARness – Conestoga College Fashion Show

Rachel Buiks CC_3We went to Conestoga College’s ‘aWEARness’ Fashion show on Thursday night. The cleverly-named event was the college’s third annual show by graduating visual merchandising students. The idea of the aWEARness show began as a class assignment in 2011 and has grown every year into a charitable event (this year’s cause was organ donation.) The theme for the show was the elements – earth, fire, water, wind, metal, stone…

Keeping in mind that these are not fashion design students and that they have zero dollar budgets, the end results, although not couture creations, are exceptionally creative. One of my favourites represented ice – the student used plastic coverings from fluorescent light fixtures, broke them up and reglued them into a skirt that looked convincingly like the spring break up of ice on a river.  The theme of clouds was told in costumes that represented stages of  a storm, with a thunderous cloud portrayed by a padded collar of black tulle, trailing silver and black beads, trims, and strips of fabric for lightning, rain and hail. However, my personal ‘Best in Show’ favourite was created by Rachel Buiks who made a rain-theme costume using an inverted umbrella skirt and matching hat.

I’ve heard of Kitten Heels before…but Mouse Wedgies?

1950 news photo of mice inside a plastic wedge heel

Twenty-five years before someone put goldfish inside a platform shoe some shoe designer, probably inspired by the idea of coachmen mice and glass slippers from the 1950 Disney film Cinderella, decided it might be fun to put mice inside a hollow plastic wedge heel. Before you freak out, I am guessing this was a one-off made as a publicity stunt for a shoe convention and, if worn, probably saw one fashion show. I wouldn’t be too quick to assume the worst fate for the mice either – those guys can chew through a wall!

Fashion Myths – Victorian Fetish boots

Fetish boots are most often identified as dating from the 1890s or early 1900s, probably because of their high lace and button styles. However, most of the fetish boots I have seen that are identified as being that early are usually from the 1930s or 40s and made in a nostalgic style – referencing the pre WW1 fashion for high boots. The high, slender heel like those illustrated below was not introduced until the late 1920s and was in use, with little change, into the mid 1950s.

Article from February 1939 English magazine ‘Gay Book’ See cover illustrated in my November 17 post

Pair of thigh high Fetish boots from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, c. 1930s