Soviet Deco Textiles

There were some amazing textiles created in the late 1920s and very early 1930s in Soviet Russia, particularly between about 1927 and 1930. I have been collecting a file as I come across samples online:

Great resource site – Antique Pattern Library

The Antique Pattern Library has a great resource of copyright free digital PDF reprints of various needlecraft books like these beading books from the 1920s:

Shop Windows – Eaton’s department stores – Toronto and Montreal, 1920s

They’re At The Post…

Morning suit, and grey silk chiffon dress and hat, c. 1925

We just installed two mannequins for the latest Waterloo City Museum exhibition at the Conestoga Mall. They’re At The Post examines the legacy of the Seagram Racing Stables and includes silver cups and other racing memorabilia dating from the 1870s and up. Our mannequins represent the sort of fashions typically worn to a race like the Queen’s Plate in c. 1925. The exhibition opened May 16 and continues until September 28.

Film Costume Reviews – Leatherheads, and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

(Originally blogged October 19, 2010)

Speakeasy scene with Zellweger in 1925 - the dress is passable, but that hair?

As I am down with a cold right now I am watching a lot of movies and from this past weekend I saw two costumed films that are worthy of comment: Leatherheads, and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. You might not think these two movies have much in common other than being set in the 1920s, but they share one more thing – sloppy costuming.

The hair is hidden beneath the correct hat now, but the coat is old fashioned for 1925

Leatherheads uses a 1930s screwball comedy genre to tell the story of the creation of the American national football league. Set in 1925, the costumer (Louise Frogley, who often works with George Clooney) paid great attention to detail in the creation of the original football uniforms. The crowd scenes are also well decked out in tweedy belted coats and caps or homburgs. However, when it comes to Renee Zellweger, there were massive costuming and grooming problems. Renee looked dead on perfect in Chicago, so she knows what she should look like in the 1920s, and clothing and hair people should also know the difference between a 1920s fingerwave and a 1940s set, but for some reason in leatherheads she has flowing locks in the style of Carole Lombard or Jean Arthur but otherwise wears dumpy tweed coats belted at the waist which are only worn by out-of-date matrons in 1925.

Stagey black and white set and costuming for Coco and Igor, set in 1920

A film with similar problems, albeit more style, is Coco & Igor. The first scene from 1913 shows Chanel cutting herself out of a corset, suggesting this is something women had to do (not true.) The next scene is the best of the entire film – a recreation of the evening in May 1913 when Ballet Russe debuted Rites of Spring to a Paris audience that booed the production off the stage for being too vulgar and simplistic. This scene is used to show Chanel’s introduction to Igor Stravinsky, the composer of the music for Rites of Spring. The rest of the film takes place in 1920, the year Chanel developed her No. 5 perfume, but the entire film is costumed for Chanel like its 1925 – as if she is wandering about Paris five years ahead of everybody else. In 1920, Chanel was still barely known as a couturier and had been open in Paris for only a few months. She had worked as a milliner during the previous decade and had gained some fame for the jersey seaside clothes she sold at shops in Deauville and Biarritz during the FIrst World War.

The wife of Igor Stravinsky is shown wearing realistic 1920 fashions, but as this photo proves, the look doesn't blend well with the Chanel look created for this film

The motherly madonna-like wife of Stravinsky is portrayed wearing 1920 fashions but as matronly attire in comparison to the avant-garde black and white garments of Chanel. The costumer has borrowed ideas from Chanel fashions from the 1920s, 30s and later, suggesting Chanel’s style was already defined by 1920. This is simply not true. In all fairness, I know of only three extant dresses by Chanel that predate 1925, so there isn’t much to look at to understand what she was doing at the time. This film has an overall artistic look, but in a very stagey kind of way.

For Leatherheads I can only give the film a 4/10 for the football outfits and crowd scenes, but Zellweger’s look is so distracting it brings the rest of the film down. Coco & Igor I will up the ante to 6/10 because the Chanel clothing is artistic, even though it bears no resemblance to what real fashion was doing in 1920 or what Chanel herself was doing in 1920. The Rites of Spring scene is costumed well as are most of the audience at the opera house in 1913.

Flapper Hippies?

(Originally blogged June 27, 2010)

I ran across another interesting snippet from my files… These are instructions for making a tie-dye robe. At first glance you think this was intended for tripping through Golden Gate Park in 1967 but the instructions for this robe come from the October 1923 issue of Ladies Home Journal!

Film Costume Review – Changeling

(Originally blogged November 20, 2008)

This will be the inaugural post of a regular feature on this blog – Film Costume Reviews. Film can be inspirational to different people in different ways. The first time I became enamored with historical fashion was when I saw The Six Wives of Henry VIII. This television series from 1970 was at the beginning of an era in film production that took a more authentic approach in recreating period costume. A badly-costumed film can be distracting but a well-costumed film adds to the development of the characters, the enjoyment of the artistic presentation, and the suspension of disbelief. I think better costuming also helps actors give better performances, after all, to play a part well isn’t it better to look and feel the part? Well maybe… I am no actor and I am not about to criticize anyone outside of my sphere of knowledge, so I will stick to fashion history.

First on the docket of Movie Costume Reviews is the current release Changeling, directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Angelina Jolie, costumes designed by Deborah Hopper.

Set in 1928 Los Angeles, Changeling recounts the true story of Christine Collins (played by Angelina Jolie) who discovers her nine year old son is missing when she returns home from work. The film follows the search for her son and her increasing dispute with the Los Angeles police department when they ‘find’ a different boy and claim he is her long lost son. The film takes place from March to October 1928, with a further scene in 1930 and a final follow-up scene in June 1935.

The art direction in this film is remarkable, the Los Angeles streets with their street cars, Christine Collins’ bungalow and its spare but up-to-date interior, the telephone exchange where she works — all these scenes draw you into 1928 and make you want to wander into other buildings along the street to gawk at the past.

At first, the costuming appears to be very well done. The middle class Christine Collins has few clothes, but all are well kept and coordinated, however as the movie progresses, issues with the etiquette of clothing in the 1920s begin to surface.

Perhaps the most noticeable problem is a lack of handkerchiefs. Anyone who grew up with ancient aunts will remember the ever-present handkerchief. Tucked into pockets, up sleeves, in purses, in bras — no woman was far from her hankie. Only in one scene towards the end of the film does the character of Christine Collins have a handkerchief in hand while she is crying (which is often during this film.) Instead of a handkerchief she uses her fingers to wipe away her tears, which are remarkably free of any black from her mascara and shadow-rimmed eyes.

The character Christine Collins, is also often inappropriately dressed for her occupation. Images of women office workers in the late 1920s will invariably show endless dark coloured wool serge skirts worn with cotton blouses, or perhaps a very plain rayon dress. A more authentic presentation of female office attire can be found in Thoroughly Modern Millie! In one pivotal scene, Christine Collins wears a green silk or rayon crepe chiffon afternoon dress with floral trim – something that at the time would have been worn for a much fancier event than work. Women may dress up for work these days, but in 1928 female office workers followed strict dress and deportment codes so as not to distract male coworkers from their work.

Other than these two failures to understand costume of the period, there is some awkward accessorizing, such as this image where Christine Collins wears a wintery felt hat in August with the same summery dress she inappropriately wears in the office. She is shown to own a woven straw hat during the same period, so it is an odd choice of accessorizing. The open crocheted gloves are also too short for the 1920s, and probably date from the 1950s.

Most of the time the character is shown in smart and appropriate outfits, including a grey suit worn during a court room scene towards the end of the film which is chic without being over the top – exactly the sort of thing she would be advised to wear to court by her attorney. However, despite Christine’s perfect look in court, many extras in the crowd wear peculiar hats – particularly one woman who wears a pink silk hat that would be nearly a decade out of fashion by 1928.

A rather puzzling scene in the fall of 1930 shows middle clasw working woman Christine wearing the exact same outfit she wore in spring 1928 and the coat and hat look as fresh as they did two and half years earlier. A final follow-up scene takes place in 1935 and shows Christine at work wearing a green dress with shoulder pads and an excessively low decolletage. This dress would again be inappropriate for the office and the shoulder pads seemed too square in shape for 1935. This scene looked like Angelina Jolie stepped in to make sure she looked glamorous in her final appearance on screen, but I don’t know what the reasoning was for that choice of frock.

The costume designer, Deborah Hopper, has worked almost exclusively for Clint Eastwood; she is his costume designer of choice. I am not familiar with her other work as I have yet to see Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, or Million Dollar Baby. The overall costuming for Changeling however was good – the clothes were overall appropriate to the period, location and storyline with just a few errors. 7/10

Comments:

I’m not so sure the hankie thing would even have occured to me! I love movies, and even more I like being bothered by how they get period dress wrong. There is a book on the subject, Hollywood and History – Costume Design in Film by Edward Maeder and others. According to him, even when the costumes are correct, the make-up and hair are wrong; that it is thought to be just too radical a change for audiences to relate to. I’m looking forward to more in the series, Jonathan. Comment by Fuzzylizzie — November 23, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

I’ve always subscribed to the theory that the impression that dress conveys is situational. Great post! Comment by Run’s House — January 4, 2009 @ 5:09 am

Oh for goodness sakes, who cares about the lack of handkerchiefs or the inappropriate office attire, the costumes were wonderful and I really don’t think the average movie viewer even notices these “failures to understand costume of the period”! I love period movies and especially the costumes, the costumes Angelina wore were all beautiful and who cares if the gloves were to short or the wrong hat was worn in summertime. I think Deborah Hopper did a great job! Comment by Suzie — March 20, 2009 @ 5:53 am

Great post! Just wanted to let you know you have a new subscriber- me! Comment by AndrewBoldman — June 4, 2009 @ 11:46 am