The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Re-creating Pre-Raphaelite costume.

"Miranda: The Tempest"
by Waterhouse
According to Consuelo Rockliff-Stein, one of the founders of The Ladies’ Tea and Rhetoric Society, “Artistic gowns ... were never intended to be exact replicas of the clothing worn by models in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, nor were they intended to replicate clothing of the classical and medieval eras. These gowns borrowed design elements from all these sources, but were distinctly Victorian in overall effect.”  This led to vaguely historic-looking clothing, mixing elements from totally different periods in the same garment.  “Medieval”
"Venetian Ladies Listen To The Seranade"
by Frank C. Cowper
sleeves, “Elizabethan” ruffs and “Grecian” drapery could be found on the same dress.  The Watteau-back dress, a princess-line dress that had a fitted bodicein front, but a large section of loosely-pleated fabric from the shoulders to the floor in back, was inspired by 18th century French sacques, and was one way that Pre-Raphaelite ideas were absorbed into mainstream fashion.  It became a favorite look for the “tea gown”, which became popular in the 1880s as informal daytime social dress. 

ca. 1900 Aesthetic dress.

The Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic garments were supposed to reveal the natural figure, un-restricted by corsets and un-distorted by hoops or bustles, but in perfect proportion, like the Venus de Milo’s figure.  Unfortunately, many women didn’t have Venus de Milo’s figure, and they found these unstructured styles unflattering without some kind of figure support, so they began to add light boning and/or separate tight-fitting linings to some of their dresses.  The overall shape of the figure, however, was no longer wasp-waisted, but slender with gentle curves: much easier to wear for the ordinary woman, even with a “health corset” on underneath. 

There are many modern sewing patterns on the market that will help produce a great Pre-Raphaelite costume.  Almost all of the “historic” costumes that are made by Simplicity and McCall’s, intended to represent the Ancient Greek, Medieval (here, also) or Italian Renaissance eras, while not historically accurate for the costume of those eras, would make perfect Pre-Raphaelite dress.  In addition, any pattern for a Lord of the Rings Elf or Human costume, or an Arthurian Queen Guinevere, would make a good Medieval-style Pre-Raphaelite costume, as well as patterns from Ever After or The Princess Bride.  Christmas Nativity scene costume patterns provide good tunic shapes for men and women, or you can even make a toga from a bed sheet.  You're just going for the general "look" of the Pre-Raphaelites, so have fun coming up with ideas!

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

“The Aesthetic Dress Movement: Fashion History of Aesthetics” by Pauline Weston Thomas for
“Morgan Le Fay” Arthurian costume
The Pre-Raphaelite Online Resource
“Pre-Raphaelite Ideals and Artistic Dress” by Consuelo Marie Rockliff-Stein 
“Artistic Flair – Aesthetic Dress of the 1880s”
“Aesthetic Dress” Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia
Reforming Women’s Fashion, 1850 – 1920: Politics, Health, and Art by Patricia A. Cunningham.
"Misc. Female Elves" costume page

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)