The Ladies' Tea Guild

Friday, June 12, 2015

Clothing the Californio, part 4 -- the Gold Rush era.

Governor Don Pio Pico, his wife, and nieces, ca. 1850,
San Diego Historical Society.
By the time California entered the United States in 1850, the social and political climate of the state was radically changing.  Hispanic immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, entered California and headed to the gold mines, bringing their own culture with them.  Non-Hispanic immigrants to the state no longer acclimated themselves to California's previous culture, and they competed with the Californios for land, status, resources, and political clout.  Many Californio women married non-Hispanic men during this time period not only because the newcomers were different and exciting, but because to do so helped secure their property (an English-speaking man to manage their affairs as local law became much more English and American in influence) and social status.  During this time, Californio families began to identify themselves with Spanish European culture, in opposition to the non-Californio residents' characterization of all Hispanic people as Mexican and therefore "non-white", as well as to avoid association with the political and social unrest happening in the Republic of Mexico.  Californios began to wear the same styles and garments that other Americans wore, and look just as Victorian as someone from the East Coast during the same time period.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Clothing the Californio, part 3 -- the Mexican period.

Working-class man and women in California.
Monterey State Historic Park.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
After 1824, under Mexican law, the central government basically ignored California, but the Californios were given free trade and loosened domestic business regulations; when the Missions were secularized, some people received large grants of good Mission land from the government, and were able to become self-sufficient and even begin to accumulate wealth.  They used their wealth (in hides and tallow) to purchase manufactured goods that were brought to California on international trade ships every few weeks or so, on average, but most ranch owners didn't live in aristocratic style until much later.  Many of the Native people who had been part of the Mission system stayed on the land and became the servants of the wealthier ranch owners, but by the 1830s, this state of society was still really new and changing.  Americans, English, and other non-Hispanic immigrants began to arrive in small numbers at this time, and generally adopted Californio fashions, taking Spanish names and joining the Catholic Church, as well as becoming Mexican citizens, purchasing rancho land, or marrying into land-owning families and inheriting it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Clothing the Californio, part 2 -- re-creating 18th century Spanish California costume

Spanish girl and woman, and their Moorish and Indian maids.
By Father Ignacio Tirsch, ca. 1770.  Baja California.
So, in analyzing the images of Spanish-era/18th century Californio women, these are the common clothing elements: white linen camisa (women's shirt/chemise) with medium-high neckline (no visible cleavage) edged with a gathered ruffle, with full elbow-length sleeves edged with a gathered ruffle that shows under the jacket sleeves; fitted wool or linen cuerpo or casaca (bodice or casaque/jacket), with medium-high round or square neckline (no visible cleavage), waist pointed at center front, stiffened with light boning and/or cording in front and at body seams, elbow-length sleeves with a slightly longer ruffle (compared to ruffle on camisa sleeves), hip-length peplum/skirt attached to the back and sides of bodice at waist edge, laced over a dark/contrasting stomacher, or laced or possibly hook/eye fastened closed edge-to-edge at center front; two (non-ruffled) ankle-length faldas, or petticoats, in solid colors (wealthier women are shown in cotton print petticoats), including red – often with white cotton or linen yoke from the waist to the hips and red wool or other color from there to the hem; black or white cotton or wool stockings and plain brown or black leather shoes with low heels; solid-colored, or white, or striped, cotton or linen rebozo (rectangular cloth veil or shawl), or lace mantilla (large rectangular or triangular veil worn by wealthier women) -- no cap, hat or bonnet -- covering the head, and wrapped around the shoulders and neck; hair braided and wound around the head (perhaps like 16th century Italian hair taping) under the rebozo or mantilla

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Clothing the Californio, Part 1 -- 18th century Spanish California background

giving tours at work, with a visiting "Chinese clay soldier".
So, I'm preparing to attend an event with my costume guild (The Greater Bay Area Costumer's Guild) next weekend, and it just so happens to coincide with one of my main areas of costume history research and interest: 18th and 19th century California women.  Since I work at a historic site (History San Jose) that incorporates two buildings that date from that time period, and since I dress in costume for some of my work there, I was asked to write an article about clothing from that time period, for my costume guild's member newsletter.  I'll be posting some of the article here in the following days, as I put together (hopefully!) a new costume to wear to this event.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

And back to costuming: Historical Sew Monthly catch-up -- War & Peace

George Washington, by Charles Peale Polk,
c. 1793. Smithsonian Museum.
The Challenge: April – War & Peace: the extremes of conflict and long periods of peacetime both influence what people wear.  Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace. 

A friend of my parents' is in the media business, part-time, and occasionally has a project where he needs a costume designer.  The first time he brought me into a film project, around 20 years ago, I went up to the Santa Cruz mountains where the team was filming a documentary about Johann Sebastian Bach, using the California Redwoods as stand-ins for the forests of Germany.  I was a costume assistant – ironing, dressing people, polishing shoes, and mending – and it was a really interesting experience.  A few months ago, this same friend called me up and said he was part of another small film project, and they needed a costume designer.  This time, since there was only one actor to be costumed, they only needed one person, and he asked me to put together a bid.  I must have been the only costume designer who sent a bid, because they accepted mine immediately!  Then, the actor that I was about to start costuming ended up not being hired (the client on the East Coast didn't like his audition tape) and I was put on hold for over a month while my parents' friend tried to find someone else.  Two weeks ago the company found someone that they liked, and the client on the East Coast liked, too, so I found myself in the middle of research. 

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)