3 posts tagged victoriana
I’m kind of a sucker for heavy-handed obvious art history references in fashion editorials, especially Victorian ones, and especially ones involving sassy-looking vampy women and iconic paintings of them as opposed to another goddamned drowned-but-disturbingly-sexually-posed Ophelia floating in a swamp looking underaged and very, very dead.
Thus: Benny Horne’s photographs of Tasha Tilberg for The Block’s Spring 2010 issue in an editorial called “Madame X.” (Like, it’s a John Singer Sargent reference, guys!!!) I love that only one photo is obvious — the white-skin-dark-background contrast, the black dress, the twisting pose showing off an hourglass figure, the undone teased hair — but the rest of the ed still obviously channels that whole distressed-haughty-American-expat-trying-too-hard-to-be-a-French-socialite thing.
In honor of NYFW starting on one of the most abysmally bad-weather days of the year to date, two (totally unrelated, but equally awesome!) things. First, above slideshow of ladies managing to look put-together (and warm, and not prone to ankle-breaking) despite presumably terrible cold and icy conditions.
And second: 1888 saw one of the worst blizzards in NYC history, which dropped almost 2 feet of snow (with drifts up to 20 feet) over the entire eastern seaboard in March of that year. It destroyed telegraph wires (which at the time were all above ground — easy to forget that the whole city was once crisscrossed with even more wires than you see now), totally knocked out transportation in the city for weeks (big yellow plows: not around then), froze the East River solid (interfering with shipping and business across the nation), and caused hundreds of deaths. There’s a ton of fascinating stuff on this all over the internet, partially due to an exhibition on the storm in 1998 — plenty of incredible images here, info and personal accounts here, and a handful of newspaper articles from the time here.
So how is this relevant to today’s street fashion shots? One of the above articles from the Sun mentions the difficulty of maneuvering in a snowstorm in petticoats and hints at the discomfort and shame of having to gather one’s skirts to clamber over snowdrifts. (Though of course, only working-class women needed to do this — and besides, it wouldn’t do to mention a wealthy woman showing her ankles in the street!! Note that the Sun was apparently the most politically conservative NY paper at the time.)
Few of the women who work for their living could get to their work places. Never, perhaps, in the history of petticoats was the imbecility of their designer better illustrated. “To get here I had to take my skirts up and clamber through the snowdrifts,” said a wash-woman when she came to the house of the reporter who writes this. She was the only messenger from the world at large that reached that house up to half past 10 o’clock.
“With my dress down I could not move half a block,” It was so with thousands of women; the thousand few who did not turn back when they had started out. Thus women were seen to cross in front of THE SUN office and at many of the busiest corners up town. But all the women in the streets assembled together would have made a small showing. They are said to be much averse to staying in, but they stayed in as a rule yesterday. At half past 10 o’clock not a dozen stores on Fulton street in this city, had opened for business. Men were making wild efforts to clean the walks, only to see each shovelful of snow blown back upon them and piled against the doors again.
“Have the girls come?” an employer asked of his partner. “Girls!” said the porter: “I have not seen a woman blow through Fulton street since I’ve been here.”
I know I for one have a tendency to romanticize those hoop skirts and corsets and hook-and-eye boots and whatnot, but the fact is that for centuries, the link between women’s clothing and their oppression in society was undeniable — they were physically limited by the social limits of propriety in fashion, making even the most basic of tasks near impossible. Shorter, looser dresses, pants, less restrictive undergarments, less ridiculous hats, easier hairstyles, and more practical shoes were things women actually fought for and which took years to turn around (let’s not forget how revolutionary Coco Chanel was at her time) — and a conservative newspaper’s recognition of the “imbecilic” design of petticoats fascinated me here. I also was surprised by their choice to blame of women’s required fashion (and to dismiss those requirements as idiotic!) rather than their inherent laziness/smallness/immorality/stupidity/whatever usual excuses to explain their staying in — there just was no respectable or possible option other than to stay in when the weather was bad, and everyone accepted that as fact. (Though perhaps the male writer was just excited to have a reason to express a frustration he’d met with petticoats in the past? Wink wink, nudge nudge.)
Point: I’m pretty psyched about my jeans and combat boots today, and would also like to extend a personal thank-you to my Rodarte-for-OC sweatshirt. You were worth the money.
More gothy fin-de-siècle decadence, and then I swear I’ll lay off it for a bit. I love these Harry Clarke illustrations from Swinburne’s poetry, yanked from Journey Round my Skull, which is also my latest Google reader addition/obsession. (Vintage + unusual book covers and illustrations? Hell yes.)
Equally gorgeous, intricate, and creepy (often in a sort of Aubrey-Beardsley-and-Edward-Gorey-illuminating-some-medieval-text way) are his illustrations for Edgar Allen Poe ,Hans Christian Andersson’s fairy tales, and (perhaps creepiest of all) Goethe’s Faust. He was apparently also known for his intricate stained glass.
And to go with it, naturally, some epicly depressing and awesome Swinburne (side note, former college friends: anyone else remember part of this being written in some bathroom stall in the library? OH THE DRAMA.)
We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure.
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.