Friday, July 18, 2014

Edward Steichen Captures the 1920s: Shoes for Vogue Magazine

Edward Steichen captured the beauty and refinement of 1920s fashion and style in numerous photo shoots for Vogue Magazine. In the photo above of the "barrette" shoe, with its slightly pointed toe and revived Louis heel, Steichen skillfully conveys a number of messages to the viewer. In this one detail shot, he reveals a bit of the carefree yet luxurious environment of the roaring twenties, while also highlighting several key merchandizing elements employed by the savvy fashion photographer and art director to attract the style conscious consumer.

In particular, note the proportions of the "foot model." Her neatly turned ankle is especially diminutive in dimension, the calf elongated and slender (but not bony) and the foot itself on the small size, but more importantly, it was narrow--long considered in some elite circles to be praiseworthy. Not every model could be a foot, hand or hat model. The models legs give the impression of being crossed at the ankle, which further reinforced the appropriateness of the image. The lacy hem sweeps (enticingly) just above the knee. The setting against what would have been recognized as a silk textile further heightened the aspect of luxury. The image conveyed the latest style, and suggested that wearing the shoes would lead to a positive experience with an underlying  message of gentility and sophistication. This would all be absorbed and understood quickly by the viewer - just as the subliminal (and not so subliminal) advertising used today. Steichen was a master in this genre.

Photographs courtesy Vogue Magazine/Conde Nast

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tea, Cake and Croquet: A Summer Afternoon in Costume, Warner House

Really, what could be a more delightful way to pass a sunny, early summer afternoon than drinking tea, nibbling on cakes and playing some rather aggressive croquet in the picturesque garden at The Warner House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire ( Warner House board chair, Sandra Rux; house manager, Jeffrey Hopper and your humble author, saw an interest in, and need for, historic spaces in the region to offer opportunities to costumers and reenactors from a number of historic eras to gather and enjoy events. Quite the convivial gathering, we hope for more in the near future.

Sarah, Jane & Hannah
S. Wordsworth Hemeon, photographer
Mistress and Master Spencer
SilkDamask photo
Rebecca models her dress - first opportunity to don her ensemble
SilkDamask photo
Julia, Sandra & Tara looking lovely
SilkDamask, photo
Sue brightens the room with her smile & 1930s sari
SilkDamask photo
Enjoying a chat in front of our absent host, Jonathan Warner
Amy Donle, photographer
S. Wordsworth Hemeon, photographer
For Portsmouth Herald article about the event by Jeanne McCartin,
 click here

For images by S. Wordsworth Hemeon, photographer, see The Warner House on Facebook

And for even more images, see

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

21 June: Particulars for the Costume Tea, A Communication from Jonathan Warner

Ladies & gentlemen, my esteemed guests: 

Should you be planning to attend our costume tea, on 21st June from 11:00-3:00, please be assured we are assiduously attending to your every need & comfort. I have personally inspected the premises and am pleased to inform you that we are prepared to welcome you heartily to our home.

For those traveling a distance, I have set aside one of my best chambers for you to attend to your wardrobe and associated finery.

We will serve tea, hot & cold, and an assortment of tea cakes and breads.

My domestic staff will be available to provide tours of our home (and I must once again let you know that my smalt chamber is the envy of many.) They have placed chairs for your comfort inside, or, should we continue with such fine, fair weather, you may want to settle in the garden.

Unfortunately, the groomsman will be away in the Northern most part of the province so I regret that I cannot stable your horses or carriages. Frequently, your means of conveyance may find space in front of the house or at the Portsmouth Livery Company (aka the parking garage.)

Please contact my Factor, Jeffrey Hopper (day of event only) should you need assistance.

---Your humble servant,  Jonathan Warner

The Warner House
150 Daniel Street
Portsmouth, New Hampshire

More about this event...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Patriotic Shoes: Made from Fragments of an American Revolution Flag?

Are these shoes tied to the American Revolution, fabricated from a piece of a banner, flag or standard ? The Connecticut Historical Society notes that in their records "these shoes were made about 1780, from a military flag carried in the Revolutionary War." The maker is unknown. Presented to the Society by Mrs. Horatio Fitch, both her family and her husband's could have had ties to the Revolution.

The uppers are crafted from red silk damask and painted with highlights of gold and black, with discernible letters "OIT" on one shoe and "N" on the other. Decorative swirls also comprise the detail. Lachets would have buckled across the vamp. The interior is lined with linen. They are hand stitched and, as noted in the Society description, the edge was hastily whip-stitched. This may indicate that the shoes were made up quickly for a special commemorative event. The materials are typical of those used for banners of the time. Indeed, just a few years later, during President George Washington's Boston visit (October 1789, more: George Washington & the Cordwainers), the procession banners of the trades were made of painted silk.

The diminutive heel is covered in a white damask, adding a contrast with the red silk. Given the dimension and angle of the heel, it seems appropriate to the 1780s. The length of 8 1/4 inches corresponds to a women's size 4.5 or 5 (USA) today.
Object Number: 1843.13.0a,b
All images courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society

A Special Evening with Elizabeth Bull's 1735 Wedding Gown at The Bostonian Society

Join us as we discuss the recent conservation of and the context in which Elizabeth Bull (Price) created her wedding dress in 1730s Boston. We will also take a quick (virtual) shopping spree through the city's commercial core, exploring what was available to her as a leading style-maker.

You can reserve your place at The Bostonian Society Facebook page or

For more, see Visiting with Elizabeth Bull's Wedding Dress

Friday, June 6, 2014

Stilettos, or Something Like It

The Tatler
Saturday, June 6, 1710

‘A stage-coach sets out exactly at six from Nando’s coffee-house to Mr. Tiptoe’s dancing-school. And returns at eleven every evening, for one shilling and four-pence.
‘N.B. Dancing shoes not exceeding four inches in height in the heels, and periwigs not exceeding three feet in length, are carried in the coach-box gratis.”

Men's Shoe first half of the18th Century, Bata Museum

As Shakespeare didn’t, but undoubtedly meant, to say, “If all the world’s a stage, then let’s dress like it.”  At the end of the day, how do you dress if you live in a hierarchical society bulging at the seams? Some say out—panniers, wires or swords, and some say up--heels and wigs or hats (?).  Steele’s’ acidic advertisement in 1710 points to the foibles men will go to impress themselves and everyone else. Well, as Tripping Knob, a famous, but undocumented dancer of the 1710s put it, “I may not have the power of the Monarch, a Duke, a General or Councillor of State, but by g-d I can be taller than all of them combined. If all these persons of rank want land and space here and abroad, shouldn’t I be able to colonize some space at home?”  

Men's Mules circa 1710, Bata Museum
Knob has a point there (intended), in an age of colonization isn’t acquiring space of paramount importance at all levels of society.  If Knob wears high-heels and towering periwigs, isn’t he colonizing his social space, albeit temporarily?  In a questionably upwardly mobile society, social space may be a limited but accessible playing field. As far as that goes isn’t Knob’s paramour, Mistress Tinder Box, doing the same thing with her panniers and hoops?  In hindsight we may look askance at the backwardness and constraints of our ancestor’s costumes, but did they?  Satire only works if enough readers or viewers understand the reference, and that only works if the reference is common knowledge for that group. Someone needs to be wearing these articles of clothing often enough for the reference to stick. Clearly Steele felt that his readers, London’s clever society, would get his jab instantly.
Admiral George Churchill, by Godfrey Kneller

Jeff Hopper is an author, editor and manager of the Warner House

Perhaps this will be a summer of looking at wigs and heels and things that make your space, my space à la the 18th C.