Author Topic: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917  (Read 36271 times)

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Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #15 on: March 20, 2005, 06:30:03 PM »
Bluetoria you always have the most gracious things to say.  It is interesting how fashion does speak about our identity.  Alexandra was so incredibly popular as a young Empress that likenesses of her often appeared in fashion illustrations of the period.  

The Russians don't really understand her popularity in Europe and the USA in the 1890's until about the first revolution.  The way she dressed the Czarevitch, in that wonderful little winter white outfit with the dropped waist (which you can see in one of the threads) was copied world wide for little boys and little girls and lasted well into the 1920's.  

What I learned reading Radzinsky was how little public opinion existed in Russia and how what ever public opinion there was existed only among a few hundred individuals at the most.  

When I read Radzinsky I get the same feeling that I get from looking at that wonderful series of water colors of the coronation.  It is charming and full of details but there is something missing something almost naive or undeveloped.  Not undeveloped in terms of intelligence or talent or beatuy but something smothering or blanketing the expression.  Well anyway it would be fun to send Bob some pictures to show what I mean about the fashions of the period and some of the fashion illustrations that are unmistakably inspired by Alix.  

 

 

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #16 on: March 21, 2005, 06:29:41 AM »
Dear Griffh,

Many, many thanks for continuing your amazing posts.

"After describing the magnificence of her coronation jewels and attire she says that Alexandra's lovliness "had nothing of the vanity which seeks a public homage: it had rather the appealing gentleness which made her mother (Alice), under the happy freedom of English skies, the most beloved princess of her day....  
 
Then this Ambassador's wife makes the most amazing observations, for a book published in January 1912, as she goes on to describe what she considers to be the fate of such a sheltered woman as Alexandra wed to what she describes as a "Brutus of lofty soul" who will say with "a tenderness immortal beyond the centuries...."  "You are my true and honorable wife, as dear to me as are the ruddy drops that visit my sad heart."  
 
That certainly turned out to be a true prophesy as Alix and Nicky's love letters will be apart of Russia history to the end of time.    
 
But the most amazing observation that day in 1894 in the Gold Court, as the American lady observed Alexandra, was her description of Alix's face.  "Her face upon her coronation day was charged with profound emotion--it has haunted me ever since.  It was like the face of a martyr walking with measured steps to her funeral prye
." "  

...So touchingly beautiful. With all of the dissembling that has gone on around Alexandra, it is wonderful to read such first-hand accounts.

Hope we will see photographs soon.  

Sunny
 
 
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Sunny »

Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #17 on: March 21, 2005, 08:48:52 PM »
Thank you Sunny for such encouragement.  I will be moving out of my home and into an apt in April so I shall not be able to get to my books for awhile.  But after my move I shall send Bob some of the pictures and see if he will post them here.  

There is one fashion illustration from Harper's Bazar, I think the date is 1895 or so, that is almost a portrait of Alix, or at least it seems that way to me.  I am starting to try and collect impressions of her from the Coronation to about 1905 from sources not written before the WWI.  They give such a different point of view.  

I shall share also share some more aspects of the fashion revolution that occurred in 1907 and the lead to the reintroduction of the neo classic styles that had begun a hundred years before.  The most interesting thing is that you can trace the 100 year cycle that starts in 1800 with the waist right under the bust and watch it slowly move down to a normal waist line by 1820 and as it does this the narrow classic skirt starts to blossum until it reaches its total extreme in the 1860's.  Then the skirt started to deflate, first in the front leaving a bustle in the back which gradually from 1870 to 1890 dissappeared as the skirt shaped itself into a A-line.  Then with 1900 the skirt started to break out infront in the inverted curve, in oriental fashion like a kimono and the round waist of the 1890's started to drop in the front and rise in the back until the famous monobossomed S-curved fashions that exaggerated the matronly figure or the celebration of Mother became the rage.  When this fashion had reached it's extreme by 1907.  The new sheath gown was introduced that had a markedly higher waist line continued to rise through 1909 with the true introduction of a decidedly neoclassic look.  Then in 1910 the fashion world went crazy with the introduction of the hobble skirt, with its double tunics and truely Greek revival fashions.  It is almost impossible to tell 1913 fashions from 1813 fashionhs.  These are the delightful light gowns we seen Alexandra's daughters waring in 1913 and 1914.  With the opening years of the War fashions abruptly changed but most of Europe had abandoned fashion because of the carnage of the war.  The Brave New World appeared in 1915 when for the first time in 2000 years Christian Women's skirts rose 15 inches off the ground and for the first time in 2000 Christian women cut their hair in a bob.  The few fashion houses that managed to stay open during the war started exhibiting in the US as American women were the only western women left with leisure and money and the Pan American Fair in San Francisco in 1915 became the first international fashion show.  

Many fashionalbe women in Europe had donned nurses's outfits and had witness so much horror and death that they lost their craving for fashion.  Because America stayed nuetral for almost three of the four years of WWI it had money to burn.  The greatest fortunes in America were made during those years when it supplied Europe with munitions.  

The carnage of WWI is so hard to concieve that only by realizing that America alone lost more men in WWI in the 10 months of real combat it experienced, then in all the years of the War in Vietnam.  An entire generation of young men were wiped off the face of the earth in Europe in every country.  It is as if the International set committed suicide.  

When the war was over all any man wanted was a woman that looked like a twelve year old boy.  He did not want the responsibility of a family, he no longer believed in religion and he despised his Victorian parents for starting the war.  The full bosomed, full hipped, child bearing figures of the Victorian era were considered repulsive and the reaction against all things Victorian lasted until the closing decades of the twentieth century.  

Well anyway I shall share some of those pictures as soon as I get back online after my move which will happen the same day the National Archives are closed in St. Petersburg.  

Offline Alexandra

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #18 on: March 24, 2005, 05:58:41 PM »
Dear Griffh,

I, too, thank you for these most interesting posts, and wish you well as you move.
Fashion - however interpreted - cannot help but be a means of self-representation, and thus a very valuable clue to the personality and psychology of the wearer. Obviously, it doesn't say all there is to say about the person - and sometimes, is deliberately used to say just the opposite, in order to force the viewer to look more deeply - but even that is revelatory, too. Unless we are reduced to circumstances in which we literally have absolutely no say at all about how we present, and represent, our appearance, our choices in clothing, hairstyle, and accessories do say much about us.
When you settle from your move - could you possibly tell us the title of that book by the anonymous American lady? I would so like to read it! :)

Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #19 on: March 26, 2005, 09:14:56 AM »
Thanks for wishing me well on my move.  

I just finished packing up my library and truely I have lost count of the boxes.  Fortunately I did not pack two books and one of them is the book you were asking about Alexandra.  

It is entitled:

"Intimacies Of Court And Society, An Unconventional Narrative of Unoffical Days,"  by The Widow of an American Diplomat, New York, Dodd, Mead and Co., 1912.

As I said my first project when I move into my new Apt. is to gather the pictures for this thread and then to start collecting descriptions of Alexandra written before the Great War and ideally, like this book, published before the Rasputin scandal went public.  

Well, once again thank you all for your kind thoughts and I know they will help make my move pleasant.  Griff

Offline Alexandra

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #20 on: March 26, 2005, 07:41:52 PM »
Thanks, Griff - and I can sympathise with your losing track of how many boxes you have. This place looks like a sandbagged WW I trench, minus the mud and rats - I have books in bags suspended from every wall, never enough shelves, and am so addicted to this 'vice' that the books just don't stop coming! People who thought Queen Alexandra of England was a packrat haven't seen this place ...
I must see if I can find the book you recommend; now, did you unearth it in a library, or was it a 'find' somewhere in a bookshop or online?
Thanks again, and if you are observing Easter in the Western tradition this weekend, may all its special treasures come to you! (The same wish, of course, applies in advance if you are one of our Orthodox friends ... )

Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #21 on: March 27, 2005, 07:57:25 AM »
Alexandra what a clever idea to suspend books in bags!  I would have never thought of that.  Recently with my move and all the changes in my life many of my friends have misunderstood me and I have lost a few as a result, but my books continue to be my steadfast friends.  I could not help thinking how excited all the other books are in your house by the constant stream of new arrivals.

I had read the book when I was fourteen and then forgotten it but remembered many of the details, something we all do.   I live in a little historic town on the Delaware and it has become a rare/used book haven.  I think we now have five to ten used book stores which is amazing for a city of only 1500 people.

I found the book in one of the stores.  In Princeton there is an enormous Bryn Mawr book sale every year and I have found treasures there too.  One year at the sale a lady and I had seen the Grand Duchess Marie's autobiography at the same moment and I really wanted it but I back off.  Actually I already had two copies but this one was signed.  

When I backed away and let the lady have the book I just wanted to leave as I felt there was not anything more that I really wanted but this little voice said that there was something waiting for me if I would just trust and listen.  So I stayed and right there under the table was a box of books ready to put out when the piles got low.  The little voice said to reach inside and take the first book I touched, so I did.  It was Count Witte's memories.  I could hardly believe it as his autobiography is fairly rare.  

Well anyway thank you so much for you kind Easter Greeting.  I wish I was Orthodox as the Easter Celebration in the Orthodox Church has to be one of the most beautiful and moving religious services in all of Christendom.    "Christ is Risen."

Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #22 on: April 10, 2005, 11:03:38 AM »
Well my move is only a week away but I just can't stay away from the site.  I thought I might docuement some of the radical changes that were occuring in fashion as early as 1907 and the rise of the New Woman who would dominate the twentieth century.  As I still can't get to my books I thought I might quote from an article that I wrote on Irene Castle as she lead the way as a fashion icon in 1912.

It will help to explain how Alix was more and more isolated from the ideals she so beautifully protrayed as the New Woman in the 1890's when Christian Idealism still permeated every aspect of Western culture.  However all of this started to change as early as 1907.  It is hard to realize that Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein was painted around the same time.

The article was written to give historic context to boudoir dolls so you may need to bear with me through some of the introductory remarks.  But the rest of the article does give a fairly good view of the changes that took place just before WWI and that would dominate society after the war.

"The “Brave New World” appeared after the cataclysmic events that forced themselves upon the Western World in 1914 with World War One.  It brought an end to the polite Edwardian world and its values.  The radical departure in fashionable modes and social ideals can be traced back as far as 1906-1907 and lasted until 1932.  By 1912 this social revolution was headed by a teenage American girl, Irene Castle whose impact on the modes and manners of her time was immense.  The “Brave New World” roughly corresponds with the Art Deco period, the Gazette de Bon Ton, Ertè and the production of Boudoir dolls.

These composition dolls began to appear as early as 1919 and lasted through the 1930’s to the beginning of World War II.  Most often, Boudoir dolls were made of composition heads, hands, feet and cloth bodies.  Sometimes they were printed on silk and entirely stuffed, sometimes they were a combination of porcelain and cloth and were often transformed into some functional object like a pin cushion or lint broom.  But always they depicted a Follies girl, an oriental siren, a theater starlet or Tango dancer.  The Boudoir dolls that adorned the beds of Art Deco society matrons were often depicted smoking.  They were a deliberate affront to the passé Jumeau and Bru French Fashion dolls and Heubach and Kestner German Bébé dolls which the “Brave New World” considered maudlin leftovers of the despised Victorian Era.

The fashions of many of the more sophisticated Boudoir dolls can be traced to the gowns created by the couture house of Lucile that Irene Castle wore in the first Broadway Musicals as she danced her way through the opening decades of the Twentieth century.

Boudoir dolls, having been largely ignored, are only now beginning to be collected as valuable antiques, but they have lost their historic context.  Even doll historians speak of them as “Turkish” or “theatrical” and have lost the comprehensive sense of the radical era that they symbolized.  It is the purpose of this article to put Boudoir dolls back in their proper historic context by closely examining the “Brave New World” and it’s icon of fashion, Irene Castle.  But in order to do this, we must return to a very different world, to the years just before the World War One.


The city is Paris and the setting is Louis Barraya’s ultra-chic and exorbitanly expensive Café de Paris.  It is the spring of 1912 and the Café is filled with the sartorial splendor of the Edwardian International aristocracy.  Before we meet the attractive young couple, Vernon and Irene Castle, that have been hired by Barraya for the evenings surprise entertainment and are sitting quietly at one of the tables close to the dance floor, let us take a long look at the audience.  

Louis Barraya is taking a calculated risk tonight as his august guests have not come to be entertained.  They are the entertainment.  The Russian Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses, the French nobility, Argentine and American millionaires, Austrian and German royals that patronize the Café de Paris create their own magnificent show of beauty, power and intrigue.  Their refined gestures, subtle love affairs, courtly manners, costly gowns, and fabulous jewels form the center of entertainment where ever they go.  Not even the budding motion picture industry can compete with these aristocrats.  Their photos are sold in shop widows, their activities and appearance are minutely described in magazines and newspapers.  Their lives are immortalized in poems and plays and novels.

A unique aspect of this group is the number of titled American heiresses they include.  There are forty-two American Princesses, seventeen Duchesses, nineteen Vis-countesses, thirty-three Marchionesses, forty-six Ladies, sixty-four Baronesses, and one hundred and thirty-six Countesses.  They live mostly in Paris and London although they spread from the Czar’s Court in Russia to the Empress Dowager’s Court in China.  They even have their own publication, Titled Americans that is published annually in New York.

The ideal age for these Edwardian aristocratic women is thirty-five.  Young women and girls do everything they can to look as mature as possible.  The fashions of the day with their elaborate hairstyles, heavily corseted figures and highly ornamental, frilled gowns give young girls a womanly aura that is far in advance of their actual age.

In Princess Troubetzkoy’s novel, World’s End, written as late as 1914, her young heroine, Phoebe will not let her husband Owen see her dress for dinner as she wants to surprise him.  

(Pheobe)  “I can’t let you in now, dear.  But I’m almost dressed.  I’ll be ready before the others.”

(Owen)  “Never mind sweetheart.  I only wanted to know what you are going to wear.”

(Pheobe)  “It’s a new gown.”  A faint little laugh came through the crack in the door. “  You’ve never seen it.  Black and silver.  I want to look very dignified and matronly.”

(Owen)  “May it add ten summers to your ripe age!”  

These mature ornaments of society were male property and their male owners found their passivity and dependence attractive.  Their full, curvascious corseted forms  indicated that they could produce healthy progeny and thus insure dynastic lines of succession.

Except for the Hollywood movie stars of today, these aristocratic Edwardians were possibly the last group of socially prominent people to genuinely believe that their lavish display of sartorial magnificence was a source of sincere joy and inspiration for the under-classes.

However, this elite group was about to disappear forever.  In 19l4, less than two years away, World War One would erupt in Europe.  Its arsenal of weaponry, the likes of which had never been seen before, would sweep away over half the young men in the group by Christmas of 1916.  By the conclusion of the war in 1918, Socialist revolutions would sweep away two thirds of the parents as monarchies and empires crumble and collapse.  

The titled aristocrats, seated comfortably in Café de Paris in 1912, would be hunted down like animals and perish or be impoverished by the time of the Paris Peace talks in 1919.  However those catastrophic changes are still in the future and we must return to 1912 and the safety and security of the Café de Paris and meet the young couple, Vernon and Irene Castle, that Louis Barraya has prepared as his surprise for his august patrons.  

At exactly the stroke of mid-night, the Café’s smart society orchestra jumps into the syncopated jubilance of the hit tune of 1912, Alexander’s Ragtime Band.  A nineteen year old American girl, Irene Castle and her newly wed English husband, Vernon, rise from their table and start to do the latest dance, the Grisly Bear.  Irene is wearing her wedding dress, a simple neo-classic tunic of lightweight Crepe de chine with little or no ornamentation.  In order to dance with more ease, she has caught up the train with her sole piece of jewelry, a gold bar pin that Vernon has given her as a wedding present.  

Irene has tied her shoes on with satin ribbon because of the speed with which she and her husband dance those marvelous “animal dances”, then the rage; the Turkey Trot, the Bunny Hug, the Ostrich Strut, the Lame Duck, Camel Dip and the lone survivor to this day, the Fox Trot.  Her hairstyle is simplicity itself and she has chosen to wear a dainty Dutch lace cap that she has seen in a shop window.  

As the elegant young couple speed around the tiny dance floor the audience goes wild.  Not only is social dancing re-born, but fashion history is being made.  It is rumored that a Russian Grand Duke tips the couple 300 pounds.  An amazing thing has happened, the audience is no longer the entertainment.  Vernon and Irene become the most sought after couple in Paris.  They are invited to dance in all the great aristocratic houses.  Within a short time polite society in Europe and America start to dance, morning, noon and night.  Thé dansant replaces the lengthy afternoon receptions.  Tango Teas become the rage.  Young couples, in imitation of Vernon and Irene, pour out of vaudeville and become exhibition dancers.  Black American musicians that can only play in bars and house of prostitution in America come to Europe and performed in the most elegant hotels, restaurants and theaters.  Plays and Musicals include exhibitions of the latest dance craze." I will post the second part next.

Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #23 on: April 10, 2005, 12:11:32 PM »
Here is the next installment of the article:

"But Vernon’s and Irene’s impact on social dancing was nothing compared with Irene’s impact on the Paris fashion world.  Irene’s young, slim, athletic form symbolized all that was new and exciting.  She defined the brave new woman.  Her extreme slenderness made her almost androgynous.  She was more like her husband’s equal and sexually ambivalent friend than a passive, childbearing dependant female.  Her raison ďêtre was still to be desirable , but desire was no longer defined by dynastic power, pomp and prestige.  

Independence, individual initiative and innovation was the new ideal.  Irene was sending the message of youth, equality and freedom as she flew around that dance floor at the Café de Paris.

Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl, the famous American interior decorator was in Paris at the time and had created a sensation with a walking suit that Mrs. Osborn, her fashionable New York dress maker had made for her.  “Le walking skirt”, cut 6 inches off the ground and anticipating the new short skirts introduced during the War, was extensively copied by several of the French couture houses.  But the sensation that Lady Mendl’s walking skirt caused was completely overshadowed by the impact of Irene Castle.  Jane Smith tells us in her book, Elise de Wolfe, A Life In The High Style:

“The fame of Elsie’s invention was soon eclipsed that summer by the rush to copy every gown, hairstyle, step, and gesture of a younger and considerably more beautiful arrival from the United States, the dancer Irene Castle.”1

Everything the American teenager had chosen to wear became de rigueur for the fashionable.  Shoe manufactures copied Irene’s satin ribboned evening shoes and called them Tango slippers.  Women demanded simpler hair dos like Irene’s and shed the rats and appliances that they had used to create their elaborate coiffures.  The enormous Edwardian picture hats were dropped for little hats more in keeping with Irene’s little lace cap.  Diamond dog collars, elaborate jewelry and massive tiara’s started to go out of fashion because Irene had worn no jewelry.  Ornamentation and frills also started to disappear as Irene preferred youthful, unadorned lines.

It is true that many of the elements of change that had come together that night in 1912 at the Café de Paris had not originated with Irene.    They were the result of six years of social revolt.  Isadora Duncan, Ida Rubinstien, and Ruth St. Denis in 1906 had taken the world by storm with their interpretive dances wearing revealing transparent chiffon chitons, oriental veils and bangles.  To see an uncorseted female body move in public was something that had not been seen for almost five hundred years.  The following year in 1907 Lady Duff Gordon of Lucile caused a sensation when she designed a soft, flowing lightly corseted empire gown and marvelous hat for Lily Elsie who was starring in The Merry Widow.  That same year Lady Duff Gordon’s sister, the novelist Elenor Glyn, created a storm of protest that lasted in America until the 1930’s with the first real sex novel of the twentieth century, Three Weeks.  It was about an Eastern European Queen who so dreads perpetuating her husband’s barbaric nature that she seduces a young English aristocrat in order to produce a proper heir.  She lies uncorseted, upon a tiger skin wearing a soft chiffon gown in order to accomplish her ends.  The book immortalized the tiger skin and produced the famous rhyme;  

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin

Or would you prefer
To err
With her
On some other fur?2

The following year in 1908 Lady Duff-Gordon and the famous French Couturier Paul Poriet abandoned the corset for a  light weight elastic girdle and the soutien-gorge, or brassiere.  In 1909 Ballet Russe took Paris by storm and Leon Basks erotic costume designs and lavish oriental hues revolutionized color and design.  Then in 1910, the year Good King Edward the Seventh of England died, Poriet introduced his most shocking innovation, the serpentine hobble skirt, and the doors of his Couture House were literally smashed in by excited women craving the new toliet that promised to transform them into oriental sirens.  In that same year Coco Chanel, with the assistance of Boy Capel, was already installed in the rue Cambron, making her hats and in a few years her silk and wool jersey dresses that would not become fashion for another decade. It was also the same year that saw the invention of the self-starter, making it possible for women to drive their own cars.

It is true that all of these innovations had already occurred in the six years prior to that night in 1912 and that Irene cannot take credit for originating all the changes she adopted.  However, until Irene’s appearance, the polite world considered all these fashionable innovations to be the work of the devil and they considered the  innovators to be the Devil’s tool.  The pulpit, press and police united as one to put down the changes.  Women were arrested for wearing the new fashions and even the Pope spoke out against them and condemned the women who wore them to eternal damnation.  Other religious leaders attempted to blame the new fashions for the natural disasters that were taking place such as earthquakes and floods.  Those few brave women who followed the new trends were branded as Hagars of the period.  

But not so with Irene.  She was no Hagar.  She was somehow able to translate the jarring new sense of liberation into something “smart,” “elegant” and “wholesome.”  She was able to remove the odium of disapprobation and polite society eagerly copied her attitudes and taste and style.  

This teenager managed to make the changes safe.  Perhaps it was the fact that she was a teenager.  Perhaps her innocence and talent made her unassailable.  The famous historian, Jacques Barzun explains in his new book, From Dawn to Decadence that all history is the unfolding an:

….intricate plot woven by the actions of men, women and teenagers (these last must not be forgotten), whose desires are the motive power of history.  Material conditions interfere, results are unexpected, and there can be no single outcome.3

It was just so with Irene.  The material condition that interfered was World War One.  However, by the time the war broke out, Vernon and Irene were back in America and safely installed in their elegant “Castle House” in New York City.  Everyone in Society flocked to their elegant school to be taught the latest dances, to get the latest fashion tips.  As Armageddon was raging in Europe, America dressed and danced.

Irene found the new fashions for 1914 allowed much greater freedom of movement.  The new double tunic toilet with its collarless bodice, short, full kimono sleeve and center split skirt was made for dancing.  She adored the new fabrics, such as chiffon velvets, delicate crepe deteors, the softest most supple taffetas, and light crepe de chines, because they moved beautifully when danced in.  The full chiffon and taffeta petticoats with their tiny rose buds and lace were worn under the double tunic gowns to keep legs from being seen when the center front opened.  Irene found these petticoats were indispensable during a tango or some other dance that involved dips and turns.  

Embroidered stocking and shoes also came into their own as they were now more visible.  Irene found the elegant hosiery with it little embroidered designs to be a delightful addition to her dancing frocks.  Fashion had become the handmade of thé dansant."

This section helps explain the scuff that Alix had with Tatiana over her wearing her bronze mesh stockings.  There is one more section to go.

Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #24 on: April 10, 2005, 12:18:51 PM »
In this last section, costume historian Willet Cunnington explains the shift of consciousness after WWI and why such women as Alix, who so beautifully expressed the fashions of the 1890's that emphasised femine hips, waist, thighs and bossom fell out of favor and why she clung to the corsets of the 1890's when she was recognized as ideal of youthful beauty as the fruitful Christian woman.

"The new silhouette for 1915 did little to change the bodice from the year before but it introduced a bold new skirt that no longer touched the floor.  For the first time in two thousand years, with very few exceptions, women were no longer wearing dresses that trailed on the ground.  Fashion rid itself of the floor length double tunic skirt, but kept the petticoat and turned it into the new full skirt, which was cut twelve inches off the ground.

Along with the new short skirts, an equally revolutionary change occurred in women’s fashion in 1915 when Irene bobbed her hair.  Irene’s bob permanently established the “school-boy look” that would dominate women’s fashion to the early 1930’s and re-appear with Twiggy in the 1960’s.  Both Madame Poriet and “Coco” Chanel claim to be the first women of fashion to bob their hair but even if Madame Poriet or “Coco” Chanel were the first women to bob their hair before Irene, they were unable to present the boyish ideal that Irene presented.  Fashion historian James Laver points out:

A curious result of the new modes was that they notably diminished, or at least threatened, the dominance of the great Paris fashion houses.  The Frenchwoman does not naturally look like a boy; she did not fit into the new fashions as easily as her contemporaries in England and the United States.4

In 1915, because of the loss of interest in fashion in Europe as the overwhelming tragedy of war engulfed the entire culture, many French Couture Houses closed.  Others showed their collections in San Francisco at the dual Pan American Fair that was held simultaneously in San Diego and San Francisco.  As the Haute Couture of Europe lost its audience to war and revolution, it temporarily turned to the America.  Neutrality allowed America war manufactures to supply armaments to both sides and Europe’s money poured into American coffers.  The first great Couturier to take advantage of this new market, even before the war, was Lady Duff-Gordon.  In what may be an apocryphal story, Lady Duff is supposed to have come to America to introduce her collection in 1907 and could not find any place that was suitable so she hired the theater in the old Waldorf Astoria.  She had a ramp made so that her models could be seen by the audience.  Lady Duff was famous for her statuesque models.  She had them wear her evening collection without the traditional long sleeved black gown underneath thereby braking the Edwardian taboo of exposing flesh in the afternoon.  She also named her gowns instead of the traditional numbering system and she used music to accompany the models as they walked down “the ramp.”  Florenz Ziegfeld was supposed to be in the Waldorf Astoria for lunch and had inquired as to what was going on in the hotel theater.  When he saw Lady Duff’s fashion show he is supposed to have suddenly gotten the idea for his Ziegfeld follies.  Regardless of whether the story is true or not, the Follies opened in 1907 and Lady Duff Gordon designed the costumes and even lent several of her models, Dolores and Colsuelo to star in the Follies.  

In 1915 when Vernon and Irene starred in Irving Berlin’s first musical, Watch Your Step, Lady Duff-Gordon designed all of Irene’s gowns.  Irene mounted the vacant throne of fashion and became its most sought after arbiter.  Polite society rushed to the Theater to see what she was wearing and have it copied for themselves.  The doors of Lucile’s shop in New York were beaten down by women wanting to look exactly like Irene.  One gown that Lucile designed for Irene needs to described in Irene’s own her own words:

The costume I wore opening night was probably the loveliest costume the world has ever seen.  It was designed by Lady Duff-Gordon and Elsie de Wolfe likened it to a Fragonard.  To me, it was sheer heaven.  It was the first dress with a torn hemline and was made of blue-gray chiffon that looked like smoke and was twelve yards around the bottom.  The bodice was silver with long, full chiffon sleeves, carrying a wide band of gray fox at the wrist.  The cloak was made of a blue-gray and silver brocade (using the wrong side), very full in the skirt, with a tight bodice that laced down the left side with chartreuse and emerald green satin streamers.  The huge skirt of this handsome brocade cloak was garlanded in light gray fox, which had been tinted slightly mauve…

Besides being beautiful, the dress was perfect for dancing.  It molded the legs and trailed out behind like smoke, giving a fluid grace to anything you did in it.  Lady Duff-Gordon had planned it that way, and she was one of the most remarkable dress artists I have ever known, not only in the line and contour of the clothes she created but also in her perfect combination of colors.5


Then in 1916 as Irene was introducing Lucile’s famous Cocoon skirt, and she and Vernon were at the height of their success Vernon enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and left for England.  The war was going poorly for England and he felt that he had to fight for his homeland.  Like so many young men, actually an entire generation of young men, by February of 1918 he was dead.  He perished in a training flight.  

After Vernon’s death, Irene Castle continued to appear in Broadway Musicals, had a short stint as a Motion Picture Star, designed clothes for the Corticelli Silk Company, married and divorced several times, but she gradually faded from public memory.  But her influence on fashion remained.  The sexually ambivalent boyish “flappers” of the 1920’s were simply an extension of the brave new woman that Irene had introduced in 1912.  True, the “Bright young things” of the twenties, with their short skirts, bobbed hair and bound breasts, were less conventional and more aggressive than Irene had been, but they were the natural outcome of the new ideal Irene pioneered in the pre-war teens.

Willet Cunnington explains:
…The schoolboy figure became the structure on which fashions were built, and young women sought every physical means to obliterate their feminine outline and assume that of an immature male.

In addition there was another influence to be reckoned with; the demobilised man from the Forces was seeking a mate, but economic conditions discouraged him from starting a family.  He required a companion capable of helping to earn a joint income; children would have been a financial disaster.  Under such circumstances he was not attracted to the maternal type of woman, and he discovered a peculiar appeal in the non-maternal, school boyish girl, whose demands would not insist on the satisfaction of a nursery.

A third factor was the social domination of Youth.  The brave new world meant to cut itself adrift from all elderly obsolete traditions, together with that generation which, it was thought, had been responsible for bring about a disaster which had blasted the world.  Youth personified a fresh start.'"  I hope this is includes some helpful historic context for the fashion during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.   griff
 

Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #25 on: April 23, 2005, 08:53:46 PM »
Well I completed by move but still have not unpacked my books and I must apologize for sharing that piece I wrote on the fashion revolution in the teens as it got a bit away from the direct discussion of Alexandra's clothes.  

When I do get my books unpacked I must share the most intriguing story of what happened to Elenor Glynn when she was invited to Russia in 1909 or 1911 by the GD Maria Pavlovna Sr. so that she could write a novel about the Russian Court.  I think I mentioned this earlier.  

Moonlight_tzarina the 15,000 gowns belonged to Catherine the Great's Aunt by marriage, the Empress Elizabeth and I believe that they were all lost when the Winter Palace burned down.  Sisi had the regulation number of fashionable gowns which I believe was about 50 a season, including the various court gowns that were required for formal affairs and which she seldom if ever wore.

Sisi had an even greater aversion to Court functions than Alexandra did.  Sisi even found the family dinners unbearable.  It is interesting that no one has ever acused Sisi lack of interest or participation in the formal functions of the Hopsburg Court as one of the reasons the Revolution swept away the dynasty.  

Alexandra's girls had very stylish clothes, it is just that the new fashions of the late teens demanded simple and unornamented, neo-classic lines as I alluded to in my article on Irene Castle.  The lack of elaborate ornamentation was part of what it meant to be chic in the mid to late teens.  

The only thing that was typical of the girls fashions in exile was the outmoded lenght of their skirts, however their sweaters and small hats and caps were very smart.  Most aristocrats, were so overwhelmed by the war,nursing related duties, and the grief of losing so many men, that they had lost or been partly isolated from some of the newer trends.  However people like Kesseskya (mispelled name of Nicky's ex-mistress) and Queen Marie of Romania did stay au courant.  There is a picture of Mathilde K. some where in one of the threads sitting on a smart french couch in her new Hoffman/deco palace in 1915 wearing the a elegant reception gown with the new full short skirt, stocking and tango slippers.  

The other thing that has taken the smart world by storm is the tango and even the GD Alexander speaks of how provocative it was to dance this new dance.  Many of the young Russian Aristocrats replaced their dance orchestras with gramaphones so that they could dance to the latest American rags played by the latest ragtime musicians.  

That is why "Yankee Doodle Dandy" was planing on the Gramaphone in when Rasputin was assassinated.  The phonograph was supposed to indicate to Rasputin that a dance was going on upstairs.  

Russia was so much more advanced prior to the Revolution that it has since been and it makes it so hard to visualize the level of sophistication and modern conveniences.  I believe that western critics condemned Solshenitzin novels about Russia as he decribed vaccum cleaners, automobiles, english gentleman's suits and the like and the west had only seen Russia as a land of unspeakable cruelty and backwardness.  

Because of the total destruction of both WWI and WWII it does not seem possible that you could call long distance to Rome in 1905 from St. Petersburg or that world premiers in art and music were as much a part of St. Petersburg city life as they are a part of the present life of NYC and London.  

Well anyway hello everyone and as soon as the books get unpacked I will try to send pictures to illustrate the changes.  

Offline lexi4

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #26 on: April 23, 2005, 10:47:20 PM »
Griffh,
Thank you so much for the wonderful posts. I learned quite a lot. One thing I learned, is that I am glad I don't have to go through all of that dressing and undressing everyday.
I would love to see the pictures you refer to. Good luck with the move and thank you again for taking time to provide so much information. Again, I learned a lot and am sure I will re-read these later to catch anything I missed.
Didn't OTMA have certain colors that were reserved for them?
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by lexi4 »
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely, in a pretty and well preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, "Wow ---- What a ride!!!"

Offline Speedycat

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #27 on: May 11, 2005, 01:38:54 PM »
Relatively new to this discussion board and just came across this marvelous thread!  What fascinating information griffh!  Do you give tours of your extensive library?  I would love to see a list of the ooks you have.  It seems I may have a miniature version of your massive selection, as I am interested in the same topics, royalty and Victorian and Edwardian fashion.  Tyring not to be too jealous of all your books ::)

Offline griffh

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #28 on: May 11, 2005, 09:35:05 PM »
Well Speedycat actually I think that my library is probably very limited given some of the contributors to this marvelous website.  I think that my books represent an intuitive collection rather than a real research library.  Gosh as I speak of my books I feel so cut off from them.  I have them all carefully packed away in storage until I can finish my bookcases.  I really miss them and they have been such good friends to me all of my life.  

When I was living on my own in NYC as a teenager I was afraid of everyone and I would not want to go outside or visit my friends.  Then I would read how brave Princess Cantacuzene when she when she has to confront some of the terrifying conditions in St. Petersburg and Kiev during the early days of the October Revolution and how she carried a revolver in her fashionable oversized muff; or how clever old Princess Kleinmichel was warding off the Revolutionary soldiers with a false sign on her palace stating that she was under arrest and the house was in the hands of the Government while she carefully packed everything up and made her escape; or how the Grand Duchess Marie bravely made her way to the Bank in Moscow and survived being shot down along many people when they were suddenly cornered by the revolutionists.  

The fate of some of my friends hung in the balance for years.  I was twelve when I read of how one Russian Princess was lying in bed ill when the Revolution hit and I had to wait until I was twenty three to learn that a faithful servant nursed her back to health and she managed to make her escape unmolested.  

I would faithful read how these women survived, often unaided by anyone.  I would read what they felt and how they got through their fears and this would give me renewed strength to face what was to me an equally hostile world.  

Those aristocratic women were the only ones I trusted because they had the same sensibility and the same values and the same sense of style and charm that I was raised to respect.  They never abandoned their gentility or refinement even in the worst of circumstances.  Those women helped me to overcome my fears without brutality, without abandoning my  nobility and these women gradually helped me find my way.  

So I guess my library represents a journey that they took and a journey that I continue to take with their help and encouragement.  I think the reason I am so soft on Alix's faults and so protective of her character and so unimpressed with her detractors evidence against her, because as Count Beckendorf said (or something like this), "Her character was so much higher than the people who disapproved of her."  

Anyway this is a long about way to say when my bookshelves are completed I am organizing my books by country and cataloging them and I can then send you the list.  But there are some really faboo threads on books that give so many wonderful websites to buy books from.  My trick is to just write in Princess or Countess or some other title in the author section and then millions of books come up.  Many are novels written by Princess's but there are gems hiding away.    

My I do wonder on and off topic, don't I.  Sorry.  Griff        

Offline Alexandra

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Re: Imperial Style and Alexandra's Clothing from 1880 to 1917
« Reply #29 on: May 12, 2005, 12:47:42 PM »
Unless the FA or site owner give you a gentle nudge about it, Griff, I think you can wander away in peace - and that most of us will like it that you do!
I understand exactly what you mean about the need to confront brutality, ugliness, and ignorance with quietly assertive courage - and grace. Like you, I will not abandon the gentility, in which I was raised to treat all with courtesy, for any of the pseudo-values which came to mark the 20th and now the 21st century.


In order not to get too far off-topic myself, thanks for the commentary on the shifts in fashion in the first two decades of the 20th century. I've noticed that some of Alexandra's clothes, about 1912 ->, exhibit a much freer, more flowing line - not exactly uncorseted, but far less structured than in her earlier years. Would you say that is just her own interpretation, or does she follow any specific direction in fashion?

Also ... what is the story about her spat with Tatiana over the bronze mesh stockings? Do tell!!