Riddle Me This – Regency Revival or Aesthetic Movement?

vintage-cleaningI’ve been super-busy with the house: cleaning, fixing, maintaining and swapping the bedroom with the sewing studio/office. And there are a number of home dec sewing plans and projects in the works. It’s also been uncomfortably hot and that’s sapped my energy. So I haven’t had much to post in the way of “what I’ve been up to lately” topics. (I can’t imagine anyone being fascinated with the demise of dust bunnies or whether the armchair looks better on the left or the right of my sofa. If you are, this is how serious problems start – please check your phone book for psychiatric help hotlines now.)

This doesn’t mean I’ve been ignoring historical fashion. Far from it. I’m still researching and collecting images of extant garments, learning more tidbits about different eras, and the like.

When it comes to historical fashion, I’d seen fumbled identifications and incorrect attributions long before I started learning about fashions from different eras and how to reconstruct them. After all, even I knew that athletic shoes aren’t accurate for ancient dress and shimmering polyester fluff wasn’t around during the Civil War.

The further along I get in this passion/hobby thing, the easier it becomes for me to recognize an error, or at least question an identification – even if it’s from a museum curator. Pretty nervy of little ol’ me, huh?

And I figure that if I have questions, so will someone else. Perhaps a lot of someone elses. (Or is that “someones else”?) And wouldn’t it be great to have a forum in which to kick things around?

So I’m establishing a dedicated “Riddle Me This” post each month to present examples and share what I can or cannot find out about them. I don’t have tons of time for an in-depth analysis so this will be a bit more like doing a light-weight historical fashion case study, if you will.

Be advised, however, unless it is an exceptionally egregious case (or I get fooled – again), I won’t include the movie-costume-presented-as-genuine-extant-garment phenomenon. I’d never leave the keyboard if I did.

I’m launching this endeavor with a little something on Pinterest that caught my eye last month and startled me so much that my brain started wracking its fledgling fashion database and nearly seized up.

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This was originally posted by Alain R. Troung on his website, 3 January 2013. At that time, the gown was owned by a collector in Montreal, Canada. Now, Mr. Troung isn’t just some armchair hobbyist. Far from it. He’s been in “the biz” a long time. But still… (No offense intended, Mr. Troung. I’m just trying to learn, d’accord?)

“Regency Revival Tea Gown, ca. 1910”

Regency Revival Tea gown, ca. 1910. (alaintruong.com)

(alaintruong.com)

(Back view)

(Back view)

 Original Description:

tulle brodé de fleurettes jaune citron, fond de robe en satin crème. Corsage taille haute à manches longues ajustées, empiècement plissé souligné d’un arc de fleurs stylisées en soutache argent et application de satin. Jupe évasée à traîne longue brodée de palmes et festons, (petits trous au satin).

Translation:

lemon yellow tulle embroidered in flowers, over a dress of cream satin. High-waisted bodice with fitted long sleeves, pleated arc of stylized flowers in silver braid on satin. Long skirt rain embroidered with palms and swags, (small holes in the satin).

My problems with this are:

The fashion world of 1910 did indeed experience a Regency Revival, so I don’t question that. But the Regency Revival gowns of the time looked like these, which definitely hail back to Regency fashions:

However, as far as I know, Regency never looked like the lemon yellow tea dress in question. But Aesthetic Dress/Artistic Reform did. It started in the 1860’s (although examples can be found in paintings as early at the 1850’s in Britain) and ran through the early 1910’s. Aesthetic Movement dresses looked like these around the time in question:

That’s quite some difference, isn’t it?The Aesthetic Movement was all about eschewing artificial shape: no bustles and no corsets. Gowns featured free-shape embroidery. Natural dyes were favored. Nicely distilled concise and comprehensive information is available on fashion-era.com.

1910 was toward the end of this fashion revolt against the constrained and artificial predecessors, so the timing for the lemon yellow tea dress is right, as are the colors, fabrics, embroidery elements and trim. And it just doesn’t look “Regency” to my eyes.

So…what is it really?

I’m voting for an Aesthetic Movement dress mistakenly identified as Regency Revival, because it meets all the criteria of the former and nothing I can see of the latter. The embroidery details definitely look Edwardian to me – especially that tiered arc of crocheted circles under the arc on the front bodice. And the overall shape of the torso is loosely defined, i.e., no corset necessary.

What do you think?

Where would you place it – and why? Does anyone know of an “official” identification which supports solid placement in either camp?

PS – The photos are credited as: “Photo Coutau-Begarie” with further credits presented on Mr. Troung’s website – Coutau-Begarie. Mercredi 16 janvier 2013. Drouot Richelieu – Salle 1 – 9, rue Drouot – 75009 Paris http://www.coutaubegarie.com/

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6 thoughts on “Riddle Me This – Regency Revival or Aesthetic Movement?

  1. I love this idea! I’ve got to the point where I’m doing this quite a lot and it’s really upsetting sometimes. There’s a pair of stays in the Victoria and Albert Museum that’s cross laced instead of spiral laced, putting stresses on it in all the wrong places. 😦

    • Those are the kind of things that look like such egregious errors to me that I sit slack-jawed, fighting the urge to pick up the phone and demand to speak with the curator right then and there. Not that I’d actually do it, mind you. So many times I feel like someone who has just enough knowledge to get themselves seriously embarrassed. Happily, this is a very forgiving forum. 🙂

  2. When I’ve talked to museum professionals about what something should be labeled, I’ve never gotten a straight answer. At first this annoyed me, but then a couple of these curators explained to me that they will never pin something down definitively because information changes constantly. Unless a label was used at the time the dress was made, it’s a trap to try to define it now. That’s why you get a lot of, “we think this…” and “it’s possible that…” from museum professionals. On the flip side, you get a lot of “this type of dress was always…” and, “this type of dress was never…” from hobbyists, antique dealers, people who have “been in the biz,” but aren’t actually trained in the methods and practices of textile curation.

    The dress in questions could be called a lot of things – Edwardian, Transitional, Regency Revival, Aesthetic, Art Nouveau, Pre-Raphaelite, etc etc. I’m not well-versed enough to know if any of these terms were actually used at the time. It might have just been called an afternoon tea gown. If it’s couture, the woman who commissioned it may have just asked for something in the style of “this artist,” or “like Lady So-and-So’s dress.”

    (I personally agree with you, though – it looks a lot more like an aesthetic movement style gown than a Regency revival gown. 🙂 )

    • The terminology is indeed part of the issue. Although I can find specific definitions for the terms, they are generally used with less specificity and more “leeway.” So while one can find firm facts, such as “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.”, even knowing that the movement was short-lived doesn’t preclude later fashions that evolved from the movement being labeled with the original genre (if that’s a correct term to use here). “Transitional” is the one that snags me every time…fashion evolves, and usually rather quickly, so it seems to me that in the relatively recent centuries there are more “transitional” styles than not – with a few notable exceptions.

      I agree 100% that without the documentation to absolutely identify a garment the best one can do is base what one sees on the historical knowledge available. I would much rather get a bit of educated waffling than absolute error. It seems that there are always some head-of-the-pack, “out there” fashionistas who are eons ahead of (or apart from) everyone else who tweak the data base. (To this day I am eternally grateful that Paul Poiret’s lampshade dresses never caught on. *shudder*) And it makes sense to me that because so many extant garments were indeed commissioned by individuals from their dressmakers/tailors, even if not at the couture level, the amount of personal preference and taste has to skew things a bit. Certainly, the more expensive and/or valued a garment is the more likely it is to be preserved and passed down through a family.

      It’s as if 300 years from now the only thing fashion curators have to work with are video footage from major “Fashion Week” events and the current creations from Dolce and Gabbana, The House of Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Donatella Versace. Their documentation would represent a tiny fraction of the greater market and their understanding of what real people wear now would be far from accurate.

      As a hobbyist myself I find it’s difficult to avoid that trap when looking backward.

      And I’m sticking with Aesthetic Movement for the (probable tea) gown, thanks! 🙂

  3. I’d second your thoughts here. Although, it honestly could have had influence from both areas. That’s the joy of privately owned gowns — you can make them however you like them! I think it’s all of the high bust detail that is making the curator think “Regency Revival” but with the lack of waist to make it empire, and the SLEEVES, I’d have to go with Aesthetic Dress. But I could see Lady Fancy Pants going “oh Mme Dressmaker, include that beautiful Regency detailing! But I want it to stay firmly within my Aesthetic Wardrobe!”

    — Tegan

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