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pre-Raphaelite dresses

I'm wondering if there's any way to wear a pre-Raphaelite dress to a steampunk event without looking as if I'm going to a Renaissance Faire. As far as I can tell, these medieval style gowns were not often worn by Victorian women, although some opted for Rational Dress (or Reform/Artistic/Aesthetic Dress).


I'm working on a Byzantine-style head-dress like the one worn in Mucha's "The Blonde". However I'm afraid my sewing skills aren't up to creating Artistic Dress like the three ladies in sepia, or Jane Morris' famous blue gown. I wish I could create something that beautiful, but I'm afraid a simple kirtle is more suitable to my skill at this point. Here are some more examples, mixing in the medieval gowns of the pre-Raphaelite paintings with Reform Dress:
So what do you think - can pre-Raphaelite dress be steampunk or is it too RenFaire to be steampunk?

Comments

( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
sherwood21
Jun. 12th, 2009 04:52 pm (UTC)
My roommate and I were planning on doing a pre-Raphaelite costume for her for fancy dress, and I think it absolutely can be. The reform dresses have got some details that make them look victorian still, and if you've got victorian hair and accessories, I think it'll make sense visually.
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid I'm just a novice seamstress - probably cannot do a reform dress, but just a simple medieval style gown. I was thinking more along the lines of a classical or Byzantine style headdress and loose hair like the Mucha girls. However I like your idea of the accessories. Perhaps a reticule, parasol, and fan would bring the Victorianism. Thanks for the tips!
liminalia
Jun. 12th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
If you use a princess-seamed pattern, (gently curved vertical seams down the bust and waist) it's still quite easy for the novice seamstress, yet you can get some of the fit that visually distinguishes a modern dress from a cotehardie. Many commercial dress patterns are princess-seamed, so just look at patterns carefully. It looks like the lady on the right in the B/W picture is wearing a princess-seamed dress.

Also, for the full sleeves of the Edwardian era, the trick is to cut your cylinder a good bit longer than your actual arm, so that when you put your hands thru the cuffs, the excess fabric blouses gracefully.

Finally, another trick that distinguishes an Edwardian lady in Pre-Raphaelite costume from a medieval one is the underpinnings. Medieval ladies didn't wear much in the way of corsets, while many of these ladies still did.
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the tips! Although I'm aiming for Reform Dress (as espoused by the Rational Dress Society), so no corsets, bustles, or high heels. Although some of the rational dressers wore emancipation bodices or looser corsets. But corsets are not for me. Anyway, not sure if I am up to the challenge but will see where the old Singer takes me.
horsefriend2
Jun. 12th, 2009 05:12 pm (UTC)
What the heck, call it "Steamfaire", or "Steamsidhe" : >

Personally I lean towards the more historic side of steampunk attire so I'd vote for as close to the "Rational Dress" look as possible, it's outre' enough AND very historical.
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, I love Rational Dress, but I'm just a beginner sewer and don't think I can do it. I have to start with very simple patterns.
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
In my reply above, I forgot to thank you for your comment - thanks!
unclrashid
Jun. 12th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
One of the other things to do would be to use steampunk accessories and decorative motifs. The embroidered motif on the central dress in the sepia photo... change that to something that has steamy details, like gears instead of flowers. Add steamy jewelery and if possible, some kind of hair ornament with steamy details. The footwear is also distinctly different. Wear boots instead of slippers.

Also, you will notice that the corset shapes in these pics are definitely Victorian. Although at some renfaires they wear Victorian shaped corsets, that should be their problem, not yours!
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
If only I could sew something like the sepia photo, but I'm afraid the kirtles in the PRBH paintings are more appropriate for my skill level. Thanks for the tips about the accessories.
synj_munki
Jun. 12th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
i think a straight up kirtle would look really out of place. if you want a faire outfit, do a faire outfit. there are ways to put together a victorian/edwardian feel to an outfit, especially given the variety in rational dress, that even a novice seamstress can handle. try simplicity pattern 2581, edwardian driving jacket (though, if you don't corset, at least get a good, uplifting bra to help with the lines). it' really easy, and you can pair it with a full length skirt or turkish trousers and look really sharp!
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
I think you are right - not too many people will recognize dresses like the first two, which are concert gowns. They were not widely worn, though the PRBH paintings are well-recognized. I love 2581 though I'm completely intimidated by sleeves and lapels. SO far I have only made two gored skirts and a pair of bloomers and the patterns were extremely simple. But, I will keep trying, gotta start somewhere!
synj_munki
Jun. 12th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
ah, but if you look at the garments of the ladies in that first pic, they have the high bosom, high neck, gathered sleeve caps, and gored skirts of victoriana. It is to pre-raph like gone with the wind (movie) is to victorian; if you look at the garments sclarlet o'hara wins, they are 1930s interpretations of Victoriana; lower, pointier bosom, bias-cut, and other late 1930s fashion standards.
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
That is reform dress in the sepia photo, not pre-Raphaelite. Although they look very fancy and Victorian to modern eyes, their dresses are quite different from typical Victorian gowns - especially the two at either end, the plainness of the style, emphasizing the beauty of the fabric rather than frills and bows. Also those two on either end have draped fabric suspended from the shoulders rather than from the hips, which was one of Oscar Wilde's suggestions for rational dress. None of them are tightly laced although they might still be wearing corsets. So, even though it looks Victorian to a modern perspective, I would still consider these to be rational dress. Of course, you may view them differently.
meaux30
Jun. 12th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
I think it is a wonderful idea. I toyed with something similair for Convergence a couple of years ago but chickened out when I imagined explaining to people that no it actually was Victorian era blah, blah,blah. You could be a Preraphalite artist or muse in a steamy way and I think it would be beautiful - and very blue stocking
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 07:56 pm (UTC)
Yes, I have imagined the exact same explanations in response to a medieval-looking gown! It might not be too recongizably Victorian.
tamara_rose
Jun. 12th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
I've just finished reading this biography about Jane Morris. It's full of great snapshots and reference photos of Jane in her trademark flowing gowns, as well as many of the paintings that feature her. Needless to say, I'd love to see what you come up with!

mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
Wow, that looks like a great book. She was a fascinating person and an unconventional beauty. She was from humble origins but educated herself to be as refined as any upper-class Victorian. I like that she was so far off from the Victorian ideal of beauty, but the PRHB saw her unique qualities.
athenaprime
Jun. 12th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
Wasn't there some sort of "neo-classical" movement at some point in Victoriana, where the natural form came into vogue? I seem to remember some old movies featuring matrons wearing very toga-esque gowns. Or am I too early/late for the period?
mlleviolet
Jun. 12th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
Hm, I know neoclassic fashion was big in the Regency era (I always think of the Regency hair styles and ornaments as decidely neoclassical). Actually I find it sort of odd that the loose gowns and bare arms of the Regency women's fashions were replaced by all the structure and constraint of the Victorian era fashions. The natural form was not very much in vogue for the Victorians as far as I know; corsets were de rigeur. Not sure about neoclassicism and Victorian fashion, perhaps someone more informed than myself would care to comment.
sphinxvictorian
Jun. 15th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
There were some Aesthetic dress designs, particularly by Walter Crane (published in his short-lived Aesthetic magazine, Aglaia) which were neo-classical, based on Greek chitons. They somewhat resembled the Regency designs, but were a trifle different. I haven't got the illustrations at my fingertips but a search for Walter Crane and Aglaia and dress, might turn them up. They were a bit simpler than the medieval or Queen Anne styles of Aesthetic dress.
liminalia
Jun. 12th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
The period between the bustle eras was referred to as "Natural Form" (1877-1882), but in reality it was anything but.

http://trulyvictorian.com/catalog/naturalcat.html
(Deleted comment)
sphinxvictorian
Jun. 15th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! I like the way you think!

Also, love your icon. Helena in Howards End, so beautiful. One of my favorite movies of all time.
tisiphone
Jun. 12th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
OK, so the thing is that a lot of those gowns existed only in the minds of the artists - the women modeling for the paintings actually wore linen or cotton smocks or draped dresses. However, I wear pre-Raphaelite all the time in summer. It doesn't look particularly renfairish, especially if you ham it up with a mad artiste air, and it's so much cooler than full Victorian kit. If you can do Preraphaelite hair to go with it (alas, I can't without a wig) that makes it much clearer what you're going for.

Edited at 2009-06-12 10:03 pm (UTC)
oracularpaige
Jun. 12th, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
Everyone above makes excellent points. I'd also like to point out that while steampunk is based on Victorian fashion and technology, in the hands and mind of the wearer, it's what you want it to be as well, because anything you wear should be a reflection of yourself. If someone thinks it isn't steamy enough, poo on them, as there is no laws on what is steamy and what's not.

Like the above ladies and gents have suggested, you can adjust the attire to fit more smoothly, changing or adding elements. I'm thinking the Lady of Shallot with a sword holster (or maybe not), haha. In any case, I love the idea, and think you can rock it steampunk.
mlleviolet
Jun. 15th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
Well, I do agree with you but the pre-Raphaelite dresses in the paintings are unmistakably medieval in appearance, so it's not so much that they are 'not steamy enough' but rather so suggestive of a completely different era... anyway, I still like the idea and intend to tinker around with it.
sidhe_etain
Jun. 13th, 2009 03:52 am (UTC)
I have to kind of...politely protest. Not against aesthetic dress, not at all, nor against your wearing an aesthetic gown. But against the idea of Pre-Raphaelite dress as a *steampunk* outfit. The Pre-Raphaelites were Victorian, and so yes, it'd be Victorian. But steampunk and William Morris' philosophies, in my opinion, are diametrically opposed, despite what some people have said. William Morris' concept of utopia was one in which the industrialization he saw around him was eradicated, and people went back to the simpler times and methods of earlier ages, namely the medieval times. To call an aesthetic gown, if one's persona is supposed to be Pre-Raphaelite, steampunk, would be like saying "a wet dry day" or "a short floor length gown"...the two concepts are anathema to each other.

Just an FYI. Pre-Raphaelites are my obsession, so I had to chime in. Granted, the aesthetic movement was separate from William Morris' philosophies, and so the actual gown style itself isn't intrinsically tied in with his philosophies either. If you wanted to simply be a reform dresser, anti-corset and pro-comfort, that would totally work! But I thought I'd let you know where I think Morris might stand ;)

Bottom line is...I can more easily see someone dressed as a Pre-Raphaelite follower attending a steampunk event and looking flummoxed at all of the strange technology around them, rather than directly wearing it or engaging in it.
(Deleted comment)
sidhe_etain
Jun. 14th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
I still maintain that Morris had what one could at least mildly call a love/hate relationship with technology. He seemed to, from some quotes I've read, find the progress of the Victorian times distainful and ugly in many ways. Then again, most of what I've read about Morris comes from his artistic philosophies. I must admit to knowing less than nothing about his Socialist views.

I've spent most of the day today pondering the issue of William Morris and steampunk, and while I came to the conclusion that he'd be deeply in agreement on the issue of the handmade that's so prevalent in steampunk, I'm still not quite willing to concede that he'd be opposed to its focus on technology and industrialization. I do, however, find it fascinating that both movements were in some ways responses to the mainstream technologies of their time! Working on a blog post about that one...
(Deleted comment)
sidhe_etain
Jun. 15th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
I do find it fascinating to compare Topsy's (let's get familiar) ideals with his actual day to day. Don't get me wrong, I adore the guy, but he espoused equal opportunity, and yet yelled at his servants quite effusively sometimes, and as you said, he did use machinery in his business although he always preferred things to be as handmade as possible.

I will also admit that my main passion is the Pre-Raphaelites (thebeautifulnecessity.blogspot.com) and steampunk is something I respect, but consider utterly separate. Therefore this post and the comments had me a bit in hystronics.

I once read an article online that called the Pre-Raphaelites "the D&D geeks of the Victorians." I can see that point, but I definitely see more of a connection between the Pre-Raphaelite / Arts & Crafts movements, and steampunk. Although the irony that steampunk was built on technologies William Morris wasn't thrilled about is quite amusing.

As I was jotting down notes at work yesterday about steampunk and A&C, I also thought that it'd make a great thesis. Ahh, I miss college.

Aaaand I apologize to the original poster for getting pretty off-topic. :)
sphinxvictorian
Jun. 15th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
If I may insert myself into the discussion, and continue the off-topic-ness for a moment, I actually think that, while Morris did have a love-hate relationship with industry and technology, as you say, he would appreciate the modern steampunk idea because of the beauty of the design elements. Remember his credo: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." I think you could apply that to steampunk design.

And yes, the thesis on steampunk and A&C does cry out to be written. ;)
sidhe_etain
Jun. 15th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
The one thing that I can wholeheartedly agree that Morris would appreciate about steampunk is its self-made, artisan, can-do philosophy :)

mlleviolet
Jun. 15th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
While I do agree with you on the pre-Raphaelites' view of technology as rather opposed to steampunk, I don't agree that one must espouse the philosophy in order to wear the costumes. I am not one to invent a persona, I just like the clothes. I don't believe that everyone who wears 19th century military attire must pretend to agree with British colonialism, that Confederante civil war re-enactors should act as if they wish to keep African-Americans enslaved, that everyone dressed as a pirate must behave like a thief or a cuthroat, or that people who dress up in medieval attire must espouse feudalism. I can wear Victorian attire without acting as if women should not vote or that it's okay for children should work 16-hour days, 6 days a week. Even in a Victorian costume, I don't feel compelled to pretend to be agape at all the modern electronics, the automobiles, the skyscrapers, and other wondrous things. And if my cell phone rings while I'm wearing a Victorian costume, I simply answer it without any sort of exclamations of suprise and astonishment.

Of course if someone were to assume a pre-Raphaelite persona, I supposed they'd have to frown upon technology and things like ray guns and robotic arms and so forth. So yes, I do agree that steampunk and the PRBH are somewhat in opposition, but not that people who wear the costumes must always be 'in character.' I mean, I admire people who do it, but I suppose I'm less interested in acting than in historical fashion for its own sake.
sidhe_etain
Jun. 15th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
Point taken about personas. I know I always like to have a backstory for my character, but I'm not always in character at conventions either.

sphinxvictorian
Jun. 13th, 2009 05:30 am (UTC)
I would think not steampunk, unless you did some real modification, like deconstructing the seams or something.

BTW, where did you find that black and white photograph? The one of the large group of women, not the sepia-toned one (I already have that one.) I've never seen that picture before, and I am a passionate collector of images of reform and artistic dress. It was the subject of my senior thesis for my BA, and I'm still following it very closely. (I found your entry through a Google alert I have set for Aesthetic dress!) I'd love to see a bigger version of that pic if you have one.

Thanks!
mlleviolet
Jun. 15th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
Here you go http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_imglist.cfm?startrow=11&sub_id=183§ion_id=11 (first pic on the right). (I probably found it by searching Google Images for 'reform dress' or a similar keyword.)
sphinxvictorian
Jun. 15th, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link! I should have known it was a group of German ladies. They seem to have been much more fearless about appearing in public in their artistic dress. More committed to it in some ways, I think.

Yeah, I need to do a good image search again, I haven't since I wrote my thesis. I'm sure there's at least a few more images out there on the web now.
deckard67
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:22 pm (UTC)
pre-rafaelite patterns
Hello!

I hope that somebody can help me:

I'd like to make a present for a friend: she is very interested in pre-Rafaelites and decadent fashion and I would like to give her a book of patterns for her 40th birthday.

Does anybody have any book to recommend?

I saw two books: "Patterns of fashion", vol 1 and 2 , by Janet Arnold, with some dress that may interest her, but I wonder if there is anything more specific on the pre-rafaelite / decadent style

Thanks a lot!
mlleviolet
Mar. 29th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
Re: pre-rafaelite patterns
Wow, reviving an old thread! I probably should have been more careful about lumping in Pre-Raphaelite with Reform Dress, even though there's a lot of overlap. The Pre-Raphaelite gowns seen in paintings by Waterhouse et. al. are actually more like medieval gowns, and the subject matter of the paintings was often medieval, e.g. La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Women rarely wore these sorts of gowns in real life, often they modelled for the paintings in plain muslin and the painters added the gowns from their imagination. One exception is Jane Morris' blue dress - she was painted in it, and can be seen wearing it in photographs from the era.

Artistic Dress, Reform Dress, Rational Dress, etc., was actually worn by women, although I suspect not too many of them, based on the dearth of photos. I've never seen a book of patterns, but here is one pattern: http://www.ravenrook.com/bagatelle/art1.jsp Although be forewarned, reviewers say this is very difficult to sew.

Although I've never seen a book of specifically reform dress patterns, there are books of photos and illustrations. Go to Amazon.com and type in keywords like "reform dress," "artistic dress," "rational dress" etc. and you'll find a few books that might make good presents for your friend.

Good luck!
Wilhelmina Thomas
Jan. 12th, 2011 02:26 am (UTC)
Artistic Reform
another place to look for examples would museum site like The Metropolitan Museum of Art https://www.metmuseum.org/ and the Victoria and Albert Museum http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/index.html some good search words are artistic reform gowns, aesthetic gowns, London of Liberty and Worth. This clothing style goes from the mid 1880's to the 1930's -- there are a number of stylistic changes and influences.

I do not recommended the http://www.ravenrook.com/clothier/bagatelle/art2.jsp for 2 reasons. the major one is ---it is complicated.

for an over gown try http://trulyvictorian.com/catalog/432.html it modifies easily into a vest, and open gown or a night gown.. it is not complicated and it not expensive.

for an under gown try a simple tunic with elaborate sleeves. if you want to try smocking try http://www.smockingstore.com/ladies.html the ladies bishop pattern or if you can find it Dianne Durand Smocking Technique, Projects and Designs ISBN 0-486-237885

if you are a size 10 or can modify a pattern try http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/patterns/discontinued.html#avant the avant-garde gown.

mlleviolet
Jan. 12th, 2011 04:00 am (UTC)
Re: Artistic Reform
Thanks for your advice on this very old thread! As much as I admire the Ravenrook pattern, I'm not nearly experienced enough to attempt it. Even the Truly Victorian one is probably too difficult for me - I am really just a beginner, and very intimidated by patterns - but I'll check out the pattern reviews for that over gown. Probably being a hand-sewer makes everything seem more complicated; my sewing machine is not working correctly and I need to take it into the shop, probably needs to be reconditioned or maybe there's something else amiss (I did find it in the garbage).

The fanciful medieval gowns in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings are not really Artistic, Aesthetic, Reform, or Avante Garde style (aside from Jane Morris' blue gown, which is more Aesthetic than medieval). I don't believe many 19th century women actually dressed in those long flowing kirtles with the pagoda sleeves. Although such gowns are very easy to sew, they do not suggest the 19th century. Even the reform styles just look like somewhat plain Victorian attire to a modern perspective - they were much more dramatic in their own era, compared to the typical upper-class 19th century woman's attire.

Thanks again for the links, it was nice of you to take the time to find them, and I bookmarked them for future reference.
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