1780s White Chemise à la Reine with Blue Silk Sash and Flower Ornament

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Well, now, it looks like the readers of this blog have what you could call a slight preference for The Duchess’ costumes (a lovely gallery of which can be found at the Costumer’s Guide to Movie Costumes); as I write this it’s garnered 66% of the vote, with the other four neatly splitting the remainder. Not much of a surprise, we do like our fancy gowns around this joint after all. The possible list of leaked Oscar winners would be against us, preferring Benjamin Button instead, but that has all the authenticity of, well, a random list on the Internet.

I didn’t see The Duchess, or, sadly, any of the other Best Costume nominees, but I wanted to draw something inspired by its main character, Georgiana Cavendish, not the least because I recently discovered the The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century (and its counterpart concerned with Marie Antoinette) and since I’ve never been much into 1700s fashion before (I love the 1800s, everything before that I’m real vague on) I’ve been enjoying it. Well, lo and behold there is a style of dress that Marie Antoinette started and Georgiana introduced to England, so that seemed to be the right thing to draw tonight. It’s called the chemise à la reine, and it was quite scandalous when it was introduced in the mid-1780s because it was essentially like wearing one’s underwear out in public, not what one expects from one’s queen. A very simple garment, it was really the precursor of the Regency gowns as the waistline inched upwards.

Don’t forget — livedolling the Oscars here, tomorrow! Stick around the comments section and help me decide what to draw. I’ll be looking frantically for streaming video of the red carpet show (more interesting than reloading Getty Images all the time), let me know if you know where to find it.

Margaret Hale’s White Gown from Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South

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This gown is based on one that Margaret Hale, main character of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, wore to a dinner party. I listened to a Librivox recording of it this month.

All we know about the gown from the book is that it is white silk and adorned with coral (two pins in her hair, her sleeves looped up with coral strings, and a coral necklace.) There’s no firm date given for the events of the book, but I’m dating this gown to 1852, based on this page, which makes it sound as if the strike in the book was based on the historical strike at Preston in 1853, a year before the book began to be serialized. Then, this was the gown that Margaret also wore for her cousin’s wedding, which was at the beginning of the book. It’s an inconvenient date — right there between the Regency gowns and the hoopskirt at its height. I used this page for reference, mostly.

It may sound like the book is some sort of Civil War drama, but it refers instead to the differences between the slow-paced farming communities of the south of England and the upstart industrial cities of the north. For this reason I found it a rather odd book somehow; it starts off with a wedding, a silly mother, a pastor father, a suitor for Margaret and a good bit of walking, gardening and drawing, and we Jane Austen fans think “Oh, I know where this is going.”

(Unrelated: while chatting with a woman working at the bookstore the other day, she told us she had been talking to someone who lamented, in all seriousness, that Jane Austen hadn’t written anything lately.)

But just as the reader is getting acquainted with Helstone and its inhabitants and charms, there’s a crisis: Margaret’s father loses his faith in some way, enough that he feels that he must renounce his living and find other employment. This revelation is never truly explored in the book, as Margaret seems rather afraid to ask for any more details, and instead throws herself into the mundane details needed to keep the family together. So they move to Milton, a factory town, and her father becomes a private tutor. And all of a sudden, this book which had seemed to promise a lightly romantic comedy of manners, brings in questions of religious faith, chapters upon chapters of class conflict, lingering illness, murder, deception, lies, grave misunderstandings and lots and lots of death. (And why the one character I would have liked to see die never quite made it there, I have no idea.) This is all separate from the story of Margaret’s love interest, which is its own little torment; they must spend thirty chapters thinking of each other, misunderstanding each other, and being miserable, before it is all finally resolved in the last page of the book.

I enjoyed it thoroughly, even with the heaps of melodrama, as Margaret herself is a fascinating and admirable heroine, and the depiction of the class conflict is easily more important than the romance. The strike, the union and the millowners are all treated evenly and sympathetically, and the inclusion of such themes makes the novel so unique.