Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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An Ode to Claire McCardell in the object-based analysis of a Red Cotton Dress

By Jenn Bilczuk

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Claire McCardell for Townley red cotton dress c.1940-1949 FRC 2014.07.477

In the 1940’s, Paris was under occupation and designers elsewhere were cut off from their Parisian inspirations. To prevent the demise of the industry, American designers were thrust into a position of fashion authority that had been previously denied to them (Buckland). Key influencers, like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, fueled by economic nationalism promoted homegrown talent in hopes of stimulating American investment in American designers (Buckland). The increased publicity and the changing social landscape of the forties elevated Claire McCardell’s simple yet stylish design into fashion discourse. She emerged as: “refreshing unFrench” (Yohannan).

McCardell designed well cut garments that transitioned into well made mass-produced pieces. Trained in haute couture techniques, McCardell repelled from the frivolity of couture garments – but not without studying every Parisian design she could get her hands on, giving her an impeccable understanding of clothing construction (Robinson, 104). McCardell took inspiration from the needs of the American women that she identified with. During the war, women were interacting with the world in new ways and McCardell was acutely aware of the evolution of the mid-century woman – she aimed to create clothing that was “at once appropriate for the office, cocktail hour and leisure” (Yohannan).

Claire McCardell’s designs were radical in the context of the forties, since they did not feature shoulder pads, back zippers, boning, and the heavily constructed looks of the times (Yohannan). Instead McCardell garments embodied the fundamentals of sportswear as it is known today: offering functionality, quality and practicality, characteristics so entrenched in contemporary fashions that they remain largely “under appreciated and understudied” (Robinson, 100). McCardell created pieces that were fashionable  and durable. Some of her signature elements were derived from the functional characteristics of American working class clothing. For example, her use of cotton, reinforced by classic double stitching from denim work eventually became a design staple (245, Kirkland). Her production of stylish clothing in traditionally non-fashionable fabrics was ground breaking. She preferred wools, jerseys and cottons because of their reasonable price and availability (Kirkland, 252); “effectively ennobling everyday materials by way of thoughtful design and deftly executed construction” (Yohannan).

These design signatures came to be known as “McCardellisms”, distinctive in identifying a garment as her design (Robinson, 110). She made use of techniques from couture production, but only “those that worked within the constraints of mass production and American fashion” (Robinson, 106). Her distinctive use of the bias cut was influenced by the work of Madeleine Vionnet, which she was exposed to during her training years in Paris (Robinson, 105). The McCardellisms were features that integrated functionality into women’s every day wear. She insisted on deep side pockets in every garment, including her evening gowns, as pockets offered “a place to put one’s hands so as not to feel ill at ease or vulnerable’” (Yohannan and Nolf, quoted by Stanfill). As she instructed her models to display her designs with their shoulders leaning back, hips thrust forward, and hands in their pockets, she is credited with creating the modern slouched stance used on the catwalk today (Robinson, 108).

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Front view Claire McCardell for Townley red cotton dress 1940-1949 FRC2014.07.477

The Ryerson Research Fashion Collection has a garment by Claire McCardell : a red cotton below-knee length dress in a white and black trefoil motif, with a shawl collar and short sleeves (FRC2014.07.477). The dress was dated by the donor to the  1940s. In 1940, McCardell began her second chapter with Townley Frocks as the head designer. The label in the dress reads “Claire McCardell Clothes: By Townley”. During her first period designing with the company in the thirties, McCardell’s work was strictly under the Townley label – the company fearing that naming the designer would make McCardell difficult to work with (Kirland. 239). The label change in the forties however only strengthened the relationship between McCardell and Townley, which lasted until her death in 1958.

The dress itself is in remarkable condition – reflecting the designer’s belief that “good fashion somehow earns the right to survive” (Kirkland, 307). Any displays of aging are only visible upon close inspection. Under the collar and inside the pockets, the original darker red colour contrasts the faded red of the exposed fabric, a combination of age and wear. The latter is further displayed in the discolouration visible directly in the underarms and the hem of the skirt which is slightly tattered; seams are starting to separate, the stitches loosening from one another. There are multiple alterations – re-stitching done in red, and eventually in contrasting threads of black and white. The signs of wear and the overall condition signify a beloved dress, one that was worn often but taken care of, supported by the integrity of its production.

The red cotton dress is a modified princess cut, the seams detailed in white contrasting thread – a McCardellism of reimagining classic patterns in modern fashion. The princess cut features continuous vertical panels, shaped to the body through the torso with no waistline seam – rather than a typical bodice and skirt. Alternatively, the red dress has two vertical bust darts that begin near the shoulders and meet the top of the large side pockets, detailed again in white thread; eventually merging into the side seam at the bottom of the pockets. There is a rather large zipper on the left side that was originally red, but has chipped away to reveal silver from use – it’s placement essential to a woman’s ability to dress herself, another McCardellism (Robinson, 125). The center seam mimics the double stitching techniques borrowed from denim work. The dress is cut on a bias with pink tape used selectively along the inner hem, both shoulders, and on the inner right side seam: a signature detail, giving the garment greater movement and elegantly draping on the body.

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Back view of Claire McCardell red cotton dress 1940-1949 FRC2014.07.477 

In 1947, after the war had ended, Dior released the New Look – characterized by its emphasized bust, longer hemline, indented waist and accentuated hips (Charleston). The look contradicted militaristic aesthetics of the period that broadened women’s shoulders and narrowed their hips (McDowell, 70). Comparatively, McCardell’s red cotton dress in the FRC reflects a similar silhouette, leading me to believe that the dress could have been produced in the later years of the 1940s – specifically between the years of 1946-1949. Despite the presence of the aforesaid McCardellisms; the piece conspicuously lacks other specific design details of her pieces in the early forties, such as adjustable waistlines, wraps and spaghetti ties, large belts, and gilt hooks and eyes. While McCardell rarely used zippers after the war, when she did they were a highly visible design detail (Robinson, 125); in this case the red cotton dress features a zipper on the left side, drawing attention with contrasting white thread.

Sally Kirkland, a Vogue fashion editor, recalled a conversation in spring 1946 with McCardell when the designer shared her prediction that the “following spring she thought women were going to want very full and much longer skirts” (271) in response to the silhouettes of the forties and the restrictions enforced during the war. The next spring, McCardell released a collection of dresses with full circle skirts and dropped hemlines – working out “new proportions so that the unaccustomed length and fullness was set off by a snug bias bodice and tiny waist” (Kirkland, 271). The red dress embodies these very features: a narrow fit through the bust, drawing in at the waist, and opening towards the hips; which are further accentuated by the large, rounded pockets on both the left and right side. The back of the dress is embellished with a piercing, almost a gore, and without risking the integrity of waistline, offers additional volume while making the round skirt much fuller. It is also significantly longer than her dresses from earlier in the decade; measuring at 31 inches from the front waist to the hem, and hangs slightly longer at the back measuring 34 inches from waist to hem. The skirt hangs around 10-12 inches longer than previous designs (Kirkland, 271). The dress would fall well below the knee on a wearer between 5’5″ – 5’7″.

All things considered, I believe that McCardell’s 1946 prediction that “fashion would gravitate towards longer lengths, yards of fabric, and rounded narrow shoulders”, manifested itself in the red cotton dress of the FRC, dating it more accurately to the years 1946-1949 (Robinson, 135). While both Dior and McCardell envisioned the emergence of the silhouette, Dior’s dramatic interpretation overshadowed Claire’s much simpler designs. In this one red cotton dress, I see evidence of the difference between the old world of French fashion versus the new American look; the male versus the female designer;  and glamour versus practicality. Her vision developed into a more youthful feminine silhouette “often made more so with a shawl collar”, and produced in practical fabrics as displayed in the red cotton dress (Kirkland, 71); a mainstay in the “wardrobe of college girls, working women and housewives alike” (Yohannan). The red cotton dress of the FRC perfectly embodies Claire McCardell’s approach to dressing the American woman; it harmoniously incorporates function into fashion, moving with the wearer through the day in effortless style.

References

Buckland, Sandra Stansbery. “Promoting American Designers, 1940–44: Building Our Own House.” Twentieth-Century American Fashion. Ed. Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham. Oxford: Berg, 2008. N.p. Dress, Body, Culture. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Claire McCardell Red Cotton Dress. American. 1940-1949. Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Toronto. Ryerson University. Web.

Charleston, Beth Duncuff. “Christian Dior (1905–1957).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. N.p Web 29 Feb. 2017

Kirkland, Sally. “McCardell.” American Fashion: The Life and Lines of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell, and Trigére. Ed. Sarah Tomerlin Lee. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book, 1975. 209-316. Print.

McCardell, Claire. What Shall I Wear?: What, Where, When, and How Much of Fashion. N.p.: Simon and Schuster, 1956. Print.

McDowell, Colin. Forties Fashion and the New Look. N.p.: Bloomsbury, 1997. Print.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.

Mida, Ingrid. Personal Interview. 1 March 2017

Robinson, Rebecca J. “American Sportswear: A Study of the Origins and Women Designers from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.” Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, n.d. 2003. Web. 7 Mar. 2017

Stanfill, Sonnet. “Curating the Fashion City: New York Fashion at the V&A.” Fashion’s World Cities. Ed. Christopher Breward and David Gilbert. Oxford: Berg, 2006. N.p. Cultures of Consumption Series. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017

Yohannan, Kohle. “McCardell, Claire.” The Berg Companion to Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. N.p Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Jenn Bilczuk is a first-year MA Fashion student at Ryerson University. This post was written for an object-based research assignment in MA Theory II and has been edited for the FRC blog by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida. 


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Drawing as a Research Tool: Observing The Sleeping Beauty Bluebird Costume

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Front view of the Bluebird costume. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

Observing an historical artifact can be overwhelming at first, especially when presented with a garment that has a large amount of surface details and materials.  Creating observational drawings can be an excellent method for object-based research. As stated in The Dress Detective, “sketching is a method of helping the mind to slow down and, in the process of doing so, take notice of small details” (Note 1).  With this in mind, I attempted to put the technique to use when studying the men’s Bluebird costume from the National Ballet of Canada.

Before diving into the artifact itself, it is important to discuss preparation for drawing in a research setting.  I found it useful to have a few goals in mind before I began drawing.  The following three goals are general prompts that I used to guide my experience, but each individual researcher may have different goals in mind specific to the artifact they are studying.  

  1. The main goal of the observation stage according to Mida and Kim is to ensure that “factual evidence related to the object is retained and recorded” (Note 2). Drawing will help you capture details that could otherwise be missed.  
  2. You are creating a memory aid to help you remember and describe specific elements of the artifact.  Since fashion is a visual medium, visual aids are important to include in any research project.
  3. Drawing should be an engaging experience to help you during the reflection and interpretation stages of your research.  Your sensory and personal reactions will be heightened if you spend time dedicated to the careful observation of the object.  

The use of different materials will affect the outcome of the drawing.  Each medium has its benefits and drawbacks.  Ink creates harsh outlines and it may be more difficult to show three dimensional form, but it is the most useful for capturing small details.  It is the ideal medium when clarity is desirable, and it scans and photographs well.  Pencil is better for shading to show form and texture, but it can be messier and may smudge on the paper.  It can also be more difficult to photograph and scan since graphite becomes shiny as it is layered.  For this example I used acid-free India ink pens, but I would advise using whatever you feel most comfortable drawing with.  You do not necessarily need to purchase expensive equipment, especially if you are just drawing for your own notes.  As Mida and Kim state, “the goal is not to create a work of art, but simply to aid the process of observation.  The sketch might end up being a crude line drawing, but this is a valuable method of recording key information and embracing the Slow Approach to Seeing” (Note 3).

Case Study: Bluebird costume from the National Ballet of Canada

 

Left: Inside view showing hand stitching and finishing.  Right: Back view focusing on placement of applique trim. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawings by Teresa Adamo 2017

The Sleeping Beauty has been part of the classical ballet cannon ever since it premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1890 (Note 4).  Marius Petipa created the choreography, and commissioned Pyotr Ilyich-Tchaikovsky to compose an original score for the ballet.  Sleeping Beauty has been part of the National Ballet’s repertoire since its premier in the company on November 26th, 1953 (Note 5).  The performance has gone through several revisions throughout the NBC’s history, but this particular Bluebird costume was designed for the 1972 version, which first premiered September 1st with choreography by Rudolf Nureyev, after Marius Petipa (Note 6).  While the previous performances featured costumes by Kay Ambrose, the designer Nicholas Georgiadis was responsible for the set and costume design of the 1972 production.  This production was a resounding success and boosted the NBC to international fame.  The opening performance at the new Four Seasons Center In 2006 was The Sleeping Beauty, for which the original sets and costumes by Georgiadis were restored (Note 7).

This design features a streamlined silhouette which lies close to the body.  It has fitted set in sleeves and princess seams down the front and back, creating a symmetrical 8-paneled design.  The shell fabric is mauve jacquard with metallic rose gold filaments that create an organic wave pattern. The shell fabric is pilling, most notably on the sleeve and side panels where the fabric was under stress and friction.  The garment opens at center front with hook and bar tape, as well as 6 sew-on snaps.  There is an additional row of single hook and bars, each individually sewn on the front so that the garment has a small amount of adjustability depending on which dancer is wearing it.  Since the sleeves are fitted and only have a 7 ¾” wrist opening, there is a 5” slit which also features hook and bar closures.

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Detail of sleeve showing slit, trim and internal construction. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

One of the most striking features of this artifact is its three distinct decorative elements: applique, silver trim, and ribbon loops.  Applique arabesques cover the front and back of the shirt.  They are made of yellow fabric with gold metallic thread, and are covered with black hexagonal net, the layers being held together by a dense black zig-zag stitch around the edge.  Some of the black net has ripped from the wear and tear of the costume over time, exposing the yellow fabric.  There is also silver trim in two styles, one with a foliage pattern and another with a fleur de lis pattern.  The thin trim is  ¾” wide.  The large trim is 1 ⅝” at its widest point.  The ribbons are applied as loops to the shoulders, wrists, and bottom hem in a pattern alternating the three colours.  

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Detail of small “fleur de lis” and large “foliage” silver trim. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

Switching focus to the inside of the garment, I observed that the visible seams have been finished with a three-thread serger, and the widths of the seam allowances range from 1” at center front to ¼” at the top of the center back.  The center front seam allowance on either side has a ¾” slash at the approximate waist, possible to allow the dancer more movement.  The front panels were also advantageously cut so that the center front is along the fabric selvedge so that it does not have to be finished and saves yardage.  The body has been sewn to a layer of fairly thick basket weave beige canvas, while the sleeves are lined with a lighter plain weave cotton in a similar color.  The lower panel has metallic blue lining which clean finishes the hem, and would look more aesthetically pleasing than the canvas if it were to show during a performance.    

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Detail of center front seam allowance showing slash and blanket stitch. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

After I finished recording all of my observations in writing and drawing, I looked back at the goals of the exercise to judge whether or not they were accomplished.  I do feel that I captured more of the small details that I would not have seen from simply writing my observations.  For example, at first I did not know how to represent the silver trim, so in order to make detail drawings I had to closely look to see that they were made of metallic filaments very tightly wrapped together.  From there, I could find a way to draw them accurately.  I did find that while describing the garment, it was useful to have the memory aid with me to prompt descriptions, especially of the interior of the garment which could easily be overlooked because of the amount of surface detail on this costume.  Although this post will not cover the reflection and interpretation stages of researching an object-based design, it definitely aided in my understanding of the garment’s construction.  

Creating observational drawings can be a great start to object-based research.  Drawing gives you a comprehensive and in depth understanding of the physical properties of the artifact.  It also makes research more memorable and engaging.  Fashion is a visual and tactile industry, so fashion research benefits from an observational method which takes advantage of the same characteristics.

Notes

Note 1: For more information on object-based research and the Slow Approach to Seeing, refer to Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim, The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 36.

Note 2: Ibid, 28.

Note 3: Ibid, 35.

Note 4: For more information about The Sleeping Beauty, please visit the National Ballet’s Virtual Museum,“The Sleeping Beauty,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Sleeping-Beauty

Note 5: Ibid.

Note 6: For more information about Nicholas Georgiadis, please visit the National Ballet’s Virtual Museum, “Nicolas Georgiadis,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/Designers/Georgiadis

Note 7: Ibid.

Bibliography

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.

“Nicolas Georgiadis,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/Designers/Georgiadis
“The Sleeping Beauty,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Sleeping-Beauty


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Making History: A Romantic Tutu

By Allycia Coolidge & Joanna Lupker (Edited by Ingrid Mida)

 

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Allycia Coolidge wearing a romantic tutu inspired by the costumes of the Pas de Quatre ballet of 1845 for the Making History Project (Photo by Joanna Lupker)

In our Making History project, we chose to analyze and recreate a Romantic tutu inspired by the Pas de Quatre ballet. This ballet was first performed in London, England during the Romantic era on July 12, 1845 and choreographed by Jules Perrot. This ballet featured four prima ballerinas of the Romantic era: Lucile Grahn, Taglioni, Carlotta, and Fanny Cerrito. They were icons of the time and often appeared in each other’s benefit performances, but this was the first performance to showcase all four leading female dancers in a single ballet.

Prior to the Romantic period, female dancers wore heavy constrictive dresses resembling court fashion that weighed them down and limited their ability to dance. The key change in ballet costuming was the rise of skirt hems, which was seen as quite scandalous at the time (Mida 37). The changes allowed ballerinas to show off their much improved and intricate footwork. This new shortened ballet skirt fell to just below the knee.

The Romantic tutu endures as a classic costume of ballet that continues to be featured in performances of major dance companies around the world. Each element of the costume emphasizes the femininity of the dancer.

When this ballet was presented in 1845, the bodices of the costumes were constructed very similarly to those seen in regular clothing. Like the corsets of the time, they were tight (Bicat), with low cut necklines to put the dancer’s long necks on display (Victoria and Albert Museum). This was further emphasized by sloped shoulders, mirroring the fashions of the period (Cargill 6). The bodice also followed the the 19th-century ball gown style through V shaped waistlines, aligned close to the waist (Mida 37).

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Pas de Quatre (1845) Lithograph of Carlotta Grisi, Marie Taglioni, Lucile Grahn and Fanny Cerrito (Source: The V&A Theatre Museum)

Making

Our recreation of this ballet costume was inspired by the illustration of the Pas de Quatre ballet shown above. Our process included visual analysis of the illustration, research into ballet costumes and fashions of the Romantic period, object-based analysis of the tutus in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and a visit to the wardrobe department of the National Ballet.

The bodice of the costume is a structured garment resembling the corset worn in the Romantic era. This bodice can lay under or over the skirt depending on the design of the costume. In analyzing the illustrations of the Romantic tutus and bodices worn by the original troupe in 1845, we determined that the bodice should lay on top of the tutu. The bodice was constructed with a center front seam and stylized front princess seams. These seams narrowed toward the center front and formed a point at the waistline. We drafted the pattern for this area by manipulating a petite size eight women’s bodice block. The neckline of the bodice was horizontally lowered and slashed across the top and the waistline angled down toward the center front. We split and rotated the fullness of the waist dart into the shoulder of the bodice in order to create princess seams. We used buttons to fasten the bodice to the skirt since the elastic that would be used by costume departments today had not been invented in 1845.

As the back of the costume was not shown in the illustrations, we inferred the design of the back bodice. Similar pattern drafting techniques were used to alter the back bodice as were used for the front bodice. We chose to use princess seams in the back bodice panels, as it is very uncommon to have princess seams sewn only on the front of a garment. We concluded the bodice had a center back opening in which a line of clasps was sewn. This was also a feature found in each bodice that we examined from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and The National Ballet of Canada.

The pattern piece for the sleeve was slashed and spread to create the flowing effect seen in the illustration. Space for gathers and pleats was added into the sleeve pattern and a shoulder strap was drafted to provide support. This design feature prevents the sleeve from falling completely off the shoulder when dancing. The final bodice design has three front seams, two side seams and two back seams, which adds up to eight panels in total.

A Romantic tutu is a tulle skirt that falls to just below the knee. It is made up of several layers of fabric that have been gathered, pleated, or a combination of techniques used to cinch in the fabric at the waist (Fielding). After discussing the options with the head of National Ballet of Canada’s costume department, we chose to gather the waistline since this is a quick method that is suitable for beginners.The tutu was drafted as seven rectangles with a gathering ratio of 3:1. Based on the illustrations, we measured the length of the tutu to fall to just below the knees and used seven layers of tulle to capture the desired level of opacity. We used two pink tulle layers amongst the five other white layers.

We chose a woven white cotton for the bodice paired with white piping and plastic boning. Shiny white polyester organza was used for the sleeves. Polyester tulle was used in white baby pink, and also white with shimmer for the tutu. Webbing and two-holed buttons were used along the waist to attach and detach the bodice from the skirt.

In this project, we learned that the desire for a freer flowing garment to dance in sparked the need and creation of the romantic tutu. Being dancers ourselves, we loved learning about the history and magic associated with this costume. Now we also appreciate the work, time and effort that is required to make the romantic tutu. 

References:

Bassett, Lynne Z. Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion & Its Legacy. N.p.: Wadsworth Atheneum, 2016.

Bicat, Tina. Period Costume for the Stage. The Crowood Press, 2003.

Binney, Edwin. Glories of the Romantic Ballet. Dance Books LTD, 1985.

Cargill, Mary. “Dance Costumes In The Western Performance Tradition.” Performing Arts Resources 27. (2010): 3-8. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

Lee, Carol. Ballet in Western Culture: A History of Its Origins and Evolution. Routeledge, 2002.

Looseleaf, Victoria. “The Story of the Tutu: Ballet’s Signature Costume has a Fabled Past and a Glamorous Present”. Oregon International Ballet Academy. June 21 2015.

Martin, David, Gabriel, Norman R, “An ‘Informalizing Spurt’ in Clothing Regimes: Court Ballet and the Civilizing Process.” The Berg Fashion Library, 2001. Web Accessed: 27 Sep. 2016.

Mida, Ingrid. “A Gala Performance Tutu”.  Dress. Vol 42, no 1. 2016.

Victoria & Albert Museum. “Dance Costume Design – Victoria & Albert Museum”. Vam.Ac.Uk, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/dance-costume-design/.

Note from editor:  This Making History project was part of an assignment for Dr. Alison Matthew David’s Costume History class at the Ryerson University School of Fashion. The assignment submitted by Allycia Coolidge & Joanna Lupker was condensed and edited for clarity, and has been posted with their permission.


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A Study of a Ballet Costume from Symphony in C: Part II

Part two contextualizes the artifact in dance history

symphony-in-c-tutu-sketches

 

In this post, I will be going beyond the aesthetic and technical aspects of the tutu and exploring the contextual relevance of this artifact. Costumes are ultimately designed to work harmoniously with the choreography and music of a production, so it is important to understand the background behind the production of the Symphony in C ballet.  

This ballet was created by Russian born choreographer George Balanchine and was first performed as Le Palais de Cristal in 1947, with the name later changing to Symphony in C as it is known now (Note 1). George Balanchine is one of the most influential choreographers of modern ballet.  He, along with Lincoln Kirsten, opened the School of American Ballet in 1934, the American Ballet in 1936, and finally the Ballet Caravan in 1941.  Balanchine was the Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet for over 35 years and was known for his fast, athletic and precise choreography. He also was said to have  demanded perfection and elegance from his dancers. ( Note 2). This particular ballet is based on French composer Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C Major which is often regarded as one of his best works along with the famous opera Carmen (Note 3).  

The original costumes for the ballet’s premiere in 1947 were designed by costume maven Barbara Karinska (1886-1983).  Madame Karinska as she was known to her peers, had a long relationship as a designer for Balanchine and worked with him into her late 70s.  She was a prolific designer who was known and respected for her technical inventiveness and attention to detail. (Note 5)

The National Ballet performed Symphony in C for the first time in 1984 – the year after Karinska died. Like the costumes worn at the New York City Ballet, these tutus would have been worn by multiple dancers over many years.  As New York City Ballet company dancer Deanna McBrearty states, “costumes like the Symphony in C tutus are worn so often, and by so many casts, that they eventually have to be retired…the tutu I originally wore was part of a set that was retired after more than 18 years” (Note 6).  Eventually, the National Ballet wardrobe department had to remake a set of these costumes which were debuted in November 2006 (Note 7).  Continuing to wear Karinska’s costumes pays homage to a great designer, and allows her work to be worn, seen, and appreciated by even more dancers and audiences.

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Drawing of name tag inside   tutu waistband by Teresa Adamo 2016

The ballet Symphony in C has no plot, so the tutu is non-representative.  The original costume also included a bodice and tutu plate which was taken off the skirt for reuse on other costumes by the Wardrobe Department at the National Ballet .  It does not have to conform to a character, time period, or symbol, hence the pared down design.  Instead, according to the National Ballet “each movement plays inventively with geometrical shapes—squares, diagonals, sculptural groupings —that illustrate the variety of effects possible using a very active and technically adept corps de ballet” (Note 8).  Therefore, Karinska’s design compliments Balanchine’s architectural choreography by letting the beauty of the dancers movement, and music shine. One detail that I immediately noticed upon inspecting the inside of the tutu was that the name of the dancer who wore the tutu has been written directly onto the material beside the garment opening.  This type of tagging is normal practice for ballet costumes and also serves as a record of the dedicated ballerinas who performed while wearing it.

For me, the significance of this tutu within the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection is in its temporal links to Canadian dance history. Symphony in C  first became part of the National Ballet’s repertoire in 1984 – the year after Karinska died – and was performed again in 2006 marking the first mixed program of company’s first season  in their celebrated new venue at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (Note 4).  It is in this way that the tutu can be seen to represent the beginning of a new era for the National Ballet Company.

Throughout the investigation of this seemingly plain tutu, I was frequently surprised by the tangents that the research took.  I learned a great amount about the construction of a tutu, but also much more about dance history than I was expecting.  The tutu has a layered history which is connected to choreographers, dancers, designers, and international ballet companies.

Notes:

Note 1:Note 1: For more information about the National Ballet’s 2006 production of Symphony in C, visit “Song of the Earth and Symphony in C Ballet Note,” The National Ballet of Canada, Accessed January 13 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives/Ballet-Notes

Note 2:  Barbara Walczak, and Una Kai, Balanchine the Teacher: Fundamentals That Shaped the First Generation of NewYork City Ballet Dancers (University Press of Florida, 2008) 230.

Note 3: 5. “Georges Bizet” in The Encyclopedia of World Biography,accessed January 12, 2017, http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&u=rpu_main&id=GALE|CX3404700688&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon

Note 4: Ibid.

Note 5: Elizabeth McPerson, “Barbara Karinska,” Dance Teacher, no. 11 (2008): 104-106 accessed January 12, 2017, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/208476633?accountid=13631.

Note 6: 1. Deanna McBrearty, “Company Life: Tutu Symphony,” Pointe 4, no. 3 (2003): Page #, accessed January 12, 2017, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://sEarch.proquest.com/docview/207949163?accountid=13631.

Note 7:  Correspondence with the National Ballet of Canada

Note 8: Ibid.

References:

“Biography.” The George Balanchine Foundation, Accessed January 12th 2017, http://www. balanchine.org/balanchine/01/bio2.html  

“Georges Bizet.” In Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., 296-297. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed January 13, 2017). http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404700688&sid=summon&asid=def20395719538750e09f56685f4f849.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404700688&sid=summon&asid=def203957198750e09f56685f4f849.

McBrearty, Deanna. “Company Life: Tutu Symphony.” Pointe 4, no. 3 (Jun, 2003): 70-71. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/207949163?accountid=13631.

McPherson, Elizabeth. “Barbara Karinska.” Dance Teacher 30, no. 11 (11, 2008): 104-104,106. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/208476633?accountid=13631.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.

Mida, Ingrid. (2016) “A Gala Performance Tutu,” Dress 42.1: 35-47.

“Song of the Earth and Symphony in C Ballet Note” (2006) The National Ballet of Canada, Accessed January 13 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives/Ballet-Notes/song-of-the-earth-ballet-note-(2006).aspx

“The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx

Walczak, Barbara and Una Kai. Balanchine the Teacher: Fundamentals That Shaped the First Generation of New York City Ballet Dancers. University Press of Florida, 2008.

 


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A Study of a Ballet Costume from Symphony in C: Part 1

How a plain white tutu donated by the National Ballet of Canada reveals more than meets the eye.

Part one explores the artifact in detail in order to learn how a classical tutu was made by the wardrobe department at the National Ballet of Canada.

symphony-in-c-tutu-sketchesDrawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Top and underside views of the Symphony in C tutu.

At first glance, there does not seem to be anything particularly interesting about the classical white tutu laying on the table in the Fashion Research Collection. It is one of several costumes donated to Ryerson by the National Ballet of Canada in 2014. This tutu was worn by a member of the corps de ballet for a production of the Balanchine ballet Symphony in C in 1984. It is of course both delicate and pretty as all tutus are, but nonetheless appears rather plain since the decoration was removed from the skirt for reuse on other costumes by the Wardrobe Department at the National Ballet . Even so, it is compelling to study in order to learn about how classical tutus are made. My research revealed that there is much more history behind this plain white ballet costume after all. This artifact provided me with a learning experience about construction methods which will be discussed in this blog post. A subsequent post will discuss the nature of design aesthetics for dancewear, the dance history surrounding two national dance companies, as well as insight into the influential work of costume maven Madame Karinska.

In general, tutus are made of three main parts, the skirt, the basque, and the bodice. The skirt can be separated further into three pieces; the panty, tulle base, and decorative plate (note 1). This particular artifact (FRC2014.08.033) contains the tulle base and panty. The first thing that one notices is obviously the wide, flat skirt. Interestingly, the skirt is not a perfect circle, but slightly oval in shape. At its widest, the skirt is 30 inches in diameter. The skirt has a hip measurement of 28 inches, but since the foundation is made of stretch material it could fit several sizes.

The fluffy layers of the tulle skirt are perhaps the most iconic aspect of classical ballet costumes. The tulle base for the Symphony in C costume is made up of 12 total layers of fabric. The layers increase in length from the bottom to the top layer, the shortest being one-inch long, and the longest being approximately 8 inches long. The 5 innermost layers are made of soft flexible netting, the next 5 layers are stiff and the netting is slightly coarser (the second layer from the inside being the stiffest tulle used in this tutu). The final 2 layers on top are once again quite fine and soft. In order to hold the layers together there are basting stitches made vertically through all the layers. These stitches having been made with a doubled length of thread. The tacking is applied in order to help control the volume of the tulle and maintain its shape (Note 2).

symphony-in-c-tutu-panty-rufflesDrawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Detail of innermost tulle layers next to the leg openings on the underside of the tutu.

The volume in the skirt of the tutu is created with a meticulous process of layering tulle. The layers of tulle have been very finely pleated rather than gathered. Each pleat is only ¼ inch wide with a ⅛ inch overlap. These tiny pleats give the impression of gathering or shirring which in actuality would be bulky and difficult to control, and could not give the classical tutu it’s smooth, flat appearance. The seams connecting the panels of tulle to each other are machine stitched and have a seam allowance only ⅛ inch wide. In order to hold a plate-like shape while on a dancer, a wire hoop has been inserted into a channel made by stitching 2 layers of tulle together (Note 3).

The layers of the skirt are attached to a panty which serves as a  foundation. This costume has a panty made of stretchy open mesh; this has discoloured over time from an off white cream colour to a dull beige hue. There is a 6 inch opening at the back of the tutu where the tulle is not sewn shut along the seam allowance so that the dancer is able to step into the skirt. It can then be fastened with 3 sets of hooks and eyes. Raw edges on the inside of the panty are hand finished using a catch-stitch. There is also extra elastic catch-stitched into the panties which are attached at the front of the crotch seam and extend to the back of the panty.  These extra elastics were sewn into the panties when they had stretched out excessively (Note 4). Elastic has also been sewn into channels around the leg openings in order to keep the fit close to the dancer’s body.

symphony-in-c-tutu-panty-cross-section
Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Diagram of extra elastic placement in the panty.

Clearly, this costume is deceptive in its simplicity. The techniques used to make this skirt and plate show an immense attention to detail. Not only is the costume structurally impressive, but certain design features also show concern for the comfort of the dancer. The softest tulle is closest to the legs so the sharp edges of the netting is less abrasive. The extra elastic around the legs makes wardrobe malfunction less likely and would make the dancer feel more confident. The skirt is easy to slip on and fasten quickly which would cut down pre-performance prep time and make quick changes easier. The opportunity to closely study these artifacts provided me with an incomparable learning experience about the construction methods and reasons behind them.

Notes:

Note 1: For more information about tutu construction, visit “The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx
Note 2: Ibid.
Note 3: Ibid.

Note 4: Email correspondence with the National Ballet of Canada

References:

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.
Mida, Ingrid. (2016) “A Gala Performance Tutu,” Dress 42.1: 35-47.
“The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx


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Introducing another member of the FRC team

I am delighted to welcome Teresa Adamo to the FRC team this year.  Teresa made a memorable impression last year when she came in to research one of our ballet costumes. As a maker, Teresa brings research talents as well as much needed sewing and design skills that will help us accomplish our goals for 2016/2017.

teresaprofile

Teresa Adamo

Teresa is in her third year of the Fashion Design program at Ryerson. She is interested in learning more about historic dress and costume in the FRC and has previous experience working for The Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. Her goal is to become a costume designer for theatre, dance, or the screen.


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A Peek inside a Pumpkin Yellow Corset

FRC_2013.05.001_detail_1_web

Corset, c.1900. Cotton, Metal, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

This under bust corset (FRC 2013.05.001), dated 1900, is made of a rich pumpkin coloured woven jacquard cotton with a motif of staggered flower buds and stems (Note 1). The corset is lavishly trimmed with lace threaded with a similar yellow toned satin ribbon along the busk, and top and bottom edges. The centre front closes with metal slot and studs that are unmarked. The spoon busk measures 12 ¾ inches, with hand-stitching visible at the openings for surrounding each of the slots of the busk.  The closed waist measures 23 inches, and there is notable discolouration along the panels along the waistline of the corset, as well as signs of wear including small stains and discolouration. Looking closely, there appears to have been four separate remnants of stitching resembling the shape of a dart, located respectively on each side of the front and back of the corset.  There are 12 pairs of metal eyelets on the back to lace the corset; however the original laces are not present. The corset is lightly boned with 5 flexible bones placed directly beside each other, on each side of the corset, as well as one bone on either side of the eyelets at the back.  One of the bones located on the back pokes out of the casing at revealing what appears to be ¼ inch flat white metal bone. The garment appears to have been sewn by machine; however the stitching is noticeably lacking fluidity and accuracy.

FRC_2013.05.001_detail_2_web

Back view corset, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

Examining the inside of the corset, the top and bottom edges are trimmed in cotton bias tape in a darker shade of pumpkin yellow. The five bones on each side of the corset are clearly visible within their white cotton casings. The busk has been enclosed leaving the raw edge of the fabric visible, and closed with large herringbone like stitch along the length of the busk. The seaming is quite visible and the seam allowance along the waistline, and centre front and back have been left raw, and have shredded over the years. Upon close inspection there are remnants of vibrant pink stitching concentrated along the waistline. Given the placement it could be surmised that the raw edges of seaming along the waist could have been enclosed by lining along the waistline at some point.

FRC_HistPieces_2013.05.001_INS_4_Web

Inside view, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Ingrid Mida

 

This corset is a bit of a conundrum. The vibrant colour and trimmings, as well as light boning and size would suggest that this is more of a fashion corset for a smaller women; however the use of the spoon busk is usually for the more practical purpose of containing a larger stomach. Furthermore given the construction of the corset with flexible boning only being used at the sides, this corset was probably intended more for looks rather than to greatly reduce one’s waist; as it would only lightly shape and support the figure. The weight and quality of fabric do not seem to be appropriate for the early 1900s, as it is a lightweight cotton jacquard fabric in a very vibrant yellow (Note 2). Nor does use of the spoon busk, or decoration of it, which does not seem to be typical of the period (Note 2).  Additionally the decorative outside of the corset would infer that the garment was more of a fashion item, made for someone who could afford to have a more frivolously coloured item of clothing; in contradiction there is the odd lack of finishing on the inside of the garment, as well as in the accuracy of the stitching.

FRC_2013.05.001_rightside_threequarterview_web

Side view corset, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

 

 

The vibrant pink stitching remnants may indicate that there once was a lining of that colour; however the remaining raw edges still seem very odd for a corset from the early 20th century. As for the indications of the four dart-like stitch remnants, this again is extremely odd as darts are not a normal feature in corsets. This would suggest that they would have been added later to accommodate a smaller waist, and then taken out later to expand it again.

FRC_HistPieces_2013.05.001_INS_2_Web

Detail inside corset (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Ingrid Mida

Typically corsets from the early 1900s are longer lined, and have a more curvaceous silhouette with the S bend shape. This is not at all consistent with the style of this corset; though it could be argued that the surface embellishment is somewhat similar. While there were shorter under bust corsets, more similar to the shape of this corset, there are very distinct differences.

CI45.68.174_F

Corset, c.1907, French, The Metropolitain Museum of Art (C145.68.174)

Under bust corsets from the turn of the century have far more boning, and are constructed in less vibrant coloured but lavish fabrics like silk,  with more detail, and do not employ the use of a spoon busk, but a straight busk. They can however be trimmed with decoration, but the busk is not typically decorated.  This is clearly illustrated in contrast between the corset in question, and this plain white cotton corset, ca. 1900 (C.I.41.103.4) from the Met, which is similarly cut, but far more heavily boned. It also closes with a straight busk, and has far less surface decoration in contrast to the highly decorated spoon busk of the pumpkin yellow corset.

CI41.103.4_F

Corset, ca.1900, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I41.103.4)

There were also ribbon corsets at this time, like this cream ribbon corset from Ryerson (FRC 2014.07.228) which have only light boning at the sides, very similar to this corset in number and placement-all being concentrated beside one another at the sides.  The fabric used in this ribbon corset is also far more expensive, being entirely silk,. Though the fabric is on the more decorative side, the fabric is still a plain weave, not patterned. Finally, the ribbon corset does not have similar trimmings, but instead a single ribbon decoration at the top of the busk, which is straight not a spoon shaped.

FRC_Corsets_2014.07.228_rightside_threequarterview_web

Ribbon Corset, c.1900, R&G No.65, Ryerson (FRC 2014.07.228) Photo by Millie Yates

None of the other early 20th century corsets were constructed from comparable textiles – neither in composition, weave or colour. Nor do any of the corsets feature decorated busks, or even just spoon busks; nor do they have separate panels cut along the waistline. Given the inconsistencies when compared to various other corsets from the early 1900s, there is a good chance that this pumpkin cotton corset is a vintage theatre costume corset, taking inspiration from the style of early 1900s corsets.

This corset seems to be a hybrid of different corset styles which would coincide with it being a theatre costume corset, as costume designers do not always make period accurate costumes, but are looking more for a certain aesthetic. This would also account for the vibrant colour of the fabric, and stitching, as well as the amount of surface decoration. Additionally the peculiar lack of finishing on the inside would makes sense as well, as  theatre costumes are often left unfinished on the inside as they are not visible to the audience, as well as for ease of making alterations. This could also explain the dart like shapes still visible, as it could have been altered for a production. Finally the amount of wear it seems to have could be explained by the use it would have gone through being a costume; but also suggested that it is a vintage item.

As there was no provenance attached to the artifact upon acquisition, there is no way to know with certainty the origins of this undergarment. However, this artifact offers an interesting peek into 20th century corsetry and the complex nature of dress artifacts.

 

Notes

1. For more information on fabrics, see: http://www.dressandtextilespecialists.org.uk/dats-toolkits

2. See various early twentieth century corsets, all in pale coloured, plain cotton or silk fabrics with surface embellishments and straight plain busks.

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900-1905

Corset, ca.1900

3. To learn a bit more about common corsetry misconceptions, this article offers additional information: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/everything-you-know-about-corsets-is-false/

 

References

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86753.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/109083.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86390.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86393.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86394.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86398.

“Corsets Early 19th Century – Edwardian.” Vintage Fashion Guild : Lingerie Guide : Corsets Early 19th Century. July 11, 2012. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://vintagefashionguild.org/lingerie-guide/corsets-early-19th-century-edwardian/.

Johnston, Lucy. “Corsets in the Early 20th Century.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/corsets-early-20th-century/.

Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective a Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic,  2015.

“Reflecting Historical Periods in Stage Costume.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/reflecting-historical-periods-in-stage-costume/.

Steele, Valerie. The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1970.

 

This post was reviewed and edited by Curator and Dress Historian Ingrid Mida.