Friday, 22 May 2009

carry on matron

If I said I was lying in bed with clag dripping out of my nose and weird noises emanating from the belly, what would you think? Yes, that's right I'm sick!!! It's come a bit early this year; there is actually still a fortnight of teaching to go. Dorian has had this attractive disease for two weeks and I thought I'd managed to avoid acquiring it, but obviously I thought that too soon. And sadly he is not really better enough himself to nurse me as I recline in my bed of pain.

I'll have to drag my leaking carcass off to work this afternoon as there's stuff there that must be attended to but I'm planning to sleep a lot and do little else on the weekend and my fingers are crossed that a good rest will nip this in the bud.

Despite the germs Dorian kindly accompanied me last night to the opening of Persuasion at the National Gallery of Victoria. This is an exhibition of Regency-era (loosely interpreted) fashion; they have got a lot of fashion magazines, at which I didn't really look because they were hard to see and you can get a better sight of such things online quite easily now, and about thirty garments which I did of course look at with great interest.

Only a minor miracle preserves a muslin dress or a silk pelisse or a pair of red kid shoes in anything like exhibitable condition for two hundred years - my jumpers in the cupboard managed to get mothholes in eight months - & of course it's only the costly garments that get put aside rather than being worn out. So not only is there not much in the exhibition in the way of workaday clothing, there is hardly any mens clothes at all - just one quite beautiful linen shirt. Unless you count the kind of amazing installation placed in the very centre of the gallery, namely a getup allegedly worn by Colin Firth in the 1996 P&P. ('Allegedly' because the display card says the costume supply firm it's been borrowed from *think* this is the outfit he wore for the diving into pond sequence, even though you cannot see any bit of shirt under the coat and waistcoat and stock, and the coat that *is* there doesn't appear to match any of the coats in the screenshots I can find on the Web. It's probably a good thing that my DVD is in my office or I'd have to spend the rest of the day fact-checking.) I quite see that this costume had to be displayed on its own and not mixed in with the historical garments and that's why the curator put it in the only freestanding display case, but aside from the practical reason, the placement of an interpolated fetishised Darcy-body at the centre of an exhibit nominally devoted to celebrating what women wore in Jane Austen's lifetime is, how do you say? symptomatic?



It was good hearing people's comments to each other about the dresses. The one pictured here was quite clearly labelled as a day dress, but spectator after spectator assumed it was a nightie. There are two basically red printed cotton day dresses on display and I heard a couple of people say confidently that these were unusual because women mostly didn't wear strong colours. As if they'd been to 1809 and seen evidence of this with their own eyes. I remembered that after I started reading Austen it took me several years to develop any sort of concept of how the kinds of people and places represented in the novels might have looked. It just didn't seem to matter. Now we are all pretty fluent in the visual grammar of the Regency - or in the versions of it seen in the movies, really.

Down in the lobby, at the unneccesarily lavish launch function, a young woman in costume played the harpsichord (not, as it turns out, an instrument specially suited for providing background music in a noisy cavernous room). Following the Canberra exercise I'm pretty familiar with the way dresses based on the same pattern I used tend to look, and the one she had on was definitely cut to that design. And being able to compare actual Regency garments with a modern approximation of them was enlightening. We do the bust area entirely wrong, to begin with. The breast shape is totally different - there's no under-curve - it's a smooth sort of pigeon-chested rise upward with a bit of cleavage at the top (which is probably swathed in a neck-kerchief or a fine muslin collared insert, on most women.) Also, all the sleeves are so long - fingertip length or more - that either women wore them pushed them up or their cuffs were continually filthy.

From a dressmaking persepctive I was most interested in the way Regency fashion dealt with the intersection of the shoulders and the upper back. That our recent minor Regency-style revivals have focused on Empire waist and bust line treatments (eg, 1960s style) probably says something about the modern titty fixation distracting us from all the other characteristic shapes. Regency shoulders look genuinely weird and interesting to my eyes, because they extend so much further across the upper back than our sleeves do. This makes the back itself look narrow and the natural shape of the arms and shoulders tends to disappear under drapery and moulding. The time's probably ripe for some enterprising designer to plunder Regency techniques (with a bit more realism than John Galliano's recent attempt.)

5 comments:

librarygirl said...

I'm annoyed that despite having a flu injection a month ago I've been sick this week too. But a good chance to catch up with my pile of books. There was a little piece about the Persuasion show in The Age today - looking forward to seeing it. There was a lovely exhib. of black and mourning clothes at the Gallery last year - did you get to that?

ThirdCat said...

hope you are feeling better soon

Armagnac Esq. said...

Thanks for your well wishes and backatcha.

Ann oDyne said...

1. thank you for allowing me to see that DIVINE white garment.

2. 'realism' and 'John Galliano' can never realistically be in the same sentence.

3. a key to strong colours 200 years ago can be seen in historic patchwork quilts - which of course are bits of contemporary garments.
This can be very surprising.
There is a book: History Of Australian Quilts (I wish I owned a copy)

4. Hoping you both recover swiftly from the ague.

Mel said...

Being sick this week is very hot right now - as hot as my forehead.

SO EXCITED about the exhibition, will definitely have a look.