Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fashion in Film: Sabrina

Well, this is very late, isn't it? I hope you're having a lovely week. I'm starting my Christmas preparations earlier than ever this year, so life has been a little nuts, but we keep calm and carry on. Anyway, enough chatting, on with the show.

The other day, I was feeling a little down, and so to cheer up, I compiled a mental list of my favorite romantic comedies. Of course, the movies that immediately came to mind were the Meg Ryan rom-coms of the 1990's. When I asked my much-classier mom, she replied with Sabrina. This opened the floodgates in my mind to an era where films were glamorous, gentlemen were dapper, ladies were classy, and fashion was fabulous.

Sabrina was made in 1954, and the wardrobe has 1950's written all over it. It's a little difficult to pin down one specific costume designer for this film, especially because there isn't one credited. And there isn't one credited because no costumes were actually designed for this film. According to this excellent costume analysis, Edith Head was originally supposed to design the costumes, but Audrey Hepburn asked to wear some actual Paris couture to fit Sabrina's story. She met with Balenciaga, who was too busy to see her, and in turn sent her to Givenchy. Givenchy was also too busy to design costumes, since he was working on a collection at the time. Audrey, being the amazing fashionista that she was, selected and styled her own outfits from Givenchy's line. In a manner of speaking, it really did take a village to get the costumes for the film together.

In the beginning of the film, Sabrina wears simple, childlike outfits.

As we can see here, Sabrina is wearing a printed dress with a long sleeved, high-necked black top underneath. Her hair is worn in a ponytail with a bow on top. Obviously, this costume is meant to give off a shy, youthful vibe. The thing that interests and slightly confuses me about this costume is that though it's intended to be dowdy and young, it still really fits and flatters Hepburn's figure. This is typical of Sabrina's pre-Paris outfits: they're sweet, demure, and young, and yet she still manages to look amazing in them. Maybe this is to show how Sabrina is ready to grow up. Maybe it's just because Audrey Hepburn would look good in a brown paper bag.

After a life-changing trip to Paris, Sabrina returns to her childhood home with a new outlook on life and a new style.

Sabrina's sleek peplum suit, black heels, and white hat are super sophisticated. Not to mention the iconic Audrey Hepburn pixie cut. This is where the fun really starts with the costumes. We get a taste of everything, from the full-skirted "New Look" dresses of the early 1950's to the polished straight lines of what we'll see later in the decade. But of course, the Sabrina outfit that takes the case is the gorgeous black and white ballgown. You know the one I'm talking about.

This dress seems to encompass everything that was great about 1950's evening wear. We've got a strapless neckline, amazing embroidery, and a beautiful full skirt. The skirt is what's really interesting about this ensemble, it appears to be a straight ankle-length skirt with a removable, fuller skirt at the back. The high-low effect that this brings is what makes this dress special.

Among all of the beautiful, put together outfits, there's one that particularly stands out, and that's the casual outfit Sabrina wears while boating with Linus.

This is the polar opposite of every post-Paris outfit Sabrina's worn. The plaid shirt, white shorts, and bare feet are a far cry from her put-together suits and ballgowns. There are still some hints of style to it, though, like the shirt being tied to be more tailored, her amazing hair, and some pretty fantastic earrings.

Another pretty famous costume from this film is the little black dress worn in some promotional images and near the end of the movie. Sabrina pairs it with a fun sparkly hat and black gloves.

This dress was reproduced and emulated by many designers in the 1950's, as well as by modern Hollywood enthusiasts. It's so simple and classic, and the hat adds a little bit of whimsy. I think it shows Sabrina's maturity mixed with her still-present spirit.

That wraps up Fashion in Film for this week. Before I wander off into the sunset, I've got a question I want to run by you. I've been thinking of moving my blog series updates to Monday. I'm so busy during the week these days that giving myself some time over the weekend to work might boost my productivity. Let me know, times are a'changing!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fashion in Film: Pride and Prejudice

I'm sure you're familiar with the story of Pride and Prejudice. Even if you've never read it or seen an adaptation, the story is a huge part of our culture. It's the ultimate classic novel, and by extension, the ultimate costume drama.

When I say "the ultimate costume drama," I'm of course referring to the 1995 adaptation, in all its five-hour, Colin Firth-y glory. My mom was the one who got me started on this adaptation when I was just a wee child. I've since seen it upwards of twenty times. Not to toot my own horn, but I can also quote pretty much every scene word-for-word. It's the film that got me started on Jane Austen, and it's been a big part of my life for a long time. It's our feel-good movie. Whenever we're having a bad day, we pop in the disc and watch an hour of it here or there. It doesn't even matter whether we watch it in order or not. We're sucked into the beautiful story every time.

So, without further adieu, let's take a look at the costumes worn by that singular, indefatigable, beloved Austen heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

If you're a fan of reading IMDb trivia pages like I am, you'll know that the BBC loves to reuse costumes. The page for pretty much every British period drama has a piece of trivia that reads like this:

The green striped gown with velvet Spencer jacket Anna Chancellor (Caroline Bingley) wears at Netherfield Hall is the same costume worn by Julia Davis (Elizabeth Elliot) at Kellynch Hall in PersuasionVicki Pepperdine (Ann Dobbin) in the park scenes in Vanity Fair, and an extra at the London party where Annabella Milbanke meets Byron in Byron. The Spencer also appears, without the striped gown, in Little Dorrit, worn by Emma Pierson as Fanny Dorrit. 

 This means that several of the costume pieces in Pride and Prejudice weren't built specifically for the production. The real design of the costume lies in how the designer selects, matches, and styles the various pieces. Let's take a look.

The first time we meet Lizzy is when she's on a walk near her home. She's wearing a simple day dress, a structured spencer jacket, and a bonnet. This scene and her outfit set the tone for her character- she's outdoorsy, adventurous, and free-spirited, but still sensible and put-together. Lizzy's costumes, unlike those worn by the ladies around her, aren't fussy in the least. This sets her apart from the other women and shows her independent nature. We'll see several variations on the dress, spencer, and bonnet combo as the story progresses.

I especially love this pelisse.
Elizabeth's day dresses are equally simple. They're usually white or have some sort of subtle pattern (as seen in the image above), and they show her no-nonsense personality well. Check out the image below and compare Lizzy with the rest of her sisters. She's the only one who isn't wearing a pattern, and her dress is a demure cream color.

One of Elizabeth's more elaborate day dresses is also my favorite. The coral dress she wears at Netherfield is one of my favorite Regency costumes of all time. The cheery color compliments her well, and it's very vibrant compared to the rest of her relatively tame wardrobe.

Of course, no analysis of Elizabeth's costumes would be complete without the iconic white ballgown that she wears at the Netherfield ball.

This is pretty much your textbook Regency era ballgown. White was a popular color for young women because it looked great in candlelight. The short sleeves and gloves line up with both the fashion and the etiquette of the time. The one thing that makes this outfit stand out is her floral ribbon crown. Yet again, we see something that's beautiful in its simplicity, and some very smart fashion choices on Lizzy's part.

To round it all out, we have the final scene of the mammoth drama, in which Lizzy and Darcy get married.

It looks like Lizzy's wearing a long-sleeved white gown with pleating and buttons on the bodice, and some sort of white pelisse on top. Elizabeth and Jane are both wearing white, which I've touched on before, and it's interesting to see how both of their wedding gowns express their personalities. Elizabeth's is simple and structured, while Jane's has demure lace accents and a more feminine cut.

That wraps up this week's Fashion in Film post! It's been so fun to write about one of my family's favorite films, especially on the day before Thanksgiving. I hope you have a lovely holiday, and I'll see you next week. God bless.

Bonus Round: Check out this amazing analysis of different adaptations of the Netherfield ball. It has some great info on Regency era fashion and ballroom etiquette.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Titanic: The Musical

Ever since I did a costume analysis of Julian Fellowes' Titanic miniseries, I've had a spot of Titanic fever. I don't know what it is, but something about the tragedy is at once haunting and fascinating. Maybe it's the thousands of emotional stories that came from that one night. Maybe it's the comparison in classes; the decadence with which some lived and the poverty of others. Maybe it's the clothes. You know I'm a sucker for the clothes.

Whatever the reason, I was very excited when I discovered that there's actually a musical that tells the story of passengers aboard the doomed ship. I poked around on YouTube, hoping to find some clips of the show, and happened across this full video of the 2006 Australian production. I watched five minutes of it here and there and managed to get through the whole thing. Several hours and buckets of tears later, I'm ready to tell you all about it.

This review is spoiler-free.

The first thing you need to know about this show is that it isn't an adaptation of James Cameron's Titanic film. In fact, as I found out as I researched it, the show premiered in 1997, a few months before the film did (and picked up five Tonys, I might add). In plot, it more closely resembles the Julian Fellowes series, in that it follows the stories of several different characters through strung-together vignettes. Characters from all social classes are represented, from the American millionares and British aristocracy in first class to the Irish immigrants and coal-covered stokers in steerage. All of the characters in the show are based off of real people to some extent, with ship designer Thomas Andrews, owner J. Bruce Ismay, and captain Edward Smith all playing pivotal roles in the plot. Some characters, like spunky Irish lass Kate McGowan, are compilations of multiple passengers' stories.

One of the very first things that made an impression on me as I watched was the set. It's beautiful in its simplicity; for the majority of the show, we have nothing but a starry backdrop and a suspended walkway to show the chilly nights on deck. A few other set pieces fly in and out to show the docks, the first class dining room, and other scenes on the ship. Another interesting feature is the time and date that's occasionally projected onto the set to keep the audience updated on the timeline of the show. An eerie, but captivating effect takes place after the ship hits the iceberg at the end of the first act (spoiler!). The entire set is put on a tilt, which gets steeper as the story progresses and the Titanic sinks deeper into the water.

Unfortunately, not many photos of the set are available online. Here's a shot of a dock scene.

I feel like I should pause a moment and tell you a bit about the costumes. It's only fair, considering the fact that this is mainly a costume blog. The costumes were historically accurate and fit the characters who wore them, but they were also very unobtrusive to the story, which I appreciated. From what I've seen, a lot of other productions go a little crazy with the costumes (the costumes for the American characters get especially wacky. Thanks, guys), which really feels unfitting for such a somber story. However, this production did have a little fun with their millinery, but honestly, would it be a 1910's costume drama without it? The lower class ladies wore shirtwaists, plain skirts, and jackets. Upper class ladies had glittering gowns and tailored traveling suits.

One of the very few photos that shows the costumes in detail. It still isn't great, but at least the lighting is pretty.
The score is yet another high point of this show. It's beautifully written, and wonderfully performed by the cast I watched. There isn't a bad voice in the cast (and that's coming from me as a picky theatre-goer/YouTube-watcher), and the musicians in the pit handle the soaring orchestration perfectly. With such talented singers and musicians, every single number in the musical is a showstopper. That might be one of my only complaints about the show. Since every number is so emotional, the story does tend to get heavy at times, with no moments of levity (with the exception of some funny lines of dialogue and the song "The Latest Rag" which incorporates period-accurate ragtime music and a lively dance sequence) to break up the drama.  "Still" is a particularly moving duet about the lasting love between real-life couple Isidor and Ida Straus, who were married for more than forty years and refused to be separated during the disaster.

As I mentioned before, this cast is absolutely superb, and not just musically. There are some beautifully acted scenes, particularly in the captain's bridge, where a few men are completely aware of the fact that they are responsible for thousands of lives. I didn't realize until after I finished watching the video that this production was Australian. Although some of their Irish and American accents could use a little work (particularly second class American Alice Beane, whose over-energetic fawning over the first class passengers becomes a little grating on the ears), their British accents are superb. An honorable mention goes to the actor playing crew member Mr. Murdoch, who has a flawless Scottish brogue (or at least it sounds flawless to these American ears).

When I did my costume analysis for the Julian Fellowes series, I talked about how the most riveting part of the story was finding out who lives and who dies. The same holds true for this show. Some of the 30+ characters are more lovable than others, but all of them are interesting, and the show does a good job of balancing the multiple plotlines to give each one the development it needs. The only thing that bothered me about the script was the oft-repeated line "it's a new world out there." At least five different characters who have no relation to one another say this in several independent cases. We get it. The Titanic was a huge step forward in technological progress.

One of my favorite characters was the relatively small role of Harold Bride, the radioman on the Titanic. His song "The Night Was Alive," wasn't my favorite in the show (mainly because it was layered with "The Proposal," and Harold singing about his love for his job while another man was singing about his love for his sweetheart was downright awkward), but the beautiful lyrics and occasional verse sung in Morse code were really interesting.

There are so many more lovely moments in this show that I'd love to tell you about, but I really shouldn't. You just have to experience it for yourself. Titanic: The Musical is so emotional, and the story is so gripping. The events of that fateful night are told in a respectful, historically accurate, and creative way. It's a dream come true for history nerds. Watch it on YouTube here.

And now for some legal stuff.
I don't own Titanic: the Musical. If I did, I would bribe the producers to cast me in the show, after which I would run around in a giant, feather-and-flower-covered hat. I'm also not making any profit from this blog post. If you have any reason to believe that the YouTube video I've promoted on this blog posted by the user MusicalFrance is pirated or illegal in any way, let me know, and I'll remove the content.

See you tomorrow for Fashion in Film!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Game

(No, not that one)

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Hint: it's not a secret at all. I'm a huge nerd when it comes to historical fashion. One thing I love to do for fun is to look at old paintings and photographs of historical clothing and guess what year they're from. It's a little nerdy (Read: very nerdy. Frighteningly nerdy), but it's also really fun, and it stretches my knowledge to its limit, and way beyond. Let's play a round, and I'll show you what I mean.

Here are the rules of the game.

  1. Go to,, or some other website that has photos of clothing with the year underneath. I'll be using a mixture of both sites for this round of the game (mainly because both sites also have photos of nightgowns, hats, and things that are outside my expertise). All images in this post are from either or
  2. Scroll down so that you can see the photo, but not the caption.
  3. Guess the year from which the garment comes.
  4. Scroll down to see if you're right!
It's as simple as that! Of course, it's pretty difficult to get the year exactly right, so I count it as a correct answer my guess is within five years of the correct date.

Let's get going!

The first thing I'm seeing here is the bell-shaped skirt, which says we're somewhere between 1830 and 1850. The narrow sleeves rule out the 1830's, so we're looking at something in the 1840's. The oversleeves, the high neckline, and the v-shaped bodice all look like fashions that came near the beginning of the 1850's, but the skirt just isn't big enough. I'm thinking we're looking at something in the late 1840's. I'll go with 1848.

My guess: 1848
Actual date: 1835-1840. It looks like I was about a decade off. Shame. Let's see if I do better with the next one.

Okay, well the beautiful quality of the photograph rules out anything before the 1860's-70's, we can tell that without even looking at the gown. The crazy amount of corseting going on here also points to the late Victorian era. The lady's hairstyle says 1880's, with the frizzled bangs and high bun. The sleeves are really what's throwing me here, married with the fact that I really only have the bodice to work with.The waistline looks very pointed, which also says 1880's. I'm puzzled by this gorgeous gown. My gut is saying early 1880's, though. I'll go with 1884.

My guess: 1884
Actual date: The site just lists it as "1880's-90's," so I guess I'm in the clear.

Well, my first inclination is to scream "Downton Abbey," so I'm thinking we're in the pre-war 1910's here. In the interest of going off of some cold hard evidence instead of my fangirl tendencies, I'll also point out the loose draping, high waistline, lace, and silk that were characteristic of the era. I'll say 1911 for this one.

My guess: 1911
Actual date: 1910-11. Let's just say I feel like Charlie Sheen right now. Winning.

We don't get to see much of the dress here, but I think the few details we can see from the back will be enough. The hoop skirt is the big piece of evidence (literally), and it lands us firmly in the 1850's or 1860's. What little I can see of the bodice makes me think we're somewhere between 1855-1865, because of the low neckline that was briefly unpopular for evening in the later 1860's. I'm going to take a shot in the dark from there and say 1861.

My guess: 1861
Actual date: 1860's, which doesn't tell us much. I'll call it a tentative win? A win with an asterisk?

The empire waist says we definitely have something in the Extended Regency. From there, things get a little difficult. If you've read my Decade Wednesday posts on the era, you'll know that fashion didn't progress much during the Regency era because of the Napoleonic wars in France, which makes it hard to pin down a specific year for this outfit. Still, we'll give it a go. The bonnet is something from earlier in the Regency, not like the more hat-like chapeaus we see in the 1820's. The dress is simple and understated, which also says early Regency, with the "return-to-nature" vibe at the turn of the 19th century. I honestly have no idea what's going on with the ruff, so I'm going to pretend it doesn't exist. Another honorable mention is the background of this painting, which features nature and neoclassicism with that snazzy pot-and-pedestal combo. I'll go with 1803.

My guess: 1803
Actual date: Listed as "early 1820's." Ooh, that's pretty embarrassing. Well, I guess that means I need to brush up on my Regency era fashion. Does watching Jane Austen adaptations count as homework? I'm not entirely sure.

Three for five isn't too bad, I'd say. I'd love to do a little cramming (via Jane Austen marathons and Pinterest, like the pros do) and play another round in the near future. In the meantime, you should study up with Decade Wednesday and try the game yourself!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This Week

Good morning/afternoon/evening/whenever you read this!

These past few weeks have been busy ones for me. The good kind of busy, but busy nonetheless. I won't go into all the messy details, but suffice to say that blogging has been on the back burner for quite a while. So I'm taking the week off from blogging in hopes of writing several posts in advance. I'd love to bring more quantity AND more quality to Sprigged Muslin, and the best way I can think of to do that is to give myself a head start.

In lieu of Fashion in Film this week, have some link love from around the internet!

Maybe I'm late to the party, but I just found out about yesterday. For those of you (like me) who don't know, volunteers sign up on Librivox to make audio recordings of books, plays, and poems that are in the public domain. Of course, my nerdy, classic literature-loving heart is fascinated.

The other day, I watched this retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth with my family. At first I was hesitant about Macbeth being set in a restaurant (lots of meat butchering ensues), and I really did miss Shakespeare's language, but the themes of the play were so poignantly and perfectly translated to the modern day (especially some expansions made to Lady Macbeth's character that are hinted at in the original text). Definitely worth a watch, especially with the bonus selling points of James McAvoy as Macbeth, Keely Hawes as Lady Macbeth, and Richard Armitage as an understated Macduff.

This website will use Google Maps to drop you at a random place on Earth. I've been using it these past few days to just unwind and explore.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fashion in Film: Gaslight

I have a confession. Despite my love for classic film, I have yet to see Casablanca. Criminal, I know. As it stands at the moment, my favorite Ingrid Bergman movie is the 1944 adaptation of the play Gaslight. The film features a genius psychological plot, a twisted romance, and Joseph Cotten before I saw him in Shadow of a Doubt and became terrified of him. The movie is set in the year 1880, and in the interest of full disclosure, a big reason why I like the film so much is because of the amazing, late Victorian costumes. Let's jump right in.


Near the beginning of the film, Paula's costumes are youthful, with whimsical details such as lace, flowers, and ruffles. This costume we see below is a white or pastel walking dress with a high, ruffled collar and lace accents. The hat is by far the centerpiece of the outfit, with flowers and floral lace covering it entirely.

Another costume from a little earlier in the film is a suit that Paula wears when she first returns to the house where her aunt was murdered years ago.


From the above picture, we can see that this dress has a princess bodice that ends well below the hips. The lack of bustle lends itself well to the early 1880's. The color is a light tan with an ombre effect on the ruffles of the skirt. The neck kerchief and ruffled hem make it fun, but the structure and smart buttons make it a little more mature than the lace-and-flower extravaganza we saw before. Not that I have anything against lace, flowers, and ruffles, but it does seem like the costume designer is trying to show Paula's youthfulness and innocence, or perhaps how she hasn't moved on from the traumatic event that happened in her childhood.

Paula's costumes go downhill as quickly as her marriage and peace of mind do. She goes from feminine, put-together suits to dark, simple dresses, and eventually wears a loose-fitting suit that looks like little more than a housecoat. 

Source. Her hair also seems to be slightly mussed here.
I think this sliding scale from dainty to disheveled shows the corruption of Paula's innocence. At the beginning of the film, Paula is energetic, optimistic, and seems to finally be healing after the tragedy that struck her family. As we near the film's climax, we see her become paranoid, bitter, and broken-spirited as she doubts the man she loves and her own mind.


Paula's hair is one of my favorite elements of the character's style. It's textbook 1880's, with frizzled bangs in front of a high bun.

Source. Love the cameo earrings.

My favorite costume in the film is the evening gown Paula wears to a party late in the story. Despite her increasingly haggard appearance at home, she cleans up very nicely. Perhaps this is because of how hard she had to fight for the social interaction she's been denied for several months. If you only leave your house once every few months, I guess you've got to look your best.

The dress is a spot-on example of early 1880's evening wear, with a low neckline, thin sleeves, no bustle, a gathered overskirt, and a respectable train. The floral trim near the hem is gorgeous.

In the above photo, we get a better look at her accessories. It looks like she's sporting a gorgeous brooch, with a matching flower-and-pearl piece in her hair. A thin choker also seems to be involved.

Is it just me, or does this light, decadent gown feel like kind of a throwback to the costumes Paula wore earlier in the movie? To me, this shows how Paula is striving to regain the normalcy she lost.

The attempt was valiant, but unsuccessful. Paula immediately goes back to her dark robes and dark thoughts. But as the film draws to a close, it's interesting to see how Paula manages to compose herself when facing the man who's been torturing her all this time. The black, scalloped suit seems more fitted than before (perhaps because she's wearing it closed now? I can't be sure), and her hair is once again perfectly in place.

I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that by the film's close, Paula is decided, strong, and very much in her right mind. This last costume shows this very well. 

Paula's costumes in Gaslight reflect the themes of the film itself: destroyed innocence, deterioration, and restoration. Gaslight is a lovely, thought-provoking piece of classic film, and it's definitely worth a watch.

Bonus Round: Check out this gallery of Angela Lansbury's character in the film. Her fun, flamboyant costumes (when she's not wearing her maid's uniform) show the character's conniving, attention-seeking nature. Plus, it's just really neat to see a young Angela Lansbury.

Bonus Bonus Round: When looking for sources for this post, I happened upon this auction of Debbie Reynolds' Hollywood memorabilia collection (from whence I got the color photo of Paula's suit from the beginning of the movie). It contains hundreds of iconic costume pieces from different movies, and it made my nerdy heart skip a beat.