Category Archives: Costume

Fashion of Port Cities: Textile and Cultural Exchange at the Asian Civilizations Museum

While there are many who fear the other, I choose not to, and I am happy to be celebrating diversity, historic and current. I am of the opinion that cultural exchange leads to innovation and development, and if you feel otherwise, please go away. I am sure that if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you probably knew that about me all ready, but just putting it out there into the universe. If, however, you like me are fascinated with cultural exchange and moments of intersection and the way they give birth to new things, specifically in the textile and clothing space, I think you will enjoy hearing about and seeing some of the objects from a current exhibit on Port Cities at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore!

On my recent trip to Singapore, I had to break my normal Singapore rule. You see, there is nothing really to do in Singapore in my opinion. Now, of course, some people think there is a lot to do in Singapore, so I should really change that statement to there is nothing much for ME to do in Singapore, but semantics. Singapore is great, but I find it rather boring, and What’s-his-face and I realized that we need to ration our Singapore activities, because we visit the country frequently and given that I don’t think there is much to do, if we do it all at once, what will we do NEXT time? If we don’t limit ourselves to one museum a trip, we will be out of museums in no time! But we were with others, and we needed activities, so we had to break our rule and on this trip I saw the botanical gardens, the bird park, the National Museum and the Asian Civilizations Museum. Oy. I’m sorry, future Leah. I screw you a bit.

But at least the Asian Civilizations Museum has temporary exhibits, like this one exploring the many mixed communities of port cities in Southeast Asia. And given that this area is a textile-rich region, you just KNOW that mixture of people created a mixture of clothing styles and fabric options. Now we see people in all forms of dress in cities across the world, but historically ports would have been the only real places where costumes clashed consistently, and that is fascinating, in its fruitful ground for change and influence. Coming across this exhibit was a wonderful surprise because of the amount of textile within it, and I’m excited to share all that with you guys. The descriptions of Singapore itself through history, and cultures that arose in Batavia (now Jakarta, once the capital of the Dutch East Indies), Hong Kong, Malacca, and other ports, in clothing, was fantastic and fascinating. So even though we broke our rule, I gotta say, totally worth it…

So without further ado, to the photos!

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On the left the traditional garments of Peranakans, the mixed community of Chinese-Malay traders and fisherman. In the center, Chinese traditional dress, and on the right, South-Indian lungi.

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A kimono from the Japanese community in Singapore.

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Indian/Malay worker garb on the left, next to European/American female dress in a light gauze for the tropical heat (although God knows those undergarments would cancel THAT out…)

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On the right, Malay/Indonesian/Peranakan female dress with Portuguese lace and Chinese prints/embroidery. On the left, Gujurati cloth for an Indo-western sari.

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European male suit next to a Parsi merchant’s garb.

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Indian sari in the foreground, in the style adopted after the 1890’s with a blouse and petticoat underneath.

I love imagining a city of such vibrant and diverse clothing cultures, and therefore people cultures! I guess on some level Singapore is still like this, like London, New York, and other large and small cities of diverse groups. Spending time in Mumbai, where the clothing culture often feels homogenous in the extreme, I think I appreciate this mix on an even deeper level than I had before.

The exhibit also had some lovely examples of fabrics and their re-use in new clothing shapes. Like Indian chintz, so very popular in European clothing:

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Which then became something like this:

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I totally saw a woman looking at a similar fabric to create a kurta/trouser set in a fabric store in Bandra the other day. True story.

Of course, it wasn’t just Europeans who loved Indian chintz. Check out these Southeast jackets:

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I’m sure people were like, sick kimono, bro. Right? That sounds like a normal 19th century thing to say.

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A mix of Chinese imagery with Indonesian prints for this decorative hanging.

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The many faces of labor and commerce in 19th Century Singapore.

If I think about it, a lot of my own clothing is a mix of Indian fabric with Western shapes, so many in some tiny way I am also a part of a cultural global fabric and costume exchange. Diversity in how people look and how they dress and what they do and act is, to me, the cornerstone of progress and human development. If you never see anyone around you who looks, acts, speaks, eats, or thinks differently than you do, you probably will think that the world is singular. But to my mind it is beautiful in its variety, and I love seeing that in an exhibit like this one. Doesn’t it make you want to go out and pick of a global assortment of fabrics for inspiration and creation? Make a batik ballgown, stitch up some Thai silk cigarette trousers, or try a gingham tunic or a pinstripe kimono! Let’s be a part of a global fashion movement that celebrates diversity as the very fabric of humanity. Onwards, friends! To the sewing machines!

 

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Filed under Clothing, Costume, history, Life

The Don’t Be Impressed Dress

I have said this before, but I love Halloween, like, epic levels of love for Halloween, which makes the sense, don’t you think? After all, I’m a writer, specifically a dramatic writer, and what that means is that all I do is play pretend, and Halloween is an opportunity to play pretend by dressing up as someone else and getting rewarded for that, instead of thrown in a mental institution, with candy and, as you grow older, booze. I love the fall feeling in the air, I love the children’s costumes, I love when people make something impossibly clever (Example: my friend Ben who always always has the best Halloween ideas, is volunteering right now in Vietnam so he went to a party as a kind of Eat Pray Love parody. How awesome is that? Ben wins.) But I honestly have concluded by the ripe old age of 26, that I’m not personally great at Halloween. I just have the worst time thinking up costumes!

And you would think that now that I sew it would be easier, but I have recently realized it only makes it harder, because I’m unwilling to make something I will only wear once, so my costumes have to have some future life/use, and that is NOT the way great Halloween costumes come to being. Great Halloween costumes must spring from guts and glory, not a vague need to fill out one’s fall wardrobe. Great Halloween costumes are born, not made, they spring from the head of Zeus, fully formed, like Athena! Man, I need to make friends with Zeus, guys.

So despite wracking my brain and coming up with a  handful of silly girly vaguely interesting ideas that I didn’t bother to buy patterns or fabric for, that’s how motivated I was, I was in a pickle, with a party to go to last night, school deadlines all week so no time to sew, and no idea what to wear. Not wearing a costume is, of course, totally unacceptable and a fate that should be punishable by death, or at least having to be strapped in a chair and watch documentaries about government for no less than 24 hours on end. So what was I to do? Well, I’m not proud of this, but I did the second worst thing you can do after not wearing a costume. I recycled.

I’m all about recycling in life. Like, creepy into recycling in life, I compost. But recycling a costume? That is as disgusting as many people thing composting is. Such people can also join in on the documentary thing, composting is awesome, but that’s an argument for another day. The point is I had no choice! Graduate school is difficult! Life gets away from you! What was I supposed to do, BUY something? That’s insane! Madness, I say! Don’t hate me! (Sob, sob, sob….)

When I was in college this awesome girl named Rebecca Arzoian, who, by the way, remains very awesome, came to a party dressed as a Freudian Slip. She wore a black slip and had a nametag that said “Penis Envy” on it. I honestly thought this was the coolest flipping thing I had ever seen, and four years ago I threw on my own slip and went to my friend Ben of the brilliant costume’s party. He was a Canadian millionaire, having fashioned a tailcoat and top hat out of denim. It was amazing. People loved my slip, and I contented myself with a job well done.

So when this year I was strapped for ideas, I did it again. I know. I know. The horror! But at least I made it!

TBDID 2Apologies for the yellow indoor photos, I tried to color correct but there is only so much you can do about indoor evening shots. Still, I was thrilled to get them, thank you, Emily! My roommate Emily snapped these before our party. The theme was Dr. Who villain so, yeah, I just failed on all levels here, didn’t I?

TDBID 3The pattern is Colette Patterns Cinnamon Dress, the same one I made for Emily for the Jazz Age Lawn Party. The fabric is actually from a poly-cotton blend bedsheet, which I got on ebay to make curtains for our apartment, and I still have tons of it even after the curtains and this dress. It has very faint lines on it, which now are diagonal because this dress was cut on the bias so it slides over your body.

TDBID 4As slips go, this is a great pattern, and I would love to make it again having gotten the hang of it. I would make the straps thicker, though, that’s the only thing I’m not wild about.

TDBID 6Of course, it’s not really meant to be worn with a bra, I guess, but still. This could be a very cute dress for every-day wear, honestly, I love the drape of the bias-cut skirt and the way it flows.

Okay, I’m about to do an extreme chest close up so you can see  my Freudian name-tag, fair warning:

TDBID 5In case you can’t read that or don’t want to examine my, er, assets quite so closely, that reads: Hello, my name is Elektra Complex. Hmm, I wonder if that’s why all those older gentleman were flirting with me all night? Kidding! It was a Dr. Who Villain’s themed party, people were so disgusted I didn’t stick to the theme they barely gave me the time of day.

TDBID 1So there is my Halloween costume, don’t you dare be impressed by it, even for a moment. I wont allow it, I don’t deserve such a thing.

Oh, I thought you might like to see a progression of photos when I told Emily to stop taking photos, but she didn’t want to:

TDBID 8TDBID 7TDBID 9Ah, the woes of blogging, I am so very put upon, don’t look at me and my shame!

I hope you all had a lovely Halloween and, perhaps, did better than I did. What did you go as? Do you like Halloween or perish beneath the pressure? Do you recycle costumes? Make me feel better here, internets!

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Filed under Clothing, Colette Patterns, Costume, Sewing

The Governor’s Island Girls

You know what was not a flattering period of time in Women’s clothing? The 1920’s. There. I’ve said it. It’s out there. Deal with it. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t. I totally appreciate the innovations of the period, and really, in terms of women and the mobility they had physically it’s such a revolutionary time, but holy hell does the drop waist look bad on most people. Myself included, photos to follow.

So while I admire the spirit of the 20’s, the fast cars and fast women, the music and the decadence, I’ve always had a hard time with the clothing. Which isn’t great given the fact that this past weekend I went to the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island! It’s kind of this big 20’s themed party on the island, which is between Brooklyn and Manhattan, a ferry ride (free, by the way, which NOTHING is in New York) will get you there. The island is so lovely, it was used in the past as a militery base, and then closed to the public for a long time. It was re-opened in 2010 and now they are constructing a park and it is just lovely, I would recommend taking a picnic and a small child, if you have one handy or know where to steal one from, and taking a day trip, if you are around New York. (I’m kidding, please don’t steal children, it’s not great.) So they have been doing this 20’s style party there for 4 years, and this year it was bigger then ever.

And I have to tell you, despite the crowds and the lines, it is a pretty cool event, but if you want to enter into the spirit of the thing, you gotta dress the part. Well, at least, I felt obligated. My parents, who occompanied me, felt no such compulsion. But I didn’t just outfit myself, I also made a dress for my roommate Emily!

And that’s the main event of this post, because my friend I threw together literally the morning of the event and it’s whatever. But EMILY’s dress is pretty lovely, if I do say so myself:

20 7I wanted to make her something she might actually wear again, so that meant deviating from complete period appropriateness by giving her a 2013-approved hemline. But it’s a bias cut dress, which totally works, and I figured though it might be heralding the 30’s a little bit, it’s still hinting at the 20’s with it’s fluttery sleeves (self drafted, I will have you know).

20 10In case you couldn’t tell, Emily really likes this dress. For the sleeves I just cut half circles and stitched them on where the straps go in the original pattern, and then adjusted them to be a bit tighter on Emily’s lady-like shoulders. Emily felt very bad about needing an adjustment and I just laughed, like, this is the whole point of making clothing, that you can adjust to someone’s body! Muggles, man, I tell you…20 8

 

Does this remind you a bit of a slip? HOW ODD. No, it’s not, the pattern is Colette Patterns Cinnamon, a slip I had long lusted after (heh) and finally bought to download. I made myself one in white, which I haven’t blogged about because somehow that seems more intimate then photos of me in a swimsuit. I’m weird.

20 13I cut a size 8, which I think hangs nicely off of Emily (that bias cut, man, it’s a bitch but it’s so worth it…) though I would take a wedge of out the back if I made this for her again. On me it actually works pretty well, that’s the swayback curse for you, i.e. I have one. You totally cannot see where I melted some of this highly synthetic crepe with an iron and then stitched it up. Thank goodness.

20 9I’m pretty in love with this material. It’s not at all period appropriate but it looks great on Emily and it’s preeeeeeeetty! 4 dollars a yard on Fabric.com. NAILED IT.

20 1I love the bodice detail on this pattern. So flattering, no? Because I cut this on the bias, I hung up the pieces over night after I cut it, and then stitched up the majority of the dress, and let it hang for four days while I gallivanted off to Cape Cod to hang out with my friend Lee (hi, Lee!) and do some writing. So when I got back the skirt was all ready to be hemmed! Life works well, sometimes. And the rest of the time it’s the WORST.

20 12But not on Saturday! Saturday it was great. And how good does Emily look posing with these amazing vintage cars? So much vintage at the party, so little time:

20 4Flappers and elegant ladies mixing, the horror!

20 5How much do you love these shoes? I wanted to steal them off this girl’s feet but they don’t let you do that. THANKS A LOT, PURITANS.

20 15Hipster couples everywhere!

20 2Why don’t men dress like this anymore? I know it gets warm but DAMN is it attractive.

20 11Speaking of attractive…

Okay, okay, I will show you what I made for myself but it’s really no big deal.

20 18Meh. This is very much whatever. It’s a sack. So it works great for the 20’s, no? I’m so mean. BUT SERIOUSLY. It’s actually Colette Patterns Sorbetto ( I swear I did not plan to make this so Colettey but can you blame me, seriously amazing patterns from those beautiful geniuses) lengthened to dress length. It was a lot longer, I just used all the rayon I had left over from this skirt, and then I chopped off a bit at the knees and used that for the sash.

20 17I seriously made this in an hour. It took me about one episode of Rookie Blue. Emily was so appalled that I had used all my time making her something and hadn’t made something for myself so I got up on Saturday morning, composted, ran, and made a dress. LIKE A BOSS.

20 14Look how I laugh and laugh! The 20’s were so wild. Look, eh,this dress, it’s fine, I suppose. It worked for the event, and I can always belt it and wear it again, which is important, I hate the idea of making something I would never wear again, although I have TOTALLY done this. Oh, and I made the headband too, duh. And I made Emily’s. Like I do.

20 3But the point is, we had a great time!

Also, let’s talk about the view from the ferry, shall we? It’s worth the trip for that and that alone:

20 6The Jazz Age Lawn Party is a pretty good time, I would recommend it if you are around next summer. And I just hope the decade works better for you then it does for me…why isn’t there a 1950’s lawn party? COME on!

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Filed under Clothing, Colette Patterns, Costume, Sewing

The No Place Like Home Outfit

And now we come to my costume. My costume which is of course the iconic and rather boring Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

At the age of ten I was IN The Wizard of Oz, but I was the Cowardly Lion. I was AMAZING. This is a fact. Ask my mom. It’s for real. But this year I decided to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Why? I couldn’t tell you. I have no really reason why I decided on this costume. I just knew I could make that costume and I felt like it would be easy and…no other reason. I’m a weird fixator. So that was all decided.

And then I made it! This is not that great of a story…

Again, Emily snapped these of me quickly at that same Halloween party I had previously mentioned, so the color quality is…terrible. Sigh.

I took a Burda-Style pattern, the ever popular ever hated Dress with Gathered Skirt, and modified the bodice. I basically chopped off the arms, made up the bodice as a strapless one, and then added strips in for sleeves. I then took two large rectangles and gathered them for the skirt. Side zipper, machine hem, boom.

I also made the blouse, a JJ Blouse without ruffles. Boy, Burda Style really did me well for Halloween!

A little back view for you.

I got the red shoes from Payless, I know, I know, that’s terrible for the world, but they WERE cheap…

Because I wore what is essentially a cute and non-threatening or creepy or extremely revealing costume, and I wore it on the subway, people felt quite comfortable coming up and talking to me all night, both in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. It was rather disconcerting, but fine.

Oh, yes, here is my toto:

Given the insane hurricane that hit the East Coast this week, I’m stuck in my apartment (and in Brooklyn in general, the subways have been shut down since Sunday). So I hope you are all safe and secure if you were in the path of the storm, or even if you weren’t! Happy Halloween!

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Filed under Burda Style, Clothing, Costume, Sewing

The “I Barely Get the Reference” Dress

Let’s just start right here and say that I’ve never seen Game of Thrones. STOP YELLING AT ME! I know, I know, it’s great, blah blah blah. I just, I have a lot of T.V. in my life, do I really need more? Okay, maybe I do, I’m sure it’s a lot better than Hart of Dixie. Ha, I’m just kidding, nothing is better than Hart of Dixie. But I digress.

The POINT is, my roommate, Emily, wanted to go as a character from Game of Thrones this year for Halloween. Well, I had talked her into being Mary from Downton Abbey because A. She loves the show and B. I really wanted to make someone an Edwardian gown and that business is never going to look good on me but on tall EMILY it probably would be baller. But alas, we were invited to Emily’s sisters Halloween Party and said party had a fantasy theme. My costume could remain the same (more on that later) but we had to either Doctor-Who-up Mary (which didn’t sit right with any of us, Steven Moffat included) or find something else. And hence my wonderful roommate picked Daenerys Targaryen.

Of course, I knew I would never be able to perfectly duplicate the original dress. But I wanted to get close! It’s actually a lot lighter, the shade of blue, but this is the image Emily and I took fabric shopping with us, so this is the business we’ve chosen.

Together we scouted the New York Garment District for polyester chiffon. Now, normally I’m a natural fibers girl to the point of mania, but this was a Halloween costume on Emily’s dime, so it was man-made all the way. We also wanted to find something that was a reasonable price, because, again, Halloween costume. The upside of the New York Fabric scene is the variety. The downside, for me, is the price. How I miss my beloved Philadelphia!

Still, we managed to find a nice blue polyester Georgette for 6 a yard, which was the best I thought we could do, at Fabrics Counter at 554 8th Avenue, and the very nice cutters there agreed with me that Emily was going to look amazing. And look amazing she did:

Of course, these photos had to be crammed in during the party, so the light and surrounding aren’t as regal as one might have hoped, but what can you do?

Emily had to put a serious face on, as befits a queen.

But eventually I forced her to smile.

The color of the dress is less teal then it appears. The pattern I used is Burda Style’s Drape Dress, and of course it has the typical non-instructions Burda always so sweetly gives us. Whatever, I just made it up as I went. The inside of this dress is a huge struggle and you will never see it. The changes I made, oh, boy. Well, I basically made my own drapes, rather than following the pattern for the waist and bodice. But I quite like the effect.

You can just see the lining, a navy taffeta I had on hand, I should have under-stitched. Should have, could have, would have.

And I lengthened the pattern signficantly to hit Emily’s feet. And I added long shoulder pieces, because that’s what the original costume has. And I totally made up the back, just made it the hell up.

Of course, Emily’s wig is in the way, but you get the idea.

Look at that. Would you ever steal that woman’s dragons?

I literally know nothing about the show. That’s a thing, right? Dragons?

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Filed under Burda Style, Clothing, Costume, Sewing