Friday, June 29, 2012

Haute Couture of the 1950's

High sophistication from the pages of Vogue during the Dior Era
Doll created by Willem van der Leer
The 1950’s witnessed a new femininity in women’s fashions that actually began in 1947 under the  influence of  Christian Dior.  His New Look was reflected with softer shoulders, nipped-in waists, and fuller skirts.  Dior yearned for women's clothes to reflect the charm and elegance that he remembered in his mother's Edwardian gowns.  After the rationing of fabric during the Second World War, Dior's lavish use of material was a bold and shocking stroke, as his style used yards and yards of fabric. 

Made by Ana Delia Mercado
Evening versions of the New Look were very glamorous and consisted of strapless boned tops with full skirts. 

As influential and famous as Dior was, the 1950's saw many other talented designers that left their mark on the decade - Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Yves St Laurent - just to name a few.  The decade was known for the full skirts, but we also saw slim sheath like fashions which were the epitome of glamour and sophistication.  Movie, television and recording stars in the Fifties also had a great influence on fashion.
Created by Ana Delia Mercado
During the 1950's, accessories were an integral part of a woman's wardrobe.  Matching shoes and  handbags were standard, often complemented by a hat and gloves.  Hairstyles tended to be structured, with every hair in place kept in control with hairspray.  From looking at magazines and ads from the era, most women sported short or medium length hair.  Make-up worn by fashion models gave them a vamp look, complete with arched eyebrows, heavy eyeliner and red lips.

Shirtwaist dresses were popular daywear styles during the 1950's.  The influence of the shirtwaist dress was strong, and lasted through the early 1960's
Made by Ana Delia Mercado
Women revolutionized fashion by wearing pants outside of the home, thus creating a fashion trend that has lasted through the decades.  Circle skirts and poodle skirts were popular among teenage girls. 

Capri style pants and matching tops were very popular
Made by Ana Delia Mercado

Friday, June 15, 2012

A German Bride, 500 BC

Spear Maiden German Bride, circa 500 BC
In the land between the Danube and the North Sea, the Germans, Jutes, Saxons, Franks, Goths, and other groups of people were all competing for space to live.  The Germans were a migratory people with vast herds, rapidly exhausting the land.  When they loved to a new area, it had to be conquered by the sword.  They cherished freedom and believed that a glorious death was preferable to captivity, for such a death insured a perpetual happy future life.  They also believed that all husbands and wives leading virtuous lives on earth would never part again in Valhalla.

As a result of all their migratory lifestyle, the women had great physical strength and beauty.  Their ideal of feminine virtue was the Goddess Frigga, patroness of the home and marriage.  She was supposed to be blonde and have blue eyes, the Teutonic ideal of beauty.

A bride was purchased from her father by a gift of cattle, horses, and weapons.  A man must consult his parents, her family, the tribal council and chiefs regarding the marriage. 

Maidens wore tunics of green linen embroidered with red wool, and under this a woolen tabard open at the sides.  The cape was secured on the shoulders by large gold brooches.  Long flowing hair indicates the bride was freeborn as well as a virgin.  The circlet on her head symbolizes her rank, the daughter of a chieftain.  Chains attached to the belt support the weight of the pouch, containing uncut jewels, sewing instruments, and a key.  The groom's gift to the bride was a two-handed, double-edged broadsword, shield, and spear. 

The inspiration for this doll is from a book called Foreign Brides from Antiquity, by Frank and Elizabeth Haines.  I was intrigued by the image of the German Bride, and wanted to add a doll from this period to my collection.  I commissioned Maya, of Maya's Muse, to make this for me, using a Mackie face Barbie doll with flat feet.  Making this doll was a long process and a story in itself, but as you can see, she did an incredible job.  Although I took my own photos, I decided to use the ones by Maya, since they look so artistic.  I highly recommend checking out Maya's site at for more of her beautiful doll creations.  She is an artist in every sense of the word.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Revisiting the Regency Era

Daywear, circa 1815
Created by Judy Frank
Due to civil unrest, a revolution broke out in France in 1789 leading to the end of the French monarchy.  From 1794 to 1799, a new government – known as the Directoiregoverned the country (quite ineffectively, as it turned out).  By 1799, the opportunity was right for a young military leader by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte to stage a coup.  In 1804, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France and began reestablishing order. Although his reign was marked by series of wars abroad, Napoleon was successful in bringing stability to the country as well as reestablishing a prosperous French economy, specifically the French textile industry.  The reign of Napoleon Bonaparte is now referred to as the Empire period in France.

This period is also referred to as the Georgian periodnamed after England's King George III.  Unlike France, England enjoyed a stable political climate during this period. King George was a virtuous man who enjoyed the simple life, but by 1810, a genetic disorder had fully incapacitated him, and his son, the Prince Regent, stepped into power to rule in his father's place.  Thus, the period from 1810 to 1820 is known as England's Regency period. 

Created by Ana Delia Mercado

Close up, without the Spencer jacket
During the revolutionary period in France, women's fashions began to change drastically. Extravagant corsets, panniers, and gowns made of silk brocade were cast aside as thin, almost transparent Grecian-like cotton gowns were adopted.  It was this idea of Neoclassical simplicity that changed the way female form was treated.  Garments began to drape and flow.  Corsets were discarded altogether.  For the first time since antiquity, the body was free to remain in its natural shape.  By1802, all of fashionable Europe was wearing what we now refer to as the Empire style gown.  
Sheer cotton fabrics such as muslin, gauze, and percale were the most popular English gown materials.  Raw cotton was imported from the Americas and India and manufactured in English textile mills.  Since the gowns of this period were so thin, the cold of winter required the adoption of large shawls imported from Kashmir, India (a British colony during this period).  Another defense against the cold of winter was the jacket.  English tailors fashioned the Spencer jacket, a short close fitting jacket cut from the same style as the dress bodice.  Later in the period, the Redingote - a full length coat – was worn.  
Created by Judy Frank, circa 1820

Bonnets, hats, and turbans were necessary to complete a lady's ensemble. While in public, women always had at least one of these. At home, ladies wore close fitting cotton caps to cover their unstyled hair.  Other important fashion accessories include the reticule, a small purse-like bag that closed at the top with either a drawstring or metal frame. Gloves were also prominent during this period and varied in length from wrist (for day wear) to above the elbow (for evening wear).

Presentation court dress, designed by Jimmy Ramos
Circa 1805-1815


Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Regency State of Mind

Elizabeth Bennet & Mr Darcy

My friend Terri sent me a photo earlier this evening of a beautiful Regency themed fan she made.  Last week she was working on a Rococo themed fan using images of Marie Antoinette.  I commented that using Regency images would look wonderful also, so she made one!  I was wondering what doll to post, and I then thought why not a Regency doll, and better yet, why not the quintessential Regency couple, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, the lead characters from Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice?  Elizabeth and Darcy were created by Judy Frank, a doll artist from Arizona that specializes in period costume.  I first met Judy in 1999, at a Barbara Peterson show, and I was just amazed at the beauty and attention to detail she puts into each of her dolls.  Since then, I have added several of Judy's dolls to my collection, which I will be sharing with you in the future.  I cannot remember which Barbie convention it was (I think it was 2005), but Judy placed first in a competition, and no surprise because she captured the essence not only of the period (circa 1805-1810), but the characters themselves.

Close up of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy

Monday, June 4, 2012

From This Day Forward

 June is traditional for brides, so I could not let this month pass without including at least one bride.  I have quite a few brides from different periods, but this one is my favorite and very special to me because my mother made the ensemble from a historical pattern for an 1880's wedding gown.  Everything about this dress is perfect and symbolic of the late Victorian period.

The "traditional" wedding dress as we know it today first appeared in the late 18th century. With the introduction of machine made fabrics and inexpensive muslins imported from India, and styles inspired by the ancient classical world, by 1800 the white dress with a veil was definitely the one to wear.

The color white became a popular choice in 1840 with the marriage of Queen Victoria to Albert of Saxe-Coburg.  The queen chose to wear a white gown of silk and Honiton lace, unknowingly setting a standard for all future brides. 

During the middle part of the 19th century, upper class brides wore gowns with full court trains, bustle, and long veils.  The late Victorians of the 1880's-1890's saw the bustle disappear, with the bride wearing a demi-train and puffed sleeves accessorized with a veil of lace or silk tulle, gloves, and white satin or brocade slippers with heels.

Late Victorian Bride circa 1880's

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Hello everyone and welcome to The Costume Carousel! Here is where I not only will showcase my period costume dolls, but will also give you some basic historical data on the fashion styles and social mores of the day.  Clothing is closely tied to society and how we thought and believed.  There will be times where I will only give a brief sketch, while other times I may elaborate more.  In a sense, what I would like to accomplish is a "Fashion History 101" which I hope proves not only informative, but entertaining at the same time.  I will not be showcasing fashions in chronological order....I think it will be more fun to select based on how I feel at the time. 

For those of you that don't know me, let me tell you a little about myself.  I collect fashion dolls, and have been a serious collector since around 1994.  The majority of my doll collection consist of Barbie, which to me is a perfect model.  I got my first Barbie when I was 8 years old, and she was a blonde ponytail in the classic black & white swimsuit.  This is the doll that is now known as the #5 Ponytail.  I love Barbie, and she was - and is - a part of my life.  As every serious collector knows, after a while one begins to focus on certain dolls, thus personalizing and streamlining a collection.  In my case, becuase of my degree in History, I found myself gravitating towards dolls customized by doll artists (also known as OOAK - One Of A Kind) in period dress.  I also have several historical costume and paper doll books I use as reference.  In the last several years, I have added many beautiful dolls, each with a story behind it, tied to the artist.  It's my wish to also spotlight the artist behind the doll.  My historical dolls encompass periods as early as Ancient Egypt to present day modern designers.  Consider The Costume Carousel a fashion Time Machine, and I hope you enjoy the ride!

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, I can't find a better doll to premiere than my Elizabeth I.  This incredible doll was made by Mattel and released in 2004.  She is depicted at the height of her reign, when she was known as Gloriana. By this time England was prosperous and a power to be reckon with by other countries.  All this due to her intelligent and shrewd ruling. In spite of being an intellectual, Elizabeth was a vain woman, and wore the most sumptous and beautiful gowns, often acessorized by yards of pearls.  Her many beautiful and fantastic gowns added dignity to her role as queen.  She was known as the Virgin Queen, since she never married - she always considered herself to be married to England.  The style of her white gown is from the late 1590's. By this time, neck ruffs were no longer fashionable, and the new style was the beautiful fallen lace collar from The Netherlands.  I will return to the Elizabethan period in the near future....

Queen Elizabeth I