Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Whiter Shade of Pale

A whiter shade of pale
I've been thinking about Spring and feeling exceedingly romantic...envisioning "alternative" wedding dresses ...little bohemian numbers with swatches of ivory lace and embroidered patches.

These ideas simmering, I came home Friday night to a message on my office phone. A friend's daughter had found a steamer trunk full of Victorian clothes and was offering me the first look. First thing this morning I headed to her house where she was overseeing a yard sale. In a roped-off garage area, I spied four large bulging bags.

My heart sank a little as I separated the dry cleaning bags from their contents, knowing the effect of plastic on textiles. But in the first bag I found eight tiny Victorian christening gowns, in remarkably good shape with intricate handwork and lace. The second bag included two boned corsetted jackets and four cotton vests/waistcoats. A frothy lace and silk wedding dress filled the third bag and the fourth bag held three silk dresses dating from the 1890s to the 1920s. I was especially excited to find a combination bloomer/camisole underpinning constructed in a way I'd never seen before. Without taking the time to inspect each piece, I gathered up the bags..spirit soaring, heart pounding with excitement and exhilaration...and paid Jennifer 2.5 times what she was asking for the lot. Her first offer had been "free"....she's nice that way.

At home, I poured the contents onto the guest room bed and began the process of sorting and studying, reminding myself to breathe as I discovered the buttons, treatments and trims that, although they appeared to be disintegrating before my eyes, I hoped to salvage. I set the christening gowns aside, realizing I now have a new collection category. Large swaths of ivory silk lining shredded in my hands as I carefully unfolded the garments...while interior boning and stays held firm to wisps of threaded nothingness. I removed collars and cuffs from sleeves that no longer held a shape or form. I spent 45 minutes separating the bodice of the wedding gown from the shredded skirt ...the waistline measured 18"... and undid the tiny hooks and eyes in the inner sleeves. I carefully slipped my arms through and took a couple of photographs, imagining for a moment what it must have felt like to wear such a beautiful garment. It is with a sense of awe that I consider ways to incorporate these lovely bits into my designs for Spring.


  1. I can't even imagine how exciting that must have been for you. Wow. What a find. Those christening gowns would make lovely prints, too! Love the photo you took with this article!

  2. oh truly exhilarating. the treaures have found a kind soul in you. your attention to detail and appreciation for the labor and beauty will not be lost upon you. what a thrill...have fun, and breathe.

  3. Lori,

    I can't even imagine the thrill of opening and inspecting these wonderful garments! I have come close to this feeling when I run across a painting or an artist that totally engages me. I get a fuzzy uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach and I feel my breathing almost stop! I have the feeling that I want to transport myself immediately to my studio so I can start to work! Can't wait to see what you do with these finds!

  4. Oh I can only imagine your excitement! I wish that clothes could talk - or if there was some way to find out the stories associated with them. How lovely to find the christening gowns - but, I wonder what happened? Were they handed down and never used, or used and well-treasured? And the wedding gown ... could you get hold of the steamer trunk? Who knows what clues it could hold! Delighted for you and your fabulous, fabulous swag!


  5. How delightfully exciting! I wouldn't be able to breathe from excitement either!


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