Sunday, November 19, 2017

St. Catherine's Day

...or week, as we do things here in the States.
In Paris, on Nov. 26th, all of the single unmarried "hands" working in the fashion houses of Paris don a green and yellow hat in honor of St. Catherine, and to win for themselves, their employers, and their future. What they win is unsure, but this has been a tradition amongst the seamstresses, milliners, tailors and needleworkers of France for decades. The idea is to make a superlative, hysterical, over- the- top- hat, and go for it. There were parades in the past, through the streets of Paris. Now, perhaps, just the fashion show, the hats, and a bow will suffice.
If you're in Paris for the Fete, email me and let me know what's happening.
In New York City, The Milliners Guild, a scant two years old, is holding their annual St. Catherine's Day tomorrow. By meeting at the Millinery District Synagogue, in the Garment District, and parading up Fifth Avenue to the party at Haven, they hope to stimulate hat wearing in general, and camaraderie in the industry, in particular.
The idea of donning a specialty piece and parading through the streets is often met with interest, even in New York. Last year, the New York Times covered the event with splashy photography as the milliners et al proceeded through Bryant Park, up to Rockefeller Center, and around St. Pat's.
This is the opportunity of the year to wear whatever outrageous gear you have, hat-wise, and have fun. Send in the hats!
This year, there will be a contest for the best hat, non-milliners only, thank you. Once at Haven, a complimentary Champagne Hour will be from 6-7, with Veuve Cliquot (thank you, Moet Hennessey USA!) and hors d'oeuvres. The latest collections from the milliner members will be on display, for pert posing and purchasing.
Haven itself is a warm and inviting space, reminiscent of a gentlemen's club from the victorian era, with a mezzanine and a choice seating area for light repast.

Puerto Rico Gets to Work

Puerto Rico Gets to Work

Most of you know about the island, and the hurricane, and the aftermath.  Perhaps you don't realize that this is a static situation, with very slow growth and progress thanks to a few generalities.  Not necessary to get into the politics of the situation on the island and in the hallways of the US Senate, but only with an ongoing effort from all of us "off-island" will there be progress and change.

Jump back a few decades, to the 19th Century actually, to discover the origins of the US relationship with Puerto Rico. Follow the thread to the post-WWI era, through the 1950's and up to today.  Bear in mind that the Jones Act impedes imports, and the US finds ways and means of latching onto contracts that produce income for anyone and everyone except the people of Puerto Rico.

Millions of us  from famous names to high school students feel the hardship and not just because we all have relatives in Puerto Rico who are living through this nightmare. The Puerto Rican people are as they say, resilient, but the island needs all the help we can give it.

Think of Puerto Rican's as your next door neighbors and find a way to help.

My Puerto Rican side lives in daily frustration knowing that the island needs help and it isn't arriving fast enough.  And it just isn't enough. Some, not all, politicians in the US are making life even more difficult for this little jewel of an island.  Reading online will help educate, as to the status quo, so it's not up to me to do that.

Our job at hand is to help keep Puerto Rico within eye sight. Ellen Christine Couture is designing a capsule collection of hats , headgear and caps to help introduce products that might work for a gift, or just to help keep the topic alive in your circle.

For the first two items in the collection we've hand-painted a stylized Puerto Rican flag onto cotton canvas, and used it as an applique...sold as a patch that you can sew on yourself, or  pre-sewn on our kepi. Not a baseball cap, a kepi is a throwback to the French Legionnaires, and the American Civil War military issue headgear.  A bit more stylish that the normal baseball cap. The kepi is made in NYC, in cotton, with fabric donated by James Thompson & Co. an American fabric company established in 1860, and very appropriate for this style cap.
Our production was a limited edition, executed by our guy, Felix, in Long Island City. No more can be produced, as limited runs interrupt the flow in the factory.

Watch for our next style, and please help Puerto Rico.
Our funds from the sale of these work hats go to: ConPRmetidos and Centros Sor Isolina Ferre, both non-profit organizations that are easily researched on the internet.

It's just one of the ways we're helping.  Build a network within your community or join one of the agencies already reaching out.  It feels good, and good is what we're all about, right?

Just an aside about our picture: our lovely intern, Holly sits with two of our neighbors rescued from  Puerto Rico.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Millinery Bibliography

These are just a few of the books relating to hats on our shelves. We hope that they help inspire and delight your burning need to learn all 
about millinery.

Adele, Campione, Il Cappello Da Uomo, Itinerari D’Immagini, 1988

Albrizio, Ann, Classic Millinery Techniques, Lark Books, 1998

Anlezark, Mildred, Hats on Heads: The Art of Creative Millinery, Kangaroo Press, 1990

Bawden, Juliet, The Hat Book: Creating Hats for Every Occasion, Lark Books, 1993

Ben-Yusuf, MME. Anna, Edwardian Hats: The Art of Milliners, R.L. Shep, 1992

Besson, Jean Louis, Le Livre Des Uniformes: Histoire Des Costumes, Gallimard, 1987

Blum, Dilys E., Ahead of Fashion: Hats of the 20th Century, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1993

Bolomier, Elaine, Le Chapeau: Grand Art et Savoir-faire, Musee du Chapeau, 1996

Bou, Louis, and Stephen Jones. Couture Hats. New York: Harper Design, 2012

Burke, Emma Maxwell, A Perfect Course in Millinery, The Illustrated Milliner Company, 1925

Burkel, Archie, The Joy of Hats, Nelson Printing, 2012

Clark, Fiona, The Costume Accessories Series: Hats, B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1982

Couldridge, Alan, The Hat Book, Ventura Publishing Ltd, 1980

Dache, Lilly, Lilly Dache’s Glamour Book, So Stated, 1956

Demornex, Jacqueline, Le Siecle en Chapeaux, Du May, 1991

Dreher, Denise, From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking, Madhatter Press, 1981

Du Mortier, Bianca M., Chapeau, Chapeaux!, Rijksmuseum, 1997

Feen, Diane, Hat Life, A Mint Publishing Company, 2009

Genin, J.N., An Illustrated History of the Hat: From the Earliest Ages to the Present, N.P., 1848

Gorsline, Douglas, What People Wore, Bonanza Books, 1987

Hopkins, Susie, The Century of Hats, Chartwell Books Inc, 1999

Jones, Stephen, Hats: An Anthology, V&A Publishing, 2009

Kamitsis, Lydia, Les Chapeaux: Une Histoire de Tete, Dans Le Droit Fil, 1998

Kim, Eugenia, Saturday Night Hat, Potter Craft, 2006

Maroukian, Francine and Sarah Woodruff, The Handbook of Style: Expert Fashion and Beauty Advice, Quirk Books, 2006

Mercie, Marie, Voyages Autour D’un Chapeau, Ramsay/De Cortanze, 1990

Probert, Christina, Hats in Vogue, Abbeville, 1981

Pufpaff, Suzanne, Nineteenth Century Hat Maker’s and Felter’s Manuals, Stony Lonesome Press, 1995

Reilly, Maureen and Mary Beth Detrich, Women’s Hats of the 20th Century, Schiffer Publishing, 1997

Remiasz, Stella V., Hats: Design and Construction, Hat Tree Studio, 1986

Robinson, Fred Miller, The Man in the Bowler Hat, The University of North Carolina Press, 1993

Schilling, Gigi, Ageless Bride, First Printing, 2007

Shields, Jody, Hats: A Stylish History and Collector’s Guide, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 1991

Shover, Edna Mann, Art in Costume Design, Milton Bradley Company, 1926

Smith, Desire, HATS: with Values, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1996

Smith, Rodney and Leslie Smolan, The Hat Book, Doubleday, 1993

Steinberg, Neil, Hatless Jack, The Penguin Group, 2004

Waring, Lyn, Hats Made Easy, Sally Milner Publishing, 1995

Wilcox, R. Turner, The Mode in Costume, Scribner, 1948

Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, Millinery: A Complete Course, Vivs Ribbons & Laces, 1993

Womens Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, Ribbon Trimmings: A Course in Six Parts, Vivs Ribbons and Laces, 1992

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Art of the Bat

As Halloween lifts its head in the world context, costume and horror become part of an everyday ritual for some of us. Make that witch hat, prep those cat ears, reference those vampires.....all part of a millinery studio's to-do list. We see Halloween as a relief from the norm, nowadays.  An instant flicker of submerged reality, an escape from our perceived complications. With TV helping us along the way and Comicon now part of some internal lexicon on the plane of popular culture, costumes are often our interpretation of who and what we want to be. Since we were little runabouts in ghostly sheets, preying upon neighbors for our intake of sugar, costumes have grown up. The inspiration for those counter personae now seems rooted in comic books, film, tv spreading wide and far the possibility of becoming anyone or anything, if only for one night.

Bela Lugosi

Dracula's bride takes many forms.  Space age creatures and heroes, from Groot to Wonder Woman now amble serenely through party or gathering or convention.
Katy Kattelman and the author
The theory of costume as dress, or dress as costume is fast becoming vernacular. You can own a corset for many occasions, pulling it out of your closet for special affairs, or wearing it under a denim jacket. We did the same in 1980's Rockabilly days with our long-line Merry Widows and crinolines paired with vintage cowgirl boots and motorcycle jackets as substitute for  tuxedo and fancy dress.  The norm, for some. Costume for others.
Claire Fraser, The "Bat Suit " (courtesy of Terry Dresbach)

Watch your favorite TV show and behold wardrobe transformations take place all over the world.  Outlander, and the genius of Terry Dresbach and her crew have made tartan a de rigeur element once again. 18th Century riding habits are translated a la Claire ( female protagonist from Diana Gabaldon's world- shaking series of books and heroine to Jamie on Starz' series now in its 3rd season).

Bela Lugosi made the cape a required part of anyone's proper Dracula wardrobe, from the 1930's onward, when the film was released. But capes and shrugs and stoles and wraps were a truly necessary element for centuries.  It was cold. And so, back to Claire, in Outlander, and her Bat Suit.
Fashion photography by Henry Clarke, 1960s.
Janis Joplin
The Bat Suit, a phrase coined by designer Terry Dresbach, and the cape that tops it in the tv series becomes a time-travelling wardrobe for her in one fell swoop. Capes were part of the 1960's-70's dress-up era as we went from modish snow bunnies to Janis Joplin admirers.  Capes were worn by women in  the fashion plates of editorial Vogue and the hippie granny square rebirth of  San Francisco Haight Ashbury streetwear fashion. Capes and ponchos have been part of our culture in facets not always linked to costume. The wearability and protective nature of these garments lend a sense of normalcy to character improvisation.
Claire's cape, as part of an outfit she whipped up (euphemistically) for herself to regress to the 18th Century has to translate from 1960's conservative styles to daily usage in the unsettling daily routines of the 1780's. Cape, as part of her "Bat Suit" lined with pockets, as handbag, kitted out to prevent inquiring minds from wondering if she were a witch. (Watch the series, and read the books for all the witchy references).
Yvonne Craig as Batgirl and Burgess Meredith as the Penguin 
The reference is taken from the popular 1960's Adam West/Burt Ward interpretation of Batman.  Seen on TV with  a slew of Hollywood names as villains, this series brought the cape into our teenage homes. Yvonne Craig played the caped female version of Batgirl, and the image leapt from the pages of our coveted comic books to part of an iconic trail of heroes and heroines. In capes.
Capes lend a note of romance, mystery, and always, a place to stash your thingamajigs. Bela Lugosi didn't need to stash anything, since Dracula could transform at will.  But with our modern penchant for carrying the world in our pockets and pocketbooks, a cape allows for hiding, protecting, and serves as a broad brushstroke in style.
Pity Claire doesn't go in for headpieces.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Custom of Costume

The OED ( Oxford English Dictionary) defines “bal masque” in short shrift : “masked ball”, and states as it’s origin : French.  The French may very well have brought the art of masquerade to a pinnacle, but costumes are loved the world over.  After all, any opera or theatre piece in effect becomes a bal masque,  as the actors are all garbed as alter egos.  And actually,  costume is something we also put on everyday, to go to work, or school.  It's the uniform we wear through school, or the shirt and tie we put on every day.  But here, we're discussing an extra-ordinary occasion, when a "costume" is a special article of clothing or  an ensemble that helps us to change visibly into someone or something else in an instant. Dressing in a costume becomes a definitive way of shedding inhibition when it’s cloaked in velvet and sequins.  An uber-costume. 
Choosing a costume  sometimes bleeds into the psychological boundaries we place on ourselves in everyday life.  Our favorite characters in literature, or popular culture are invoked all around the world once we step into satin breeches or a vampire's mantle.  History can play a part in the inspiration of costume, too, as we stream personage famous or infamous before the curious eyes of the beholders.  Halloween has become that day when the erstwhile Headless Horseman can roam suburban neighborhoods alongside the likes of Edward Scissorhands, accompanied by his own personal Bride of Dracula.  Movies are fodder for ideas, and costume pop-up shops have become as common across the land as mushrooms every Fall.  Which character are you? 
With the popularization of  readymade mass -produced boxed costumes sold at Woolworth’s, the 1950’s were underlined with Roy Rogerses, Lone Rangers, and many a cowboy hero from the then new entertainment called television.
 Contemporary horror flicks, vastly popular since Mary Shelley first penned “Frankenstein” ,  have helped create a crop of home-grown zombies, draculettes, and sundry dead and decaying creatures.  But costume is not defined by Halloween alone.  Throughout history, in royal court and private manse, the Bal Masque has stood as an outlet for this personification projection in any season.  Not limited to one day or one ghost- filled night per year, the Bal Masque lends a theme to a superlative party, to the crowded streets of New Orleans at Mardi Gras time, or the canals of Venice, with their richesse of silks and tricornes.
Comicon is a strolling feast for the eye of the beholder, with fans of subculture, popular culture and mythology dressed to fit the bill.  Whether that bill is Dr. Who,  Jamie Fraser or The Flash is a simple personal choice of the costume- garbed .  Whom do you love?  Become that person for a day.  Favorite hero?  Salve your worries and insecurities in drag, or caped, tiara-d, or masked. Halloween spirit, extended to Silly Putty boundaries. 
In 1966, when Truman Capote invoked the spirit of long- forgotten  party demons and threw his Black and White Ball at the Plaza in New York City, the hoi polloi flocked to mingle with each other, all rich and famous , bedecked in finery .
 The Metropolitan Museum Ball every year recreates this same spirit, with celebrities walking a red carpet, in costume or simply fancy dress.  The bolder, braver souls take any costume opportunity to the limit, and use their expertise and resources to come up with the perfect evocative ensemble.
  Costume plays an important part in entertainment , with children and adults participating in  momentary delusion and just having fun with it all. 
For those of you who say “I don’t do costumes” : we say: “Why not?”.  We already know the answer.  Whether it’s your own personal fear that disallows you from wearing a hat, or your own lack of imagination, we can vouch for the fun of dressing up.  Becoming that blonde bombshell, or dead diva isn’t really a transformation.  It’s simply an extension of what you are inside.  And that, as Martha Stewart has been known to say, is a good thing.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Pocket By Any Other Name

A Pocket by Any Other Name

Photograph of the village women (Wauking Women) in Outlander as designed by Terry Drespach

Watching historically relevant drama on tv might spawn interest in minor details, as well as in the heroic brawny actor on the screen.   Take pockets, for example.  Watching Starz' sky-rocketing original series Outlander, you might notice the dangly things hanging on the front of the Highlanders' kilts.  Those thingies are called "sporrans" and served as pockets for the dashing men in Scottish 18th Century life.  Please note that women's clothing isn't always showing little dangly things.  Where was she hiding that spare key? or her whatnots? Normally, pockets were something made as  an addition to the wardrobe.  In the men's case, with kilts not having built-in compartments for carrying much of anything, a sporran acted as the catchall.  For ladies, there were pockets.  Made as a separate reality, much like the sporran, but usually worn under her skirts.  No shoulder bags, no tote bags.  Perhaps a basket for marketing, and gathering of herbs and such.  Saddlebags, to be sure, because one needed as many places to stash stuff as we do today.  But there wasn't as much stuff.  So women in the 18th Century developed their own style, as women have a tendancy to do.

See :

for an overview, academically speaking.  Watch  in Outlander as Claire puts her hands in what seem to be pockets while she's wearing 18th Century garb.  This isn't as odd as it might be, because in this case, the character is coming from another time where pockets, and pocketbooks  already exist.  So the practical Claire may well have had her garments made with the additon of a pocket or two for convenience' sake. Most women hid their pockets  under their petticoats to protect their valuables,
but we can imagine some of them might work as men wore their sporrans: on the outside of their skirts.  In the evolution of fashion, not everything is cut and dried.  Since we can only go by what we see in paintings, drawings, and literary references, and cannot time travel to see for ourselves, imagination may take flight and create alternative pockets.  This was the 18th Century, and as the 19th Century looms nearer, reticules become the norm.  They were just the same idea as the pocket, but carried as a separate item, and therefore tended to be embellished more often than not.   Accessories have always been women's fancy, and what would become a major economic status symbol began to become more important visually. Women were still not allowed to actually own anything outright, so the necessity of carrying the massive amounts of paperwork, wallets, etc.  that we haul around today simply wasn't there. As sporrans go ( , the evolution of style warrants taking note of the refined, yet traditional forms they have taken in contemporary usage.  Women's pocketbooks, on the other hand, have become quite another subject indeed.

 ref: Barbara Burman in of "Pockets of History: The Secret Life of an Everyday Object." 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Men in Skirts

With the Gallic onslaught of Outlander, an involved series of books by the brilliant author Diana Gabaldon, newly produced by Starz, the world is becoming more aware of costume and its history.  History that leads us all to delve further, not just into the making of gifs ( Jamie Fraser as the new  global heartthrob ), but dipping into Wikipedia, and praise be!  even your local library, to find out more.  Lead into this  world of research via shows like Madmen, Boardwalk Empire and other small screen productions like Downton Abbey, costume becomes so much a part of the story that detail is assimilated subconsciously.  Or so those of us enmeshed in costume history would hope.  The surge of popularity on sites like Etsy, where handcrafts are being supported and sought after in an accessible marketplace, and the production of historically- oriented story lines help raise the bar for researchers.  Oh, sure, not all the details are historically correct, that's a bit of a stretch even for a magician,  but the mood and the feel is projected through dynamic set design and and brilliantly executed costume.  Inspiration becomes the underlying force here, for fashion and beyond . Fans and admirers may want exact replicas of a Titanic costume, or a Clan MacKenzie kilt, but for fashion, these shows are springboards for a dynamic interplay . And vice versa. In the 1940’s ( and before) cinema-goers longed for Lauren Bacall’s suit, or Roz Russell’s hat. Shop for your favorite heroine/celebrity/character has always been a mainstay of trend. Now we see a resurgence in  avarice for all things put up on a screen, and the web helps to popularize obscure fashion details that lend whimsy and fun to a contemporary look.

Madmen created a vibe in the counterculture vintage clothing world by bringing back the hot , sexy side of 1950’s-60’s fashion, both for men and women.  Brooks Brothers ran a collection of suits for the MadMan, and who knows but that Don Draper isn’t part of the reason that the stingy brim fedora has taken such a strong toehold on fashionable heads once again? These styles exert a  quiet influence onto the world of fashion in general, as we see a play between runway and street fashion. Designers like Thom Browne and Tom Ford bring a sleek line back into menswear, and tuxedos and dinner jackets may even be showing up more frequently in the wardrobes of not just the rich and famous.  Menswear will always reflect a certain constancy, where female fashion tends to lean into the trend wind of the moment.  MadMen dames find that curves are big in selfieland and the color green has crept back into our reality.  Green hasn’t been so popular since the 1960’s.

Boardwalk Empire gave birth to more Brooklyn hipsters than other shows, since it’s filmed here in the NYC vicinity, and lends the repro flapper/gangster look to both men and women.  Hats and headpieces are de rigueur, whether they be a feather pad glued onto a headband, or a hand beaded headpiece from a couture house. The thin line rules in the 1920’s, with narrow trouser legs, slim short frocks and sleek automobiles. Just come to the intensely popular Jazz Age Lawn Party and see the 5000 plus revelers in present day party mode to see the influence that shows like Boardwalk Empire have created. 

With Outlander,  costume designer Terry Drespach has summoned her creative powers to build an entire world not so accessible to flea market and easy finds.  Set in 18th Century Scotland, this show celebrates the tonality of the Highlanders’ garb, their wardrobe, their armory, and their milieu in a very believable and successful way. Launched at ComiCon, the Starz series has already snowballed into podcasts, blogs and posts not just in awe of  the wonders of Jamie and his kin, but the backstory.  The producer and costume designer issue weekly reports on “the making of” each episode.  Chanel had already produced its own Highland collection that precedes this show, but watch it to appreciate how fashion and history are symbiotic. The dialogue is fascinating, and for trackers of style and trend, interaction becomes tantamount to a chess game, where the world is a stage indeed.
History, not fantasy, becomes the driving force behind  shows such as these.  Unmentioned are the legion of fans who participate in cosplay , Burning Man, the Renaissance Fairs.  Halloween used to be the only dress up time for most of us .  Now it’s an also-ran.  Celebratory  fairs, parties, festivals make Woodstock just the first gathering of like- minded counterculture .  With television cable, and film actively fomenting and participating in costume drama,  history becomes part of the research.  And it will ultimately trickle down into popular fashion.  Perhaps not just with more kilts being seen on gentlemen at fancy dress and formal occasions, but in the application of tartan, knitwear, felting and weaving. Handcrafts will abound, and perhaps we will not lose all of ourselves in a pot of glue, finding a fast fix for a quick costume.  Perhaps the research will be inspired and build a new fan base for “the making of” in design on a more academic level.  What came before, will come after.  Fashion provides a lectern upon which we can espouse any theory, and help maintain a culture, a trend, a style, and appreciation for all those involved in the creative process, be it in an haute couture atelier, or in your own studio workroom.