Monday, May 3, 2010

Dreams of being a queen

I think I might have to make a chemise a la reine for myself.

You see, it all began back in November of 2009, when I was designing a flotilla of colonial gowns for my university's Lighting of the Green. I watched one of my favorite Georgian films, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, for inspiration.

Most colonial gowns are depicted as either simple work frocks with a rounded or squared collar, or elaborate gowns with a triangular piece in the bodice front called a stomacher. A lot of them- particularly in Marie Antoinette- looked like this.

But I got a little tired and a little overwhelmed at the idea of making a dozen dresses like that. Not only are they elaborately decorated, but it meant that I would have create an overdress with a stomacher that snapped in and out (authentic dresses were tied or pinned), plus a petticoat. Daunting to draft, and daunting to fit.

However, when these dresses came onscreen, I rejoiced.

Following the birth of her children, Marie Antoinette's husband gave her a manor called Petit Trianon. The young queen spent a great deal of time there playing country maiden, and she introduced a whole new style of dressing.

Court dresses were usually silk, velvet, or satin; they required stays (the precursor to corsets), hoops and panniers, and layers of petticoats. The new fashions were simple loose dresses with long full skirts and stays were optional. This style was called "la chemise a la reine" (the queen's dress) and paved the way for the empire dresses of Jane Austen fame.

I sewed a chemise a la reine for one of the Lighting of the Green girls. It was just a simple white muslin dress with ruffles on the collar and sleeves, but I absolutely loved it. In fact, I was terribly jealous.

I based the style off of the dress pictured above, but took a hint from this costume used in the movie as well:

I love the barest hint of pastel blue in the gown. For the gown I sewed, I used a pink cotton to line the skirt and add some volume, and tied a double-faced satin ribbon as a sash. Simple but elegant.

The actress loved the gown. She said it was incredibly comfortable, and she was able to layer underneath it (Lighting of the Green is an outdoor event that takes place in December). It was very flattering on her, and while I was sad to see it go, I'm glad that it has entered the university costume shop.

My friend Rose is a tremendous fan of Jane Austen, particularly of the BBC adaptations of her books. We've been planning some sort of Jane Austen event, where we dress up in regency-era gowns, have a picnic, and watch several of the movies during a sleepover. I have a plain white muslin dress that I made to play Jane Austen for a project, but I think a new gown may very well be in order.

My only question: should I use pink again? I like blue, but I have far too many blue costumes already. Apple green? Pale yellow or cream?

Maybe I'll just use the pink again.

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