When I first started this blog, I was an unemployed costumer attempting to create period gowns and costumes with very limited means. Although now employed, I still try to be as thrifty as possible. I am still "The Broke Costumer"!

In addition to posts about the outfits I make on a budget, this blog includes short research articles on fashion, history, accessories, styles, or whatever interests me at the moment.

I hope you enjoy my journey into the land of inexpensive costuming and short articles.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Royal Court Presentation in the 20th Century

I recently re-watched Downton Abbey’s season four finale wherein Lady Rose is presented to King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace.   I wondered how accurate it was, and how had customs changed since Queen Victoria’s era. Was Rose’s gown period correct?  Here is a photo from Downton Abbey, next to an actual photograph. Linnie Irwin Sweeney, left, and her daughter Elsie Irwin Sweeney being presented at court in 1923

The costumes were pretty much spot on, and beautiful!  One huge error with the presentation itself.  After Rose's curtsy, she was to walk out of the room backwards, without tripping on her train.  Instead, she walked by the King and Queen, and turned her back to them as she left the room.  This was NEVER done.

There are many wonderful blogs written about court presentations and the beautiful gowns that were worn from the 1700s through Queen Victoria’s reign.  So, I will concentrate on the 20th Century, and the end of the presentations.   I have included many links to actual articles, as this blog would be way too long for you to read with all the information included.   I hope you enjoy these links.

The London Season began approximately after Easter through August 12th (the beginning of hunting season).  It was also loosely based on Parliament’s schedule and more importantly, sporting events.  The Derby and Ascot are the highlights of the season.   During this time, there were several court presentations for young ladies to “come out” into society, in hope they would meet and marry wealthy eligible young men from the “right backgrounds”. Once out, they were free to attend debutante balls, dances, parties, and other activities. One big event of the season was Queen Charlotte’s Ball started in 1780 by King George as a birthday celebration for his Queen.
                                                                                THE RULES                             
Only certain women and young ladies could be presented at court. There were three qualifications that had to be fulfilled to receive a royal summons:  1. The lady should be of good moral and social character. 2. The lady needed to be sponsored by a woman who had already been presented. Usually it was a young lady’s mother, or other older female relative, sometimes however, a presented woman who was short of money would sponsor, for a fee, young women who had no one else. 3.  Only certain women were allowed to be presented at court: wives and daughters of the aristocracy, of town and country gentry, of the clergy, of military officers, of professional men such as physicians and barristers, and a few other select groups.

Those who wished to be presented had to have someone who had previously been presented to the Sovereign apply on their behalf. This could be their mother or someone close to the family.  Once accepted, a royal summons from the Lord Chamberlain would be sent.

At the ceremony, the lady, accompanied by her sponsor, would first be announced by The Lord Chamberlain. She would then approach the throne and drop into a full court curtsy, her knee almost touching the floor. She would hold this position while bowing first to Their Majesties and then to any other royals in the Presence Chamber. She would then leave, backing out of the room, since one never turned their back on the King or Queen, all the while taking care not to trip over her gown.
                                                               THE ACCESSORIES
A train was attached to the shoulders of the dress. The length of the train varied throughout the years: under Queen Victoria, trains were not less than three yards in length, but by 1925, trains could not exceed 2 yards in length or extend more than 18 inches from the heel when standing. The train could be cut round or square as was the fashion or the wearer’s inclination, but was required to be 54 inches in width at the end.  White gloves were also required. You may carry flowers or a fan.
Headdresses were also required, worn slightly on the left. The headdress included a tulle veil and white feathers, although black could be used when in deep mourning. The number of feathers increased through the years from a single towering ostrich feather at the time of Queen Charlotte, to three feathers arranged in a Prince of Wales plume later in Queen Victoria’s reign. The three white feathers should be mounted and worn towards the left hand side of the head. Married women could wear tiaras.  In addition, a short veil was worn, or lace lappets. Previously presented Mothers/Sponsors generally wore two white feathers.
 Photo:  Court Accessories 1926 Museovirasto, Finland

While the formalities stayed basically the same until World War II, fashion certainly changed. The following photos are by year.  When researching fashion, its best not to rely on photo sharing sites for information.  It can be mislabeled and shared incorrectly several times.  Many wedding dresses were captioned as court presentation gowns, and the reverse.  Try and go directly to the source, i.e., family photos, historical archives and museum sites. However, some debs DID use their presentation gowns as wedding dresses later!

1899  Early on, the only exception to the all white rule was of course, mourning.  This is a beautiful example of a mourning presentation gown.  Countess Victor di Carrobi, who was presented by Baroness de Renzis.  Layfayette Collection, V&A

1900.  Lady Darell, with her daughter Dorothy and Mrs. H.C. Jobson        The Layfayette Collection, V&A

1904  The invitation for presentation to the King and Queen states: "The Dress Regulations are: Ladies: Full Court dress with feathers and trains. Gentlemen: Full Court dress." Harry McLaughlin has kindly shared this image of his Grandmother's Court Presentation portrait on Victorianweb.com   (RIGHT)


1904.   The young Norah Cleveland Smith was presented at Court on May 13th 1904.  Her photo and presentation card which is shared here.  Norah Cleveland Smith

1907. Laura and Eva Farlow had a wonderful presentation, which Laura wrote an article about in Success Magazine, Volume X, New York December 1907, Number 163.  It was reprinted in The Royal Magazine, May 1908, Volume 20, "A Description of the formalities, the glorious moment, and afterwards." 
read article here starting page 805   

1907 Left.      Read about this beautiful gown on the FIDM blog.   It gives a very detailed account of the presentation process and has more photos of this gown  Link here

1911-13    Below.   http://lafayette.org.uk/war12506.html

1912 - Left 
Major Reginald Francis Legge and Mrs Reginald Francis Legge

1912  - Right
Mrs. Charles Graeme Higgins, née Algitha Howard  

                                            1914 -Mrs. Hugh Palliser Hickman Lafayette.org.uk

Formal presentations were dropped during World War I,  but were resumed in 1922.

Mrs. Ogden Hammond, 21 June 1922: presented by Mrs. Harvey.

 1926.  Court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1965.380a-e. Photo by Katy Werlin.   Read this wonderful blog on the gown  http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2014/08/the-past-and-future-two-court.html   

 1927.   Lady Blades in her court presentation ensemble, Lafayette Photo Studio.

1928 Right.  Gorgeous Boue Soeurs gown

1928.   Right - Beautiful art deco gown, covered in pearls.  Helen Hurley Ryan in her court gown and train.   You can also read about it and see this original gown, as well as the pink 1927 Jacques Ducet here

1928 Left - Silk and lame with net, sequins and rhinestones  Philadelphia Museum of Art.

1929     Callot Soeurs dress worn by Marjorie Merriweather Post for her presentation.  From the Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Dazzling Gems" exhibition at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens

1930.   AMAZING movie by British Pathe Debutantes for the Court.  Arriving by droves. Must Watch This!!

1931.  Another movie, this time with sound  "London. The First Court of the Season. Large crowds gather in the Mall to see - and sometimes criticize - beautifully gowned debutantes on way to Buckingham Palace."   Must Watch This Too!!

1931 Left - Miss R. Bingham.  Published in the Evening Standard.  Bassano Studio Production    collections.
Museum of London

 1932-34   Right Boue Soeurs from the Metropolitan Museum


1933- Left.  Edward Molyneax designer.  Metmuseum.org

 1935- Right.  Harvey Nichols department store in Knightsbridge, London, advertising a "gown of classic simplicity"  original


"In 1936, King Edward VIII, in an attempt to introduce a more informal and democratic tone in his court, decided to do away with the evening presentations and instead introduce afternoon ones; much to the chagrin of the mothers of the debutantes presented that year. It wasn’t a success as it rained on the day of the first presentation which put an abrupt end to the proceedings and gave rise to a number of irate comments from mothers who thought their daughters had been cheated of an opportunity to experience the same ceremony as they did, or thought that the garden party court was a poor substitute for the traditional evening one.

There was much relief when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth reinstated the traditional evening courts in 1937 but they were suspended for the duration of the Second World War. When they were resumed after the war, it was deemed inappropriate to reintroduce the evening courts and so Edward VIII’s idea of a garden party presentation was revived and remained in place until they were finally abolished."   Source

"In 1937 the King decided that the presentation of debutantes would take place as before in evening court. The ceremony began at 9:30, and it took all day to get ready. The debutantes spoke of it in awe.  "They describe queuing up in the mall (and everyone would crowd around your car and peer in at you, sitting there in your Prince of Wales feathers).  A great beauty of the Season  says, "When I curtseyed, the King looked down the front of my dress!"  One deb gave a rollicking account of her presentation, saying she was "all dolled up, gold lame train and all.  We had to curtsey to the King, get up, walk one and a half steps to the Queen, curtesy, then walk backwards out of the room, doing something with the damned train. I managed the low curtsey to the King, but when I went down in front of the Queen, I heard my heel break off!"  "1939: The Last Season of Peace"  by Angela Lambert

Thomas Lee Jones writes on his website about Miss Anna Glen, a young American girl, to be presented to the king and queen of England.  “We embarked as planned, armed with a letter describing the rules and regulations concerning court etiquette and dress. Once in London, my white satin dress was made. The train, which hung separately from the shoulders, had to trail a prescribed distance on the floor. The same with the tulle veil, whose official length seemed to hit the middle of the rear end, so sitting was difficult. I also had to make certain I did not dislodge the three feathers on my head. The feather fan was purchased and all was ready.”   She also took classes, wherein she learned how to walk, curtsy, and leave the room.

Finally the big night: July 1, 1937. The first court of King George after the coronation, and what turned out to be the last formal, feather-and-fans court ever.    “With this great silver mace, the Lord Chamberlain hit the floor three times and called out the name of each debutante and suddenly it was my name, Miss Anna Glenn Butler of the United States of America. And there I was walking along the length of the Throne Room and through the entire routine! I remember well the lovely smile of the queen’s face as I bowed my head to her.”

One of the most famous court presentations of American women was the presentation of the Kennedys.  In 1938 Rose Kennedy, wife of newly-appointed American ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, is shown at center with two of her daughters, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (l) and Rosemary Kennedy, at their presentation at Buckingham Palace. Kathleen's lively personality made her a great hit among the British social set.
1938-9  Elsa Schiaparelli presentation gown

Christopher A. Long wrote a wonderful article on his conversation with his mother who was presented in 1939, and the season that followed just before World War II broke out.  Read about this amazing woman HERE

Again, presentations stopped during wartime.   When they resumed after World War II, the ceremony was replaced with more casual afternoon reception. The choreographed curtsies and court dress also went away. Edward VIII's boredom with the 'Deb' Court Presentation led to one disastrous afternoon ceremony in the gardens at Buckingham Palace. Not only did the King appear to doze through much of it but the rain came down too.

"Court presentations continued after the war, but they gradually became less opulent. In the post-war 1940s evening Courts were replaced with afternoon presentations (for which afternoon dresses were worn); and with that, the donning of full Court dress ceased to be a rite of passage for young women taking their place in society."     Wikipedia

1953  House of Balmain Presentation Gown  Metmuseum.org

By 1953, ladies attending the Coronation were directed to wear 'evening dresses or afternoon dresses, with a light veiling falling from the back of the head. Tiaras may be worn ... no hats'. Court presentations continued, but they gradually became less opulent.

1957  RightDebutantes and their families lining up for entrance to an afternoon presentation party.
original link


The very last Presentation occurred in 1958.  This group has come to be known as “The Last Debutantes”. HERE   

In 2010, over fifty years later, these same women graciously lent Kensington Palace their original evening dresses for display at the exhibit.  Some of them had even saved their shoes, hats, and tubes of lipstick from the monumentous evening!  Read about the exhibit HERE

 Right:   Evening dress of pink silk organza.  Charles Worth.  Part of "The Last Debutantes" exhibition at Kensington Palace in 1958.

This link is to a fantastic slide show about the last debutante court presentation audio slide show

Attire requested was a ladies day dress and hat, suitable for the afternoon presentation party.

At the 1958 Presentation Prince Philip pointed out that it was ‘bloody daft’.  As well as Prince Phillip's dismissal, the Queen felt such an elitist event was at odds with her desire for a more modern monarchy. 

The system itself was also becoming open to abuse, as well-born ladies charged large fees to bring out girls whose credentials were not always of the highest. The titled but money poor women would launch several debutantes at once. By 1958 the exclusivity of the Season was eroded. In the immortal words of Princess Margaret, "We had to put a stop to it. Every tart in London was getting in."

For further reading on the Last Debs,  see “High Society: Whatever Happened to the Last of the Debs?”  Read Here   and “What was it like to come out at a debutante ball?”  Read Here

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

From Edwardian to Victorian

I set some goals on costuming this year. One is to re-purpose old dresses I am no longer wearing.  Going through my closet, I found an Edwardian dress I only wore once or twice, and doubted I would wear again.   I loved the lace on it.   So, I took it off!

At the end of last year, I was in LA fabric district and bought five yards of a bright peachy/coral taffeta.  I spent time trying to find some type of matching fabric to mix with it, but had trouble matching the color to any trim or fabric.  My solution was to pair it with the lace.  Peaches and Cream!

I used Truly Victorian 1885 Four Gored Underskirt pattern.  Since the lace overskirt on the Edwardian dress was pieced, I had to work that into the new skirt. The Edwardian dress had two lace panels, long in the back and shortening as they came toward the front.  I also salvaged the sleeves which are incorporated into the bodice.

For pleats around the bottom, I cut strips eight inches wide.  I hemmed the bottom of the strips and folded over the top edge.  To make the pleats, I used the cardboard insert instructions of a zipper package as my width guide.  I laid it on the strip, folded the fabric over the guide and ironed it in.  Moved over one width and folded/ironed again.  

Once the pleats were ironed in, I took the strip to the machine and  basted across the top to hold the pleats in place.   I hemmed the skirt, then pinned the completed strip on and sewed it down.   White rose trim with handsewn across the top of the pleats.

The lace did not fit flat all the way around the new skirt.  It stopped short on the left panel.  I didn't want a plain panel, so I tried an unusual trim accessory.  I took the second lace skirt panel and accordion folded it so the edging would kind of "waterfall" down the side of the skirt.  This was attached to the waistband of the skirt and tied with a ribbon and rosebuds, added for interest and dimension.  Here is a bad cellphone picture.  I was not finished with arranging things yet.
The Bodice.   Well, it started out as Truly Victorian 1884 French Vest Bodice, but I don't know what it ended up as.   I don't care for high necklines, so I cut out a square neck.  The sleeves I had to modify in order to fit the size of the lace sleeves from the Edwardian dress.  I used a scrap of  peach and cream cotton print for the vest portions.  I cut so much off here and there, it turned into something completely different.  (My apologies to Heather McNaughton of Truly Victorian).  It was fun trying, but could have fit better.  I bought silver flower shaped buttons at Costume College last year, and used 12 down the front.   I added white lace trim around the neckline and down the front of the bodice, and a bow at the back waist.

I did not finish everything on the bodice, but I wanted to wear it for the San Juan Capistrano Swallows Day Parade, as I was walking it with the Orange County Costume Guild.  I still need to fit the sleeves better, and add boning.  The parade was fun!  Afterward, we went to the Tea House on Los Rios and had a relaxing meal with everyone.  Here are some photos from the day.

Photo by Val L.
Photo by Gina L.

Photo by Gina L.
Photos by Gina L.

Photo by Gina L.


5 yards of fabric @ $8 $40
12 Buttons $2
Rose trim Joann's gift card
Neck trim $3.50
Vest Fabric Scrap
Lining Thrift Store Sheet
Artificial flowers $3.00

Total $48.50

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Tattooed Costumer

“That’s not period”.   Those three words can deflate someone in seconds, especially a new costumer.  It has happened to me, and probably at some time or another, to you.   A few months ago in a social media costuming group, a new costumer proudly posted a picture of herself in her first period costume. She was beautiful, and we all told her so until someone posted those three words.

The woman had lovely tattooed arms, works of art.  The poster went on to say “If you covered your tattoos, you would look so much better” Of course, we all jumped to her defense but the insult lingered. 

Yes, tattoos on women ARE period.

One of the first white tattooed women in America (not by choice) was Olive Oatman.  In the 1851 she and her sister were captured by Southwest Indians after their family was killed, who then sold the sisters to the Mohave Indians, who adopted and raised them.  They were given blue tribal tattoos on their chins.  Her sister died of hunger during their captivity.  In 1858 when Olive was ransomed back at age 19, she became a celebrity.  She made the circuit, telling tales of her time in captivity.  The mining town of Oatman, Arizona, is named for her.

"The upper classes were obsessed with maintaining their status and individuality. This meant they must be different from the other classes and "better" in more than one way. Tattooing arose as a way for the wealthy to differentiate themselves from the other classes. One could instantly see the difference between a tattoo done by the famed Professor Riley and some other tattooist  Thus, if someone was to pose as a member of a higher class at a party and tattoo showing ensued which often did, the impostor would be found out."
          Tess Goodwin, researcher

When the Prince of Wales got a tattoo of a cross in Jerusalem during his Grand Tour in the 1860s, he was making a religious statement. But when his sons followed, having the tattoos copied and adding some of their own, a fad was born. Suddenly tattoos were popping up all over royals, from Czar Nicholas II to Kaiser Wilhelm. And at some point aristocratic women took the plunge, too.

"Eager to decorate themselves with rare and unique designs, rich women took to the needle. Inscribed on wealthy bodies, these decorations were not for public consumption. In fact, the ways in which the aristocracy concealed their tattoos were as ingenious as the tattoos themselves."
        Erin Blakemore, historian
Bracelet covering tattoo

Lady Jennie Randolf Churchill (Winston Churchill's mother) had a tattoo of a snake eating its own tail on her wrist which was a symbol of eternity.  Supposedly, she had a special diamond bracelet crafted to cover it up when she had to. She got the tattoo like “many other Londoners, in honor of the coronation of King Edward VII whose reign ushered in a new opulence and signaled the end of Victorian conservatism."  

Lady Randolf was part of the Prince of Wales’(Queen Victoria’s son)  social group and a close confidante of the man who would become King Edward VII. Their set had a fondness for fast living and tattoos.

The book "Young Titan: the Making of Winston Churchill" by Michael Shelden reads:

From The New York Times dated September 30, 1906: An elaborate tattoo mark on her left wrist is concealed by a broad bracelet that she always wears in evening dress, and few know of its presence.”  The tattoo was supposedly done by Tom Riley, the finest tattoo artist of his time.  The tattoo wasn’t easy to spot.
The bracelet covers her tattoo on left wrist
A more sensationalized account reads:
"There are certain women of the world who capture public attention to that degree that everything they do is promptly chronicled. Lady Randolph Churchill is one of them. When returning home from India with Lord Randolph she noticed a British soldier tattooing a deckhand… She had the artist brought before her and asked him for some designs. He suggested the Talmudic symbol of eternity- a snake holding its tail in its mouth. Lady Randolph was charmed and bared her arm for the operation. Lord Randolph swore and protested. But the tattooing was done- so it is said, at least- and it is described as a beautifully executed snake, dark blue in color, with green eyes and red jaws. As a general thing it is hidden from the vulgar gaze by a broad gold bracelet, but her personal friends are privileged to see it and hear the story of the tattooing.”    San Francisco Call  November 26, 1894

A rumor I kept coming across online is that Queen Victoria herself had a tattoo of a tiger fighting a python, but I don’t know that I believe that one!  Queen Olga of Greece (1851-1926) is said to have had a tattoo.  Catherine the Great (1729-1796) is also reported to have had one.

Margot Mifflin "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo" writes:
 “They (tattoos) were first documented among the upper classes in England and subsequently in the US., and they were considered a fashion trend. Women got their legs and arms tattooed with the names of their husbands or with decorative designs that functioned like jewelry. The trend subsided and around the turn of the century, partly because circus women started appearing in the 1880s, and the practice quickly became associated with lower class women. That bias remained for a good century, exacerbated by other factors like tattooing’s association with the military and some of the raunchy imagery that surfaced there.”

Erin Blakemore, Historian writes:
     “The 1880s also marked the arrival of tattooed ladies to the already-active circus and carnival scene in the United States and Britain. These women challenged sexual norms by lifting their skirts to reveal hundreds of tattoos, but tattooed ladies were also noteworthy for their ladylike ways. Nora Hildebrandt was the first of the famous tattooed ladies, touring the United States with P.T. Barnum and serving up sexual titillation tamped down by hints of rape at the hands of the fictitious Indian captors who “forced” her to receive over 300 tattoos. In reality, she was the daughter of a tattoo artist.” 

   In the 1880s, tattooed women arrived in traveling shows and upstaged the men completely.  This was because they had to show their legs and thighs, which was quite racy.  Tattooed women left their face, neck and hands untouched so they could appear modest while clothed.

“Female tattooed attractions told outrageous stories how they acquired their tattoos.  Irene “La Belle” Woodward, the first tattooed lady in 1882, said her tattoos were required protection that she needed in the Wild West of Texas to escape the hostile intentions of the Red Indians.”
"Bodies of Inscription" by Margo Demello.

 Why were people so interested in seeing tattooed women on stage back in the day?

“There's a sexualization to it because a lot of women were wearing skimpy outfits on stage and showcasing skin with personal markings on them. Unless you were someone who was regularly going to vaudeville shows or brothels, part of the appeal was that you'd be seeing women with body modification who you wouldn't see on the street. It was exciting to see a scantily clad body on stage. It was acceptable for men to have tattoos on their bodies, but they'd be viewed as lower class. It was still shocking to see a man with tattoos, but even more shocking to see a woman with tattoos.”
Anni Irish, MA in "Gender and Cultural Studies"

Maud Stevens Wagner (February 1877 – January 30, 1961) was a circus performer and the first known female tattoo artist in the United States.  She was an aerialist and contortionist, working in numerous traveling circuses. At the World’s Fair in 1904 she met her husband, a tattoo artist, from whom she learned the art, and became a living canvas for him.  Maud before; below Maud after.

Tattooed women continued to be a curiosity into the 1920s and 1930s.  Here are some striking photos.

Pearl Hamilton known as "the Tattooed Doll"

Above, Stella Grassman.  Right, Pearl Hamilton.

Women and tattoos have had a place in history for over 150 years.  Wear them with pride.