Friday, July 27, 2012

It begins!

Chemise a la reine, Manchester Galleries
I have just received the green light from Dr. Lambert at the Manchester Galleries to have special access their chemise gown during the gallery's closed hours.  Unfortunately, they cannot unmount the gown for me to study flat, so I will be conducting my research while it is dressed on the mannequin, but I'm not in the least bit bothered by that.  Just getting up close to the gown will tell me so much about how it was made, how the fabric behaves, how it was constructed, etc.

The plane tickets to England have also been booked, and I'm in the process of figuring out transportation and accommodations. There's also a number of other research trips I plan on making while in the UK, including the MEDATS conference at the British Museum, the focus of which will be the newly discovered 15th century linen "bras" from Germany. Gotta keep up to date on all the latest pre-1800 research out there!

To say that I'm excited is an understatement.  I am RIDICULOUSLY excited!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Grand Plan

Jens Juel, Augusta Louise zu Stolberg, 1780.
Since I'm just getting started on this blog, I thought I should spend some time detailing what it is, exactly, that I'm hoping to accomplish with this project.

There's the simple answer: Finish my master's! ;)

And then there's the more nuanced answer: I'd like to eventually publish my research and study of the Manchester gown, along with a scale pattern and construction notes, a'la Janet Arnold's seminal Patterns of Fashion books. Ok, maybe not on that scale, per se, but along those lines.

Why, do you ask? Well, it hasn't been done yet!  There's a lot of academic research floating around in the ether that deals with aspects of this particular garment, but much of the research is based entirely on twentieth century sources that are pulling from Victorian filtering of eighteenth century history.  As I get further into detailing my research here, you should come to understand the monumental undertaking this has become.  What started out as a whim on my part, to understand how these so-called scandalous gowns were constructed, and what made them so dang scandalous in the first place, has turned into a twisting, weaving, convoluted and highly fascinating journey through gender politics, race politics, political politics, and the economics of late eighteenth century France.  And hardly anyone has really stopped to tie all of these disparate concepts together to make sense of one particular garment... A garment that, as we shall come to see, changed so much about what was considered appropriate for women to wear, and created a legacy which still influences fashion today.

Mission Statement - the purpose of this blog

Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, "Marie Antoinette en gaulle", 1783.
 Private Collection.

So much about the chemise a la reine is speculative and shrouded in the mythos of Marie Antoinette. And unlike the thousands of other extant 18th century garments in museum and private collections, there are only two extant chemise gowns that are currently in known museum collections. This is an exceptionally rare garment, and except for one brief study done on the gown housed at the Manchester Galleries by Nora Waugh, no one has actually researched or documented either dress in full.
In the research I've done so far, I've realized that there is so much confusion regarding this style of gown, so much of it tied to Marie Antoinette (where the name "chemise a la reine" comes from), but that very little of that information is based on the historical record. It was a notorious dress in its day, but no one has ever addressed the question of WHY other than "well, Marie Antoinette wore it! And she was notorious!" What I've discovered so far is that there's way, way more to it than just "Marie Antoinette."
I have been given permission by Dr. Miles Lambert of the Manchester Gallery in England to study the extant chemise gown in their collection.  However, travel is expensive, and travel for research purposes is no different.  So, I turn to you, Internet Friends, to help achieve the goal of flying from my home in California, to the city of Manchester, UK, to study this unique garment in person in the Fall of 2012.  The money raised will go to paying travel costs, and any remainder will be applied toward publishing my findings in 2013.  I want to make this valuable information available to the general public, in particular students of historic clothing and costume, and it all begins here!  
Your help is greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Hello and welcome to Sarah Lorraine's spin-off blog pertaining solely to researching the chemise a la reine!

Things are in the process of getting started right now, so I apologize for the lack of content at the moment...

First post coming up will be an overview of the research and my mission statement about this project and what it means for YOU!

Stay tuned!