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a dreamers way there and back again
2009-07-22 04:40 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU! There is a tendency among many (not all) online costumers to take what they fancy out of costumes of a similar date, with no reference to geography, culture, surviving evidence or context.
As you pointed out, one should evaluate every painting because so much is allegorical. This doesn't mean the observation of the artist is flawed: like you said, realism in other objects is often a sign the textiles are well-observed too. But we should understand the meanings of the painting which the artist used to create it. A garment in a painting may depict a real garment, but the way it is worn, its fabric, accessories or context may be quite false.
We should gather many types of source, not just relying on one medium but a variety. Purely painting research isn't really research, it's just looking at paintings. Paintings are good but limited in scope. We need other evidence to back it up.
Later developments in styles and technologies are undoubtedly helpful in understanding earlier items. But they're only an aid to understanding, they're not the key. It may be possible, but it is never professional as a historian to reverse engineer history starting from an end product.
Equally, we should be wary of seeing innovations as being entirely without precedent. Eg Dior's New Look of 1947 is often recorded as an innovation out of left-field, because he knew women were tired of rationing and wanted to look feminine. But French and English fashions just before WWII were moving towards a fuller, curvier silhouette anyhow. The boxy earlier 1940s look in some ways was a blip; the war could be said to have disrupted the natural progression of western European styles. Dior was just quickest to pick up the threads again.
It is easier to go for a gothic fitted dress in this respect: it's most similar to our modern ideas of how period dresses should fit. But that doesn't mean loose or fitted but untightened dresses are somehow wrong. Even now there are so-called 'primitive' cultures where they are OK with women letting it all hang out, either with or without clothing to cover them. Yes, as they age this can look unattractive to western eyes. But that doesn't mean it is wrong now, and it doesn't mean it was wrong in the 14th century.
And I'm suffering a little ennui with these personality-led crazes that intermittently sweep the online costuming world, based on the theories of the latest costuming "IT-girl". Just because someone's lectured and written a web-page on it, doesn't make them right. The ideal is historians who thoroughly research their topic themselves. But I also admire those costumers who research as much as they feel able and then say "This is not the last word on this subject, but this is where I'm up to now and here's my conclusion so far". Or even "I know this is wrong, but I'm doing it this way because of time/money etc".
And either way, I most admire costumers and historians with a little humility, a quality that's out of fashion these days.
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