Fashionable Finds
By Karen Parr-Moody

When antiquing, it is great fun to find a fashionable lady and take a stroll with her down the promenade of history's mists. And while many chic women shop at GasLamp Antiques & Decorating Mall, the ladies of whom I speak are those found in sculptures, porcelain plates and vases, lamps, paintings, jewelry and more. There is virtually no limit to where they appear in the halls of GasLamp and GasLamp Too.

The more dramatic ladies are those from France's past, including the one in the photo, right ($28; Booth B-106). She is a dainty flower vase that would look darling on one's dressing table — particularly if one is a fan of the era in which Louis XV (1710-1774) was king of France. It was during this period that hairdressing reached its height — literally — and you can see it in this lady's hairstyle.

This mile-high style was launched by king's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, for whom it is named. As author Connie Willis explains in  her book "Bellwether," Pompadour inspired the diorama wig craze in which hair was draped over a frame stuffed with cotton wool or straw. This large mass was then cemented with paste, powdered and decorated.

Aristocratic women would be seen entering ballrooms wearing pompadours that depicted various scenes. One grieving widow even had a tombstone nestled in her hair to commemorate her late husband. And a 1778 drawing illustrated a woman with a full-blown ship perched on top of her pompadour. Called "Coiffure a l'Indépendance ou la Triomphe de la Liberté," this hairstyle was created to celebrate America's independence from Great Britain.

The illustration to the left shows a young woman  of 1778 wearing a gown similar to that of the woman in the vase, complete with panniers built in to add to the gown's width. Like the charming vase, the fashionable lady in the print also carries a fan.

There was a Bourbon king between Louis XV and Napoleon Bonaparte, the ill-fated Louis XVI of France. Then Napoleon ascended into power as the Emperor of France in an era known as the First French Empire. Named for this period, the "Empire" silhouette was inspired by classic Greek and Roman times and was popularized by Napoleon's first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763 – 1814).

The elevated Empire waistline is seen on the society lady on the vase at GasLamp, photo right ($165; Booth B-134). This blonde beauty's outfit bears a striking resemblance to that worn by Josephine in a famous 1806 portrait by Francis Gérard (see photo below). In it Josephine wears an Empire waistline gown with puffed cap sleeves and ruffs, a tiara, large drop earrings and a dramatic necklace. While the woman on the vase bears little physical resemblance to Josephine, her ensemble is so similar that one understands how widespread Josephine's influence was at court. An interesting footnote: After Napoleon invaded Egypt, the women at court took to wearing turbans.

The image, left, is actually a page from the May, 1833 issue of the magazine called "Modes de Paris," which translates to "Fashions of Paris," and is being sold at GasLamp in a matted frame ($40; W-440). This print has been cropped so that one can better see the outfit the mother and child are wearing, but below this image there is a paragraph, in French, that describes the outfits. During the period of the 1830s, the gigot sleeve was fashionable. Seen here on the woman, it is one of the widest sleeves ever seen in the history of women's fashion.

The paragraph says that the woman's dress is topped by an "embroidered, chiffon silk double apron." Wearing decorative aprons was another of the era's trends, and silk was a cloth that would have been worn, as now, by the wealthier people of society. It was relatively scarce and expensive and was mostly imported from China or India. The paragraph also describes a "chapeau d'enfant en paille" which translates to "a straw child's hat." The woman wears "mitaines en filet" which were a type of mitten style that did not have divided fingers and was popular from the 1830s to the 1900.

I simply love this print. The ruby tone of the child's frock is so vibrant and the two of them look so poised, frozen in time as they are. If it has not sold by next week, I am going to buy it for a certain little girl in my own household.

I read a book that recently came out called "Love, Fiercely." Jean Zimmerman was inspired to write this book after seeing John Singer-Sargent’s 1897 portrait of Edith Minturn and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (image at right). In it, Minturn wears a sweeping white skirt and a black jacket; in her hands she holds a straw boater. During this period between the Victorian and Edwardian eras, beautiful heiresses such as Minturn clamored to Singer-Sargent's door in Paris to have their portraits done. Such females tended to be wearing silk and satin frocks trimmed in bows.

But Minturn represented a burgeoning movement that carried with it a newfound portrayal of women in art. This iconic female came to be known as the "Gibson Girl" after illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson and her popularity spanned the decades from the 1890s to around 1915. Her hair was tousled in a knot on top of her head (and had likely become windblown due to her recent bicycle ride). She was seen as being liberated, sporty (yet feminine) and possessing unabashed energy. It was a uniquely American image.

The graphite drawing, left, depicts such a Gibson Girl ($285; Booth B-134). It is in a matted frame and, quite frankly, her style is similar to that of Minturn in Singer-Sargent’s portrait. The stark black and white nature of this drawing simply begs for it to be located among a grouping of art; I could see it as the centerpiece.

Women of  bygone eras easily grace a room with beauty. I have many such ladies in my own house, ranging from First French Empire gals to those of the 1960s and in a variety of forms, from a Parian lamp to a portrait plate to a head vase. Such figures, with their period clothes, send us dreaming of the various eras in which women truly dressed up — an art form in and of itself.


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