Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hidden meanings and Victorian symbolism.

Victorian culture spanned sixty years and went through a number of changes but one theme seems to have lasted throughout, sentimentality. There were always artistic undercurrents pushing back against this trend (think Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley), but in general, popular culture preferred to indulge in exaggerated emotion, be it in the name of love, joy or tragedy.

The tendency towards Victorian sentimentality manifested itself in a number of ways but one that I find intriguing is the complicated use of symbolism used to express feelings, thoughts or messages, most notably with the use of flowers. A simple bouquet or posy might thrill or devastate it’s recipient depending on the meanings of the flowers chosen. To add to the drama, not everyone attributed the same meaning to every flower. Flower symbolism had been around for centuries with varied histories so in time actual dictionaries were printed on the subject with each author having their own interpretations. For example lavender might mean devotion OR distrust. Imagine the misunderstanding (and possible mayhem) this could cause if both parties had different dictionaries! In general though, meanings were agreed upon. Victorian symbolism spilled over into other areas as well, particularly jewelry design. Just recently I acquired a lovely Victorian necklace and decided to try and interpret the meaning. It was great fun! Above is a picture of the necklace that was sold from my website. Below I will give you the meanings of the images and materials used

Swallow - Faithfully returning home/ or just home. Supposedly the swallow was one of the first birds to land on deck when a ship was close to land, not surprisingly, aside from a popular motif for jewelry it was also a favorite tattoo for sailors!

Seed Pearls - purity, innocence, harmony and humility

Three Leaf Clover – domestic virtue and fertility. Also a white clover signifies a promise and these tiny clovers have a white seed pearl in the center

Forget me not – Faithful love

As soon as I put the symbols together the meaning seemed obvious, I was certain this had to be a bridal gift.... and much to my delight, upon further research I found out that seed pearl jewelry was a customary gift for a young woman turning 18 yrs OR a bride before her wedding!

There are lots of resources to research Victorian symbols. If you are interested I suggest you start with the Internet and look up key words like the "language of flowers" or "Victorian symbolism". It’s great fun and I guarantee you will never look at Victorian jewelry the same way again!

Until our next blog, enjoy and take care!


Monday, June 1, 2009

The Notorious Midi!

A protest Midi Skirt button from 1970

Skirt lengths have been a subject for controversy for decades, usually this happened for reasons of modesty, as they began to rise above accepted standards. Throughout most of the Victorian years, showing just an ankle would raise eyebrows, so during the teens it was scandalous when skirts began to hovered a few inches above the shoe and in the 1920s, flapper dresses, which rose all the way to the knee, provoked out and out...outrage.

Who would have predicted, that in the late 60s - early 70s, at the height of the mini skirts popularity, a falling hemline could cause similar public reaction? The later 1960s saw a number of fashion trends, one being a preoccupation with all things romantic and/or nostalgic. Think Biba + Deco or the Early, Gunne Sax, prairie dress. Longer hemlines were being created for casual and day wear. The look wasn't for everyone but it had it's place and as always, terms were coined for the emerging new styles.

In these years since, people tend to call every long dress from this era a Maxi dress but if you were around at the time you knew differently. A Maxi skirt was gown length, to the floor or at least to the top of the shoe. The Midi on the other hand, might fall anywhere from calf to ankle. I remember clearly, a newspaper fashion article in 1969 featuring three versions of an identical gingham dress in Maxi, Midi and Mini lengths. Designers like Valentino and Bohan experimented with these longer styles and according to a vintage Time Magazine article, John Burr Fairchild of Women's Wear Daily, announced that 1970 was to be the year of the Midi.

The ensuing controversy reached heights that, I'm sure, even Mr. Fairchild never expected. It was one thing for the adventurous and artistic to champion an exotic trend but for the style Monarch himself to decree that mainstream fashion was to embrace such a drastic change created a furor.

An embroidered Wool Midi Skirt from my website

Women vowed to never give up their mini skirts and according to the same Time article " A protest signed by 335 customers of the Sanger-Harris store in Dallas reads: "We object strongly to being suppressed into buying the midi exclusively. We like looking feminine and intend staying that way, even if it means shopping elsewhere."

The male population was no happier as you can imagine. Men of all ages were still pinching themselves over the daily parade of pretty legs, that the mini skirt had made possible and they were NOT about to give it up without a protest.

Even the garment industry let out a wail. The same Time Magazine article quotes Irene Johns, president of the Association of Buying Offices as saying..."by starting to push the midi last winter, Women's Wear killed not only the fall season for manufacturers but the spring season too."

Good grief, all of this over a skirt length! And a longer one to boot... I was a young teen in those days and actually liked the new Midi skirt. I found it less cumbersome than the Maxi and was charmed by it's sense of nostalgia. I just loved watching old movies with women in their feminine frocks that reached below the knee. PLUS, on a more practical note, living in New England could get pretty drafty in a mini skirt! For me the Midi was a blessing but it was years before I found out about the tempest it had stirred, not until I had begun researching vintage clothing. I can tell you this, once you delve into the history of fashion you will never be bored!

Until our next blog take care and best to all.


Sources for this article:

Time Magazine, Monday, Sep. 14, 1970, Out on a Limb with the Midi
Stop the Midi button Dudley's Vintage Ads & Prints