Museum Visit — High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection

Another wonderful costume exhibit has arrived in San Francisco, so my Museum Girlfriends and I headed out to The City on a beautiful spring day.

This month, High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection opened at the Legion of Honor. The architecturally stunning museum is situated high on a hill in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park, with postcard-worthy views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge.

The Legion of Honor Museum. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

The Legion of Honor Museum.

High Style showcases more than 60 costumes from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit captures key moments of 20th Century fashion design, from 1910 to 1980.

In this post, I highlight a few of the costumes that I found particularly interesting. The first to draw me in for a closer look reflects the brief period in the early 1920s when wide hips accompanied the familiar dropped waists.

Jeanne Lanvin, 1923. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Jeanne Lanvin, 1923.

This silhouette will be familiar to fans of Downton Abbey. Lady Rose sported similar styles in the recently concluded Season 5.

Lady Rose MacClare.

Couture gowns feature hours of hand crafting, as the exquisite beading of this gown shows.

Jean-Philippe Worth, circa 1907. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Jean-Philippe Worth, circa 1907.

While some of the intricate beading on display seems out of reach for an amateur seamstress, the look of the bead detail on this bolero jacket could be emulated with machine embroidery.

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1940. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1940.

There was an unexpected vintage movie treat in the form of this costume.

Fontana, 1954. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga

Fontana, 1954.


Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa.

This American day dress from the 1940s was one of my favorites because of its graphic punch and timeless style.

Madame Eta Hentz, 1944. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Madame Eta Hentz, 1944.

I don’t know how the crossover detail was achieved, but I’d love to figure it out.

This dress features beautifully constructed seaming with gold trim inserted.

Elizabeth Hawes, 1936. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Elizabeth Hawes, 1936.

I have always loved this poetic and dramatic blouse style. It reminded me of a favorite movie costume.

Norman Norell, circa 1970. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Norman Norell, circa 1970.

Lauren Bacall in 1953's How to Marry a Millionaire.

Lauren Bacall in 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire.

Below is my favorite garment in the collection. It’s fun and makes me smile. My companions and I decided this bubbly bubble dress would not work very well for a sit-down dinner. It’s strictly stand-up cocktail attire.

Arnold Scaasi, 1961. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Arnold Scaasi, 1961.

The last portion of the exhibit was devoted to Charles James, which I appreciated because although I was in New York during the last week of the James exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I just didn’t have time to go.

This James dress features three different kinds of fabric in similar colors so that it looks different as light hits it at various angles.

Charles James, 1947. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Charles James, 1947.

I loved this charming sketch from James because it’s so relatable. It looks like it’s right off a legal pad!

Charles James, 1956. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Charles James, 1956.

James was known for his elaborate garment understructures that turned clothing into architecture. The showstopper garment below, along with the rest of the Charles James costumes in the exhibit, is not on a full mannequin like the other displays. This shows how much of the shape is within the garment itself, rather than from the form it is on.

Charles James, 1955. Photo by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga.

Charles James, 1955.

The room that houses the red dress also had monitors with fascinating computer animations showing flat pattern pieces turning into James’ three-dimensional designs, X-rays showing boning and other structure within dresses, and bisections of dresses to show how skirts are supported.

As I said, this is just a small portion of the garments on display. I don’t even get into the striking hats and glorious shoes. If you’re a fan of 20th Century fashion and within reasonable distance of San Francisco, it’s worth the trip.

The accompanying 250-page full-color exhibition catalogue, High Style: Masterworks From the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, features most of the garments from the exhibit and many, many more. It’s a great deal at only $35.

High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection will be on exhibit at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum through July 19, 2015.

Creative detour into machine embroidery

I’ve never been one for seasonal decor. Even the minimal Christmas decorations I put up have me feeling claustrophobic by Jan. 1. But I realized last year that by ignoring the holidays, I was missing an opportunity to recognize the rhythm of the seasons.

I decided that this year, I would at least have a nod to the time of year with some mantle decorations and changing out of the tablecloth on my dining room table. (The table is never bare. Too many Girl Scout troop crafts have happened there. There’s a swash of glittery blue something in one spot.)

I thought it would be nice to center the mantle decor around a seasonal framed picture. As charming as that sounds, it also sounds expensive. Instead, inspired by a recent experiment with machine embroidery on an ill-fated sewing project, I decided to get one matted frame and embroider a new seasonal picture to put into it about every month.

I’m really pleased with how the first embroidery file (from Embroidery Library) turned out:

If you look closely, you'll see jump stitches I didn't trim and the spot where the thread got tangled and I didn't back up the stitching enough to redo all of what was missed. But I still love it!

This pretty design is roughly 5 inches square. 

For it being my first serious foray into embroidery, I’m pretty happy with it. It took more than an hour to complete, and if you look closely, you might see jump stitches I neglected to trim and the spot where the thread got caught and I didn’t back up the stitching enough to redo all of what was missed. But it’s all part of the learning process, and I love it!

Here it is on the living room mantle:

The Valentine's Day mantle.

I think this is subtle enough not to be overbearing. 

The embroidery file cost $5.49, and the matted frame was on sale for about $10 at Jo-Ann’s. The flowers cost $3.99 at the grocery store. That seems reasonable to me.

Between Embroidery Library and Urban Threads, there are so many beautiful and intriguing embroidery patterns, it makes me dizzy just thinking about them. I have to figure out some creative ways of using them.

Meanwhile, I’m back to sewing. I’m in the middle of a project right now and have everything I need for the one after that.

Dear Vintage Secret Santa …

Thank you so much!

In my haste to clean up after Christmas, I neglected to save your address from the package! And there was no name, so I am using my blog to say Thank You for the thoughtful gifts and hope you see it.

The charming gifts from my thoughtful Vintage Secret Santa.

The charming gifts from my Vintage Secret Santa.

Adorable little perfume bottles.

Darling little perfume bottles.

I have read a number of vintage movie star biographies (Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Gene Tierney) but have not about Gloria Swanson, so that will be a treat. The little perfume bottles will be adorable on my dressing table tray, and the box will be perfect for my New Year’s goal to be more organized this year.

I really appreciate your taking the time to send these lovely things to me.

Happy New Year to you, Secret Santa! (And If you feel comfortable revealing yourself, I’d love to know who you are!)

And a big THANK YOU for Jessica at Chronically Vintage for putting the whole gift exchange together. It was so much fun, and I look forward to participating again next year!

Jeanne Marie

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Victorian London is brought to life every Christmas season at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.

As someone who enjoys elements of bygone eras, I have been intrigued by this event for years. This weekend, I finally decided to make the two-hour drive and brought along my teenage daughter and her girlfriend. We had a blast.

Held in a large exhibition building in Daly City (just south of San Francisco), the Dickens Fair creates a Victorian-era streetscape complete with shops, food, and entertainment. Modern elements of the building are camouflaged, and the floor is strewn with straw.

A clock on the street.

A clock on one of the buildings. The design of the event is beautiful.

A shoppe sign.

A pub sign. Food and beverage choices included spiced nuts, meat pies, fish and chips, pasta, Greek food, pastries, a large tea shoppe (reservations recommended), and several pubs.

One of the stage shows.

There are a number of stages with shows throughout the day.

Hundreds of engaging performers in period costume as well as several well-known Dickens characters are found throughout the event, and attendees are encouraged to dress in costume as well.

Gentlemen dining at one of the establishments.

This is one of the many tableaus that actors stage to add atmosphere.

The Ghost of Christmas Past helps Ebenezer Scrooge recall happier times at Fezziwig's Dance Party.

At Fezziwig’s Dance Party, we saw the Ghost of Christmas Past taking Ebenezer Scrooge on a trip to remember happier days.

We saw Queen Victoria several times throughout the day.

Of course, Queen Victoria reigns over the Dickens Fair. She and her entourage made several appearances.

As I don’t have any Victorian garb, I opted to wear my Clara dress and a pair of riding boots. I almost brought a shawl, but thought better of it. It turned out to be rather warm inside.

Next year, I plan to FILL my shopping basket with purchases.

Next year, I plan to FILL my shopping basket. There are a wide variety of goods available, including Victorian-style clothing, jewelry, candles, soaps, and antique books.

Together, this all makes for a charming holiday outing. Now that we know what to expect, we can’t wait to go back next year to see more of the stage shows, sample a wider variety of the food, and buy more gifts.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair runs for two more weekends this year at the Cow Palace.

You can find the rest of my photos on Flickr.


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