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Picturing a World

Hats and illustrations

Website alert: I happen to be rereading Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones at bedtime. Its heroine, Sophie Hatter, works in her stepmother's millinery shop. Okay, so today something prompted me to check to see whether Jim Kay is working on illustrations for another Harry Potter book. He is, The Order of the Phoenix, as I discovered at the website he shares with his wife Louise Clark. Who, yes! is a hatter. Go take a look her Millinery page if you love hats; they're all as delicious as this one (which is perfect for a Sophie Hatter creation). And if you are curious about Diana Wynne Jones, a Tor essay on where to start reading her books is a good overview.

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Beauty calibrator

Horrors! Steampunk facial recognition? Mannequin mind control? Bizarre external sensory systems? Pursuing Rachel powder a little further, I came across this Max Factor Beauty Calibrator at Cosmetics and skin: "Developed in 1932 it was supposed to measure how far a person's features differed from the 'ideal face.'" Surely, the time has come for it to inspire a sci-fi tale, preferably feminist revenge. Or, oh no, wait, historical fiction?????

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Rachel again

After reading my post on Rachel powder, a friend told me about playing with her mother's and aunts' cosmetics when she was a little girl. She had a hazy memory of seeing something labeled Rachel. That sent me back to the internet, and voilà, more information about Elizabeth Arden products and the company's history here and here. What useful details for fiction set in the 20th C! My old editor at Berkley thought I should set Anonymity in a more glamorous industry than publishing. I sarcastically queried, such as interior decorating? Good idea! she said.

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Rachel powder

Blog post alert: Tuesday's word of the day at the OED was rachel (or Rachel), defined as a "light tan colour (originally and chiefly as a shade of face powder)," with a first citation in 1880. Whoa! wait! what? A quick search landed me at Colour Cards. Bingo. The post has pictures of various 20th C color charts, including several for cosmetics, and a link to the website's own account of actress Rachel Félix, whose complexion reportedly gave the face powder its name. I suspect writers of historical romances have used Rachel poudre a-plenty, but it's new to me—and comes with a story. Yea.

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Vogue 1921

I thought of posting this yesterday for New Year's Day 2021 because it suggests mysterious possibilities and because I like to give readers a valuable takeaway—in this case, a link to the Vogue magazine archives. Yesterday's insouciant skaters seemed more fun, but, now imagine them on their way back, where? What to make of those shoes in the snow? Graphically, I love the cocker spaniel at the bottom. Does he fit into the story?

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New Year 2021

Happy New Year! May we all soon be as insouciant (if not quite so elegant or athletically accomplished) as these two ladies!

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Diptych portraits

Blog post alert: A History Blog post on the reunion of two 16th C portraits in a diptych is interesting in its entirety, but what is specially useful to historians of fashion (and thus historical fiction writers) is the accompanying high-rez image, which allows you to examine the clothes closely. I'm quite taken, for instance, with this jeweled button and looped clasp at the sitter's neck.

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Bridesmaid’s dress

Website alert: In an account of a 1908 wedding I've just read, the bridesmaid was said to have worn a "white lingerie gown." Whoa. Not her underwear or nightgown, but what? Short, short answer is a lightweight dress made of cotton or linen characterized by pleats, tucks, and lace, as I learned in a beautifully illustrated post, Terminology: what is a lingerie dress or lingerie frock? (and blouse, and skirt) at The Dreamstress website.  The same website has a splendid glossary of textile terms with links to longer posts like this one.

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Pockets

For my current fantasy story, I was wondering where a character might hide an amulet. Quick research on clothes turned up a delightful Victoria and Albert Museum post on the history of pockets from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Among its illustrations are three photographs of this doll—"Lady Clapham"—showing her in different layers of clothing. Surely, she herself can suggest a story for children, the motive or crucial clue in a mystery, or one of those novels that involve researching the contents of a trunk. Her pocket, by the way, is tied to her waist.

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Printed fashions

Website alert: In 1852, Francis N. Watkins wrote of his grandmother in Virginia that she was possessed of great ingenuity "as displayed in her original calico prints (in advance of her time), of her silk manufactures, of the loom made by her directions, and of her homemade gamut for teaching her daughters the elementary principles of music." Well, doesn't that raise topics for research by an historical fiction writer?! Local manufacture of textiles? The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg seemed a good place to start looking this morning, and sure enough, they have an on-line exhibition, Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home, with loads of high-rez fabric samples to help visualize the culture and possibly inspire a story. One more resource in these self-isolating days! If you like fabric, fashion, and everyday objects made of cloth, take a look.

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