Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Newport Nostalgia Costume Ball

I was entranced by this set of pictures by New York Times fashion reporter Bill Cunningham commemorating the 22nd Vintage Dance Week of the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers held last month in Newport, Rhode Island. Mr. Cunningham's copy states:

"The group's members share an interest in the dances and the clothing of the period between the Civil War and the Jazz Age. Each of the five nights is devoted to a ball or dance of a particular time. The daytime activities includes tea on July 28 at Blithewold, an Edwardian mansion with an arboretum in Bristol, R.I. On July 29, a formal ball unfolded at Beechwood, the Newport Home of the Mrs. Astor, Caroline. To see Beechwood under those circumstances was a step back in history at a time when the will of the last Mrs. Astor, Brooke, is being dragged through court in New York. The original Mrs. Astor still reigns supreme in her gilded Newport ballroom."

Here's the link to the page at the NY Times so you can see the pictures more clearly.

I was jolted by photographs 8 and 11, which show one Judith Holcomb wearing a famous gown by Charles Frederick Worth. It looks at a distance to be a beautifully made, somewhat simplified replica of this dress, owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have seen this dress close up, and it looks as fresh today as it did over 100 years ago.

It's lovely to look at these wonderful photographs and see how much care was put into this event so that the fashions for the most part actually look correct, with appropriate hair dressing, shoes and I imagine, jewels. If you look carefully, you'll see different silhouettes, from the 1860s (#22)to the Edwardiam Era(#29).

I wish that I could see them in larger detail so that I could see what the menswear looked like as well. I am thrilled by the visuals from the Garden party and daytime shots - so many of these photographs look like they could be paintings of the period by Tissot and others. #2 and #23 especially could be paintings. #21, which shows a lady in a fabulous bustle ensemble, could be a lovely scene from the French Impressionist room at the Met.

If one is fortunate enough to be able to afford, prepare for and attend an event like this, what a week this must have been! Here's some information about this year's event. The site also offers some interesting costume resources full of fashion history, patterns, reproduction historic clothing retailers, fabric sources, etc. A great deal of effort was clearly put into the clothing, and why not, in that setting? You'd hardly want to show up is some sad ersatz costume at an opulent Newport mansion! Bravi to everyone involved!


Karen Ann said...

I have attended this event for several years, and even these photos hardly begin to convey how magical the entire week is. Not only do we dress beautifully, we behave beautifully, as well. And nothing compares to the thrill of whirling around a ballroom in a waltz in the arms of a handsome and charming gentleman!

OvertheTop said...

You nailed it, Karen - looking and acting the part makes for a special experience. You're so lucky to be able to have these kinds of experiences, and thanks so much for your comment!