Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Great Moments in Fabric Literature, Vol XI



It was usual for ladies who received in the evenings to wear what were called "simple dinner dresses": a close fitting armour of whale-boned silk, slightly open at the neck, with lace ruffles filling the crack, and tight sleeves with a flounce uncovering just enough wrist to show an Etruscan gold bracelet or a velvet band. But Madame Olenska, heedless of tradition, was attired in a long robe of red velvet bordered about the chin and down the the front with glossy black fur. Archer remembered, on his last visit to Paris, seeing a portrait by the new painter, Carolus Duran, whose pictures were the sensation of the Salon, in which the lady wore one of those bold sheath-like robes with her chin resting in fur. There was something perverse and provocative in the notion of fur worn in the evening in a heated drawing-room, and in the combination of a muffled throat and bare arms; but the effect was undeniably pleasing.

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, pg 104

This is a book with many wonderful descriptions of clothing; Edith Wharton uses dress as one of her methods of character development. Note her description of ladies' dress as 'armour', which of course, it was. Armour in the Social Wars. The movie based on this book has wonderful sets and costumes and the clothes are beautiful. Ever since I re-read this,I want,no, need a fur-trimmed red velvet lounging gown like Countess Olenska's.

2 comments:

AuntieAllyn said...

Haven't read the book, but this is absolutely one of my favorite films. I adore the clothing in this film. . . gorgeous detail. I fear that it probably wasn't terribly comfortable to wear, though!

Isabelle said...

One of my favourite novels (by one of my favourite authors), and one of my favourite films as well.

Henry James has some interesting sartorial descriptions as well.

Thank you for this article!