Charles James Exhibit & the April Giveaway

I was hoping to make it to the Charles James exhibit at the Chicago History Museum last weekend, but I got too wrapped up in my Quaker Oats polka dot dress (which is sadly still unfinished).  But this Sunday I made a conscious effort to stop working (on my Nautical dress) and take a break to visit the exhibit.

It was a one-room exhibit with close to 15 garments, and they were all stunners.  I took some notes and attempted to sketch a few of the design concepts with my very ill drawing skills.  Lucky for me/you they have a flickr site with some detailed images as well as a booklet of the designs for sale on their site.

I was there studying the dresses and handling the recreated under-construction displays for close to 2 hours, yet it felt like I was only there for 20 minutes.  Time flies when you’re having fun!

When I came back home I felt an odd mixture of feelings.  I was completely in awe of his designs & construction, I felt very inspired, and yet I felt like I am light years away from being able to do anything as advanced as his pieces were.  I felt very humbled as I was finishing up the construction of my nautical dress.  It felt like it was so simple compared to his glamorous ball gowns and bias designs.

The under-construction of the Tree dress is craziness:
Charles James "Tree," front view

This is an image from this blog post (via the Chicago Historical Museum) that is a recreation of the inner construction of the Tree Dress.  (And another interesting post here.)

This dress weights 13 lbs primarily due to the inner construction.  There are so many layers and panels that Charles James created in order for the dress to retain this particular shape… I could make sense of a few, but I felt like I also wanted to take apart each of the layers to examine in more detail what they were all composed of.

The Tree dress (above) along with the Butterfly dress (below) left me speechless.

Charles James “Butterfly,” front view

Do you see the forward curve in the hip line?  That is part of the inner-construction.  Charles James didn’t design to human bodies, he designed a dress for what he wanted the female form to look like.  And with the inner-construction, he made it to fit a person.  I’m not used to this concept at all!  It still boggles my mind.

Butterfly dress back detail:

Charles James “Butterfly,” detail

Seriously…. how?!  I’m in serious awe.  It’s no wonder why so many designers still reference his works.

Knowing beforehand that I wasn’t allowed to take photos, I went to the gift shop first to see the what they had to offer as far as books were concerned for the exhibit.  Luckily they had a reasonably priced booklet that has decent quality images of the collection.  (Much better than my hand drawings!)  So I nabbed a few copies as I left the Museum and I have not one but TWO copies to giveaway to you guys!

To enter in the April Giveaway for a copy of Charles James Exhibit Designs/Booklet:

Please leave a comment letting me know what your favorite era for fashion is and why?

To kick it off I’m answering my own question.  :)  My favorite era is the late 40’s, during the transition to Dior’s New Look (which I just learnt that Dior noted that Charles James inspired him to in creating his New Look designs.)  It combines all of the styling I love from the 40’s with hints of 50’s waists and puffy skirts.

Good luck everyone! I’ll announce the 2 winners (chosen by random selection) on Monday morning, April 23rd (and will close the comments Sunday night at 11pm April 22nd.)

As always my giveaway is open to anyone, no matter where you live; I’m happy to ship anywhere.

In: Sewing

Blogger for 6 years and counting, I am a passionate creator who loves to tinker.

Comments (21)

  1. Meli April 17, 2012 — 8:06 AM

    Wow, those dresses… I can’t even fathom. Just wow.
    I think my favorite era for fashion, honestly and embarrassingly, is the 80’s. I just missed living through them, but that doesn’t stop me from glorifying Molly Ringwald circa Pretty in Pink. For serious fashion, I’m a fan of the early 60’s, particularly when looking at menswear.

  2. Tasha April 17, 2012 — 8:21 AM

    I was bummed not to be able to go when you posted about it last week, I just have too much going on with settling in. :( It looks like it was amazing. Those gowns are works of art; I can hardly think of them as clothing, in a way! So beautiful.

    While you may feel you are light years away something like that, consider you’re light years away from many people (myself included!), and you’ve barely been sewing for that long. You don’t need to feel humbled. ;)

  3. Kerry April 17, 2012 — 8:46 AM

    Wow, that exhibit looks fascinating and the dresses amazing.

    My favourite era is the 50s as I think the shapes suit my figure and of course the styles are so elegant which is how I would like to imagine myself! :) I love all aspects of 50s design too.

    Thanks for the giveaway and btw am so looking forward to your nautical dress!

  4. Without contest – Regency styling. I love the short period of time where the corset went out the window – and the dresses are so very pretty…and nearly functional! Give me a pelisse any day.

  5. Threadless April 17, 2012 — 11:33 AM

    I love the styles of the 50s very glamorous and elegant, but allowing slightly more movement (and independent dressing) as womens roles became more diverse.

  6. Maria April 17, 2012 — 11:46 AM

    I love the late 50s when the dresses were so feminine and flattering. Clothes were beautifully detailed and so interesting, yet looked effortless. Style was ultra elegant and chic. [Sigh].

    Thank you for the giveaway. Those dresses are works of art and absolutely gorgeous. I would love to see more.

  7. Royal Tudor! Not very practical for modern wear, but I have spent hours oogling those dresses in the portraits of the Tudor court, wondering how they got the lace collars to stand up just so, and how they could possibly move about with a wooden board down the front of their corsets… Wow!

    Did you know that Elizabeth 1st didn’t have a very big disposable income. She managed to look so damn amazing (pearls and jewels sewn all over her dresses!) because the rich courtiers bought favours from her, like better titles or more land and power, and paid for them in clothes, fabrics and jewels :)

    By the way, the pictures you’ve shared from this exhibition took my breath away. I need more…

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Valerie April 17, 2012 — 1:32 PM

    That exhibit looks amazing; I’m glad you got to tear yourself away from your lovely dress projects to tour it.

    As for my favorite era in fashion, I’ve got to say I love the nineteen-teens for its softly tailored styles and details, but I actually tend to sew late 1950s-early 1960s clothes because they suit my shape and don’t stand out as too costume-y nowadays (at least I don’t think so!). One reason I love sewing is that I can pick and choose elements from any era for my clothing.

  9. Kat April 17, 2012 — 7:44 PM

    The late 30’s and into the 40’s. Everything from gorgeous, glamorous gowns to the more subdued and practical day dresses. Love it all! Thank you so much for the giveaway – I would love to see more about this exhibit since I can’t visit myself!

  10. Those gowns are beautiful! My favourite style period covers 3 decades; from the 30’s through the 50’s. Just starting to make things for me that hail to those time periods.

  11. Feminizzle April 18, 2012 — 11:48 AM

    I love this designer and the layers he worked with are crazy. How inspiring to see them in person! My favorite era has to be the 20s… I love the couture details that were still in common use, the embroidery, the Asian influences, and the silhouettes. The 50s come in a close second!

  12. Tina April 18, 2012 — 10:44 PM

    That exhibit looks amazing! I’m very jealous :)

    I’d choose the mid-1950s thru mid-1960s. I really like the evolution of style during this period and the way in which it reflect’s women’s changing role within the family, society and the work place.

  13. Emma SL April 19, 2012 — 6:47 AM

    That construction is incredible. I wish exhibits like this would come to Australia!

    As bad as it is for my pear-shaped figure (and it is really bad), I luurrve the late 20’s/30’s glamour. I just can’t help myself… *sigh*

  14. lesleyanne April 19, 2012 — 2:53 PM

    Favourite ever period would be late Georgian, when the huge court dresses transition into light muslin greek drapery, the French revolt and everyone wears their political alliances.

    This century, it’s a toss-up between the simple elegance of the 30s Hollywood era (which of course was inaccessible to the masses gripped by the Depression) or the late 50s/early 60s where fashion had many possiblities, not least of which was for young people to create their own fashions.

    The interesting thing in fashion isn’t the static but the change!

  15. Oh my word. My mind is completely blown with these dresses! I am SO jealous you got to see them in person; I’d probably still be standing there with my jaw open. :)

  16. That’s tough, because there are lots of styles I love. And then there’s styles I love to wear — not always the same thing! But I am really drawn to the late 30s and early 40s. I like the remaking & re-purposing that went one, such as women taking their old 30s dresses and raising the dropwaist to the natural waist, or remaking mens’ suits into dresses. I also prefer the slimmer & shorter cuts of skirts and dresses, and I love the knitwear. The era is also interesting to me because of all the changes in womens’ wear and roles — girdles disappeared because of rationing, and pants became much more common because they were safer to wear around factory machinery. And fun fact: red (one of my favorites) was a very common clothing color in wartime Britain because it was the dye least needed by the military!

    Of course, the late 40s/early 50s had some absolutely gorgeous clothing, no question. But I think I’m more interested in all the innovations and clever little fashion tricks brought on by austerity rather than the ones that came from post-war prosperity & excess.

  17. Karen April 21, 2012 — 12:38 PM

    I really like mid-’50s with the flounce and natural waistlines. I also like the sleek mod look of the mid-’60s.

  18. I love the 20’s. The detail and the sleek shape is just fabulous. I also like the headwear from that era, and use of beading. My body shape is more 70s however, and I love the bright prints and colors of that decade.

  19. Nayda klein April 22, 2012 — 1:04 AM

    Hmmm… I don’t have a favorite era for fashion… Really! All eras has its charm. I am going all crazy because I had to choose one. I never thought I would have to choose one era. It is like to answer which one of my kids I do prefer. LOL!
    Tick tack, tick tack, tick tack… Long time has passed and yet I can’t decide. I love fashion, I love fabrics, I love garment construction, I love design. And all eras hasn’t failled in bringing all these elements that delight me every time I open a fashion book or a fashion magazine or even when I browse in my iPad (every night before falling asleep). So my favorite fashion era are all eras. I hope you can still consider my answer.
    I Love your posts, by the way.

  20. Josephine April 22, 2012 — 6:58 AM

    I hope I’m not too late to enter. What amazing dresses, I wish I could put one on just to see what it would feel like. My favourite era of fashion is a tough one, but I think I’ll have to say the 40s. So frugal, yet still absolutely stunning.

  21. Marchelle April 22, 2012 — 2:12 PM

    gah! I hope you’re not ahead of me in time zones!!

    I’d say 1920-1959. I know that’s a wide range, but I like different periods for different types of clothing. sweaters – 1950s skirts – 30s etc.

    Then if we’re talking things that I just like to look at but would never wear well then that opens a lot more doors! ;)

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