love your corsets

beautiful corsetFebruary is a good time to review underwear, don’t you agree? Go on now, I’ll wait while you unpack your chests of drawers and itemize your dainties. Out with the old. Buy something new. But what? Thongs? Please. Can you see me shaking my head in dismay? What has happened to substantial under clothes? Why are you ladies talked into substituting scraps for panties? It’s a conspiracy. Bring back the sateen crinolines. The lacy garters. Even the corsets. Oh, but I do envy you ladies of the modern world and your Spanx garments. Had I been able to maintain my 18-inch waist without whale ribs and tight-lacing, it’s quite possible that I would not have suffered universal opprobrium such as these historical write-ups on my hysterical nature:

Her “peak tight-lacing period” seems to coincide with the prolonged and recurrent fits of paranoid depression which she suffered 1859-60, which have been attributed to her husband’s political defeats, her three pregnancies, her sexual withdrawal, and quarrels with her mother-in-law over the rearing of her children.

Paranoid depression? Ha! And, in the modern parlance, gah! Isn’t it just so easy to reduce complex family issues to the hysteria of the wife? In a world where ansteampunkgirl Empress had no control over anything BUT her actual body proper, can you blame me for being a fastidious commandeer of my underwear? My trim waist line? Oh, bring back the pearls and the ribbon that festooned a lady’s glory box! Allow that a woman should enjoy the feel of garments that enhance her natural gifts. Whoa be the naysayer who calls a female “crazy” just because she chooses to be sewn into her riding habit. Are you finished pawing through your briefs? Did you throw out the bikini panties with the worn elastic? Get thee to your favorite lingerie boutique and treat yourself to silk and brocade. The Empress insists!

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Will the real coronation dress please stand up

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It’s my party and I’ll whine if I want to. Today’s subject is the famous Hungarian Coronation dress, a frock voted most likely to beguile and perplex.

The official museum description of this Charles Frederic Worth gown lists this dress as made from:

white silk brocade,  decorated with flower motives of silver thread; a velvet bodice with pearl lacings, white puffed sleeves of lace and black, diamond set bodice; around the neck, Hungarian diamond jewelry.

The Paired coronation cloak is purported to be constructed of:

blue velvet, lined with white duchesse silk

Apparently, there is some disagreement amongst the historical fashion experts as to the exact type of silk, whether or not there was any brocade,and the true purpose or even existence of pearl lacings and/or diamond settings, and so forth.

Plainly, there are myriad versions of me stuffed into this iconic gown, just feast your eyes on the variety of likenesses herewith! (Personally, I’m most fond of the Wikipedia version that appears last, the one that has me looking like a busty teenager, but I am a vain icon, after all.)

P.S. In case you might like your own replica, say, for your next imperial costume party, here’s some information on purchasing such a gown.

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frocks and a CONTEST!

O, but it has been too long my dears. What with all the rest cures and the Olympics and renovations at the Hof.

I think you all deserve something pretty to look at, as well as a little parlour game to keep you amused, so I will post a series of my favorite frocks herein. Some of these you’ll recognize, as they are part of formal portraiture. Can you match the outfits with their purpose? Here are the categories:

A. the Hungarian coronation gown

B. the Winterhalter gala gown

C. the Polterabend kleid frock

D. a mourning riding habit

Now, mix and match, and offer your answers in the comment section (e.g. A = ONE and so on–though that is not the correct answer!). Winner will receive one of my favorite books of the year: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna.

You have the entire weekend to think this through. I shall choose my winner randomly (as long as the answers are correct), and post the results on Tuesday August, 28th.

Good luck, and happy viewing!

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

four centuries of bad hats

I have gone on and on about my hair in past posts. I have written of the three-hour ordeals involving washing, conditioning, delousing, the weaving in of flowers and jewels.

And here, I bored you to tears with my thoughts on the relationship between hairstyles and tarts.

And who could forget my reportage on the Sisi Museum’s display of wigs meant to model my various styles?

Well, I’m sick of talking about my hair, so I’m going to rant about hats, instead. Hideous hats of all eras. Not only the ones popular in my day (which, you must agree, were rather tame). No, the hats that I wish to malign are those ridiculous head dresses that found popularity before and after my reign.

Case in point: the photo at right showing my dear great-grand something in-law, Marie Antoinette. Born nearly 100 years earlier than myself, she epitomized the lavish and overkill of France in the 18th century. Really, Marie, we know you were born into a huge family, but your cries for attention were all so obvious! Is it any wonder that your silly head ended up severed from your shoulders?

Well, those Regents and their pomp were no match for the Victorians and their gloom. I submit: those are actual dead parrots on that hat! Can you imagine? Who but the most oppressed and misaligned would deign to put a bird on it in such a fashion?

But ladies, if I may, none of these ghastly examples of head dress compare to hideosities in the current era. I submit: the royal wedding, so full of promise and sleek style. Remember Kate and Pippa and their gorgeous gowns, and then along comes the Duchess’s daughter smiling proudly under a … what? Something from the Tiny Toons section of Disney? Is that a hat, or did somebody stick a section of wrought iron gate on Bea’s head? Charity-shmerity, there is no excuse to allow oneself to be the family fop. Is there?

And, we don’t really have to point the finger at the royals only, do we? Recall that embarrassing get-up on the Vegas chanteuse, Celine Dion a few Oscars ago? Well, to some people Celine is some sort of queen, I suppose.

Of course, the original intention of women’s hats was not for frivolity and fashion. It was to cover the heads  of the fair sex, lest they fall victim to the carnal temptations of men. Given the atrocities in headwear over history, I’d say the original intent has survived, and is alive and well!

waist training unpacked

amazing what a little whale bone and leather can do

A corset is a garment that girds the torso and shapes it according to the fashionable silhouette of the day. Most often it has been used for cinching the waist and supporting the breasts. This is what Wikipedia thinks, anyway. What is my definition of the corset? Thank you for asking. It depends on the day. When plagued by PMS and the like, well, a corset is a necessary evil–how else can one distort the female form into the hourglass ideal whilst hormones and nature have in mind something closer to, say, a treble clef?

But some days, when I’m feeling rather sane and disgusted by mankind in general, I’m all over the empire waist of the peasant gown. As sexy as a glo-worm on steroids. Think: 19th century muumuu. The ubiquitous and ever-popular caftan. Comfort over form. A bon-bon popping outfit to die in, er, for. On my corsetless days, nary a portrait artist would be permitted anywhere near the Hof. Could you imagine the damage to my reputation as history’s most perfectly molded empress should the Paparazzi catch me all bloated on one of my fat days? Can’t you just see the headline, with one of those arrows photoshopped in and pointing to my abdominal region: Sisi’s baby bump?

It is no secret that I boasted an 18-inch waist, and that I had my dear hairdresser Franziska measure it each day, while she tight-laced me into an hourglass so extreme, only three grains of sand might fall through it at once. Ladies, imagine squeezing yourself into a Spanx girdle, and then rolling a second one on over that, and then a third. Do you see the picture I’m trying to paint? Beauty is pain. Pain!

And, training the waist on a daily basis is not without its digestive consequences. All one’s intestines pushed up and down, the liver squeezed like Mr. Obie, causing an ancillary lobe to grow out the edges, ribs cracking, one’s waste compacted to the hardness of a battering ram. Not that I’m complaining–merely pointing out that maintaining the image of the perfect figure is not for sissies (not to be confused with sisi’s).

o come let us adore me

If you didn’t live in the mid-nineteenth century, the closest you’ll come to Victorian, Edwardian and Regency tchotchkes is etsy. (Not to be confused with regretsy). Today, I am pleased to present a variety of fine hand-crafted items that approach the pomp, fuss and discomfort of my own splendid era. Enjoy!

empress pink

hofburg dressing room

Fainting couches were necessary due to the corsets.

Pink is the new pink. Always.

kaiservilla

It's the parquet and pink room at the kaiservilla in bad ischl

Though hardly a “girlie-girl,” as a trendsetter I have to admit, rose flattered me much more than, say, yellow. It brought out the health and vitality in my cheeks (thanks to my regime of drinking a vial of stag blood each day, I was spared much of the anemia that befell other royals). Deep-toned pink  suggests femininity, but points also to romance, energy, fascination, and, naturally, beauty.

pink corset

Note: this short-waister accentuates the bosom, rather than hiding it. Jus' sayin...

I filled my apartments with shades of pink. The salon in my summer home boasted pink upholstery. The lying-down room at the Hof. Ballgowns and bedclothes and schnitzel with noodles…oops! wrong pull.

Anyhow, no discussion of pink is complete without mentioning the unmentionables, yes? I owned many a salmon-hued corset: frilly-edged or plain, it mattered not, as long as the busking was of good baleen or cane, and the grommets were made of steel!

put a dolphin on it

Can't you just SEE me leaping about in this fabulous dress?

And while we’re on the subject of Corfu, I must take this opportunity to speak of my holiday wardrobe. It’s been said that my temperament did not bode well for the flounces, crinolines and bustles of the Viennese Court. Other than properly cinching my 18-inch waist, I was never a fan of constraint. For reference, I quote another female icon, in her cover of Me and Bobby McGee, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” No, no, I never did own a pair of faded jeans, but I was quite a fan of Victorian separates. My Corfu ensemble, exemplified in the summer dress you see here, was replete with light and breezy silk chiffon. A three-piecer, this frock, with pastel borders and Brussels lace. I loved the sound of it ruffling in the ocean breezes.

And, speaking of ocean, let us not forget the all-important accessory: the dolphin, which I had embroidered onto all my Corfu holiday apparel. Ah, how I idolized this creature, the most godlike of all animals. Intelligent, agile, quick, mercurial, whimsical and playful. Not to mention spiritual, known to shepherd souls of departed  kings and queens safely into the realm of the dead.

put a dolphin on it

Thanks to me, the dolphin became synonymous with Imperial holidays. I was never clad in an ensemble without this mythic creature. In fact, if IFC wants to do a spin-off of their campy Portlandia, I suggest they give it an historic spin, and explore the nineteenth-century Greek Isles. Just think of the possibilities, an eccentric, yet beautiful, empress skipping about in her summer dress whilst her minions delight in teaching her Greek and feeding her olives, all the while chanting: Put a dolphin on it.

fans. a reprise.

Yes, dears, I’m recycling a post from a few months back. Why? Mostly in the interest of celebrating fans. Actual fans of the ladies’ accessory variety. Also, I came across this quaint and clever post over in Devonshire blog, which celebrates royalty a century before my time at court and it reminded me that a little fanning goes a long way. Hail to the fan!

a good fan is hard to find.

I’ll bet you thought this would be another narcissistic post about my adoring sycophants!  No, nope.  I’m here to discuss actual fans.  The object, I mean.  And the art of fanning. And of fans generally, in proper Victorian society.

As you may be aware, in nearly every one of my portraits, I am clutching a closed fan.  Fans were not only an important aesthetic accessory in my day, but they served myriad purpose.  For instance, if one’s difficult mother-in-law entered the room whilst private business was being discussed with one’s consort, one might thrust the fan  a wee bit higher, covering the mouth just enough to prevent lip-reading.

And speaking of mouth, I suppose I should confess to my dear readers that my one unfortunate physical flaw was my teeth.  Big, yellow horse teeth had I.  (My mother-in-law used to offer the peroxide remedies and so forth, even lamenting this defect to Mummi once, “Ludovica,” she said, “can we not have anything done about your Sisi’s smile?”)

Ergo, my ever-present fan.

But, as always, I digress.

You see, the main function of a ladies’ fan was to, well, flirt!  Indeed, there was a whole lexicon, which I submit herewith:

The fan placed near the heart: You have won my love.

Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: You may kiss me.

Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: I love you.

Opening and closing the fan several times: You are cruel.

Fanning slowly: I am married.

Fanning quickly: I am engaged.

Twirling the fan in the left hand: You are being watched.

Now, isn’t that fun?  Do you not wish fans were still popular now? How unsubtle today’s flirtations are.  A wink.  A note.  A text. How boring. Of course, had I access to today’s dental reconstruction, I would have had little need for my fan.

empress of the month: eugenie

here she sits amid her ladies in a portrait by winterhalter (who, by the way, also painted yours truly)

She was the last French Empress, and quite a charmer, that María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick. She lived to the ripe age of 94, and was best known for starting up the caged crinolines fad (that, and a primary role in the ill-fated French intervention in Mexico).She was 26 when she wed Napoleon III, much to the disapproval of the snooty House of Bonaparte, but marry she did, dutifully producing an heir before closing her bed to her increasingly lecherous and obese husband (who satisfied his seeming bottomless appetite for the fair sex with countless public affairs).

In our day, an Empress set trends, and Eugenie was no exception. What initially was thought a scandal turned Paris on its ear in 1862 when the Empress got it in her little head to appear in public without a shawl. After the society hags simmered down women everywhere began to attend functions without cloaks and shawls, freeing them up to display their dresses without cover, and creating quite a ripple in the fashion world.

And, of course, other than me, Eugenie was the only decent rider among empresses of our day. In fact, it was her horseback prowess that first led to her husband’s initial interest in courting her (or so the gossip goes).

Eugenie's wedding ensemble, described in the London Times, 1853: White epiglé velvet, with rather large basque and demi-train. A veil of point d’Angleterre flowed from underneath a rich diadem sparkling with diamonds.

We were often referred to as “rivals.” How silly! Eugenie had a much more sophisticated style. Just look at her bridal get-up below. I was much more given to practicality. Well, as long as my waist was cinched in tight.

So, what do the Empress Eugenie and I have in common? Well, our “fancy ephemera” is featured on the Royal Paper Dolls website, along with Norway’s Queen Maude and the Peacock Princess.