May. 1st, 2011

purejuice: (loaf-haired pats)
So here is absolutely the straight skinny on the royal wedding dress.

The royals, like the New York City club kids and rockers (NB, club kids are not rockers), have for centuries had their own fashion influences and arbiters entirely separate from the haute couture designers. Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld are the only ones I know of who were aware of the fashion fecundity in the streets and the power for women and queers and fat kids and kids of color that those power clothes engendered. I'm going to have to leave the case of Galliano, who I can never forget did a whole show based on my beloved Cockettes, to a sharper pomo analyst, because I think Galliano was always into the male supremacist gay spectacle of things rather than what I'm calling power dressing for all.

Vera Wang and the other designers who are pontificating on the simplicity of Kate's dress as opposed to the dress which wore Diana are talking, not to put too fine a point on it, out they ass.

Diana's wedding dress was in the long aristo tradition -- see yesterday's discussion of Queen Elizabeth I's assertion of her genital power, which was formidable -- and Kate's dress was in the short film star tradition of articulated breast, because Kate's genitals have neither virginity, nor aristocracy, nor history, nor 500 year-old titles older than the Windsors', and 14,000 acres of Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Norfolk, to offer up to her king and their children. Diana did. All Kate has to offer is the sexuality of her slim figure, and that is the one gift she brings to her king and country. That's why her dress referred to Grace Kelly: Kate's body is the star since she has nothing else to offer. Her bridesmaid, as the second day wisdom begins to accrue, wore what Kate would have worn should she have married somebody else -- an entirely sexual dress in the mode of today's strapless.

Darcy Miller, editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings, heads out to the synagogue in 2001. Vera Wang did the strapless.

I'm not even so sure Kate was thinking of Grace Kelly. I think she said, I want a strapless wedding dress like all the other girls and I need to cover it up like Autumn Kelly did. Autumn being the incredibly over-dressed Canadian who married the Queen's third grandson. Here is Autumn's half-assed wedding dress, and I think this trope, very much out of the royal fashion stream, indeed clueless with respect to the royal fashion history, is what Middleton was going for:

Autumn Kelly marries the Queen's third grandson.

Autumn Kelly grievously over-dressed at William's wedding.

Autumn Kelly not getting the whole royal lady hat thing at Ascot. This is how we call here in Macondo, all hat and no cattle. The Parker Bowles' hats, just as huge, are far, far less frivolous and far more imperialistic and coronal.

You read first about the really awful prospect of Autumn Kelly as Duchess Waity's fashion arbiter here.

Diana's 1981 wedding dress was not, as so many pundits have said, the perfect expression of the zeitgeist of the 1980s. It was indeed, like those "Dynasty" suits, the expression of 80s power dressing. The shoulders were made huge with a ruffled neckline and leg o'mutton sleeves, the skirt was huge, the veil made a 16th century Spanish infanta pyramidal virgin totem silhouette, and the train was 25 feet long.

Our Lady of Candelaria

The Spanish colonial infanta syncretized as Pachamama and Our Lady of Potosi.

Following this thread of virgin imagery, we can see that there is a strong tradition of making a mountain out of a virgin. And that deeply instinctive impulse and image is, I suggest, the source of the power, volume and size of Diana's wedding dress.

Diana wore the dress and meant to take up space with it -- her family's history, possessions, services to the king and England, and the girl's own hymeneal splendor in an era when she was, probably, the last virgin applying for the last job which required its holder to be a virgin. It was a genital dress, like Queen Elizabeth I's, and referred to the bride's genitals in all their power and glory. Diana's breasts were -- check it out -- rendered almost completely invisible by the ruffled neckline and sleeves.

Breasts are what a girl with nothing else to offer submits to MGM.

This is what a girl, famously with a history but no past, has to offer:

I can't track down the historical references made by Diana's dress. I would guess they are Victorian, and 18th century. Here is Victoria -- at the time of her marriage already the head of state:

Diana was not the holder of such a title and kept the shoulder-sweeping diamond earrings and the roses on her skirt to a minimum. More or less. Her jewels were, at least, the Spencers' own tiara, however, and Diana's mother's own diamond earrings, neither borrowed from the Queen, like Middleton's tiara, or newly confected, like Middleton's earrings. Middleton's parents had her wedding earrings designed from their month-old heraldic crest, reportedly with matching stick pins for the father and brother of the bride.

Michael Middleton with his acorn stick pin.

Middleton's nouveau earrings.

The nouveau coat of arms her father paid L4,400 for, so the whole family could use it.

But like Victoria, Diana embellished her wedding dress with everything she could to armor it, to convey her power, to occupy a space much much larger than her 25-foot train, to draw attention away from her breasts, her personal body, and to her aristocratic virginity. There was Queen Mary's lace in the gigantic power shoulders. Sequins on the massive veil. Like Victoria and the Queen, the silk taffeta -- notably wrinkled by its confinement to the Cinderella coach from which she emerged -- was the product of English silkworms down in Dorset.

Rather than Victoria's lace bertha, Diana went for what seem to be 18th century sleeves and a flattening 18th century bodice.

Perroneau, 1749, Madame de Sorquainville, Louvre

Note the high decoration, in the Tudor armoring tradition, of Madame's breasts, as well as their virtual disappearance -- as in Diana's 18th century bodice -- under 18th century corsetry.

Reminders of her famous ancestor, the Whig hostess and women's suffragist Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (nee Spencer), must surely have hung on the walls of her family's home at Althorp, even if this Gainsborough is in California.

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

This portrait, or the ones like it at Althorp, are the font and source of the underground fashion stream that belongs to aristocracy. Its influence -- and the important insight that those who by birth have risen to the pinnacle (or nadir) of human success and society don't need to dress like the rest of us, and do not -- can be gathered from this passage on George VI and his wife's clothes, ca. 1937.

A young Norman Hartnell, whose name was to become synonymous with royal dressmaking, was brought in to consult over the Coronation and to glamorize the Queen's wardrobe. The King had evidently been studying the royal collections for inspiration and had found it in Winterhalter. The inevitable cigarette in hand, he led Hartnell off to inspect the Winterhalter portraits of royal ladies. 'His Majesty made it clear in his quiet way that I should attempt to capture this picturesque grace in the dresses I was to design for the Queen. Thus it is to the King and Winterhalter,' Hartnell wrote, 'that are owed the fine praises I later received for the regal renaissance of the romantic crinoline.'

-- The Reluctant King, Sarah Bradford, 219

I submit, therefore, that Diana's dress was perfectly historical, appropriate for an aristocratic virgin bride, and referring powerfully to her virginity and aristocracy. It was not an 80s dress, it was a terrifyingly candid Tudor dress, asserting the power of her family and her genitals. This is not how most of us know how to dress.*

As is dreadfully borne out by the pastiche that is the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress. An art historian of my acquaintance -- whose taste for low culture led her to watch "An American in Paris" instead of the wedding -- had seen only a few stills of Duchess Waity's wedding dress. She had one word for it. Trampy.

My distinguished colleage, Dr. [personal profile] aliceinfinland, has referred to the exploded post-modern nature of Waity's dress. You don't know, says Dr. Finland, where to look.

And that, possums, has to do with the peekaboo nature of the lace bodice, Sarah Burton's selling out the incredible McQueen Lace Ethos, and nobody's saying to Waity hey. You might not want to allude to Princess Grace.

Since she died in a hideous car crash. And Diana attended her funeral.

Do you really want to make that reference, asshole? At your wedding?

Tomorrow: Lace, Grace, Articulated Breasts, St. Catherine of Siena's Head, and Lady Gaga

*I leave aside, for the true students of fashion, the fascinating question of which bouffant skirt came first -- the Queen Mum's Hartnell/Winterhalters (ca. 1937), or Dior's New Look (1947)? And which spawned all those 1950s crinolines, up to and including Waity's?

With the end of fabric rationing, Dior brought back very full skirts in 1947. It is thought they led to the '50s bouffant skirts, such as Grace Kelly's wedding dress.

Mamie Eisenhower's inauguration dress, 1953.

The Queen Mum in 1966, thirty years in to rocking the Winterhalters.

And Princess Margaret's 1960 wedding dress, which is the transition between the Queen's, Mamie's, Grace Kelly's, and Waity's:

Baby's got front.


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January 2012


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