Elegance From Another Era – How Would You Wear Them Today?

You can’t visit North Carolina without making a stop at Biltmore Estate in Asheville. There are all kinds of things going on there all year round. My favorite times of the year are Christmas, when the Biltmore House is so lavishly decorated with huge and gorgeous Christmas trees that are displayed in every important room of the house, and springtime when the gardens are home for thousands of colorful tulips, other plants, and trees. Also don’t forget the winery where there is always wine tasting.

The 19th century and beginning of 20th century luxurious Europeanesque style of the Biltmore House, the largest private home in America, made the perfect setup for hosting the costume exhibition Design for Drama: Fashion from the Classics that took place this spring. Costumes were shown in various rooms of the house. They were designed for the latest movie adaptations of George Vanderbilt‘s favorite classic literary works that he collected here in his vast library.

Costumes designers went through a rigorous research of the time period, reviewed costumes used in movies previously made about the same story, took in consideration descriptions given by the author and characters’ personalities to make their costumes look as realistic as possible.

The exhibition was an opportunity to explore and imagine how designers infuse their creativity into pieces of clothing to represent people of different social classes at specific times and places. Some of the elaborate dresses were clear proof of aristocracy. They seemed to have elements of today’s fashion that distinguished a romantic, feminine, and elegant style.

While I was admiring the dresses I was wondering if they could be changed to still be fashionable today. Altering an old dresses could be a tough decision especially when there are sentimental values, family customs, and price involved. The handmade dresses are usually more valuable. I would ask for a professional opinion if I wanted to make changes to such a dress and was unsure in which ways because once the dress gets cut it would be difficult to put it back together. Beautiful vintages dresses come back in style at any time and require minimum or no alterations.

Imagining that I was so lucky to own the dresses I chose from this collection that were original to their time period I would not dare to make any major changes if there still were formal occasions were I could wear them. I would keep jewelry to a minimum for embroidered dresses and those made of luxurious fabrics such as lace, damask, velvet, silk, or satin, adjust or remove some of the ribbons, stones, pearls, beads, and keep the floral motif.

Belts, purses, gloves, and hats can be easily matched with these dresses. I would combine them with other pieces of clothing like pants, jackets, and skirts in more modern matching colors, patterns, and styles to make them stand out if I decided to shorten or modify them so I could use the top part especially and make them wearable for a more day – to – day style. I would not change the design of the elegant winter coats from the movie Anna Karenina. Overall, I would give serious consideration to this kind of dress that had to go through a major transformation.

Just think that you inherited an older dress that was passed on in your family from generation to generation. Would you keep it stored nicely in a box as a family heirloom or would you alter it and bring it back to life in a different perspective?

The slide show displays the entire collection in 54 pictures. Enjoy!

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The movies represented here are:

  1. Finding Neverland is a semi-biographical film about playwright J. M. Barrie
  2. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
  3. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  4. Sleepy Hollow based on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, short story by Washington Irving
  5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  6. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  7. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy







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