My mom and I started watching Peaky Blinders this summer, and we are absolutely Loving it! The music, cinematography, costumes, and the actors (who doesn't love Cillian Murphy?) are all fantastic. I have always had an interest in the dark side of history (you can read more of my posts about dark histories here), so it was a natural response to the show to research the real Peaky Blinders.
The Peaky Blinders were a real gang in Birmingham before and during WW1. They were set apart from other gangs because of how nicely they dressed- often in nicely tailored jackets, waistcoats, and peaked flat caps. They started in the slums in the 1890s, and organized themselves into a gang that had a certain amount of political and social control. Unlike the show (warning: spoilers ahead), the gang was taken down in the 1910's by a gang lead by Billy Kimber, called the Birmingham Boys.
Another thing that the Peaky Blinders were known for is sewing a razor into their caps. The criminal profiler and historian, John Doulgas, believes that the caps were used as weapons for most members. The name of the gang is believed to come from how they would cut peoples foreheads, temporarily blinding them with their own blood. The name could also come from the slang of a Blinder being a well dress person. Where the name came from is a bit of a sensitive subject for historians- Carl Chinn (a professor with an MBE in English history) is a firm believer that the razor idea is a myth.
Most of the members of street gangs in the late 1800s were between the ages of 12 and 30. Later on, these groups started to create a pecking order. The 'leader' of the Peaky Blinders was a man called Kevin Mooney, though his real name was Thomas Gilbert. They often had land battles with another gang in the area, the Cheapside Sloggers. By the late 1890s, the Blinders were expanding their expertise, going into protection rackets, fraud, bribery, smuggling, bookmaking, and many other illegal pursuits. They were less of an organised crime group and more into street fighting and robbery. After almost 10 years of owning the streets of Birmingham, they attracted the attention of the Birmingham Boys. When they got greedy and made their way into the race tracks, the Birmingham Boys put a stop to the gang. The families in the gang mostly left for the country, distancing themselves from the other, larger gangs. There was more than one reason that the gang disappeared, however. The police got stricter with the gangs at the time, and the social circumstances were starting to change around this time as well- especially once the war started.
I have had so much inspiration from the costumes on the show, and after looking at the actual gang members I see why the costumes are so interesting! My outfit is a mens shirt from Van Heusen, my Bomb Girl Trousers, and DSign Step shoes. The photos were taken in Calgary, in one of the oldest areas of the city. These houses are Edwardian Row houses, called the Fairey Terrace, and was inspired by Victorian row houses in London.
If you would like to learn a little bit more about Fairey Terrace in Calgary, click here. If you would like to learn about the real Peaky Blinders, there is a fantastic video featuring Professor Carl Chinn here. Carl Chinn also has a book about them called The Real Peaky Blinders. You can also read the book that the costume designer and hair department used for the show, Crooks Like Us by Peter Doyle. It has pictures of actual criminals from the time, and is a fabulous reference book.
Thanks for reading!
I absolutely love the movie The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from 2015, and I especially love the costumes. The character Gaby, played by Alicia Vikander, has the best trendy 1960s outfits throughout the movie, along with fantastic hair and makeup. After seeing the movie a few times (like I said, I very much so enjoy this movie...), I decided that I needed to make myself a dress like hers. I ended up finding a fantastic vintage pattern by Simplicity, and decided to do a classic coloour block for this dress. I chose green and white because of this dress that she wore in the movie.
I also wanted to make this dress because of my growing interest in the Cold War. After going to Germany last year and seeing the Mauermuseum (at Checkpoint Charlie), I learnt so much more about the era after WW2, and it made me even more interested in not only the politics of the time, but also the fashion. I also recently found tons of olds family photos of my grandma in the 60's and 70's, and she wore so many beautiful dresses! My grandmother was very trendy, so she was always wearing the newest style! She has tons of photos in Go Go boots and mini skirts.
The Cold War is a very interesting (and scary) time, and I was especially interested in learning about the Berlin Wall. The Mauermuseum also has a fascinating history since it was actually set up very soon after the Wall was built. Founded by Dr Rainer Hildebrandt, he thought that it was important to talk about the non-violent fight for human rights. He chose to talk about that directly beside an affront to human rights. The museum grew as the Wall stayed up, and has been updated to include what happened after the Wall fell, as well as more recent genocides and affronts to human rights.
The museum has many artifacts such as cars, a hot air balloon, and a mini submarine, that show how hard people worked to get rid of the wall, and to get around (or through) it. Many people helped East Germans escape to the other side, and there are so many brilliant stories.
The building of the wall started on August 13th of 1961 by the GDR (German Democratic Republic, which is East Germany). The people living in the GDR had been revolting for a long time. At the end of the WW2, the US, Britain, and the Sovient Union split Germany. The country was split into 3 zones with Berlin in the Soviet section. Berlin was also split into zones, with the US, UK, and France taking the West side of the city and Soviet troops controlling the East. When the tensions arose between the countries, the Soviets decided to block off the roads, rails, and water access to West Berlin. Starting in 1948, they hoped that the other countries would be forced to give their section to the Soviets. The response by the UK and US was to airlift food, fuel, and water into Berlin from airbases in Western Germany. At the height of the airlift, planes were landing every 45 seconds at the Templehof Airport. By 1949, they had won this crisis and the blockade was lifted. In 1953 the people of East Berlin had a revolt that was stopped with Soviet tanks. The Soviets struggled to keep their side of Germany because of their cruelty and lack of supplies (East Germany was starving).
Checkpoint Charlie is the most widely known checkpoint between East and West Germany. Many demonstrations were held there, and there were many successful escape attempts there. While the wall was up (between 1961 and 1989) more than 5000 people escaped across the Berlin Wall. The longer the wall was up, the harder it was to cross. One woman was smuggled out in the seat of her boyfriends vehicle (the cut a hole for her to sit literally inside the seat, and she almost suffocated in the small space). People also got through in speakers, over on hang gliders with a Trabant motor, with hot air balloons, as well as under in tunnels. The most successful break through was in a tunnel when 57 people made it through in two nights in 1964.
There were also many unsuccessful attempts, and many people died trying to get to West Germany. In 1962, a man named Peter Fechter bled to death. He was shot by Soviet guards and after 45 minutes of agony with no help, passed away beside the wall. This started a huge protest when onlookers could see and hear him, but were unable to help because he fell onto the wrong side of the wall.
I think that this is a hugely important part of history to learn about, especially since it is so close to us (the wall was only taken down on Novemeber 9, 1989).
To learn more about the Wall and its history, the website for the Mauermuseum is here. You can also hear more about the Berlin Airlift through this website here. Some other movies and books about the era that I found very interesting are Bridge of Spies (with Tom Hanks), Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder, Wings of Desire (released in 1987), and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre. If you have any more to add to the list, let me know!
The photos are taken at the Wonderland Sculpture (which us locals call the Big Head... creative, I know) outside of the the Bow Building.
I filmed a large portion of the process of making the Berlin Collection. To see more photos, you can see them here
I was so inspired by Germany while I was there, by what people wore, the beautiful countryside, and by the stunning architecture and history everywhere. Out of the whole trip, Berlin inspired me the most. Maybe it's because of the difficult near history that the city has gone through (if you know my blog well, you will know that difficult histories are something I try to teach about often), and maybe it's the gritty mixed with elegant that you see so often- Belle Epoque architecture layered with graffiti, a delicate skirt paired with a grunge-styled wool jacket.
Something that I immediately think of when it comes to Berlin is the military. I think of tough, strong women (it is a fact that Germany was pretty much rebuilt by women and immigrants after WW2, since they were all that was left), and resilience. I started to come up with the collection on the U-Bahn, and it grew in my head every time I had empty time to think (mostly on trains). I decided to make a military inspired collection, with feminine touches. After taking into account what I could reasonable pattern on my own or what I already had patterns for, as well as what materials would be easy to find or that I already had, I came up with a pretty solid collection. It includes: a pair of jodphurs, a 1930's styled skirt, a peplum blouse, my 1940's dress (that I blogged about here), and a matching suit jacket.
Most of these pieces are 1930s and 1940s styled, with a touch of 50's flair. These are the eras that interest me the most for the country- in the beginning of the 1930's, Berlin was far ahead of many other countries in terms of acceptance. But I will start before that, after the first world war, to explain the country a little bit better.
After Germany's loss of World War One, their economy and pride was crippled. Because of the Versailles Treaty, which entailed that Germany's borders would be reassigned (losing certain towns to Belgium, France, Poland, etc), they would practically lose their military, completely lose their colonies, and were prohibited access from certain weapons. What crippled Germany the worst was their responsibility to pay for the war, as well as other financial obligations. The country was struggling enough with their debt from the war, so when the Depression hit the US (who was helping them pay off their debts), the ripple was incapacitating. This is how Hitler managed to get in to power- the weak country was desperate to have jobs and pride. However, before Hitler wormed his way in, Berlin was a very open place. This is the city that held the first successful sex reassignment surgery (if you have seen The Danish Girl, that is who I am talking about). This was a very liberal place before the Nazi's- if you are interested in this era, Robert Beachy has a book called Gay Berlin that I have heard very good reviews about.
With my collection, I wanted to talk about all of the strong women in this time. I wanted it to be about the women who rebuilt the country, and the ones who made their way across the Wall even though it was incredibly dangerous, and the ones who rebelled against the Nazi's during the second world war (you may be surprised at how many female spies and resistance members there were).
Because the Nazi's wanted women to be at home having kids and cooking, they didn't quite expect women to be fighting in the resistance. This gave them lots of opportunities that some of the men didn't have. They could smuggle things around the country (such as letters and funds- often hidden in skirt hems and heels), as well as go undercover to find out information. Because it wasn't expected, they weren't caught as easily for a long time.
There is a story of a French resistance member that I always think of when I think of the women during the war (this is from A Train in Winter, just in case you want to hear more about this woman). She had a letter that she needed to carry from one resistance member to another, and she had to go out into the country to bring it to the next member. On the train, she was sitting beside a Nazi officer, and he took a bit of a shine to her. When other officers boarded the train to search the people on board, he told them that they did not need to search her, probably saving her and the letter in the process, without even realizing it.
There are so many amazing stories like this of peoples bravery during the war. Stories of women walking for miles in high heels and nice dresses to smuggle things around Nazi Occupied territory, and people who helped so many Jewish, Roma, and other people who were being persecuted to get out. Many designers and seamstresses were found to have been housing people to help them on their way out, or sewing in money, photos, and other valuables into hems for them.
If you want to read about some of these incredible stories, or if you are just interested in this time in history, here are some of my favourites: The Librarian of Auschwitz ( a true story that I actually read in Germany), A Train in Winter by Caronline Moorehead (a collection of stories of women resistance members- these stories are amazing), The Scent of Secrets by Jane Thynne, every single one of Elizabeth Wein, but especially Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire (and also Black Dove, White Raven), Violins of Autumn by Amy Mcauley, Salt to Sea and Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys, and of course The Book Thief. When it comes to movies, I would recommend Generation War (a German mini series, which is beautifully done), X Company (this is Canadian, which I am very proud of!), and The Danish Girl (the movie that is about the first successful sex reassignment surgery). I have spent most of my life reading about Germany, and specifically this era, so if you would like to hear about more books and movies, just ask! I would love to share, and also hear about any of your favourites!
The pictures were taken by a 1948 plane. A family friend owns it and was so kind to let us use it for photos, and we even got to fly in it! Thank you so much Travis and Brenda!
And the shoes are from DSign Step, as always:)
Stay tuned for my making of video!
I am extremely close to being finished a new collection that I have been working on since I got home from Germany- The Berlin Collection. My trip gave me so much inspiration, and as soon as I got home I started with a military, menswear, 1940's styled collection. I thought that while I finish off the last piece, I would share some of my inspiration. I will talk about it more in my post with the photos, but I based the collection mostly off of the resistance and rebels of World War Two, and the women who rebuilt Germany. I wanted to focus on the strong women that I learned so much about while I was there.
I was also inspired by the Candian tv show X Company, which is based on a true story. All of the characters have a fantastic mix of military and menswear styled outfits as well as beautiful evening and day dresses. Aurora (a Jewish Candian spy) and Sabine (a German woman turned resistance) are my personal favourites. My jodphurs are inspired the most by Aurora.
I hope you enjoyed a little look into the inspiration for the collection! I can't wait to show you what I have been working on over the past weeks.
I am completely fascinated with moths, and after seeing Crimson Peak, I got the idea to use a print on one of my dresses. In Crimson Peak, one of the running themes is the black moth versus the butterfly.
Since watching that movie, I was very interested in moths. I love how hearty they are, and also how beautiful they can be. While butterflies are the well known pretty insect, moths can also have beautiful, colourful wings.
My fascination is a little bit darker than them just being pretty and tough. The theme in the movie (if you are not familiar with it) is that the main character is a butterfly, while her husbands sister is the moth- she is the villian in the movie.
I loved the theme, and also the visuals of the giant black moths on the walls of the mansion.
I also love the scientific illustrations of insects, and specifically of moths and bees. This is where I got my idea to stamp the fabric with moths, and I got the pattern from the wallpaper in Crimson Peak. Guillermo del Toro wanted the main theme to be throughout the whole movie, even where you don't notice it. So the moth is on some of the wallpaper, engraved on chairs and furniture, and in many other places, such as embroidered on clothing. I liked how it was there but not completely obvious, so I took the pattern from the movie to stamp onto my dress.
We went into Calgary to get the pictures, so while we were there I picked up another pair of DSign Step shoes (since I love my other pairs so much). We went into Inglewood to get the pictures for this dress, which is the oldest area in Calgary.
The dress is made from a Vintage Vogue pattern from the 1950s, and the fabric is a cotton blend.
Stamps and photos by Veronica Funk
Berlin has a huge, and very dark, history that I learnt more about while I was there. We spent a week in Berlin, and I could have stayed so much longer- there is so much to see in this beautiful city. I was lucky enough to be staying right by Kufurstendamm Strasse, the well known high-end shopping street of Berlin. That meant that I was a 10 minute walk from KaDeWe (the massive department store), as well as all of the high end shops, such as Dior, Chanel, Burberry, and almost every other brand that has a show at Fashion Week. I had an incredible time checking out these shops, and ended up getting a Dior silk scarf for myself (which was possibly the most exciting moment of my life). Getting to see garments that I have seen in ads and on the runway was completely surreal, and I spent tons of time inspecting them and seeing how it was all made. The stunning part of such high end, expensive pieces are not just how they look, but how they are made.
Chanel is one of the best examples of well made fashion, since Coco Chanel was very exacting about how each thing should be made. They continue in her legacy, and all of the finishing details are the same as they were in the 20s. The tweed that Chanel uses is from very specific weavers in France, and is extremely difficult to work with. Since it is so loosely woven, it frays very easily. This makes every moment of the process of making a typical Chanel jacket, for example, much harder. And then there are little details that make a Chanel jacket a Chanel jacket. Those details include a chain sewn across the bottom of the jacket to get it to sit right, a quilted lining (quilted to the outside fabric, but not seen from the outside), and bold metal buttons. All of the high end brands use unique methods and include beautiful extra details. If you take care of your purchase, it could last you for generations.
I loved the more classic styles that many of these brands carry. I have so many ideas that I have brought home with me, and a bit of determination to finish the inside of my garments better (if you have followed me for a while, you might know that I give up when it comes to finishing...).
We also went to a ton of tourist attractions, such as the Victory Column and Bradenburg Gate. Seeing these don't take up much time, since you basically just take a picture with it and leave, but it was very neat to see something in real life that you can see in pictures and movies all the time! We also went to Checkpoint Charlie, which has an amazingly well done Mauer (Wall) Museum beside it. The Mauer Museum looks much smaller than it is, but I would recommend putting aside at least a few hours to go through it if you plan on visiting. Seeing Checkpoint Charlie was amazing, and it is so strange to think that the wall did not come down very long ago. Another interesting thing was that many of the visitors that we went through the museum with were German, and not all tourists.
Not far away from Checkpoint Charlie is the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, and just beside that is the Topography of Terror. The Memorial takes up a block, and is surrounded by busy streets. Once you get inside the blocks, it is very quiet. It is a place of reflection, and of mourning. The day we went was very windy and cold, but once you walk in a bit, everything stops.
The Topography of Terror, which is very close to the memorial, has a less calm feeling to it. The museum is in the spot where the SS Headquarters were during World War Two. You can still see the outer wall of the basement, and just above that is a piece of the Wall still standing. The Topography of Terror reminded me a bit of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Manitoba, not just in information but also in the feeling that you get from going through. The Museum goes through from 1933 to now, and talks mostly about the SS and the gestapo. It also talks about the aftermath of the war, and what happened to some of the top officers.
On our last day in Berlin, we went down to Sachsenhausen, one of the first concentration camps built. It is about an hour train ride from Berlin, and is a whole day trip, if you are planning on going. It was very cold on the day that we went, but the weather suited the feeling that I had going through the memorial and museum. Sachsenhausen has a long and terrible history. It was originally built as a test for camps, built in a triangle shape so that the guards in each tour could see the whole camp (the shape was not used for other camps because they could not add buildings easily without wrecking the sight lines). It went on to hold up to 70 000 prisoners in 1945, and was the site of many atrocious experiments. After it was liberated by the Soviets, they used it as a camp for political prisoners, until they decided to turn it into a memorial to the people they liberated. The memorial was heavily biased (it has just red triangles on the massive monument in the middle of the camp, which means political prisoners, so the Soviets who were caught wore that triangle), and made the Soviets out to be the heros. Ironic, since they used the camp as well.
The camp was massive. It is impossible to convey how huge and empty it was inside the walls. Many of the barracks that the prisoners were held in have been taken down, but gravel marked out where they used to be. There are a few buildings left, such as the morgue, the hospital, the camp prison, a barrack or two, and the house of the head of the camp, just a few feet outside of the camp. There is also the burnt remains of 'Station Z', the building that had held the gas chambers and the crematory. The camp is free to the public, just like the Topography of Terrors, so that no one has an excuse to ignore the atrocities of the war. As someone who had learnt about the Holocaust since elementary school, nothing that I read was a shock. But that did not stop it from being an emotional journey. I had at least three moments of understanding how awful the memories were that that ground held. One was in the morgue- the upstairs held am autopsy room, and each person who died was given reasons like 'heart failure' for their reason of death (even of they had been worked to death, or shot, or beaten), and then sent into the basement. They would stack the bodies, and there is a ramp from their for wheelbarrows to take the bodies to the crematory, or to be buried. The building was quite crowded when we had gotten in, since there was a tour group going through, but once I saw how huge the basement was, I wanted out. Unfortunately, there was a rude tourist blocking the door so he could take pictures (and there were a few people taking selfies in the basement... who does that?). Going outside doesn't give you much relief, since every part of the camp oozes a terrible feeling, but it is better than being inside those buildings. By the end of the day, I was emotionally exhausted, but so glad that I went. I think it is so important for everyone to learn and understand what happened during the Holocaust. What are your thoughts about taking photos in places like that?
I ended up really loving Berlin. It is a gritty city, with a twisted past, but it really has grown past that. Many of the people that I talked to said that one thing that they loved about Berlin was the fact that it was so open and accepting, and that it is multi-cultural.
Have you been to Berlin? Did you love it as much as me, even with the dark past?
You can see more of my photos from Germany on my instagram account here, my account is @funk_katherine
Although this was the second week of our trip, I decided to write about it first. We started in Berlin, and from Berlin took the ICE train to Cologne. We ended up finding out that we pass Hannover on the way to Cologne, so it was a bit of a backward way of going through the country, but it worked out well. If you just happen to be going to Berlin, Hannover, and Cologne, like we did, I would recommend going to Hannover first, and then Cologne from there.
Anyway, our trip took about 4 hours to get there. We have family in this area who was picking us up and showing us around the area, so we were very lucky to have our own tour guides!
The family that we had in that area was so knowledgeable about the area and its history, which was amazing for us! That also means that I have tons of historical stories about the area to share (yay!).
We started off in Cologne, since that was where our train was coming in. We walked around Cologne's Old Town for a while, and also saw the Rhine river. Cologne doesn't have a massive Old Town compared to some towns, but what it does have is stunning. We started off at the Cologne Dom, or Cathedral, which is right beside the main train station. They started building the cathedral in the 1200's, but it wasn't finished until the 1850s. They still constantly work on the cathedral because the pollution is wrecking the stones that it was made from. They use a very specific type of stone from Italy, and they employ many, many stone maisons and workers to fix up the building. The cathedral actually escaped being bombed during the second world war, and only had a few windows blown out. The Allies were trying to avoid hitting the cathedral, so the Old Town around it also escaped the bombs. The rest of Cologne, however, was not so lucky because it is a bit of an import town, with the Rhine going through the center of the town.
After walking through Cologne, the next day we had a castle day (which is very exciting for someone who lives in a place that doesn't have any old buildings left). The first one that we went to, Schloss Dyck, was built in the 1630s. I wanted to take a million pictures of it, but photos were not allowed inside unfortunately. The inside looked like a miniature Versailles. The next one that we went to was more of a typical medieval castle, though it was a little bit more touristy since there was an Easter market going on that day. The castle was on the top of a hill (like most castles are), and had stunning views from the top. The last one is still a town, but you can walk along the entire wall that held the original old town. We ended up being there at dusk, so the light was stunning.
On the last day in the area, we went to Aachen, and to the drielandenpunt, the border of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. It is very neat to see the border there because all of the countries are a part of the European Union. That means that there is no border control, you can just walk between the three countries.
Aachen is really a university town, and it has a beautiful Old Town. Starting with the cathedral, which has a pretty great back story to it. The lore behind the building is that the people of Aachen needed help from the devil to build it. In exchange for helping them build the cathedral, he asked for the soul of the first death in the Cathedral. The devil thought that this was a great deal since he believed that the first soul would be the soul of the pope. However, the people of Aachen are cunning, and they trapped a coyote in the cathedral so that was the soul that the devil got. After he came to get the soul, he was so angry about being tricked that he punched the door (you can feel a bit of metal in one of the door knockers, and people say that it is the devils finger), and ran all the way to the sea. He brought back two huge bags of sand, and he was going to cover the whole city in sand. He eventually got very tired, and saw a woman from Aachen. He asked this woman how close the town was, and since she also was very cunning, she told him to look at her shoes. She told him that she had only bought them that morning at the Aachen market, but she had been walking so far that they were completely worn through. The devil was so tired already, that he couldn't walk that far to get there, so he gave up an dumped the sand right there, right at the doors of the city. Just outside of the city are two large hills, which is what they are talking about when they say he dumped the sand there.
There is also the Lindt factory in Aachen, which we had to go over to see and get some chocolate at the store beside the factory. We also walked through all of the Old Town of Aachen, and had a drink at a beautiful old pub. The old town of Aachen was originally all wood, but it burned down in 1668, and after that laws were created that enforced each building to be made of stone.
From Aachen, we made our way (on the train again) to Hannover. Not far from Hannover is the small village that my dads grandma and family is from. We were able to see the place where she grew up, and some of the other small towns in that area. There are a bunch of villages very close together in that area, and we stayed there with family. The day after we arrived on the train was a quiet day, our first since we arrived in Germany. In the morning we walked around the little village, and in the afternoon we went to the town of Celle. Celle has the most intact old town in Germany, and it was completely avoided during the war. Celle has a Baroque styled castle there, which was actually built in the 1200s but was remodeled in the 1600s. Many of the buildings in the streets are from the 1500 and 1600s. The castle in Celle is actually the place where Caroline Matilda of Great Britain was exiled. You may know of her from the movie A Royal Affair, starring Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen.
I won't talk about Hannover very much since most of our trip there was about seeing family rather than sight seeing and learning new things, but we did still see some neat things! The great thing about going to Hannover (for me...) was that Queen Victoria was from the house of Hannover. The house of Hannover ruled until Victorias death in 1901 since her children were from the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha because of their father, Albert.
We also went to the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen. Since we were there in off season, it was lovely and quiet with no other tourists going through. Unfortunately that also means none of the plants were growing, which is pretty much the point of going to royal gardens.... But there were tons of statues and many other beautiful things in the gardens, and it was easy to imagine how lovely it would be in summer.
Thank you for reading! I will have much more information in my next post since I will talk about our week in Berlin then.
When I started this collection, I was inspired by the darker aspect of the Victorian Era. When it comes to costuming, it is very easy to see the beautiful parts of history, especially when your research focuses more on fashion plates and patterns, which it normally does when researching a dress. While I love seeing the lovely parts of history, I am more fascinated by the darker parts than anything else. As you have seen before (especially in my Frankenstein dress), I have a dark side that I love to mix in to my costuming. I have made quite a few costumes that were purely historical and as pretty as I could make it, but I have decided that I should make them more in my style, rather than just historically accurate.
I love the taking historical silhouettes and ideas and making them a little different, and a little bit darker. I had mentioned in a previous post about some of the things that inspired this collection. I made four dresses, each one representing another dark side of the late 1800s. This first one that I made, which I called Through the Looking Glass, was inspired by the drug issues that were so prevalent in this era. Opium was a huge problem in the late 1800s, with Opium Dens available all around, especially in large cities like New York and London. In the US, it was the Civil War that started many addictions. Most also didn't realize how addicting the drug was, so doctors prescribed it for many nervous conditions as well as for pain. Those who didn't have money for a doctor were able to buy it from a pharmacist to solve any medical problems. Opium wasn't the only highly addictive drug wandering the streets- such as laudanum and cocaine. Arsenic and other dangerous (and poisonous) ingredients were readily available.
To make things a little worse, doctors did not know how to treat addiction at the time. Hospitals would sometimes get them addicted to a different drug in an attempt to wean them off of opium, or whatever other drug was the issue, and the patient would end up with a few addictions instead of just the one. This may be a familiar concept if you have watched The Knick. The Knick is a show set in the 1890s following surgeons in a New York hospital. It is based on a true story, and the main doctor (John W. Thackeray) is based off of one of Americas Founding Fathers of surgery and medicine. Thackeray is based on William Halstead. Halstead had a rather unfortunate life, but did incredible things for modern surgery!
In a time when surgery had a mortality rate of close to 50%, Halstead brought in sterile gloves, developed radical mastectomy, carried out the first ever successful hernia and aneurysm repairs, as well as the first emergency blood transfusion, and brought in washing hands before operations. Halstead was originally addicted to cocaine, and ended up being checked into a hospital to get his addiction under control. They introduced him to morphine, and he lived the rest of his life addicted to both. His wife, a nurse, was also addicted to morphine.
Morphine and other opiates were incredibly easy to get your hands on- morphine and cocaine injection kits (with newly invented syringes) were available in the Sears catalog. Herione was known as a remedy for morphine addiction, and one philanthropic society mailed heroin to a group of morphine addicts. Cocaine eventually was replaced by methamphetamine and amphetamine, which was used for asthma. Many countries used amphetamine during World War Two to keep pilots and soldiers awake.
Through the early 1800s, most of the opium coming to Britain was from Turkey. It was known to be stronger, and its popularity only dropped in the 1870s and 1880s for Persian import. The opium was known as a cure all, and used as such by doctors and anyone needing pain relief, etc. It was also used to quiet fussing babies, mixed with water and treacle. It occasionally resulted in deaths, and often in illnesses. Raw opium could be bought as pills or sticks, and it was used normally for women more often than men. Medications containing opium were called 'women's friends' since it was taken for 'female troubles' (menstruation and childbirth), and 'female maladies' (hysteria, depression, fainting fits, and mood swings).
Cocaine was discovered in 1860 from coca leaves, but it wasn't available for commercial use until the 1880s. However, in 1863 a chemist named Angelo Mariani came up with a tonic that used coca leaves. It was advertised to solve everything, and could be taken like a daily vitamin. The tonic was praised by Queen Victoria and Rudyard Kipling, as well as others. In two glasses it is believed to have contained 50 milligrams of pure cocaine.
The drug problem in this era affected every part of society. It wasn't actually realized to be a problem until 1920, when the Dangerous Drug Act came to be in Britain.
Ripper Street has been a show that I have been inspired by for this collection, and The Knick has been another inspiration. If you would like to read more about how modern medicine was started in this era, Lindsey Fitzharris has a fascinating new book out called The Butchering Art, based on the surgeon Joseph Lister's life and success in modernizing surgery. If you would like to see the images that have inspired the collection, I have a pinterest board here (all of the images are dresses. I have very dark and gruesome information that I have found through research, but I promise there are no bad images, just pretty things!). I will recommend other books, movies, and TV shows that I have gotten information from for each of the dresses. For the Jewel dress I will talk about prostitution, especially in Britain, through the late 1800s, and for the other two gowns I will talk about circuses and sideshows, and death practices in the 1800s. Most of my information focuses on London, since that is what I am most interested in, but it also moves around to New York, Toronto, and other large cities with dark underbellies.
I chose the name for this dress (Through the Looking Glass) based off of the author, Lewis Carroll. Although there is much debate, Alice in Wonderland is well known as being a drug-induced dream, so I thought that would be a perfect name for the first Dark History.