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Tiaras and Jewelry and Hats–Oh my!

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Threads‘ back cover, along with our “How Did They Sew That?” department, feature lovely, one-of-a-kind garments that never fail to inspire creative sewers. These items come from the collection of the Western Costume Company, in Los Angeles, California. Executive Editor Judith Neukam, with a team of photographers and art staff, has made several visits to Western Costume to select and photograph pieces that illustrate some of the best of apparel design.

Despite its name, Western Costume does much more than provide costumes for the entertainment industry–though it has been doing that for more than a century (the company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013).  It also serves as an archive and research collection, which include a vast library of print resources for costume historians, as well as an extensive store of authentic period garments.

Many of the garments at Western Costume aren’t really “costumes”; they’re actual items of apparel that represent what real people wore. These are the sort of pieces Judith selects for our back covers. Her goal is to show how accomplished seamstresses of yore (in Western Costume’s terms, “yore” is mostly the 1920s through the 1960s, though other eras are also represented) made their clothes stylish, tasteful, and special. We like to think the women and men who made these dresses, blouses, suits, and coats would have been readers of Threads. Below is a little assortment of inspiration from the past.

Blush gown

Dreamy blush gown with rouleau-draped midriff.

Cut velvet coat

Patterned velvet coat with ruched collar and cuffs.

Embellished blue dress

Embellished, drape-front dress.

Embellished blue dress, detail

Embellishment detail–appliquéd rouleaux with beads.

Along with clothing, Western Costume collects ravishing accessories, and many of them are over-the-top. If you’re into dress-up of any sort, you’ll find loads of things to whet your appetite for glamour.

Tiaras

Case of bejeweled tiaras.

Lavish necklaces

Lavish necklaces.

Dramatic headpieces

Dramatic headpieces.

Ornate gloves

Ornate gloves.

Charming reticules

Charming reticules.

Note that Western Costume Company doesn’t always know or supply definitive dates for items in the collection, so we sometimes have to make our best guess, narrowing down to a decade or so based on silhouette, fabric type, construction techniques, and embellishment and details. Test your costume history knowledge: Can you estimate the age of the garments shown above? (Be sure to show your work!)

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  1. Haldis | | #1

    OMG!! OMG!! Do they allow people to come and possibly photograph items? I would so make a trip down to LA just to go there and look at things. Talk about eye candy and feeding my soul.

    Or if they don't, can I sign up as a free lackey the next time you all are going. I will go for waters or whatever. PLEASE, PLEASE! Am willing to beg.

  2. CarolFresia | | #2

    Haldis, they aren't really open to the public, alas, although you might be able to visit the research library. Check their website for contact info. It does seem like a dream destination, doesn't it?

  3. moushka | | #3

    I agree with Haldis. I've dreamt of visiting Western Costume Company ever since I first saw their name attached to the beautiful dresses in Threads. I'm crazy about historical fashion; Western seems to have an unending quantity. The incredible handwork is my focus, especially from the first three decades of the XXth c. It's on of my favourit features of Threads magzine.

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