2/17/2012

Mary Curzon and style

Mary Curzon
Mary Curzon, who deserves a blog post in herself (and I might get around to that) was an American heiress who married George Curzon who was to become Viceroy of India at the end of the 19th century. At the moment I'm reading Nigel Nicolson's biography on her (Mary Curzon) and his description of her and her wardrobe when she was to become Vicereine is worth quoting in spite of its length (page 138 in the Futura paperback edition from 1978) to give a flair of the exotic, and what was expected of a woman in the late Victorian and Edwardian period:

"She took immense pains with her trousseau, knowing that she must match the magnificent jewels, uniforms, turbans and saris of her host and hostess, and how much importance an oriental people attach to outward appearance. She must be ultra-feminine when the men were ultra-masculine. She must not give offence by adopting the Indian style, but pay tribute to it by discreet reminders that she knew what it was. She had special materials woven in India to her design; embroidered Parisian clothes with Indian motifs; bought costume jewellery in Calcutta bazaars. Many of her clothes survive in the costume-museum of Bath, a few displayed on dummies in the exhibition-hall, the remainder carefully stored in the original trunks in which she brought them back from India. There, seventy years later, I was allowed to unfold and handle them. They were still in perfect condition. Evening dresses, garden-party dresses, trains, morning gowns; silks, satins and brocades; padded, boned and upholstered. She had a taste for slithering materials which changed colour as she walked, or crisp ones which rustled (sound has gone out of modern clothes, to their loss), and for lace edgings which would have dirtied withing an hour had she not taken great care. Almost every dress was made by Worth in Paris, and  on most were stitched Indian designs of flowers, or whorls following the skirt-hem or caressing the neckline, strengthening the flowing silk or satin with encrusted dragons or insects unknown to entomology. She preferred glowing colours, rich reds and purples, imperial colours, but pink was her favourite. In the daytime the dresses were loose and flowing, or tightly waisted. In the evening, her splendid shoulders emerged candlelike from the tight socket of her gown. Her beauty complimented  the material and jewels, her wearing them the designer, and all combined to satisfy her desire, her obligation, to be the loveliest."

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