Turn of the Century Antiques in Denver, Colorado, specializes in the costuming of antique and vintage dolls using the best period appropriate fabrics and sewing techniques to dressdolls so that they retain their original beauty.
But the art of doll making and costuming has not been lost. “Art dolls” are today crafted to be collected for their beauty and costumes. They are not typically play dolls. The designers of these art dolls carry on a marvelous craft started centuries ago by merchants dressing fashion dolls. The fantastic doll below in purple is by Gregg Ortiz.
When the fashion dolls were no longer necessary because printed catalogues were a convenient and cheap means of advertisement, private collectors began to prize the dolls. Private collectors and museums today preserve many wonderful dolls and their costumes.
The tailor’s shop or fashion house before printing was able to reproduce high quality illustrations of its fashions would dress “fashion dolls” in the latest fashions and circulate the costumed dolls to advertise and market its brand of clothing. If a customer liked a particular style of clothing on a doll, the customer could have the tailor’s shop make the same garment for the customer to wear.
The texture of a fabric could be a velvet or a satin. A fine embroidery of lace could add elegance to a costume. Some dolls had changeable costumes and a full trousseau of beautiful items. More care sometimes went into the costumes of a doll than into its bodily construction of bisque porcelain.
Fashion designers could mix and match fabrics and colors in the design of a particular doll’s costume. They could also adorn the fabrics with leather and fur and ornaments of other materials such as feathers, ivory, bone, glass, stone, and wood. Metallic threads of gold and silver could be sewn in the clothing as well. Expensive costumes could have jewels and pearls attached to the finished garments. And fine fabrics or cut human hair was used to make realistic wigs.
The costumes of antique dolls of the 18th century and earlier are fascinating to study. The costumes were designed from fabrics made of natural fibers. These natural fibers included cotton, wool, silk, and linen (flax). Natural fibers were spun into yarns, and yarns weaved to make fabrics. Fabrics were dyed to make them more attractive.