Classical Allure: Richmond Style

The Valentine

“When indeed I learned that you also spoke Greek, the tongue of the Muses, I went completely crazy about you. In beauty you surpassed Helen, in culture of mind and ready wit Sappho.”  - Richmond's Founder, William Byrd II (1674–1744)

Classical Allure: Richmond Style
Images from the ancient world have fired the imaginations and influenced the fashions of Richmond residents for centuries. In 1776, George Wythe (1726–1806) chose the Roman goddesses Libertas, Virtus, Ceres and Aeternitas to define the commonwealth’s values in his design for the Virginia State Seal. As the 18th century progressed, the influence of ancient Greece and  Rome spread from ideology to art and architecture. Women even dressed à l’antique, in gowns inspired by antiquity. The parallel rise of classical forms, fashions and ideas created a lasting association between the ‘neoclassical’ style and the philosophical identity of Virginia’s capital city. Now as then, draped and pleated gowns bring to mind Greek and Roman goddesses and the ideals they embody.

The symbol of the four goddesses

Libertas, Virtus, Ceres and Aeternitas.

Ball dress
Ackermann's Repository of Arts
May 1809

These prints were collected by Margaret May Dashiell (1869–1958), a Richmond-based artist, writer and importer of European books and antiques, which she sold in “The Serendipity Shop” on 117 N. Adams Street from 1915–1930.

Full dress for April
Ackermann's Repository of Arts
April 1799

In the 1790s, the proportions of women’s fashion changed dramatically as the waist-cinching, hip-enhancing understructure and crisp silks of the 18th century gave way to a columnar silhouette of gossamer white cotton. This fashion was often described in contemporary correspondence as the antique style or à l’antique.

Pair of Vases
1810 - 1830

An interest in classical imagery, due in part to the mid-18th century discovery and excavation of ancient Roman cities Herculaneum and Pompeii, evolved in the early-19th century into the neoclassical decorative art style exemplified by this pair of urn-shaped vases. These vases were used at Hickory Hill, the Hanover County, Virginia, home of William Fanning Wickham (1793–1880), eldest son of John Wickham (1763–1839) and his first wife, Mary Smith Fanning (1775–1799).

Capitol of Virginia Richmond
1840 - 1860

Devised by Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) with the French architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1720–1820), the design for Virginia’s Capitol building was modeled after the Maison Carrée, an ancient Roman temple in Nîmes, France. The original structure was completed in 1788. It was the first public building in America designed in the Monumental Classical style and it embodied the Greek and Roman ideals to which the founding fathers turned as they framed the political structure of the new American republic.

Hair Comb
1890 - 1910

The flower-like form ornamenting the center of this hair comb is called an anthemion. Thought to resemble the honeysuckle plant, the motif was copied from ancient Greek and Roman art and
architecture. Its name derived from the Greek word for ‘flower.’ This hair comb, which may have been worn by Richmond’s Sallie Munford Talbott Young (1873–1944), illustrates one early-20th century interpretation of the neoclassical style.

Handbag
Jeanne Eisenman
1920 - 1930

The meandros or ‘Greek key’ motif was an ornament used in ancient Greece for architectural friezes and pottery. It has remained a popular decorative element for fashion, architecture and decorative arts. As this handbag made by Richmonder Jeanne Eisenman demonstrates, the classical meandros suited the fashionable taste for rectilinear shapes, symmetry and bold contrast during the Art Deco period (1920s–1940s).

Pair of shoes Heel
Jimmy Choo
2005

In the late-18th and early-19th centuries, images of ancient dress inspired a vogue for open-toed sandals worn with ribbons or bands of leather that wrapped over the foot and up the calf. Now called ‘gladiator sandals,’ after the professional armed combatants who fought to entertain audiences in ancient Rome, this footwear style has become a seasonal standard in fashion. This pair was worn by Richmond native, Pamela J. Royal, M.D

Libertas
As recorded in the stone of ancient statues, the draped folds of the Greek garments, the peplos and chiton, reveal the form of the natural body beneath. This image of the body frozen in stone is an apt metaphor for fashion’s fraught relationship with corporal freedom.Bound or free, ideal or real, control of the body lies at the very center of fashion.The first modern dress style to copy the columnar silhouette of ancient statuary was the high-waisted gown that came into fashion in the late 1790s as post-Revolutionary America was adjusting to its new autonomy. The style revealed a controversial vision of the natural body, seemingly uncontrolled by underpinnings, until the fashion cycle moved again towards full skirts and fitted bodices.Since the introduction of this robe à l’antique, body-conscious fashions inspired by classical statuary have risen repeatedly in Richmond during periods of increased interest in personal liberty.

Day & Evening Dresses
1798

In contrast to the stiff underpinnings worn throughout the 18th century, the minimal gowns of the 1790s were a fashionable reflection of the spirit of Libertas. True liberty was not available to all, however. At the same time that dresses styled à l’antique freed fashionable Richmond women from 18th century underpinnings, American legislators limited voting rights to white male propertyowners and perpetuated the black slave trade in centers like Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom.

Skeleton Suit
1820

In the late-18th and early-19th centuries, some young Richmond boys wore a new style of dress called the ‘skeleton suit.’ This close-fitting garment was characterized by long trousers buttoned onto the waist of a short jacket or waistcoat. The high waistline and close fit reflected the neoclassical silhouette of women’s dress while the trouser legs facilitated movement for boys aged three to five years.

The Greek Slave
Robert Cooke (attributed to) after Hiram Powers
1800 - 1895

The Greek Slave (1848–69) by Hiram Powers was exhibited extensively in Europe and America and became one of the most widely known statues of the 19th century. The image of a white woman in chains referred to the enslavement of Greek women during the Turkish War of Independence (1821–30). This was a controversial subject in Richmond while African Americans were still enslaved in the South.

Day dress
1902 - 1922

In the first decade of the 20th century, the French fashion designer, Paul Poiret (1879–1944), promoted a high-waisted, columnar silhouette to replace the wasp-waisted styles of the late-19th century. In “the name of Liberty” Poiret “proclaimed the fall of the corset.” This example of the new, comfortable and neoclassically inspired silhouette was owned by Sweet Briar College graduate, Ellen Howison Christian (1895–1966).

Danzatrice (Mademoiselle Svirsky) by Paul Troubetzkoy, 1900 - 1920

"Tra-Boy Dancers in the Gardens of Maymont"
June 1930

Idear Steele Traylor (1884–1968) and Miss Margaret Anne Boyer (1870–1945) formed the Tray-Boy (sometimes called “Tra-boy”) School of Dance in Richmond in about 1919. The Tray-Boy dancers pictured here in bare feet and short gauzy gowns seem to be performing in the ‘free dance’ style promoted by the Modern Dance pioneer, Isadora Duncan (1877–1927), inspired by her study of the ancient Greeks.

Evening gown
Dorothy McNab
1960 - 1970

Richmond resident Inger Rice wore this dress designed by Australian born, Jamaica-based fashion designer, Dorothy McNab, while accompanying her husband, Walter Rice (1903–1998), to an event celebrating Jamaica’s independence from England. The pleats of this gown are tacked down to a tailored inner shell creating a carefully controlled façade of classically-inspired drapery.

(left) Wedding dress
Halston
1976

In a 2008 Richmond magazine profile, interior design expert Sara Ruffin Costello cited Richmonder Mary Ballou Ballentine as an early style inspiration. She described Ballentine as a “hostess extraordinaire,” whose warmth and style “put guests at ease.” Ballentine’s 1976 wedding dress by Halston epitomizes this same effortless elegance and demonstrates why the designer’s diaphanous dresses are often called ‘Goddess Gowns.’

(center) Dress
Stephen Burrows
1970

Stephen Burrows was one of the first African-American fashion designers to achieve international fame. In 1970, Burrows opened a boutique in New York’s prestigious Henri Bendel department store. Like the sheer, soft dresses of the early-19th century, his gowns celebrated and liberated the body. With her keen eye for revolutionary fashion, Richmonder Pamela Reynolds spotted this quintessential Burrows design at Bendel’s at the beginning of his career.

(right) Dress
Halston
1978

In 1979, choreographer Martha Graham (1894–1991) worked with fashion designer Halston to create costumes for the PBS telecast of her ballet based on the Greek legend, Clytemnestra. “He never deviates from the human body,” Graham said. “His garments are cut so adroitly that there is no strain.” Richmond resident Martha Susan Sanders (1920–1914) wore this floating chiffon Halston evening dress in 1978 to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary with Andrew Trigg Sanders (1910–1991).

Liberty dress
Carter Johnson
2015

CCH Collection is a contemporary women’s clothing line owned and designed by sisters Alston Armfield and Carter Johnston. During autumn 2014, CCH Collection opened its flagship store at 5718 Grove Avenue in Richmond. Johnston studied selections from the Valentine’s Costume and Textile Collection to find inspiration for her modern twist on the “Liberty Dress.”

“When I think of ‘Liberty,’ I think of strength and freedom. I wanted to create a dress with bold structural elements such as sharp pleats and a deep plunging V on both sides to represent ‘strength,’ and fluid elements such as the drapey sleeves and soft flowing skirt to represent ‘freedom.’ To me, the modern woman is confident, strong and free. I wanted to create a dress that embodied all three of those things.”
Carter Johnston

VIRTUS  and CERES 
In his famed analysis of Greek and Roman works, Polymetis (1747),classicist Reverend Joseph Spence (1699–1768) described Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, fertility and maternity as “a beauty of the brunette kind,” with a “very pretty face.” His description of the Roman goddess Virtus is “rougher,” like “one of their common soldiers.” Her spirit is that of “man’s exerting himself for the service of his country.” Beauty and fertility—honor and masculinity: these conflicting images are typical of the female archetypes used to describe the political aspirations of Virginia during a time when women were excluded from the dialogues that determined their future.Today, Richmond women still confront, conform to and contradict the images and expectations that classical models present to them in fashion, social and political discourse.

Two piece ensemble
1990 - 1999

The layered effect of this two-part evening ensemble, worn by Richmond educator Dorothy R. Chambers, evokes the Greek goddess, Artemis, or her Roman equivalent, Diana, who adopted the shorter proportions of the man’s chiton to facilitate movement during the hunt. In ancient Greek tradition, Artemis was venerated as the protector of girls until their adulthood, a fitting attribute for Mrs. Chambers (1924–2011), whose commitment to education spanned a 34-year career in Richmond Public schools as well as voluntary service at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Union University.

Evening Gown
Saks Fifth Avenue
1955 - 1965

Catherine Robertson Claiborne chose this goddess-like beaded silk chiffon and silk crepe evening gown to attend a farewell dinner honoring her father, Walter S. Robertson (1893–1970), for his service as the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (1953–1959). Mrs. Claiborne serves on the boards of the Richmond Ballet and the Virginia Opera and works to honor the historic and heroic contributions of women through the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission.

Ball gown
Jasmine Haute Couture
2006

The daughters of Dr. Pamela J. Royal and the Hon. C. N. Jenkins, Jr., fashioned a family tradition from this empire-style ball gown. When daughters Sydney (2006), Berkley (2008) and McKinley (2012) wore the gown to the debutante ball sponsored by the Upsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., they each added a personal touch. The AKA debutante project is designed to serve as a means of promoting personal growth in high school girls by fostering positive peer relationships and a sense of community responsibility.

"Athena" Hat
Sara Sue for Miller and Rhoads
1962

Richmond’s renowned hat designer Sara Sue (1908–1985) is remembered for her imaginative designs and thematic collections. Inspired by travel abroad, Sara Sue designed two collections informed by the ancient world. For her 1962 “Mediterranean Magic” collection she created a whimsical caricature of “Athena,” the goddess of wisdom and war. Sara Sue fashioned custom millinery in Miller and Rhoads’ Amethyst Room for more than 40 years.

Evening Dress
Greentree's
1940 - 1949

In 1895, German immigrant Meyer Greentree (1856–1948) opened a specialty clothing store at 611 East Broad Street in downtown Richmond. The Greentree family owned and operated the store until 1971. Like Thalhimers, Greentree’s sold formal women’s clothing in a salon called the French Room. The Dionysian bands of ornamental grape clusters embellishing this Greentree’s evening dress create a striking effect that calls to mind both virtue and vice that the abundance of Ceres’s harvest could bring.

Evening Dress
Thalhimers Americana Shop
1940 - 1945

In 1942, Richmond’s Thalhimers Department Store closed its exclusive French Room after the German occupation of France during World War II blocked American access to Paris couture. The Americana Shop, created in its stead, promoted American design as a patriotic option. The sequin half-moons embellishing this evening dress were an attribute of the Greek Artemis or Roman Diana, the powerful goddess of the hunt and an appropriate emblem, perhaps, for Richmond women holding up the home front while husbands were away at war.

Bathing Suit
JRS by Catalina
1971

On July 5, 1946, Louis Réard (1897–1984) introduced the first two-piece bathing suit small enough to expose the navel. When the style sparked controversy, fashion editor Diana Vreeland quipped: “it’s that kind of thinking that holds people back for thousands of years.” The Richmond woman who wore this bikini may have agreed. In1959, the excavation of a 4th century Roman villa in southern Italy proved Vreeland right, revealing an ancient Roman mosaic of female athletes wearing two-piece garments much like the modern day bikini.

Evening Dress
Saks Fifth Avenue
1970 - 1979

The lines of this sleeveless evening dress mimic the shape of a Doric chiton, pinned at the shoulders and bound at the waist with a zone or belt. A senior executive with Thalhimers Department Store, Elizabeth Bunnell Bauder (1929–2012) understood the power of fashion to make a statement. The plunging neckline and soft gathers provide a counterpoint to Bauder’s professional pantsuit on view upstairs in the exhibition, This Is Richmond, Virginia, and illustrate the complicated expectations of the 20th century professional woman.

Seal of Virginia
The American Tobacco Company
1850 - 1900

A revived interest in color lithography in the late-19th century attracted manufacturers who began to promote their products with vivid and eye-catching images. Tobacco manufacturers frequently used images of goddesses in their advertising. Classical references added credibility to the advertising campaigns and justified the alluring depictions of beautiful women in a state of partial (or in the case of Venus, total) undress.

Folding Fan, 1810 - 1830
This early-19th century fan ornamented with the major deities of the Greek Pantheon was collected by Richmond-based artist, author and antiques dealer Margaret May Dashiell who studied under Richmond artist Edward V. Valentine (1838–1930)

Virginia State Flag
1900 - 1915

When the Virginia Convention approved a design for Virtus styled as a breast-baring Amazon, classical conventions justified a representation of partial nudity that would have been unacceptable in any other context in 1776 Virginia. The 1776 seal was stolen or damaged during the evacuation of Richmond in 1865. Subsequent depictions of Virtus varied widely.

Virginia State Flag
1900 - 1915

As the armor-clad Virtus depicted on this 1908 flag demonstrates, the Greek and Roman traditions of heroic nudity were not always used to rationalize partial-nudity in representations of this representative of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Most recently, in 2010, former Virginia Attorney General, Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli II, proposed a more modest alternative to the official, semi-nude figure of Virtus and reopened a debate over the sanitizing influence of classical dress.

The Norfolk Convention, Equal Suffrage Leaque of Virginia
1910 - 1915

In a 1979 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, suffragist Adele Clark (1882–1983) recalled: “I remember marching in a parade in New York with a contingent from Virginia...We were carrying the state flag. I saw a man on the side point to the flag and heard him comment, ‘See, that’s what will happen if women ever get the vote.’”

Believing the flag was a suffragist banner, the onlooker assumed that the trampled ‘Tyrant’ was the victim of a woman voter.

(Adele Clark is identified in the image with an arrow and handwritten name)

AETERNITAS
When Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) recalled “the beauty of fair Greece and the grandeur of old Rome” in his poem “To Helen,” here turned to the source of Western civilization to evoke a grand and immortal beauty.The enduring respect for classical traditions lends gravitas to academic, artistic and philosophical institutions that lean on ancient emblems. Fashion, too, has sought credibility in the antique.As the face of Richmond changes, why does the influence of ancient Greek and Roman culture endure? In fashion, it may be because these ancient images resonate with the earliest dress traditions of many cultures represented in Richmond’s population. The pleating and draping of uncut cloth reproduced in classical statuary is fundamental to both Western and non-Western traditions of garment construction. When Richmonders wear fashions inspired by classical images, they connect to an ancient and universal experience of making and wearing dress.

Vase
1775 - 1825

Two large ‘Etruscan’ vases play a pivotal role in the storyline of Edgar Allan Poe’s (1809–49) gothic short story, “The Assignation.” Recent scholarship has suggested that Poe may have been inspired by two 19th century earthenware vases now housed in the Valentine collection, one of which is shown here. Eager to acquire classical décor for his fashionable home, Poe’s adopted father and Mann S. Valentine’s brother-in-law, John Allan (1779–1834), may have imported these copies from Europe or have purchased them from a British dealer when the Allan family lived in England.

Wrapper
1870 - 1890

The influence of Greek and Roman material culture on fashion often takes the form of superficial ornamentation. The meandros or ‘Greek key’ motif, which has been invoked as an eternity symbol in modern usage, adds an element of Hellenic romance to this 1880s wrapper. ‘Undress’ or ‘at-home’ garments like the 19th century wrapper and the later tea and hostess gowns frequently incorporated exotic, historicizing and romantic elements.

Trio of Dresses
Mary McFadden, Mariano Fortuny and Anthony Muto

Dress
Mary McFadden
1980 - 1989

Like Fortuny, Mary McFadden looked to ancient cultures for inspiration and patented a specialized treatment of fibers to achieve the perceived effect of draped cloth carved from stone. In 1975 McFadden developed ‘Marii,’ a synthetic charmeuse pleated to create an effect like “liquid gold against the body.” Richmond’s Frances Lewis wore this avant-garde Marii ensemble to the 1985 opening of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ West Wing, built in part to house the Lewis’ own large donation of Contemporary Art.

Delphos dress
Mariano Fortuny
1925 - 1935

In 1907, artist and innovator, Mariano Fortuny (1871–1949), developed a technique for crimping lightweight silk that was inspired by the stylized pleats of the 5th century BC bronze statue Charioteer of Delphi. The resulting silhouette, a clinging column of fluted silk, remained in production from 1907 until his death. In his pursuit of a timeless ideal of beauty, Fortuny transcended the cycle of fashion. Virginia native, Mrs. Elizabeth Runk Kayan (1899–1990), was a devoted client of the Spanish-born designer.

Evening ensemble
Anthony Muto
1970 - 1979

In 1978, New York designer Anthony Muto was quoted saying: “I’m interested in making clothes that look like `this season’ but don’t go out of style next season; I think things should last.” Muto relied on classical draping to give his ‘Marita’ fashion collections this timeless quality. Virginia fashion leader, Mrs. Josephine Schwarzschild, wore this classically-inspired Marita ensemble. Mrs. Schwarzschild co-owned and ran the high-end women’s specialty store, Schwarzschild’s, Inc., in Staunton with her husband, Gustavus Morris Schwarzschild, Jr., for more than 30 years.

Tea Gown
1930

In 1922, etiquette expert, Emily Post (1872–1960), described the tea gown as “a hybrid between a wrapper and a ball dress… it is made of rather gorgeous materials and goes on easily…” A luxurious style of at-home attire, the tea gown was frequently characterized by exotic and historicizing elements. Remembered for her generosity and her elegant style, Richmond philanthropist, Mrs. Elizabeth G. Schneider (1914–2004), broke with her usual cool palette with this bright coral goddess-draped tea gown.

Sari
BNJ Fashions and Jolly Paulson
2015

According to traditional histories, the saree can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1300 BCE), which flourished long before the ancient Greek and Roman cultures documented their own draped garments. This modern saree was given to the Valentine by Richmond-based BNJ Fashions.com, an online boutique for Indian fashion offering an eclectic collection of ethnic clothing and accessories. Richmonder Jolly Paulson created the blouse. The selection of styles that BNJ offers reflects the diverse and inclusive nature of Richmond’s growing Indian community.

Court Gown
1937

Alexander Wilbourne Weddell (1876–1948) was an American diplomat, who served as the ambassador to Argentina (1933–39) and to Spain (1939–42). Mrs. Weddell wore this ensemble when presented at the First Drawing Room following the 1937 coronation of George VI (1895–1952) in England. The draped bodice, pinned at the shoulder, draws on classical forms, while the brocaded silk borders of the train recall textile motifs used in the traditional South Asian garment, the saree (or sari).

VCU/Valentine Fashion Design Competition
Zoë Pulley, a student of the VCUarts Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising created this pleated gown through a collaboration between the department's Design Theory and Illustration class and the Valentine Costume and Textile Collection. Inspired by pleating in the Greek Peplos gowns, Fortuny’s Delphos gown and Issey Miyake’s ‘Pleats Please’ collection, this design won first prize in a competition sponsored by the Valentine. Pulley made an original garment from the winning illustration which was worn to the exhibition opening by a VCU student model.

"The process began as an exploration of the evolution of pleats in relation to the female body. I wondered how all the landmarks in pleat history have utilized simplicity and shape to liberate the female form. This piece was created with an intention to emphasize the wearer, and create a look that balances a liberating, comfortable silhouette (pleated sheath) with an active element (wrist ties) that engages and restricts the wearer."

Zoë Pulley

Credits: Story

CLASSICAL ALLURE: RICHMOND STYLE
was made possible by our generous sponsors:

The Elizabeth G. Schneider Charitable Trust
Mr. Philip W. Klaus Jr.
Ms. Susan L. Klaus
Mr. James W. Klaus
The Richard S. Reynolds Foundation
Baggio
Rejena Carreras
CCH Collection
Denise P. Dickerson
Lori & Chris Evangel
Mr. & Mrs. Floyd D. Gottwald Jr.
Mr. & Mrs. Patrick M. Hardy
Mary Horton
The Honorable Clarence
Jenkins Jr. & Dr. Pamela J. Royal
Jermies Needlepoint & Linens
Mr. & Mrs. Bruce A. Kay
True F. Luck
William J. Martin
Linda & Steve Nash
Nellie George
Katherine Gomez & Jack Nelson
Mrs. Hunter R. Pettus Jr.
Quirk and Verdalina
Mr. & Mrs. Richard S. Reynolds III
Dr. & Mrs. Frank S. Royal Sr.
Marcia & Harry Thalhimer
Mr. & Mrs. Richard G. Tilghman
Deborah & Thomas Valentine
Mr. & Mrs. Wesley Wright Jr.

EXHIBITION CURATOR:
Kristen Elizabeth Stewart

SPECIAL THANKS TO:
The Valentine Board, Staff and Volunteers

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
Nancy E. Beck, Decorative Painter
Russell Bernabo, Conservator
Capitol Museum Services
Custom Art Installations
Flatten Image
Ilnicki Studios. Graphic Designer
Image 360 – RVA
Kisco Signs, LLC
The Costume Institute
Michele Pagan, Textile Conservator
PLAZA Arts Materials and Picture Framing
Rick’s Custom Frame and Gallery
Riggs Ward Design LC
Pamela J. Young, LLC Paper Conservator

Special thanks to our media sponsors:
Richmond magazine
Style Weekly

Exhibition and object photography:
Rob Hendricks, Richmond magazine
Steve Hedburg, Richmond magazine
Steven Casanova

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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