Women and Lace – A Holey, Fashionable Affair

Ally Sereda

Spanish Lace Mantilla

Outside the temperatures drop below freezing and the snow howls. Going about your daily routine can be heavy under the weight of all those winter garments. And while spring may seem to be further away than you dare to admit, you can still indulge in fair weather fancies before the weather lets up. February is in the air, and there is no better time to fall in love, especially with lace.

This week I should like to invite my dear readers, magnifying glasses in hand, to take a closer look at lace in detail, and discover all there is to know about this integral addition to any true lady’s wardrobe.

From Marie Antoinette to Marilyn Monroe, it is unlikely you will find an iconic woman throughout history that did not have an intimate relationship with lace. Extraordinarily versatile, it can be used in the most demure of confections for wedding dresses and church going mantillas, or the sexiest, most provocative décolletages ever to be conceived by woman. Not just worn, collected and cherished; historically, lacemaking was a prestigious skill honed by the best-bred ladies in high society. And why not? A lady could earn herself a small fortune creating such masterpieces from the comfort of her boudoir.

Where, Wear and Wares?

One should never wear their best lace to the grocery store, or for any old hum drum errand. It is in bad taste. Save your most beautiful laces for the most special occasions: dinner parties, galas, holy day celebrations and to places of worship, and so forth.

Familiarize yourself with the many types of lace and you may find that you have a favorite! Not everyone can wear the detail and texture of heavier crocheted laces, so pay attention to how it feels as you wear it. If you are uncomfortable with the feeling of wearing so much lace, don’t force yourself to dress in it. Opt instead for lighter weight laces or stick to lace accessories. One thing is certain, regardless of the style or color you use, wearing lace has the power invoke a heightened emotional response to your dress. 

Don’t Get Knotted Up, Be in the Know on Lace Fashion

There are two main types of hand-made lace to know: needlepoint and bobbin. Both have many variations, depending on the origin and design. It was Federico de Vinciolo who created the first lace while working for the great patron Catherine de Medici, of the famous Medici family it Italy, responsible for financing so much art in the 16th century. He described his creation as “the invention of a goddess and the occupation of a queen.”

Lace is typically made of linen, silk, wool, or cotton, and sometimes woven with precious metals such as gold or silver threads. Some lace may be extremely expensive, depending on the complexity and fashionability of the pattern. One of a kind lace pieces can take weeks, months, or even years to create. These handmade laces are the most luxurious, most exclusive, and most desired of all.

Bobbin Lace

It is said, when examining a good piece of lace, that it should show that the designer of it had a pretty fancy; that the maker of it had fine fingers; that lastly, the wearer of it has the worthiness or dignity enough to gain what is difficult to obtain, and common sense enough not to wear it on all occasions. Keep this in mind when you go to make your buys.

History Fact Fix: Long before the Renaissance, the Egyptians had developed their own lace and used it in to decorate the beautiful shrouds of the pharaohs as they were laid to rest in their tombs for all time. One marvels at the how advanced ancient Egyptian culture was.

The Lace Fashion Race

It was expensive, it was exclusive, and it was in demand. Some were so desperate to have lace they resorted to stealing it. But by the 1770s, Robert Frost’s new lace making machine began to take over the industry. Lace became affordable. Soon, there was little a lacemaker could create that a machine could not. Today, bobbinet, or machine made lace, is nearly all you can find on the market. But don’t be fooled, there remains a stark difference in quality between handmade lace pieces of art, and machine made replications, no matter how detailed they may be.

Kate Middleton – The Queen of Lace

For the privileged few, handmade lace is still the preferred luxury, and worth every penny. For her royal wedding to Prince William, Kate Middleton commissioned a gown fit for a queen, crafted using the finest handmade lace.

Kate Middleton - Queen of Lace

Designer Sarah Burton (for Alexander McQueen) worked closely with Kate to create what is widely regarded as the most beautiful wedding dress of the century. The lace bodice was handmade using a technique that originated in Ireland in the 1820s called Carrickmacross, which involved cutting out rose detailing (symbolizing England), thistles (Scotland), daffodils (Wales), and shamrocks (Ireland), and individually applying them to the ivory silk tulle. The dressmakers used fresh needles every three hours, and washed their hands every half an hour to avoid marking the fabric.

Hand-cut English lace and French Chantilly lace were used throughout the bodice, skirt, and the underskirt trim. With laces coming from different sources, tremendous care was taken to ensure that all the pieces matched. The dress was inspired both by historic Royal fashion, and McQueen’s affinity for the Victorian tradition of corsetry. The underskirt is made of English Cluny lace over silk tulle. Each lace applique was handmade by the Royal School of Needlework, based at Hampton Court Palace.

The dress is worth $407,873. To put this in perspective, the average price of a couture dress is $25,000-$150,000, and there are only about 100 couture buyers in the world today.

Lace and Now… Yes, men, you too

If you are a fashion provocateur, you may want to experiment with lace as an everyday look. Men and women alike can do this. A popular, more modern way to incorporate lace into your attire is to wear lace pattern fabric rather than actual lace. This is particularly good for men, as it rather eliminates the certain femininity of more delicate laces like Chantilly. A refined man can wear this fabric fabulously. Excellent ready to wear examples of lacey looks can be found in the Fall 2013 Ready to Wear collections of Ruffian, Norma Kamali, Prabal Gurung, and Catherine Malandrino, all of which just showed at Mercedez Benz Fashion Week in New York yesterday.

Lace Fashion: Elie Saab - Spring 2013 Couture

Lace Fashion: Elie Saab – Spring 2013 Couture

For more elegant examples of incorporating lace, even lace-like design, into your evening wear, refer to the 2013 Spring Couture collections of Elie Saab, Alexis Mabille, Christian Dior, Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier, Mason Martin Margiela and Chanel. Elie Saab is particularly stunning this season. The collection showcases light, flowing fabrics with intricately beaded lace patterns.

Lace Fashion: Maison Martin Margiela - Spring 2013 Couture

Lace Fashion: Maison Martin Margiela – Spring 2013 Couture

Lace can be an excellent way to add rambunctious colors without making your look tasteless or lowbrow. For example, fasten a bright red slip beneath your delicate black lace skirt, allowing it to peek through as you sway gracefully through the foyer and into the elevator en route to your office. Cover a Chinese blue camisole with a black or white lace top for contrast. Choose thicker, crunchier laces for everyday wear, as they look less bridal.

Lace Fashion: Alexis Mabille - Spring 2013 Couture

Lace Fashion: Alexis Mabille – Spring 2013 Couture

If you enjoy wearing lace, but fear ruining it in your everyday go-go-go routine, decide on lace clothing infused with lycra, as it gives the fabric much more durability and comfort. In caring for your laces, remember that your eyelet lace will require more starch, while Chantilly lace does not.

Closeup of Chantilly Lace

Finally, lace fashion accessories can be an exquisite application to finish your look. Lace fashion items for consideration include: gauntlets, gloves, headbands, veils, hosiery, parasols, clutches, scarves, and of course, fascinators.

Life is laced with all sorts of wonderful possibilities. Take a chance.

As it is 2013, I do not recommend holding back from lace. Especially because it complements chiffon so well, one of the upcoming season’s hottest fabrics. Acquaint yourself with these timeless treasures. Endless possibilities are at your fingertips! Acquiring a collection of quality lace can take a lifetime. Ladies, there is no time like the present. This February, consider giving lace to yourself as a gift, and in return, you may find unexpected tenderness in the arms of another…