Monday, 23 January 2012

How to wear a Stalabito


I know that you have a great interest in caves and rock formations. I hope that this article (which I cut out from one of the complimentary magazines in my hotel room) might inspire you to take an interest in dresses, and maybe even make you want to wear one.

~ Your Mother

The purpose of the Stalabito is to grant its wearer the off-kilter elegance of an abstract Art Deco sculpture, by presenting the lower half of the body as a meandering, unbalanced column. The desired effect is a graceful contrast between the apparently wayward posture of the legs (which is an illusion achieved by the design) and the air of poise and composure above the waist.

A Stalabito has several identifying features:  The hem of the gown, which flares slightly at the base, should connect perfectly with the ground without trailing on it. The garment tapers dramatically as it ascends towards the waist and so should be avoided by women with voluptuous figures. The internal structure, which give the dress its unusual shape, is made from  a series of hoops, spaced vertically, three to four inches apart and arranged like an uneven stack of dinner plates. The effect is to distort the profile of the lower body, which can be made to appear to be lean dramatically off the centre line, as if on the brink of toppling over. Inside the dress the legs retain their normal position and there is no discomfort. Typically Stalabitos are tailored from silken fabric, with abundant surface folds and tucks, imitating the stalagmite cave formations which are the inspiration for the design, and from which the garment’s name is derived.

Although Stalabitos first achieved mass popularity in Italy the design originates from Leoben, Austria, and is credited to a dressmaker called Joanie Renner who began making them in the 1930s. Under a European directive, authentic Stalabitos can only be purchased from one of three traditional dress shops in their town of origin. Dresses of this kind produced elsewhere in Europe are sold as “Stalabito-style.”

When a woman chooses to wear a Stalabito she deliberately imposes limitations upon herself and upon how others will perceive and interact with her. Because of this she should carefully consider the suitability of a such  a garment  for the social situations that she is likely to find herself in. The gown does not allow for movement of the lower body  in anything other than small, shuffling footsteps and so is usually worn with flat soled shoes. Walking more than a few paces  is not encouraged and the wearer should regard herself as a piece of ornamentation, decorating the room that she inhabits. If one is ordering a Stalabito for a specific occasion it is not considered bad etiquette to contact the host in advance and request information on the decor, so as to better blend-in.

Female guests at formal Italian balls will often wear Stalabitos during an early part of the evening, referred to as the convergenza, where they will converse in small, prearranged groups.  When the time comes to change into more conventional attire, the most important women will be ushered away in ones and twos to a nearby dressing area, with their exit from the ballroom discretely screened by well-dressed servants. Upon their return the next most important women will be taken away to change. This continues until the group metamorphosis is complete.

Another popular and more flamboyant method of achieving the same result is known as the cambiamento del costume. In this instance, large screens are placed around the women for them to change behind.  Again this occurs in order of seniority.    

In modern times pseudo-Stalabitos are available with clips and buttons that can be discretely fastened and unfastened to let out  additional material. thereby transforming it into a more conventional ball gown that allows for greater freedom of movement. These concessions to utility have brought the Stalabito back into vogue again.

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