Easy DIY Georgian and Victorian Watch Fob: Historical Accessory Tutorial

I’ve got Fobs that jingle-jangle-jingle as I go walking merrily along…

Back in ye olden days (aka 2014), I attended a very chilly Georgian Picnic with my husband, Chris.

To dress up our outfits, I made him a simple Regency fob/watch string and I wore a portrait miniature of him on a fob of my own. Since then, I’ve made lots of such fobs for costuming purposes. They are great for displaying watches, trinkets, miniatures, jewels, and more for 18th and 19th century costumes.

Napoleon and Josephine Tea 169 ps

Photo by Decor to Adore

For Laura’s Napoleon and Josephine Tea, I wore Christopher’s miniature portrait again and got a few requests for a tutorial on making one.

In addition, I found an original man’s fob from the 1880s, and I just recently got a few pocket watches from my grandma, so I have proper watches to use as examples!

Two of the watches are pretty recent, but the rose gold one is circa 1900-1920. Only one of them runs (the big one), but since I carry around a cellphone, I don’t really need the watches to function so much as look the part!

This is the oldest of the watches and the Victorian ribbon fob I found.

Before purchasing your supplies, consider who will be wearing the fob and what they will be putting on the fob. For example:
An 18th century man has a fob pocket on his breeches under a long waistcoat. He would tuck his expensive watch in the pocket attached to a highly decorated watch string long enough to show from under his waistcoat.
A Regency man will have a fob with a watch on one end and trinkets like tassels, watch key, seals, etc. on the other. He wears his watch tucked into his fob pocket with the ribbon hanging out over his breeches, displaying the accessories. You’ll want to buy a few charms to gussy-up the end of your fob!
A Victorian man, on the other hand, may keep his watch in a vest pocket with the watch on one end and only a bar on the other end to secure the fob to a buttonhole or he might keep a very short ribbon fob with a charm on the other end to dangle out of his pocket. This is a great opportunity to use silk ribbon, display some embroidery, or add an initials charm (like my antique example)
A Regency lady will wear her watch on one end and pin the other end to her dress or drape it over a sash, displaying the watch out in the open.
This method also works well for making chatelaines, equipages, or simply displaying a hanging pendant. Get creative!

– SUPPLIES –

– Ribbon Findings (I used 22mm ones, ordered from Etsy)
– Ribbon (I used 1 inch wide velvet ribbon from Hobby Lobby)
– Jump Rings
– Hoop/Bar, Lobster, or Spring Ring Clasps
– Needle Nose Pliers
-Scissors
– Watch, charms, miniatures, etc. to hang
– Pin/Brooch *optional
– Chain *optional

– MAKING THE FOB BASE –

Cut your ribbon to a comfortable length. If find 3-4 inches to be a good length for Regency fobs. 8-10 inches, if you want to secure it by looping it over a sash or if a gent needs it to reach from their waistcoat buttons to side pocket.  Keep in mind that your watch and the clasp will add extra length. If it helps, you may wish to use a flexible tailor’s measuring tape to “drape” on your outfit to get a measurement goal (for example, from a vest buttonhole to the watch pocket).

Next, place the ribbon clasp finding over the end of the ribbon. Then use the pliers to gently chomp the alligator teeth down onto the ribbon. Don’t use too much force or you’ll flatten them! They need to bite the ribbon firmly to hold it in place. Repeat with the other end of the ribbon.

If you have a ribbon wider than your findings, don’t fret! You can get a nice effect by folding the edges of the ribbon in the back so it fits.

– CHOOSE YOUR CLASP CONFIGURATION –

Depending on how you plan to wear your fob, there are a few options for which clasps to use. For example, the Victorian original has two types of clasps on it: a spring ring clasp and a pinch clasp.

Here are some other configuration options:

Loop and Bar/Toggle Clasp. The loop works great if you want to hang multiple things from the fob. Add lobster clasps to your suite of accessories to make them easy to clip on or remove at your leisure (or, for a more permanent attachment, use large jump rings to attach your accessories directly to the loop). Plus, there are tons of fancy designs to choose from, like heart shaped or twisted wire ones. The bar, if not used to secure the fob to a buttonhole, can easy be folded

Bar and Lobster/Pinch Clasp. Allows for easily taking a singular watch/accessory on and off. If you make your fob like this, you don’t have to add clasps to all your accessories or break out the pliers to remove jump rings every time you want to change out the watch.

Brooch and Clasp. For ladies, brooches are a great option for securing your fob to a waistline. Why use a plain sewing pin when you can jazz it up with a cool antique piece? Take those old jewels out for a spin! Many Victorian brooches have a safety chain on them. If yours does, simply use a jump ring to attach your fob to the loop! Otherwise, simply pin the fob on directly through the ribbon.
A less practical method is to add a small length of chain to slide through the pin of the brooch. This method is tedious to put on (you must nip the pin through your dress, thread on the chain, then nip the pin through your dress fabric again before securing it), but if you are using a ribbon you don’t want to put pin holes in, it’s a viable option.

Once you’ve got all that sorted, just pick out a watch or some charms you like and get your hoity-toity swagger on!

For a more in-depth examination of the history behind fobs/watch strings check out one of my other blog posts:

Keeping Track of Time: Georgian Watch Chains, Equipages, Fobs, and Chatelaines

Overdressed at the Nudes Exhibit: My 1880s Flannel Bustle Dress goes to the Museum

Waaaaaay back in December of 2018, I went to Dickens on the Strand with my friend Megan (aka Mistress of Disguise / Clusterfrock). Since it had been frightfully chilly the week before, I made a flannel bustle dress using the “duct-tape dummy” method (mummify yourself in duct tape and cut the form into pattern pieces) in anticipation of promenading in the cold streets of Galveston (plus, there were many tales of the previous year being rained out). It was my first time ever using the duct tape method and even though it was very time consuming, I was absolutely thrilled with the outcome! I have since made multiple dresses using the original duct tape pattern and each time I have achieved a good fit much more quickly than my previous slopers.

This is the only in-progress shot of have of this dress because I was just trying to buzz through it like a bee in a windstorm in order to make the deadline! You can see the raw duct tape pattern at the top and the absolute wild shape of it to fit my body. It looks insane (3 darts?! Whatever works…), but the resulting fit is unbeatable.

However, in grand Texas style, the weather shifted from being partly cloudy in the 30s to being sunny, 80 degrees, and soppingly humid. Despite being ill-suited for the heat, I wore my flannel dress to a marvelous tea party and had a good time anyway.

Unlike the Victorians who wore their grand, heavy dresses in the midst of a mini ice age, current Texas weather patterns are far from ideal for 5 pounds of fluffy cotton flannel! I meant to write a blog post about my trip right after the event, but never got around to it. So the poor flannel dress hung in my closet, entombed in a plastic dust cover.

Most of 2019 was much the same: far too warm to wear anything long sleeved, much less made of flannel. I made costumes out of cool fabrics instead, like my linen-blend 1878 mourning dress with 3/4 sleeves to beat the heat (also made using the duct tape dummy pattern as the base). Even when December rolled around, we pretty consistently hit temps in the 70s and 80s. If the heat wasn’t going to wane in winter, I decided I was just going to make fresh accessories for my black dress, like I did for the Waxahachie Christmas House Tours:

When 2020 arrived, a new DFW Costumers Guild event was on the horizon: Renoir, the Body the Senses, at the Kimbell Art Museum. Again, I pulled some fabrics from my stash in anticipation of just making a new overskirt, cuffs, and collars for my black dress. But as the day drew near, time ran out!

Life got incredibly hectic: we had planned a nice long visit to my parents’ house, but on the 8 hour drive over, our car died in the desert! We spent vacation wrestling with the dead car and the rest of the week tying to find a new one. By the time the Saturday of the event rolled around, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to sew. I considered skipping it entirely. But Becky really wanted to go and the weather had chilled…the flannel dress called to me from the dark recesses of the closet: IT IS TIME!

I pulled out out and prayed it would still fit. And it did! Huzzah! I always thought the front was too plain, so I had just enough gumption and time to add some navy ribbon to it. Much better!

I have discovered that ribbon—LOTS of ribbon– is invaluable to costuming. Rosettes, belts, hat bands, ties, hairbows, jabots, edging, waist-tapes, binding, accents, purse strings…ribbon is infinitely useful. However, don’t be like me and underestimate how much ribbon you’ll need: I used about 3 yards of antique ribbon just to make these few accents and I didn’t have a scrap left!

So I donned my chemise, undies, corset, corset liner, under petticoat, bustle, over petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bodice, and hat, tickled the entire time that I’m wearing all these extra layers to go see nudes!

You see, this particular museum exhibit was exclusively Renoir’s nude paintings through the years (with a smattering of nude portraits by other artists that inspired him).

Ooo, lala!

vs. Our Extra-Fully-Clothed Group

Photo courtesy of Christy

Honestly, I think our costumed group provided excellent historical context and contrast to the exhibit. There we were, dressed as the women in the portraits and patrons of the museums viewing the paintings would have dressed in their day-to-day lives– highlighting just how intimate and revealing Renoir’s realistic nudes are and how brave and daring his models were to pose nude in an era where women generally wore very modest clothing and while idealistic, “classically” painted nudes were widely revered, the models/actresses posing for them were still given the disapproving societal side-eye.

I wish I’d gotten some photos of us in costume next to the paintings to show the contrast, but there were lots of people and I always feel a bit rude taking photos in a full gallery when folks are there trying to appreciate the art. I did grab one of Becky and I outside in the lovely, pleasant, absolutely refreshing 50 degree Texas morning air:

10000000% more pleasant than the 80 degree days of December 2018 and 2019!

Afterwards, we went to La Madeline for lunch where I stuffed myself silly with strawberries and cream!

It was a good day, something I sorely needed to lift my mood after the stressful week scraping and scrambling after suddenly losing the car. I am very grateful to my family and friends for helping get us through it all!

Oh! I nearly forgot on of my favorite little details about this dress: the tiny Victorian pin that’s on the collar. I don’t know who it’s commemorating or what significance 1850 has, but I love the tiny mystery!

Wow! Over 1 Million Visitors!

Well this milestone snuck right past me: The Pragmatic Costumer blog reached 1 million visitors recently!

Thank you, everyone! Wow! I am so honored and humbled that this many people have ventured into my weird little corner of the interwebs.

 

2019 Costuming Year in Review

A quick compilation of all the costuming projects I have worked on this year

“Ever After” Renaissance Fair Dress

One of my favorite dresses I’ve made so far! You can check out the details by clicking here and visiting the full blog post about it.

The Procrastinator’s Purse/Reticule

I designed a quick, easy purse pattern so I could have some purses to match my dresses. I even made a free pattern for it!

1878 Mourning Dress

I finally have a historical “little black dress!” You can read the blog post about it by clicking here.

Christmas Bustle Accessories

I don’t have a blog post for this dress yet, but I sewed a new collar, cuffs, and bustle to transform my 1878 mourning dress into a festive Christmas outfit for the Waxahachie Christmas House Tour.
You can see a few event photos from the Tour on Flickr.
I hope to have a pattern for the bustle written up soon, since it was a very quick, simple, off-the-cuff design that worked surprisingly well. The hat is a cheap trilby transformed by trim– one of my favorite shortcuts for making bustle-era hats!

And that’s all I’ve sewn this year! It’s not a heck-ton, but not too shabby! I’m hoping to stash bust a bit more this coming year as I have quite a few fabrics hoarded away that I want to finally do something with. There’s a full list of upcoming events I need new clothes for:

January: Renoir Museum Exhibit Visit
The Plan: Make another set of accessories (collar/cuffs/overskirt) for the black dress to refine the pattern.

February: Napoleon and Josephine Tea
The Plan: I have my ketchup-and-mustard Regency dress from a few years ago that still fits, but I should probably make something more refined for a tea based on royalty, lol! Maybe I can fudge it a bit and squeeze in my 1820 dress ideas here, or perhaps this is the universe telling me to get my rear in gear and use some of that cotton voile I’ve been hoarding…or maybe it’s both…

March: First Annual Romantic Picnic
The Plan:  already have my 24-hour orange plaid dress from last year, but I have at least 3 cute cotton prints I have earmarked for 1830s, so maybe I should dust them off and make ’em work! My family is visiting long-distance just to attend, too, and we’ve been working on gathering accessories and making outfits for everyone, too.

…and that’s as far  as I’ve planned for now. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself or I get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. Anyone else do that?

Plus, it’s the start of a new decade, so I foresee at least one funky 1820s and one elegant 1920s dress on the docket.

Fashion Plate, 1823
The 1820s are when the Romantic Era’s BIG SLEEVE obsession started. The 1830s get all the credit, but if you want wild sleeves and equally wild hem decor, the 1820s are for you!

August 1922 Fashions
Artsy and classy!

I think instead of doing the slim, tailored 1920s dresses everyone always thinks of, I’m going to try something earlier in the decade, perhaps an evening dress. Dresses from 1920-1922 were still fairly long-hemmed and not so drop-waisted, so I think they’ll be much more forgiving on my fuller figure. Plus, I like 1920s sportswear–like a simple sweater and pleated skirt with a cute monogrammed pocket! That I might be able to thrift shop for.

Oh, I also hope to see some of you folks at future DFW Costumers Guild events!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

9 Inexpensive Christmas Stocking Stuffers for the Historical Costumer

The holidays are here and it can be a bit challenging to find gifts to give a hobbyist if you don’t share that hobby.

For a costumer, a good pair of sewing shears is always a welcome gift or a fresh set of sharp pins or a giftcard to the local hobby shop, but here are a few smaller, less obvious gifts that make great stocking stuffers for the historical costumer in your life.

These are general inexpensive common items that can be found in big box stores or online– stuff that might not pop immediately into your mind as a “costuming” gift, but that are infinitely handy for historical costuming!

1. Tinted Lip Balm (Average Price: $1-10)

Blistex’s Lip Vibrance is my absolute favorite (Walmart, $2.50). It has the perfect rosy pink color and is SPF 15. Plus, it has a tiny mirror on the tube! I also have Vaseline’s Rosy Lips (Dollar Tree, $1). It is more slick and glossy with barely any color, but it does a good job of keeping lips soft.

Lip balm is incredibly handy to have at outdoor events, especially in dry climates (or cold ones, as I discovered during a particularly chilly DFWCG Georgian Picnic). In addition, a little sheer tint gives your lips a healthy rosy glow without looking too made-up. A lip balm with a bit of color to it is an indispensable item I take to every costuming event!

There are a variety of historically accurate options available as well, like LBCC Historical’s 1772 tinted rose lip balm (Etsy, $10). Or, if you are feeling crafty, make your own from a historical recipe, like this one! Bonus points for making a homemade gift as well.

2. Black Safety Pins – (Average price: $2-4)

I buy my black safety pins at Walmart for about $2, but you can find them in almost any big craft store or online. I love them because they are much less visible on darker and matte fabrics! In the above picture, you can see the difference between the black safety pin and the regular silver safety pin on the very matte black linen I used for my 1878 mourning dress.

The vintage term for black lacquered metal pins is “Japanned.” In the Victorian era, they were used for mourning clothes, but black pins are incredibly handy for wearing with any dark costume were the glint of a silver pin would be glaringly obvious. Plus, you can never had too many safety pins!

3. Knee Socks and Stockings ($1-35)

It’s an age-old trope: socks for Christmas? Bleck! But to a historical costumer, stockings are the perfect stocking stuffer! You can’t go wrong with a fine pair of creamy white or black above the knee stockings, but you can go for funkier designs, too, depending on your gift recipient’s personality. I have another post about historical stockings here.

I have a wide variety of stockings from basic knee socks (Walmart, $3) to baseball socks (Academy Sports, $8) to trouser stockings (Dollar Tree, $1) to fancy clocked stockings (Fashions Revisited, $15).

I will say that I prefer a finer, even knit stocking, not necessarily sheer, just a smaller thread/stick size, like a modern dress sock. Chunky, textured, or coarse knits can cause rub spots in shoes…a not-so-nice situation if you’re having to walk around uneven ground outside all day.

You can find a huge variety of fantastic knee and over-the-knee socks online at places like Sock Dreams or Ozone Socks! For luxurious historical repros, there’s the  American Duchess stocking line or Fashions Revisited.

4. Hair Donuts, Hairpins, and Hair Ties ($1-6)

Historical hair can be hard. A hair donut makes it easier! What on earth is a hair donut? A hair donut is just a puffy circle of fine mesh that helps make perfectly smooth buns easily. They are readily available from Dollar Tree, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Sally’s Beauty Supply–or just about anywhere you can find hair accessories– and usually cost just a few dollars.. They come in a variety of sizes and colors like blonde, brunette, black, and red to help blend better into the hair. You can find hair donuts in singles or in kits.

A packs of hairpins/bobby pins and hair ties in the right color to blend into the hair are also wonderful. Hairpins and hair ties always seem to vanish after a while, so getting extras are usually a very welcome surprise. I like Goody’s Ouchless hair ties, myself (Target/Walmart, $5). They come in a variety of natural hair colors.

5. Shoe Laces ($1-12)

This may be a bit out of left field, but shoe laces are very handy to have around the sewing room. They can become a drawstring in a skirt or purse and lace up a corset. Shoelaces with metal ends are especially nice and more historically accurate (The technical term for the tips is “aglets” and they have been around for centuries). Look for solid-color flat ones in the kid’s section which work great for purses or extra-long (84″+) round ones by the men’s workboots that are ideal for corsets.

6. Cute Paper-Cutting Scissors ($3-10)

Every seamstress has a preferred type of sewing shear, so if you’re planning to get them a new pair, ask them what type they prefer. However, for just a quick gift, it’s equally handy to get a pair of scissors for cutting pattern tissue, too. Find a fun pair! An all-purpose pair of scissors with a cute handle makes it easy to tell the paper-cutting scissors from the fabric scissors. You can never have too many pairs of scissors of all types!

7. Faux Pearl Jewelry ($3+)

Pearls are classic and have been treasured since ancient times. The great thing about a strand of pearls or a pair of pearl drop earrings is that they are timeless: they can be worn with any era of costume from Roman to Renaissance to Victorian to Retro. If you’ve got the budget for real pearls, kudos to you! But quality faux pearls are affordable and widely available anywhere that sells jewelry like Target, Kohls, Claires, etc. One of my favorite costuming necklaces is a $10 strand of glass pearls from Walmart.

If you have a few extra dollars to invest in a gift, there are several historical costume jewelry sellers as well, like Dames a La Mode or K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse.

8. Long Evening Gloves ($8-25)

In the past, folks generally wore gloves when they went outside no matter the season. Gloves have mostly fallen out of fashion in our modern world and finding vintage examples can be difficult. That’s why stretchy costume gloves are so great! Places like Party City and bridal shops generally have them year round in a variety of colors. Plain black, white, and ivory are the easiest to find and the most versatile, though if your giftee has a fave color, you can certainly find it online. They come in lots of colors!

9. Book Phone Case ($10+)

Lots of costumers like to use a cell phone cover designed to look like a little leather-bound book to hide this indispensable bit of modernity. I love my book phone case! Book phone cases are not one-size-fits-all, so if you plan to get one as a gift, make sure you know the model of your giftee’s phone. Unlike the other items on this list which you can find easily in stores, this one you’ll probably have to buy online. You can find genuine leather ones ($25-50) or  faux-leather ones ($10-25).

Of course, each costumer is different, so not all of these gifts are 100% perfect for each person, but they might give you some ideas.There are plenty of other little gifts you can use as stocking stuffers (measuring tapes, pins, etc.) for your favorite historical costumer. If in doubt, though, just ask them what they want! They’ll be able to tell you more specific items.

HAVE A SAFE AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

Addams Family Outing: Natural Form 1878 Mourning Dress

I’ve been neglecting to fully blog my outfits lately for which I humbly apologize. Since I’ve gotten out of the swing of things, this post is going to be pretty perfunctory. I need to work on getting back into the groove!

My friend Megan (you may know her as Mistress of Disguise) found out early in the summer that the Granbury Opera house would be putting on the Addams Family Musical. Of course, we had to go and we invited the whole DFW Costumers Guild to go with us! Nothing would suit attending such a production better than a mourning gown, so I immediately began sewing….in my imagination, of course!

Mourning Ensemble, circa 1870 via the Met

A late 1870s mourning dress illustration

Victorian mourning clothes have some intricate rules depending on the decade, but for the average person, it boiled down to two things: Black and Not Shiny. Silk and wool bombazine or crepe are the hallmark fabrics of mourning, but I didn’t have the budget for those. I needed something affordable, matte, black, natural, and most importantly, cool and breathable to combat Texas’s infamous swelter (yes, even in October it reaches 100). Cotton, of course, first comes to mind. But I own a black and white feline that sheds like a hay wagon in a hurricane, and having experimented with black cotton before, I didn’t look forward to wearing a hair magnet. Instead, I had linen dreams and a polyester budget!

The Hair-icane and Great Destroyer of Tissue Patterns

But, lo! What’s this?! A sale at Fabrics.com? And look: Linen/rayon washer linen in black (it’s a bit more expensive now that the sale is over, but still worth it, I think)! I loathe to buy fabric online, especially in a case like this where weight and drape matter immensely. Yet the siren call of a superbly rated linen-rayon blend was just to tempting to pass up! So at 1:45am on the morning of July the 10th (as the email receipt so kindly reminds me), I grit my teeth and dropped $50 on 7 yards of fabric.

It hurt, fam. Not gonna lie. Oof! But when it arrived….holy bananas, was this stuff the REAL DEAL. Wow! It’s gorgeous. It does that smooth “fwump” thing that linen does with a touch of rayon slinkiness. It’s not matte matte, but has a subtle sheer similar to worn polished cotton. Plus, it’s pretty opaque. I was GIDDY….and terrified to cut it.

So I did that thing I do: set it on the ironing board and pet it occasionally for a few months.

To distract myself from the thought of ruining my precious fabric, I turned my attention to buttons. I knew I wanted black glass buttons, preferably antique. I spent 3 WHOLE DAYS in antiques stores looking for them and I found lots and lots of beautiful Victorian black glass buttons. I wasn’t even looking for a set—just something that spoke to me. But you know what? Victorian buttons are tiny and I’m not. I kept getting flashbacks to the giant 1970s Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing that had a section about proportion in choosing designs. As a stout-by-Victorian-standards gal, I decided 30 tiny buttons up my front was not only too much work, but also not entirely flattering/suitable for the very plain design I had in mind. I needed buttons with heft, yet a subtle demure quality and a sophisticated goth-girl edge for less than $20 for a set of 15. Tall order? Yes. But the Czech Republic doth provide!

I found these buttons in a few places, but this shop was the most inexpensive and had great service.

I highly recommend these buttons. Absolutely fantastic quality, scale, and design, plus extremely quick international shipping.

Buttons in hand, I continued to procrastinate–in my usual fashion– until the week before the event. So I grit my teeth once more, rolled out my fabric, laid down the ducktape dummy pattern I used for my Dickens on the Strand dress nearly a year before, and prayed that my corset could handle the extra ten pounds I’d shored up between then and now.

I picked up my shears.

I took a deep breath.

I cut the fabric.

I had no design in mind other than “Natural Form/Long and Smooth over the Hips.” I was going in blind. I just cut, sewed, and prayed it would fit. And at first, it didn’t.

It is not perfect, but it was wearable. I didn’t plan for a V neck, but the original high collar design did not work and a jewel neckline was unflattering, so I folded back the edges and tacked them down. I miscalculated with my new buttonhole foot and placed my buttons too far back, so they are off center and a tight squeeze.  I wasted a whole day trying trim ideas that were all for naught and the trim I did choose I ran out of halfway through.
But I made it work!

I wailed. I gnashed. I threw it on the floor in a fit of rage. But I had no time for a pity party, so, I pinned and hacked it into submission.

And realized it looked like a 1940s suit jacket in the process…

The little skelecorn is not HA…in this universe at least. ;)

The final trim design is a three/four layer design. I had a tiny length of antique moire ribbon with a white picot edge that was my inspiration. I had just enough for the collar. To fake the look for the cuffs and skirt panels, I cut strips from the cream-colored sari scraps leftover from making my Ren Faire dress and laid a plain black ribbon over it. The fluffy, pinked black sheer is leftover scrap from my Moonflower bustle dress. The fluffiness is both trendy for the 1870s and perfect for hiding my mile-a-minute machine sewing. The collar and cuffs are designed to be removable so I can just snip the giant basting stitches holding them to the dress and swap them out for other designs.

The skirt is my Midnight Madness Standard Skirt: two panels of the 54″ fabric pleated down to fit the waistband. The very modest “bustle” back is made by cutting the back panel extra long and pleating up the excess into the side seams (similarly to how I pleated the sides of the Croissant Dress). The waistband itself is merely a length of grosgrain ribbon. I ran out of time to finish trimming it. Hopefully I will find the motivation to make a row of pleats for the hem. I ran out of time to make a full overskirt. Instead, I slapped together the little side “petals” last-minute since I felt the skirt needed some white to tie it into the trim on the bodice.

I was still sewing things together when I went to Megan’s house to get ready and we barely made it into our seats at the theater as the curtain rose, but we did it! A few other DFWCG folks joined us as well. We had a good time watching the play, a pleasant walk around the unexpected bonus fall art fest outside, and tasty German food at the Schnitzel Haus! I would definitely go back again.

Plus there is an old hotel called the Nutt House!

And just a week later, I got to re-wear it for Halloween!

Now I have a “little black dress” that I can jazz up with fresh cuff and overskirts as the occasion demands. Super excited for the mix’n’match possibilities! With a few bustle-era events on the horizon, I’m hoping to wear it again quite soon, which should prove much more gentle on my wallet and sanity that scrambling to sew something from scratch each time an event pops up.

 

 

Reclaiming a Hat Icon: How to Turn a Trilby into a Victorian Lady’s Hat Tutorial

This post is a bit of a weird ride– from Charles Dickens to Trolls to Britney Spears. But you could get a great hat out of the deal!

I should have written this post almost a year ago when I went to Dickens on the Strand with Mistress of Disguise back in December of 2018, but I really fell off the blogging wagon and didn’t. So, finally, here’s a blog post about my costumes for Dickens on the Strand 2018– beginning with my thifty hat makeover:

While it’s not the most flattering hat on everyone, the trilby (commonly misidentified as a fedora) comes in a vast array of materials and sizes. In fact, after ballcaps, beanies, and cowboy hats (here in Texas at least), the trilby is the most readily available male hats. You can even buy them at Walmart for less than $10.

via Quora

I have a massive love of hats! I have at least 30 of them, some of them vintage, some new, and many modded for costuming. Some of them are also my husband’s hats, like his tricorn, cowboy hat, and numerous old fedoras/trilbies. However, both fedoras and trilbies have gotten a sour reputation recently because of their association with internet trolls and creepy pick-up “artists.” Due to these bad stereotypes, my husband hasn’t been wearing his old trilbies as much anymore, so they were just gathering dust in my closet.

But did you know that fedoras actually started as a popular unisex, feminist fashion in the 1880s and trilbies are perfect for transforming into Victorian lady’s hats? Yes, indeed! So when I needed a last minute hat to go with my flannel 1880s bustle dress, I decided to take the trilby back from the trolls and give one of those old hats a new life.

During the 1870s, bonnets began to be replaced by hats as the fashionable form of daytime headgear for ladies. The ancestor of the modern fedora was actually created in the 1880s as a hat worn by all-around badass Sarah Bernhardt, who wore the first fedora during a play called, well, Fedora!

I couldn’t find a photo of Sarah Bernhardt in her original Fedora, but here she is in a different cool hat. You can see how you could easily make a similar hat by modifying a modern fedora.

In 1894, The Trilby hat was invented and also got its name from the hat style worn in the theatrical production, but the trilby was worn by a male actor and has thus been a man’s hat from the start. However, the shape shows up in women’s hats of the previous decade, making all our currently-much-maligned trilbies the perfect base for last-minute-panic Victorian bustle hats!

Natural Form Era hats. The Vintage Dancer has an excellent article on 19th century ladies’ hats! Click the fashion plate above to visit.

Lady’s Hat, circa 1885 via the Met Museum

I took trimming inspiration for my last-minute trilby transformation from 1880s hats like the lady’s on the left.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any in-progess pics of my Dickens on the Strand hat because– in my usual fashion– I made it literally the night before Megan and I left for Galveston! However, I did absolutely nothing to the base hat, just trimmed it (haphazardly).

I used 1 roll of cream-colored ribbon from Walmart, a netting remnant, and pinned an antique silver dime brooch to the front.

Now, there is a secret to every successful hat…and I’m going to spill the beans just for you.

As I have stated before, this is just a plain old man’s store-bought trilby. Even under all the trimmings, it’s still very visibly a modern trilby…probably because it’s a good two sizes too big! It’s my husband’s, so it’s an XL hat made to fit a 6′ 2″ dude. If I just plop it down on my head, it’s so huge it engulfs half my noggin!

Yet, most modern hats– even ones sized correctly for your head– sit far too low on the face. If you’ve ever gotten photos back from an event only to discover your face is all shadowed over and hidden by your hat, it’s because modern hats have very wide, deep crowns to sit far enough down on your head to keep them in place at the expense of your forehead.

But don’t worry, you still look fabulous!

Historical women’s hats, however, were designed to perch on top of elaborate hairstyles, particularly buns. Often, they hardly touched you head at all, sitting entirely atop a nest of fluffy hair instead.

 

And instead of relying on a deep crown to stay in place, women used hat pins.

Call the Police! I’m Wearing an Illegal Hatpin!

Even if a hat had a deep crown, it often had an interior fabric “cap” or drawstring ring that kept the crown from swallowing your head.

Some well-designed modern hats still use this feature. This is the inside of my favorite modern “church lady” hat that I wear for Edwardian costumes. You can see the drawstring ring inside that adjusts to fit your head so the enormously tall crown doesn’t eat your face.

Any of these things can be done to modify a modern hat to fit in a historical manner. In the case of my trilby-turned-Victorian hat, I didn’t have time to put in a fitting ring, but I did have plenty of hair to stuff into it. This kept it aloft.

In fact, the true secret to historical hat success isn’t just the hat itself: it’s the hair under it!

Properly styled hair– even if it’s the most simplistic version of a period style– instantly takes you from hat rookie to hat champion!

To demonstrate this better, here is a series of hasty, terrible bathroom selfies I took.

Let’s start with a modern trilby I have that actual fits me correctly:

If you want to use a trilby to make a Victorian hat, I recommend starting with one that actually fits, or one slightly too small.

As you can see, it fits much better than my big brown one! But with the deep hat crown and modern hairstyle, the farthest back in time this hat takes me is high school in the early 2000s. No thanks!

BRING IN THE HISTORICAL HAIR!

This is my go-to basic hairstyle. It’s my collarbone length hair pulled up in a simple bun and then my beloved “curl loaf” slapped on the front. Nothing fancy.

This style is perfect for the 1880s and 1890s, but it can carry you from the late 1870s to the 1910s if you really need to. Plus, it works especially well with hats! The bun gives you something to perch your hat on so it stays off your face, and it give you something to safely stab hat pins into to keep everything in place. The curls up front also help lift the crown of the hat away from your face and, if you’ve got strong features or a large face like me, the curls peek out from under the hat a bit to soften your face. Plus, the hairstyle looks good on its own, in case you have to remove your hat.

Now that you’ve got your hair in place, you can play with how you wear your hat! To instantly take a trilby from modern to old-fashioned, wear it on the back of your head for a more bonnet-like appearance:

A fashion plate from the late 1870s showing bonnet-like hats worn on the back of the head to take trimming inspiration from.

You can also wear the trilby backwards so that the curled part of the brim is at the top of your head to help disguise the modernness even more. Covered in trimmings like puffy bows and feathers or covered in fabric to match your dress will further transform it!

Covered in lace and fabric, a modern trilby could be used as a base for these 1870s bonnets! Notice how these bonnets/hats are sitting way up high on a giant mound of hair, as was fashionable in the 1870s. The hats aren’t even touching their faces or necks. Worried you don’t have enough hair? Don’t worry! Most Victorians used plenty of hairpieces to make such fab hairstyles.

Another way to wear it is perched up on your hair completely, tilted forward a tad. Rather than disguising the shape of the trilby, this angle shows off the full shape and works well for the more tailored looks of the 1880s:

Of course, wearing it this way also puts your hair on display more, so make sure the back is nice and neat (unlike mine, ha!).

So many trim options! From the 1870s to the 1880s.

No matter how you choose to wear it, however, you will want to trim it. Depending on your trilby’s material. you might be able to get away with a few ribbons or spray of flowers, but the Victorians loved trims and, as you can see in the fashion plate examples, the base hat is often buried under a mound of bows, lace, feathers, flowers, and other crazy-fun whatnots! So get creative and go wild with the trims!

For my 1880s dress, I wore my/my husband’s giant trilby perched on top of my head. It was so huge it still kind of ate my head, but it worked perfectly for a last-minute hat with not a lick of hat blocking required! Plus, it was inexpensive. Since I recycled an old hat, I only had to spend money on the ribbon, which was, like $3. I guess if you wanted to count it, the $10 brooch was the biggest expense, though I had that on-hand, too, or it could easily have been replaced with a big button. Is this method perfectly HA and the pinnacle of design? Ha, no! But all-in-all, it worked just as I needed it to!

HAPPY COSTUMING, M’LADIES! ;)