Lovely Limbs: Modern Stockings with Historical Style

Completely Hosed on Hose

Some women are obsessed with shoes. I love them, too, but my love affair with shoes is more practical than fantastical. My love of stockings, however, has grown exponentially over the years. Not only are they fun, they completely alter the way shoes fit. A shoe that is too big or even too small becomes much more comfortable with the right stocking. Keeping you warm as the weather turns chilly is a huge bonus as well.

Kittens and tea also help greatly.

When I talk about stockings, I don’t mean our modern idea of stockings– the sheer, skin tone nylons or the cutesy sock-shapes we hang up at Christmastime. Though they are both rooted in historical stockings, they are like the two seperated halves of the stocking story. Stockings in the past were knit or sewn, and while silk can be made very sheer, our ancestors valued its ability to hide skin just as much as it reveals the shape of the leg. Stockings in the historical sense are more akin to what we consider modern dress socks, and they aren’t just for ladies. Even while men were busy showing off sexy gams in tight-fitting stockings it was unseemly to show leg skin, so stockings were a necessary part of everybody’s wardrobe. Historical stockings ranged from thin silk to heavy wool, midcalf to thigh high, and plain white to wildly patterned. They’re a great way to add extra personality to any historical outfit!

The most basic of historical stockings is plain white. They were worn by men and women alike and generally reached the knee or just above it. A good pair of modern knee-high trouser socks will work nicely for almost any era from 1600-1900. I wear a pair of finely knit knee-highs I found at Dollar Tree and I love them!

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Dressed for the 1960s…

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..and 100 years “earlier” with my 1850s slippers!

To fit larger feet and calves, like Christopher’s, I purchased some “thigh high” knit tube socks. Since his legs are so massive, the stockings only reach his knees, but they still work.

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I don’t remember his calf measurement, but his thighs are 27 inches around (same size as my waist in a corset!) and those are size 15 EEEE feet, if that’s any indication. In contrast, these stockings fit my scrawny legs at thigh level, as you can see in my garter tutorial. Our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of spandex, so they used garters to hold their stockings in place. If you use modern stockings, you don’t need to worry as much about “losing your legs,” but some tall stockings still work best with garters, plus they look so pretty!

Historical stockings also came in many solid, natural colors. My go-to historical stockings are O-Basics from Sock Dreams. They come in a variety of nice colors and are great for keeping warm in winter:

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BAM! My beloved O-Basics in Rust.

Colored stockings were fairly common, especially reds and blues. The color of your stockings can be an important clue to your historical persona. For example, the Blue Stockings Society was an 18th century organization that promoted women’s education and intellectual hobbies. While Bluestockings did not necessarily wear blue stockings, the name indicated the informality and progressiveness of the club. Proper, fashionable, rich folks at the time often wore black or other expensively-colored silk stockings. Worsted wool stockings, in this case blue stockings, were considered to be informal and unfashionable. The term “bluestocking” indicated that a woman (or man) was more concerned with personal intellectual pursuits than the whims of fashion, but it was also used pejoratively around the turn of the 19th century to mean an ugly, frumpy woman (much like the word “feminist” is twisted today, sadly. It’s amazing how little things have changed in 200 years).

  If you’re looking for stockings with character, there are plenty of stunning stocking options to consider! This isn’t a complete list of hosiery types by any means, just  some of my favorite styles of fancy historical stockings and a few modern options that closely match.

Open Work Stockings – 19th Century

For an extra pretty pair of stockings, consider the texture as well as color. Victorian stockings are often knitted with lacy openwork designs that stretched open, revealing tiny peeks at the flesh beneath. A tad scandalous? Maybe to the ultra-conservative, but during this era of long skirts and ladies’ boots, openwork stockings offered some cool relief during warmer months.

Kitted Cotton Stocking with Double Zigzag Pattern, circa 1830

These stockings in the MFA Boston collections are very similar to this pair, dated nearly 50 years later by the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Linen Stockings with Triple Zigzag Pattern, circa 1875-1900 (“last quarter the 19th century”)

While it’s possible that one or the other is mis-dated, the similarity is indicative of the popularity of this style throughout the era. This homemade pair of knitted socks from the middle of the century has a similar openwork style, but this time horizontally;

Cotton Stockings with Scallop Pattern, circa 1860-69
Mid-19th century stocking are often shorter than stockings found earlier and later in the century. These hit mid-calf rather than over the knee. Others hit right below the knee.

There are TONS of modern stockings that feature openwork knit patterns in every color of the rainbow! The most common colors during the mid-Victorian era were black and white. But don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. There were some pretty wild stockings out there! Colors like plum, navy, and mustard are the perfect accompaniment for a ballgown in the 1850s or a walking dress from the color-crazy 1890s . Dainty, repeating open work patterns that are more geometric and abstract rather than floral are perfect for just about any costume from 1825 to 1900!

Textured Cable Acrylic OTK Socks in Ivory by Sock Dreams
Another good option is the O-Chevrons, which come in a large assortment of colors.

Super Stripes! – 1850s to 1890s

The 1890s were the heyday of wild stockings!  Bold colors and bolder designs were in vogue, especially the iconic striped stockings we know and love.

Cotton Stockings, circa 1890-99

Silk Stockings, circa 1880-99
The 1970s…is that you?!

The fashion wasn’t just for can-can dancers and other “ladies of the night” (who are, in fact, depicted wearing plain black stockings more often than patterned ones). Fancy stockings went well with fancy opera boots, reflecting the indulgent, candid attitude of the era– the more fancy you could squeeze onto your person, the better!

Another era that might surprise you with its hosiery is the 1850s:

Cotton Stockings, circa 1850-70

While considered a somewhat dowdy era, the 1850s saw a whole plethora of underwear trends emerge. Indeed, you almost call it the Era of Underthings! Lots of revolutionary supporting garments emerged during the era, including the pin and loop busk which allowed women to easily put on and tighten their own corsets (and marked the beginning of modern corsetry) and the iconic hoop skirt. Alongside these fashion innovations were some entertaining undergarment trends, bright red petticoats and cheerfully colored socks among them! Children’s socks were commonly patterned, showing candy stripes from under adorable little dresses throughout the Victorian era:

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Tintype of Two Children, circa 1880
Source: eBay

Modern horizontally striped stocking are easy to find anywhere, especially around Halloween. Many stores like Walmart carry them, though often they are toe socks. Athletic tube socks with a banded top are also a good option, plus they come in a wide variety of colors and heights, are easy to launder, and look ridiculously cute with a Victorian bathing or cycling outfit!

Back and White Over the Knee Striped Athletic Socks from Sock Broker

For classic vertical strips a la 1890s, there is a number of lovely options:

Cotton Inklined Knee Socks in Red and Black
These are almost exactly like these stocking from the Met.

S.D. Extraordinary Striped Cotton OTKs in Black and Green

Stockings with Contrasting Clocks – 1600 to 1820

One of the most iconic historical style of stocking is the clocked stocking. Clocked stockings have decorative bands and flourishes ascending from the heel or decorating the ankle. Earlier clocked stockings have a contrasting wedge shape that begins at the ankle and goes up the outside of the leg, sometimes nearly to the top of the stocking. Clocked stockings of this sort were in style for over 200 years until about 1820:

Silk, Silver Gilt, and Cotton Stockings, circa 1610

Spanish Embroidered Silk Stockings, circa 1750-70

Italian Silk Clocked Stockings, circa 1780-1825

If you are looking for a classic, upper-class 18th century or Regency stocking, American Duchess offers fine modern reproductions of classic contrast clocked stockings:

A.D. Clocked Stockings in White and Black

For a more rustic look, there’s this option from Sock Dreams. While not quite a historical clock design, it will mimic the look well under long skirts where just a quick glimpse of the ankles will be visible:

S.D. Floral Trail Socks in Blue

Victorian Floral Stockings, circa 1830-1900

From the wedge-shaped clocked design came the flourish of the Victorian years. Solid-color stockings often featured pretty woven or embroidered decoration on the front of the foot and ankle. Contrary to popular myth, ankles weren’t strictly taboo during the Victorian era, so long as they were covered with stockings. In fact, dancing and walking frequently provided glimpses of a lady’s ankles, especially when ladies wore slippers.

These fancifully embroidered stockings date from 1890-1910. Embellished stockings were worn for special occasions or by ladies of leisure. Everyday stockings were generally white or black for ease of laundering.

Cotton Stockings with Embroidered Embellishment, circa 1860
These stockings are dated to the 1860s, but are more 1870s in style.

Finding modern socks with the design localized like this at the ankle is a bit tough, but once again, American Duchess swoops to the rescue:

A.D. Edwardian Silk Stockings
Though dated as Edwardian, these stocking will work well for late 19th century, too. American Duchess also has other styles with flourishes at the ankle.

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These fancy Floral Chain over the knee socks are a new from Sock Dreams! I love all the rich color choices, but this pretty beige is my fave.

If you feeling super crafty, you can make your own pair of embellished Victorian stockings! For example, the Dreamstress made a pair of silk stockings then used a bit of applique to accent her ankles:

Click here for her blog post.

For all the pretty without having to sew your own stockings, you could applique, embroider, or paint your chosen design onto a pair of pre-made stockings of your choice. However, if you’re feeling REALLY sassy, you can use one of the many stocking knitting patterns available online. The Antique Pattern Library, for example, has numerous Victorian instruction booklets that detail how to knit your own pair of stockings, including several editions of the Nonotuck Silk Company’s “How to Use Florence Knitting Silk” booklets from the 1880s.

Early Patterned Stockings – 17th Century

While most portraits from the 17th century show people wearing solid-colored stocking (usually in white, black, or shades of red), there are surviving examples of livelier stockings, like these:

Knitted Silk and Silver Gilt Stockings, circa 1600-1670

Child’s Silk and Gilt Stockings, 17th century

These pretties are usually child sized, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little inspiration from them! Combine the knitted design with the embroidered motif from these luxurious adult-sized stockings of the same era, and you get these gorgeous stockings:

S.D. Dreamer Jacquard Flowing Vine Stockings in Dijon and Navy

Can you imagine how fabulous these stockings would look with some American Duchess Stratfords or Virginias?!

O…M…G…Christmas wishes!

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Halloween Thrifting Challenge: Early Stuart Era (1603-1625)

Reforming Modern to fit the Reformation!

I am a mad thrifter. In fact, I rather prefer cobbling my costumes together from recycled raiment rather than sewing them from scratch. It’s an exercise in patience– a cycle of search, discovery, rejection, appropriation, and reinvention.

Some eras just lend themselves to being thrifted– Edwardian costumes, Regency costumes, 1920s costumes, even Medieval costumes– but 16th, 17th, and 18th century costumes are more difficult.

“Portrait of a Woman Holding Gloves” by Paolo Caliari, circa 1560

“Portrait of Odilia Van Wassenaar” by Abraham van den Tempel, circa 1660

“Mary, Countess Howe” by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1764

These eras (much like the Civil War era as well) often involve massive amounts of fabric, especially for upper-class costumes. Modern clothing just doesn’t have that kind of volume outside of wedding and other formal dresses. Another challenge is the fit. During these three centuries, the “pair of bodies” and “stays” became premier undergarments. Stays are much different from a bra and 19th century corsets. Stays have a conical shape and flatten the chest, a style that is almost the antithesis of the 21st century silhouette!

Sewing a gown like these from scratch is a daunting task even for a dedicated seamstress, but by using a few tricks and a keen eye, one need not master patterning and stitchery before making a decent historical costume. For the casual costumer, there is the magical world of thrift shopping…

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As evidenced by many of my previous posts, I am enamored with the 17th century, particularly the first half of the century. Informal portraits and blackwork are my absolute favorites. I wanted to make something similar to these portraits:

“Elizabeth Craven, Lady Powis” by an Artist of the British School, circa 1622

“Lettice Knollys, Daughter of Henry Knollys” by Unknown Painter, circa 1620
I am not sure if this painting is properly attributed. This women looks nothing like the famous Lettice Knollys. Perhaps they share a name? If you know who this lovely lady is, please let me know!

“Margaret Layton” by Marcus Gheeraerts, circa 1620
This portrait is famous for having the matching jacket along with it!

During the 17th and 18th century, there was a huge market for cast-off clothes. Once the higher nobles got tired of their older finery, they would sell it to lesser nobles, who in turn would pass it on to merchants, and so on until it passed to lowly peasants such as myself. So in the spirit of 17th century thrift, I set myself the challenge of finding just such an outfit!

A few guidelines to thrifting a successful historical costume:

First, thoroughly research what time period/decade/character you wish to emulate. Familiarize yourself with popular fabric patterns, trims, and most importantly, silhouettes of the era. You cannot construct a historical costume if you don’t know what the finished product should look like!

Second, browse through everything, including what you already own. For the “easy” eras mentioned above (Edwardian, 1920s, Regency, etc.), little to no alteration may be needed to make a garment look period, but if you find something too big, it’s easy to take it in. Keep in mind what you learned during your research. You may find the perfectly shaped skirt, but if it’s lime green splashed with orange roses, you may have to pass on it. Other situations can be remedied with a little work: Can you re-cut that jacket? Would that too-small dress work if you were wearing a corset or girdle? Should you dye that maxi skirt a darker color? Can you use that ugly skirt for a petticoat? Could that old pillow be used as a bustle? Goodwill always has loads of silk and linen shirts for cheaper than buying yardage!

Third, accept that unless you are lucky enough to find a period piece that fits you, your costume will not be “historically accurate.” You are taking modern (or vintage) clothing and manipulating it to look historical, so construction and materials will probably not stand up to museum scrutiny. In this case, it’s all about looks. So do not worry if you find the prefect 1970s-does-Edwardian dress, but it’s made from nylon lace. If it looks the way you want it, buy it! Polyester is not a pariah in the presence of a pragmatic penny pincher!

By following these rules, I hoped to gather up a respectable 17th century facade. I already had my “Universal Undergarments” in order:

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My Universal Undergarments consist of my cheap eBay corset, two tank tops (one for a corset liner, the other as a corset cover), a 1980s cotton skirt as a petticoat, and my thigh-high O Basics stockings. Since I would be costuming for the 17th century, I also needed a bumroll which I cut out of the fabric left over from making my 18th century embroidered stomacher:

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I just cut a crescent shape out of the fabric, sewed it like a pillow, and stuffed it full of fabric strips and scraps (hence the lumpy appearance compared to a roll stuffed with polyfill or cotton). The ties are double-fold bias tape left over from making my coif.

I particularly like my cheap eBay corset because it is pretty tubular. Normally this tubular shape would be a detriment to a corset’s function, but in this case, the conical shape works very well. It’s the closest thing to mas-manufactured stays I have found! I also donned my slightly-too-small blackwork coif.

My next step was planning the outfit. I would need a suitable jacket and skirt to make up the bulk of the outfit. The skirt/petticoat was the easiest part. Long, full skirts with drawstring waists are popular wedding attire in India and I found a beautiful vintage one on Etsy:

This is the seller’s photo. She makes belly dance costumes and is very nice!

To go with my skirt, I really wanted an embroidered jacket like one of these:

The Maidstone Pea-Pod Redwork Jacket, circa 1620
Laura Mellin made a beautiful jacket based off this one by hand! It’s truly incredible!

Polychrome Embroidered Jacket, circa 1616
This one gave me shape inspiration.

After a day or so, I found THE PERFECT JACKET, but after winning the auction and making squee noises, the seller sent me a refund and a note stating that she must have already sold the jacket (I assume in a brick and mortar store) because she could not find it. I won’t lie, I was crushed, but no one said thrifting online was easy! The polychrome-on-white style of embroidery popular in the 17th century isn’t really in vogue right now, and most of the examples I fawned over were expensive designer pieces, but black and white are pretty timeless. I soon found a suitable replacement:

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The embroidery pattern isn’t particularly accurate for the period, unless you count this jacket at the V&A or this one from Manchester, both of which are 10 years after the period I was trying to work within. We’ll just say that my 17th century self was ahead of the fashion curve! The materials aren’t “history kosher” either. It’s made from nylon and spandex with a little viscose for flavor cooked up by the designers at Laura Ashley. However, it was a Petite Large, which turned out to be exactly what I needed! It started off baggy, but by turning it inside out, putting it on over my “stays,” and pinning it to fit tightly from my waist up, I achieved a pleasing jacket shape with a flared bottom. I used big ol’ ugly backstitches to sew it together, trimmed the excess from the seams and was done with it! I didn’t take any pictures of that, so instead, bask in the glory of this crudely-drawn rendering of what I did:

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The grey areas indicate what I removed from the jacket. Modern clothes fit really loosely, especially under the arms. I had to go back and take even more out of the armpit to make sure it fit smoothly!

Other than that, I did very little alteration. I even left the invisible zipper up the front of the jacket. Affixing my blackwork bow to the front helps hide it even further.

Trim Challenge Bow

The 17th century was all about bows!

A few more accessories and one hastily-constructed backdrop later, here’s the result:

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I enjoy wearing all my jewelry all at once (especially my second-knuckle rings)! I still need to make a pair of cuffs for the sleeves.

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I was worried about finding some proper shoes, but as it turns out, these simple t-straps (“Jean” by Angel Steps) are just perfect! They have a low heel and come in wides, plus the elastic isn’t obvious and provides great comfort when walking. Many of the reviewers had ordered them to dance in. I had some difficulty ordering them since they went out of stock and no one at the company notified me. They also call you with a pushy sales pitch for insurance which I promptly declined. If you can find someone other than AmeriMark/BeautyBoutique to buy from, let me know! I love these shoes, but I don’t love the company.

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The Breakdown
This is a list of everything that went into making this costume and how much it cost.

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I’m only including items unique to this outfit since almost every outfit I wear has the same basic undergarments! All the jewelry is from my collection.

Re-styled Embroidered Jacket – $7.25 on eBay
Bullion Embroidered Skirt – $20.95 on Etsy
Angel Steps Jean Shoes – $24.99 on AmeriMark
Lace Ruff – $12.56 for 8 yards at Walmart
Coif – less than $3 made from a second-hand shirt

Total cost of unique costume elements: $68.75

It took me about three months to assemble everything for this costume. It was a labor of both laziness and love. I hope to keep adding to it, perhaps making cuffs, fashioning a classier ruff, adding a hat, making an apron, and adding either a shoulder drape or one of those sleeveless overdresses you commonly see worn in portraits of ladies in embroidered jackets!

Sepia

Like the Dark Side of the Moon: Rear Views of 17th Century Fashion

Bodice Backs and Bumrolls

We are accustomed to seeing antique fashion from the front. It is presented to us that way in museums and paintings. Unless there is a notable feature (usually a train) in the back of a gown, the flip side of fashion is rarely put on display.

In 1643, Wenceslaus Hollar published a series of prints detailing the fashions of Europe at the time. He didn’t just focus on nobility or a single country, but rather spread his focus to multiple countries and classes (though they are still relatively privileged). His works are great references for national costumes of the period and reveal just how varied fashion was.

Roughly translates to: The Different Types of Dress from the Nations of Europe Common at the Present Time, etc.

The etchings display the usual front views of fashion from various nations, showing the vast number of trends Europeans were following at the time:

A Woman of Basil (Basel), circa 1643
When you remove the artificial Latin ending from “Basilienis,” We are left with Basilien. Basiliens were a religious order of monks. Rather, this lady hails from Basel/Basle, a city in what is now Switzerland. Her outfit is quite common for this area during the mid 17th century, especially her round fur hat.

Merchant’s Wife of Parisr, circa 1643
In contrast, this merchant’s wife wears an interesting blend of French and English fashion at the time, which makes sense considering that her husband works in trade.

What makes this book of prints really wonderful– besides the variety of costumes– is how many are drawn from the rear rather than just the front. While fashion usually puts its best face forward, the backs of garments are often more utilitarian. However, these reverse portraits give wonderful clues to construction, how layers were worn, and how hair was styled. They also reveal where old trends hung on and what silhouette was rolling in or out of fashion:

A Noblewoman of Brabant, circa 1643

This wealthy lady probably hails from what is now the Duchy of Brabant in the Netherlands. Her dress is richly trimmed with lace and bands of metallic trim on her bodice. She wears a medium-sized bumroll (about 7 inches deep) and there is still enough fabric to drape onto the floor. Notice how her huge sleeves are set extremely far back on the bodice, creating a fashionably tiny back. Stays during this period were made to push the arms far back for a straight, column-like torso.

Noblewoman of England, circa 1643

This lady is less ostentatious than her Brabrant counterpart (she is likely a lesser noble or a modest one), but her fur muff, well-fitted bodice, and artfully drawn-back petticoat still give her an air of privilege. She wears a softer bumroll and there are fewer pleats across the back of her petticoat. We can glimpse the center-back seam of her bodice under her large, peaked collar. Her hat/cap is difficult to discern, but it is fitted over a large bun. Notice how dark it is, probably indicating it is black; however, her clothing is drawn in a lighter shade and was probably made of a more lively color with a contrasting petticoat. (Not all 17th century clothes were black.)

Noblewoman of Spain, circa 1643

The Spanish, however, adored black for its severity, richness, and luster. This noblewoman wears a fashion that was popular a few decades earlier during the 1610s and 20s. Clearly its imposing beauty has not diminished, but it is far different from her neighbors in France! She is probably an older woman, but she may be a lady who just loves older fashion. Rich clothes were not wasted and were thus reworn many times, so this may be the robe of a mother, sister, or higher-up noble that was passed down. Yet another possibility is the time it took to publish Hollar’s book. Making plates for printing took a lot of time to do. If he had spend enough time working on this project, it is quite likely that this is actually a fashion from an earlier time, perhaps by years! Still, the Spanish nobility was famous for treasuring their ornate style longer than their contemporaries (as this painting of Isabel de Borbón from 1632 reveals) and the heavy style from the turn of the century lingered on the Iberian Peninsula longer than in other parts of the continent.
The rear view of this gown reveals the decorative cut of her hanging sleeves and the pickadil/supportasse which props up her tall lace collar. We are also treated to a rare glimpse of what goes on behind those high hair rolls: artfully arranged braids accented with either jeweled ornaments or flowers.

The Dutch Navigator’s Wife, circa 1643

I cannot tell from the image, but the German translation in the top corner appears to say “Shiffer,” an alternate spelling of Schiffer, which may be translated as “boatman.” This assumption meshes well with the faux Latin “Navigatoris” (aka Navigator). Since this lady hails from Amsterdam, it would make sense that she would be married to a boatman.
Her outfit consists of fantastic layers. She wears a jacket with a jaunty tail or peplum over an ankle-length petticoat with an apron, a very practical choice for a busy woman! Her bumroll is of a noticeable size, though that may be due to wearing multiple petticoats over it. She sports not just a fur collar, but also a wide starched ruff.
Her hair, drawn back in a crowned bun, is covered with a coif under her cone-shaped straw hat, similar to the Vietnamese nón lá. These sorts of hats are actually common to the northern European region as well, and examples of a similar shape can be found from the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these examples have colorful embroidery around the brim, but this lady’s appears to be plain and utilitarian. The coif would keep her hair out of the way and her wide hat would protect her skin from the damaging effects of the sun.
My favorite feature, however, is her stout mules. These shoes were common during the 17th century, worn by all classes of women. They have short wooden heels and decorated uppers (much like these).

And finally, here’s my favorite print of the lot:

A Dutch Woman in her Household Dress, circa 1643

It’s not an etching done from behind, but this is my favorite picture of the lot. This lady is not dressed for shopping or promenading. She’s dressed in the 17th century equivalent to your favorite pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. While we might venture forth freely in these lax clothes, a 17th century lady of standing would not venture far from her house in such simplistic dress. Dutch masters like Vermeer put this sort of “undress” in their cherished, intimate scenes of 17th century home life.
She is dressed practically, with a full-length apron and a capelet to keep out the chill. Her pretty jacket just peeps out from under her cape, giving us a glimpse of what is most likely a intricate blackwork embroidery design, like this jacket. We are treated to another wonderful view of a pair of mules, revealing the banded decoration on the uppers. This may well be the same Dutch navigator’s wife from the previous print, though this style was prevalent across Europe and fairly standard, so it is hard to say.

The 17th century is my favorite century to study. I always enjoy finding prints, paintings, and extant clothing to admire and share!

—– Bonus Look! —–

Here is a stunning photo of the back of Merja’s (of Aristocat fame) Baroque gown, taken by Lauren from American Duchess:

More lovely photos of the dress from all angles are available on Merja’s blog.

This dress is an excellent recreation of a mid-17th century dress. Doesn’t lit look similar to the other northern European noblewomen’s gowns? Here, the gown is styled for an indoor party. If she were going out, she would wear a collar or cape and cover her hair. Notice the beautiful deep-set sleeves and how smoothly it is fitted. It is a Cinderella-worthy gown, to be sure!

I’ve been Scent from the Past: 17th and 18th Century Perfumes

How to Smell like Kings and Queens

Have you ever been stuck next to someone who had put on too much perfume? The experience can be either highly pleasant or highly intolerable depending on how the scent works. Modern perfumes are categorized by their “notes,” or scent types mixed together to create a full-bodied scent:

pyramide_parfum

Source

  • Top/Head notes: The scents that are perceived immediately on application of a perfume. Top notes consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. They form a person’s initial impression of a perfume and thus are very important in the selling of a perfume.
  • Middle/Heart notes: The scent of a perfume that emerges just prior to when the top notes dissipate. The middle note compounds form the “heart” or main body of a perfume and act to mask the often unpleasant initial impression of base notes, which become more pleasant with time.
  • Base notes: The scent of a perfume that develops as the other scents dissipate. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. Compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and “deep.”

17th and 18th century perfumes fell into two general categories: floral and musky. Floral scents of the time were made from flower oils or waters distilled from blooms such as roses, orange flowers, and jasmine. These scents float near the top of the modern note range. Musks are base notes– heavy yet subtle at the same time. They are often animal-based and were favored by both sexes because they blend well with the natural human scent, itself a musky note. In an age of inconsistent bathing practices (some bathed often, other did not), perfume served as a popular odor equalizer in the merchant and noble classes. During the 17th and 18th century, there was very little difference between men’s and women’s perfumes. A man might wear a wash of rose water to fresh his skin while a lady might don a heady amber toilet for a candle-lit dance.

He: “My, don’t you smell heavenly, dearest! Like orange flowers and vanilla”
She: “And, you smell, too…of leather and spiced liqueur.”
He: “Ah, so you’ve caught me stealing your perfume again, then…”

Perfume was important and perfumers guarded their secrets well, but today we have access to some of their revered recipes. Some perfumes were as simple as distilling the scent of popular flowers. Rose water, popular since ancient times as both a scent and beauty treatment, was wildly popular in the 17th and 18th century. You can actually make your own rose water at home, if you are up for a little perfuming experimentation!

Rose Water being Distilled

Other 17th and 18th century perfumes are much more complex. Take, for example, this recipe for “Aqua-Mellis, or The King’s Honeywater,” which, as Madame Isis points out, contains not a drop of honey!

  1. Coriander seeds An herb, with a citrusy flavor.
  2. Marjoram An herb with a citrus and pine flavor.
  3. Calamus Aromaticus A water plant used as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg
  4. Yellow sandalwood Aromatic tree. A common ingredient in scents.
  5. Orange and Lemon peels
  6. Nutmeg Spice
  7. Clove
  8. Cinnamon
  9. Pimento Can mean a red pepper, but usually Allspice, the dried fruits of the of the Pimenta dioica plant
  10. Cassia Sometimes called Bastard cinnamon. Has less taste and rougher texture than true cinnamon and is therefore cheaper.
  11. Storax the resin of the oriental sweetgum (amber)
  12. Gum Benjamin or Benzoin resin
  13. Labdanum A resin
  14. Venellios Tonka bean A substitute for vanilla
  15. Spirit of Musk Derived from the glands from various animals, like musk deer. Today synthetic musk is almost exclusively used. Probably the most common base note in perfumes.
  16. Spirit of Ambergris A waxy substance that comes from the digestive tracks of Sperm whales. Prepared, it smells wonderful and has been used as fixative and base note in perfume for a long time.
  17. Lavender oil
  18. Bergamot essence From Bergamot orange. Used to flavor Earl Grey tea.
  19. Rhodium oil or Rosewood oil
  20. Orange flower water
  21. Rose water
  22. Milk

What an exhaustive list, and all for one perfume! The process combining them is just as exhaustive and well worth the read. Such complex perfumes were popular amongst rich nobles. Nearly every lady received a toilet/vanity set as a wedding gift and with it, a few large flasks for precious, ostentatious perfumes such as the one mentioned above.

Pair of Silver Perfume Flasks, circa 1671-72
“Toilet services were traditionally given as wedding presents by a wealthy husband to his new wife for use in her bedchamber. They usually included a mirror, boxes for ornaments, jewellery and cosmetics and perfume bottles. These flasks were dug up in Parliament Hill Fields (between Hampstead and Highgate) in 1892 by an inquisitive child and sold to the V&A for a modest sum by his father.” – V&A Museum

Perfume came in a variety of consistencies: alcohol-based (perhaps the most familiar to modern audiences), oil-based, water-based, and wax-based. Alcohol and oil bases are what we traditionally consider perfume and would have been applied from a bottle using a dauber or a fingertip. Water-based fragrances were usually floral and used as face tonics. Wax-based perfumes are solidified and easy to carry in pomanders. Scent pendants were very popular, especially considering the putrid reek of muck in the streets that a fine lady had to contend with! A little scent in a handkerchief or on a locket at the end of a chain was invaluable. On that note, perfumes were not just applied to the body. Anything and everything that could hold a scent was perfumed, from gloves and rouge to garters and hair powder! In fact, gloves and perfume went so hand in hand (pardon the pun!) that in 1656, the Guild of Glove and Perfumers was formed. Perfumed gloves weren’t just worn on the hands, but could be tucked into waist sashes and hatbands. A lady might send her beloved a delicate glove soaked in her perfume just like we might send a perfumed love letter.

Lady’s Glove, circa 1610-20
Always a welcome gift, unless they are laced with poison!

If you are a lover of perfume, by all means indulge yourself even when in costume! Finding a modern equivalent for a 17th or 18th century scent can be difficult, unless you know what to look for. Stick with natural scents or even make your own! A good, oil-based organic perfume can be quite expensive (just like back in the day). For the scent scientist, there are plenty of authentic historical recipes online that you can experiment with.

There was as much scent variety in the past as there are today. People could choose floral, citrus, sweet, spicy, or milky fragrances. My favorite modern-made-ancient perfumes are base notes. They work best with my natural chemistry and fit my taste. 17th century perfumes tend to contain more musky base notes, so my preferences fit right in with my favorite era! I have two modern favorites that I like to wear when in character:

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Shanghai Rose Solid Perfume in Amber

This amazing little fragrance tin (10g) is warm, earthy, slightly sour, and very musky. It mellows as you wear it, blending with your own scent. It smells very similar to a sample of 18th century cologne I had a chance to savor at the a museum presentation. The slight sour note may sound off-putting, but it keeps the perfume grounded. Many modern ambers are just too sweet smelling. I would equate it with the sourness of an unripe plum. Another fragrance in this line, Marine, is equally pleasant, but on the higher end of the note scale with a hint of ambergris and blossoms. I would call Amber androgynous and Marine a feminine perfume by modern standards. For historical presentations, however, they are perfect for either gender. The tins are more widely available in the UK, but I found mine stateside in World Market for the bargain price of $5! Since this is a fairly solid wax perfume, it is best applied directly to the skin. The best place for it? The bosoms. No court lady is complete with out a lovely, scented chest!

Chiaroscuro by Illuminated Perfume on Etsy

I recieved a tiny vial of this as a gift. It’s quite magical! I have only worn it twice because it is so precious to me, but the scent is beautiful– I enjoy smelling it from the bottle. The ingredients remind me of many of the perfume recipes I have read from the 18th century. The seller’s description speaks better than I can:
“Chiaroscuro as a liquid perfume begins quite dark and indolic laced with notes of roots and camphor. As you journey through the night in the deep moist woods a clearing of jasmine is illuminated with the light of myrtle. The robust fragrance features a very unusual scent evolution by moving from dark to light with deep, warm notes that linger like a dreamy lover. The perfume is sweet and dark, naughty and nice. The sweetness of the jasmine is amplified by myrtle and spice contrasting against patchouli and jatamansi (spikenard).
True perfumes such as this one react with your natural body chemistry and while they have a “basic” scent profile, your own body transforms it. On me, the floral is a little too heady, but on my sister, it smells like blossoms and warm autumn. I wore a dab on my neck the first time, but I like the scent much better on fabric. I dabbed a bit onto my neckline and it kept truer to the scent out of the bottle, which I love!

For more information about historical perfume and cosmetic recipes:

Madame Isis’ Toilette” – A wonderful blog dedicated to exploring the world of historical beauty from perfumes to hair powder!

How to Make Your Own Rose Water” – I linked to this earlier in the article, but making rosewater, while challenging, is more fun than just buying a bottle!

Traces of Marie Antoinette, Caught in a Phial of Perfume” on The Washington Post – Creating a perfume France’s most infamous queen would approve of

The Ultimate One Pattern Piece Project: Elizabethan Coif

6 Steps to Fabulous!

Once again, I am breaking my vow to keep HSF posts off of my blog. However, this project has actually been on my plate for quite some time and by some miracle, it’s completion happened to coincide with HSF Challenge #11.

Since my costume fascination began, my favorite era has been the 17th Century. In particular, I fell in love with blackwork. However, I am incredibly inept at embroidery, almost to the point of being that cliché historical fiction character that scandalizes her family by acting like a impetuous tomboy…

Extras inside indeed: an extra dose of terrible embroidery skills and stubbornness, that is.

…okay, so that really would be me…

Though I have no embroidery skills, I do have enough hand-sewing skills to make me a decent small-scale seamstress. Combined with my love of the 17th Century, blackwork, hats and thrift, I have the perfect set of skills to be a decent coif maker, or at least an excellent blackwork coif faker.

Inspiration

I started this project without a pattern, just pictures and measurements from various online museums. I basically followed my wobbly seamstress instincts. The subsequent tutorial follows the method I developed to create my coif.

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Detail of “Portrait of a Bride” by Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck
Besides her pretty coif, notice how tightly the wire of her headdress is pressing into her cheeks.

English Woman’s Blackwork Coif, circa 1600

Top Stitching and Gathering Detail on an English Woman’s Coif, circa 1590-1610
(see Step 5)

Women’s Coifs showing repetitive patterns and a variety of shapes, circa 1600
Another pair of similar coifs are also in the V&A, notable for one’s bottom edge: “Along the bottom edge, instead of a turned casing there are a series of loops braided in linen bread and stitched to the coif.” Another option for Step 4!

How to Make an Elizabethan/17th Century Coif

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Illustrated in Microsoft Office Word  for your convenience and pleasure!

Large_Coif 1I used newsprint to create my pattern. Coifs from this period come in a variety of shapes, but most are based on a simple rectangle of fabric cut into a gentle urn shape. The top of the urn forms a widow’s peak at the top of the head and the curved bulge covers the ears. You can make your shape as simple or extreme as you like. Here’s my pattern:

Paper Pattern

You can test the paper pattern by pinning the top edges together. Bear in mind that the fabric coif will be smaller because of your seams.

Paper Pattern Test

Opportunity for excellent party hats? I think so!

Large_Coif 2Since I cannot embroider well enough, I prefer to use pre-embroidered fabric. Finding a pre-embroidered fabric with a proper motif  and decent colors on a suitable fabric can be a real challenge, but I was lucky enough to find an embroidered cotton shirt for $3 at the local thrift shop. While it’s not perfect, it’s close enough!

Embroidered Shirt

After two weeks of searching for the perfect blackwork fabric, this is probably the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen in my life. If finding an embroidered fabric is too difficult, you can use plain linen or silk.

I plucked the seams out, leaving me with enough fabric to make about 4 coifs.

Unpicking Stitches

Chinese machine embroidery is fairly easy to unpick, but it did leave prick marks down the edges and where there were darts. A little steam ironing helped make them less noticeable.

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I can make two coifs from the back panel and one from each of the front panels.

For my lining, I used some cheap cotton sheeting from my stash. Elizabethan coifs could be lined or unlined. Many had removable linings so when the inside got dirty, the lining could be removed and washed, saving the delicately embroidered outside from wear and tear. Since my fashion fabric is completely washable, I sewed the lining into my coif as a permanent feature.

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I really wish I’d taken more construction pictures, but I was too excited to pause for photos. I sewed my coif using backstitches set about 3/8 inch away from the fabric edge for clean seams. If your lining has a right side, make sure it faces teh right side of your fashion fabric so when you turn it inside out, it faces the proper way.

Large_Coif 4The drawstring casing can be done multiple ways, but just turning up the bottom edge worked best for my coif. I used backstitching again to close the casing because it’s strong and you can manipulate the stitches so that they hardly show up on the outside of the fabric. Since the seam can be seen from the outside of the coif, I made sure the outside stitches were as small as possible.

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This is the front edge of my coif, showing the smooth seam you get when you use the “pillow” sewing method to connect your lining. To make the front edges crisp, iron them from the lining side before and after sewing the drawstring casing. You can see the stitches on the inside of the drawstring casing on the right.

Large_Coif 5

This is the most complicated-looking step, but it’s actually rather simple. You’ve already finished 2/3 of the top edges by sewing them in step 3, so all you need to do is whipstitch the very top edge shut with small stitches. When you reach the end of you finished edge, sew around the unfinished edges. You can adjust how your coif fits by gathering more or less fabric. Gathering less fabric will make the coif pointy at the back while gathering more will give it a rounder look.

Coif Top Seam

Large_Coif 6

I used bias tape fror my drawstrings because it was what I had immediately on hand, but you can make ties out of yarn, linen tape, twill tape, shoelace, or braided cord. Threading your ties can be tricky. Some people like to use safety pins while others use wire to help guide it through the casing. I used a cheap, thin pair of tweezers to hold one end of my drawstring while I used the other end of the tweezers like a giant needle, pushing it through the casing.

Done!

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I would like to trim my next coif with a little bit of lace along the front by sewing it inside the seams in step 3. I would also like some twill tape for ties instead of my last-minute bias-tape drawstring, and to take pictures with the strings wrapped around the top like they are supposed to be worn. But for a blind first attempt, I’m rather proud of it!

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HSF Breakdown

17th Century “Blackwork” Coif

The Challenge: #11 Squares, Rectangles and Triangles
Fabric: A thrifted cotton shirt with cotton machine embroidery lined with even more cotton!
Pattern: I basically just measured a rectangle using coifs documented at the V&A and cut a light “urn” curve into the sides
Year: 1600-1630
Notions: Cotton thread and bias tape
How historically accurate is it? 50% It’s not linen or silk, but it is all natural fibers. The embroidery pattern is entirely modern, but from a distance, if you squint, it looks fairly legitimate. The construction method is pretty accurate as is the size and how it sits; however, I have much more hair than this coif can contain. It will sit on my head by itself, but I feel more comfortable tying it on so I don’t feel like it’s constantly going to fall off. Next time I will make the coif a bit deeper or try using hair pins to hold it on.
Hours to complete: 3 hours
First worn: By me…at 3am…in my apartment
Total cost: $3 for the embroidered shirt, stash sheeting, and stash thread

A matching forehead cloth would also be nice, and I have plenty of fabric left over for at least one!

Coif and Forehead Cloth, circa 1610

More Coif Tutorials and Information

Full-length Coif Tutorial” – All of the steps from this page in one looooong image

The Coif Question” by Kate at Dressing Terpsichore – Explains why most extant coifs are one-piece, but most paintings appear to have two-piece coifs

Elizabethan Coifs!” by Morgan Donner – Examples of how a coif should be worn with  a forehead cloth to get the proper look

Coif Patterns” at No Strings Attached – Multiple patterns for different styles of coifs

UPDATE!

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Truly Hats now offers coif-sized blackworked (by machine) fabric for only $10! The pattern is a replica of an extant 16th century piece.

Unique Embellishments and Passementerie Through the Centuries: 17th Century Swag

Addicted to Trim: 17th Century Ribbon Loops

If you could describe the 17th century in one word, “swag” probably wouldn’t be the first to come to mind, but the term– which is American slang for “fashionable, ornamental excess”– actually describes the era particularly well, especially the use of trims and ribbons that swelled to ridiculous proportions by the 1650s. During the 17th century, trim became a major player in the fashion game. Early in the century, the fashion for all-over abundance of embroidery, metallic lace, and jewels was de rigueur for the upper class, but by 1610, different tastes were beginning to prevail: the iconic black silks and velvets with wide lace ruffs and collars we’ve come to associate with “pilgrim fashions” of the 17th century.

“Portrait of Mary Radclyffe” by William Larkin, circa 1610-13

This black-and-white world is a faux reality, since 17th century fashion was as brightly colored as any century before or after and was, perhaps, more heavily textured. However, solid colors including black, powder blue, pink, and yellow gowns and coats gained popularity over the polychrome brocades and embroidered smorgasbord of the late 1500s. During the 1600s, texture and volume became immensely important. It was no longer enough to throw on all your finery and be done with it. Textures had to compliment and contrast each other. If you wore a fitted black silk gown, you would contrast the smooth dark with a frilly, soft white lace. Rosettes, which had blossomed in popularity during the Elizabethan era, soared in popularity and offered a lady or gentleman yet another opportunity to play with texture. Rosettes of ribbon could be worn nearly anywhere: sleeves, garters, necklines, shoulders, belts, or shoes. Many rosettes were quite large, 6 inches in diameter or even larger!

Detail of “Amalia van Solms” by Sir Anthonis van Dyck, circa 1631
Notice how carefully “choreographed” the play of texture is on Amalia’s gown. The smooth silk bodice has ribboned sleeves which would reveal glimpses of an undersleeve. On top of that, golden rosettes tame the volume of and huge pinked cuffs soften the stark look. Her abundance of jewelry is symmetrically placed, contrasting with her offset belt rosette.

Rosettes are carefully sculpted into shape with folds and stitches, but when they become quite large, it’s much harder to control the stiffness and shape. Naturally, the rosette took on a softer incarnation, halfway between a rosette and a bow. It became fashionable to attach long aglets (metal tips) to the ends of the bows, adding yet another textural feature to the outfit. This popular embellishment could also be functional, tying sleeves to a bodice or stays, for example.

Loosely looped rosettes in “Portrait of a lady” by Jan Anthonisz van Ravesteyn, circa 1630-50

Doublet and Breeches Suit with loose bows, circa 1635-40

“The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs” by Georges de La Tour, circa 1630-34
Rosettes and bows were fashionable for both men and women. This painting, as well as the later version, show the aglet-tipped bows that exploded in popularity during the 1630s.

Stays and Sleeves with Metal Aglets, circa 1660-70

Perhaps the most interesting use of ribbon during the 17th century, however, was the ribbon loop. Developed out of the bows and loose rosettes, by the 1650s, these loops became the mark of the most fashionable, Cavalier gentleman. Cascades of these rustling ribbon loops were hung low around the waist to bridge the gap between relatively short doublet and high-waisted breeches.

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Outfits belonging to Charles X (1622 to 1660)
These rich outfits were the height of fashion for men during the mid-17th century. The popular shape for men was a bowed-forward posture with thick limbs for a jaunty appearance. I’ve heard plenty of comments that these outfits make men look like toddlers since there is no strong waist delineation and the form is very puffy. However, the rounded appearance, coupled with large accessories like feathered hats, turned-down boots, and wide capes all served to make a man as large and grand looking as possible. The ribbon bows/loops added even more swagger and size to the picture.

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Livery uniforms, circa 1672

Men weren’t the only ones to indulge in ribbon loops. Ladies closed their jacket fronts with a boa-like line of ribbons and hung ribbon tassels from their bodices and hair. By the 1670s, the loops had ceased to be distinctly bow-shaped and were applied like tassels. The ribbon strips were often wider for men and thinner for women and children.

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“The Eldest Daughter of the Artist” by Claude Lefebvre, circa 1672

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Maria van Oosterwijck” by Wallerant Vaillant, circa 1671
This amazing woman became a floral still-life painter of great renown by her own volition at a time when painting flowers was a fine female occupation, but not one a woman was expected to do unmarried. Her paintings are bright, lifelike, and still quite collectable today. Her biography is well worth a read!

“Portrait of a Woman with a Moorish Page” by an unknown artist, late 17th century

“Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary” by The Freake Limner, circa 1671-74

“Portrait of a Young Boy” by the studio of Henri Gascar, circa 1680-90
Note the matching ribbon puff attached to the hat.

Ribbon loops even trimmed hats, purses, and gloves. Anywhere embellishment could conceivably go, a swathe of looped ribbon could be–and often was– applied.

Gloves, circa 1660-80

Purse with ribbon loops and love symbolism, circa 1650-1700

The fashion for looped ribbons fell out of favor around 1700 as a new century rolled in and the fashion of choice changed from the full and voluminous Baroque silhouette to longer, leaner waistcoats for men and mantuas for ladies, eventually evolving into into the 18th century’s signature Rococo look with plenty of swag of its own.

“Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen” by Frans Hals, circa 1622

“Mr and Mrs Andrews” by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1750

Learn more about 17th century fashion

The 17th Century” on Wikipedia – Explore the expansive entry, including a fabulous world timeline, or skip straight to the fashions

Passementarie” on Wikipedia – What the heck is that?! Find out.

The 1660s Dress” by the Aristocat – View this lovely recreation of an 17th century gown from start to finish

1660s Dress” on Rossetti – Another late 17th century style dress

For those of you who use Pinterest, there are a few lovely passementerie boards containing examples and tutorials here, here, and here.

Echoes from Salem: Witchy Fashions of the 17th Century

From Witch Hats to Shoes and Beyond

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So 1680, my pretty!

Whether you know it or not, you’re familiar with 17th century fashion. Our modern ideas of witch clothing trickled down to us from the 17th century, most notably from our fascination with the Salem witch trials of 1692. You see the 17th century all over the place this time of year! For example:

This little darling is a fairly classic, modern witch: pointed hat, “renaissance” dress, and criss-cross “corset” lacing. This polyester masterpiece bears little resemblance to anything we might normally consider historical, but the pieces are there; you just have to look!

The Dress

Our little purple witch is wearing a dress with a faux-stomacher front covered with silver rick-rack. In the 17th century, stomachers were an important part of a lady’s wardrobe. They held jacket-like bodices together and were often heavily decorated, especially with embroidery and gilt threads:

“Portrait of a Bride” by Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck, 1640

“Woman of the Stuyvesant Family” by an unknown artist, late 17th century (1670-1700)

The color black is also very 17th century. Black was the color of wealth, modesty, and respectable mourning, so it’s a bit surprising that the somber color was attached to witches. Most “witches” accused in the Salem trials and elsewhere were often of the lower classes and would not have been able to afford expensive black cloth. They would have worn something more along the lines of this:

“Woman Warming her Hands over a Brazier” by Maestro della Tela Jeans, late 17th century

“Peasant Interior” by the Le Nain Brothers, 1642

The criss-crossing rick-rack mimics the lacing pattern of a pair of stays. Here is a pair of 1660s stays with sleeves that shows the criss-cross front lacing modern costume manufacturers have come to consider standard:

Stays and Busk, circa 1660

These wouldn’t have been outerwear for wealthier women, but would have been under the bodice. A lower class woman would not have had such fancy stays. Instead, she would have worn a reed or leather pair of stays over a chemise and skirt.

The Apron

Another 17th century aspect of the modern purple witch dress is the apron. Aprons were universal in 16th, 17th, and 18th century fashion. Everyone wore them, even if they were wealthy and never cooked a meal in their life!

“Citizen’s Daughter” by Wenceslaus Hollar, circa 1643

It’s especially fitting that the girl wearing the purple witch outfit has an apron on because it was standard practice in the 1600s for a child under 6 to wear an apron constantly to protect their skirts.

The Hat

Nothing says “witch” like a tall, cone-shaped hat! It’s been a Halloween witches’ staple since the 19th century, especially during the Edwardian era when costume balls and Halloween parties became popular.

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Girl Dressed in a Witch Costume, circa 1880-1905

The photo of the young lady above shows how the traditional Halloween witch morphed from a variety of influences. Her dress is very 18th century (complete with quilted petticoat and fichu), while she herself is very Victorian. In addition, there’s that ever-present pointed hat! The hat style is undeniably 17th century. The tall, conical shape is derived from the capotain: a felted hat popular with both men and women since Elizabethan times.

“Head of a Man with a Pointed Hat” by Adriaen Brouwer, circa 1630

These hats were worn by every level of society from rich to poor. These big, funny-shaped hats seem really comical to our modern eyes, but they were considered a common essential for protecting your face from the sun and, for women especially, a sign of modesty. One of the best examples of the conical capotain is in this spectacular painting by John Michael Wright:

“Portrait of Mrs. Salisbury and her Grandchildren Edward and Elizabeth” by John Michael Wright, 1675

Detail of the Fabulous Hat

This is a later 17th century painting from 1675, but the style of the hat is a few decades earlier, around 1650-1660. The woman in the painting is not a witch; she’s just an upper class grandmother posing with her rambunctious and brightly-dressed grandchildren on a cool autumn day. But there’s no denying that it is the perfect historical example of what we’ve come to consider the ultimate symbol of Halloween magic!

The Shoes

Lastly, we come to the other wicked essential everyone loves to wear. The young girl in the purple witch costume is wearing simple Mary Jane flats, but for the adults, there is an iconic witch accessory with pointy toes and exaggerated heels…”Witch Shoes!”

As soon as they’re mentioned, everyone knows exactly what you mean. Just do a search on Google or Etsy and you’ll discover thousands of options that vary widely, but generally boil down to black, pointed or square toed, buckled or laced, and…well…witchy! Some of the styles are Edwardian in shape with straps and lacing. More traditional witches’ shoes, however, are 17th and early 18th century-inspired.

English Leather Shoe, circa 1640-50

Women’s Silk Shoes, circa 1700

Now I say “inspired” because over the centuries, the iconic buckle shoe had gone through many changes, each time re-emerging more cartoonish each time:

17th Century:

Men’s Leather Shoes, circa 1660

19th Century:

Men’s Theatrical Shoes, circa 1870-1900

20th Century:

English Underground Platform Shoes, circa 1974

21st Century:

Spider Buckle Witch shoes by Pleaser, circa 2012

So to Conclude:

The caricaturization, combination and evolution of the past is what defines our current ideas of Halloween, from witches and vampires to butterflies and hamburgers.  Fashion itself is always evolving, so it makes sense that our “dress-up” fashions would follow suit. Being completely over-the-top is half the fun of dressing up in costume! You don’t want to be just a hippie. You want to be a technicolor, tye-dye-wearing, afro-topped, peace-sign-covered tower of disco glory…even if it’s not quite what you remember wearing back in the day. And you know what? That’s totally groovy.

Peace out!

Happy Halloween!