Exploding Roosters, Cloches, and Nellie Mae: The Best Hats Currently for Sale from Augusta Auctions

This is one of those “fluff” posts I love to write when I find something that just tickles me to death.

Augusta Auctions is a vintage/antique textile seller that always has tons of gorgeous stuff up for grabs. I drool over their gowns all the time! However, in their October 25th catalogue, it wasn’t the gowns that caught my eye, but something else entirely.

This latest sale has a superb selection of super-sassy hats and bonnets!

There are plenty of totally fab-o 1880s and 1890s hats with to-die-for trimmings:

Feast your eyes on all that glorious texture! Mmmmmmm…..

1950s and 1960s class and quirk:

Bill Cunningham hat, 1950s

Bill Cunningham Beach Hat, circa 1960
I’ve fondly dubbed this the “Rooster Explosion” hat. I need it. I have the hat basket to make it…

There are also some low-key-cool 1920s hats (with model heads that seemed a little embarrassed to be listed next to the Rooster Explosion) that would fit right in on the later seasons of Downton Abbey:

Two Cloches, circa 1920
So tight lipped! Grandma’s hat mannequins do not approve!

Going back even further, you’ll find the same bedroom-eyed gals modelling another pair of hats, this time from around 1915:

Pair of Blue velvet hats, circa 1915
Matching your eyeshadow to your hat: yay or nay?

And while all those hats are glorious and some are even grand, they are still not what caught my eye when I was scrolling through the online auction catalogue! It was not the stunning straw weaving or the elegant embroidery or even the Rooster Explosion that spurred me to revive my blog after months of total silence. It wasn’t even the sourpuss Bouvier Sisters display heads that made my day.

It was this face that suddenly flashed onto my screen and into my heart:

BEHOLD! Nellie Mae, the antique wax hat model with No Hecks Left to Give!

This is the orange, waxy visage of a Victorian woman who just cannot process the utter hogwash she just heard and is giving you Ye Olde Internal Eyeroll.

These are the eyes of a woman who has survived everything from face-smothering balloon sleeves to monokinis and greets each fresh fashion faux pas with “That’s…..interesting.”

These are the tired eyes of a Victorian woman watching a modern “historical drama” where everyone is complaining about corsets, there isn’t a hairpin in sight, and NONE of the women are wearing hats, but since she was sculpted without hands, she is cruelly denied the ability to facepalm.

This is the expression every woman wears when she’s seen everything, done everything, and had it up to HERE with all that heckin’ ballyhoo, giving that curt little smile every woman knows is reserved for those times where you have to be polite but, golly you just wanna be left alone/punch someone!

Is she angry? Is she sad? Is she happy? NO! After 100 years, she has transcended the realm of emotion to the blissful plane of blasé ennui.

Nellie Mae is that friend that’s all sweet tea, quiet conversation, and floral arrangements until you push her just a little too hard and BAM! The Southerners can hear the “Bless your precious little heart” that’s waiting just behind those pert little lips.

Nellie Mae: My new Hat Heroine!

I love her so much! She’s got so much personality and, dang, she has great taste in hats! ;)
The rest of the auction catalogue can be viewed here (there’s a pair of 1920s marabou robes that you simply MUST see!).

 

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Looking Ahead: 1870 Imagines the Fashions of the Future

I’ve not done much this past year, or at least it feels that way. I am looking forward to the New Year, making plans and imagining where life will take me.

I was going through old digitized Harper Bazaar magazines from 1870 when I found this gem in the March 19th issue:

harpers-1870s-does-1890

Text:
A LOOK AHEAD
Scene – A Costumer’s   Time – 1890
LADY. “I want a Costume for a Private Fancy Dress Party I am to attend. Something Absurd or Ridiculous.”
COSTUMER. “How do you like That One?”
LADY. “That will do. But is it possible that People ever made such Frights of Themselves!”

There’s nothing like poking fun at the now through the eyes of tomorrow! For the curious, here’s two decadent, fluffy, fashionable dresses and hairstyles…published by the very same magazine only a few days before and after the cartoon lampooning them:

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Ball Gown, March 12th, 1870

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House Dress, April 2nd, 1870

Oh, the delicious, delicious irony! We still do it today (just look for “Trends we need to ditch in 2017” videos on YouTube posted by beauty gurus who were touting the same things only a few weeks ago to see what I mean). What’s really wonderful about this cartoon, though, isn’t the Punch-style biting commentary or even hypocrisy of it, but how close they got the fashion forecast! They were just a little early in their predictions, though. Here’s a dress from Harper’s Bazar/Bazaar in 1890:

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Harper’s Bazar, October 18th 1890harpers-october-1890

Harper’s Bazar, October 18th 1890

There’s a hint of a similarity, but these don’t really look much like the cartoon’s facetious forecast, does it?

But skip forward a bit into the 20th century and…

1903-harpers harpers-1903 harpers-1904Select plates from 1903 issues of Harper’s Bazar

Just to refresh our memory:

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Let’s break it down, shall we?

Tightly fitted, flared-bottom skirts?
Check!

Fashion Plate, 1902

How about some more exciting hemlines?
As you wish…

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1901

But those big, puffy cuffs? Surely nobody would…
Like meringues for your wrists!

Fashion Plate, 1902

Fashion Plate, 1903

Paired with cape-like Sailor collars?!
Mmmmmhmmmmm! Classic.

Fashion Plate 1902

Fashion Plate, 1903

Cute little empire waist jackets with asymmetrical detailing?
You know I could never deny you!

Fashion Plate, 1902

Mounds of hair topped with hats?
Oh, honey, that hat is FAR too tiny, but if you insist….

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1905

But what about the raised waist, short skirt, fluffy hemline, and cute little hats?
Well, I suppose you could wait another decade…

Fashion Plate, 1915

…of course, you’ll sacrifice the fantastic pastry puff sleeves, but, hey, we can’t all be as fabulous as an Edwardian lady fancy dress shopping for vintage 1870s clothes in 1890!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYBODY!

Find amazing FREE digitized copies of 19th and early 20th century Harper’s Bazar/Bazaar magazines here: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000641436/Home

The Original Red Death?! An Antique Victorian Fancy Dress Costume Fit for a Phantom

The perfect outfit for threatening guests at your next Masquerade!

Hello and Happy October, world! This blog began over 5 years ago this month when my very first post went live on October 5th, 2011.

Great Galloping Galoshes, how things have changed!

My blog is now old enough to be trusted with knives, open flames, and witchcraft according to antique greeting cards.
I’m so proud…*sniff*

5 years ago to the day (on October 28th, 2011), I posted a photo of a delightful vintage fancy dress costume in honor of Halloween:

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To pay homage to that anniversary, here’s another amazing fancy dress costume I recently found on eBay: a STUNNING Victorian version of a Tudor gentleman!

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Or perhaps, since this fabulosity hails from France, we should call this a Third Republican version of a Valois/Bourbonic gentleman, but that doesn’t sound quite as romantic…

From the seller’s description:

“This is a complete outfit for a young nobleman of the Renaissance, 5 pieces:
– the doublet, (inner front is padded)
– the breeches [trunk hose]
– the cape
– the hat and
– the scabbard belt”

The original eBay listing can be found here.

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It’s encrusted with faceted jet black glass beads and buttons– an elegant look in full sunlight, but even more decadent and  glittering in the light of gaslamps and candles!
(And I can’t be the only one getting Phantom of the Opera vibes, right…right?!)

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Judging by the colors, shapes, and especially the trims, this handsome outfit likely dates between 1885 and 1895–more likely the latter (that’s when black beaded trim was in vogue and just look at that cape…it screams 1890s!) This fabulous fancy dress costume could have either been worn for one of the many costumed balls popular during the late 19th century, made for a sumptuous Shakespearean spectacle, or donned during an opulent opera. Whatever the event, the costume has survived in superb condition! It is made of, as the seller perfectly put it, “soft red silk satin, the finest lightweight silky clothing velvet, very thin brown and cream polished [cotton] for the inner linings of the doublet and breeches.”

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I do believe the trunk hose are displayed backwards. The buttons probably went in back and the open “butt” was worn in front– filled in with a (now missing) codpiece, of course! Since it’s a Victorian recreation, it probably wouldn’t have been a very exciting codpiece by 16th century standards, though. ;P

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The full list of detailed measurements:

Cape height : 29″ width at top: 17″ width at bottom : 107″ 
Doublet Armpit to armpit : 20″  (chest about 40″) length : 20″ 1/2 collar : 17″ waist flat : 21″ chest flat : 19″ 1/2 
Breeches  waist : 15″ 1/2 to 16″ 1/2 legs opening : 21 ” length : 17 ” 
Hat inside: 21″ 1/2 length: 11″

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Such a miraculously fine bit of fantasy to survive in such condition for 120 years!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Click for base image source

The Genteel Fashionista’s Dialogue: A Humorous Timeline of Fashion

In the Classic Style of Historical Fashion Satire and in the Spirit of Congenial Camaraderie, I Present to You the Product of an Overly-Active Brain in the Form of a Fashion Timeline in which there is much Over-Generalization, a Single Expletive, and a Dearth of Illustrations:

THE GENTEEL FASHIONISTA’S DIALOGUE

The Genteel Fashionista Dialog

1770s – Let’s flaunt how wealthy we are with lots of delicate, expensive fabric and wall-like skirts so wide we need special doors, furniture, and houses built just to accommodate them! Pass the hair powder and Pomeranians!

1780s – Thanks to new technological advances and the start of the Industrial Revolution, I am enjoying my emerging merchant-class lifestyle! However, panniers get in the way when I try to navigate city living. High hats and hair, though, I can do. Also, I am strangely beguiled by these cork rumps….

1790s – The peasants are pissed. Maybe big hair, big hats, and big butts weren’t the way to go. Plus, there’s a bunch of cool Greco-Roman stuff in style. Let’s ditch ridged stays and huge skirts for the more refined Empire look…YIKES! A PIKE!

1800s – What a mess that was! Now that the bloodshed is over, I can safely wear white again. These fine, diaphanous fabrics are really expensive and the white makes my spendy imported shawls really pop! I feel on top of the world again!

1810s – Slim sleeves and silhouettes make me look like every other belle at the ball. Some fancy hem trims and puffier sleeves will make me stand out!

1820s – MORE TRIMS! MORE SLEEVES!
Also, maybe some petticoats to help show off ALL THESE HEM TRIMS better.

1830s – F*ck yeah, giant sleeves! Also, I’ve got a pretty hot bod. Those old Regency sacks hide all my hotness, so let’s go back to natural waistlines and open up the neckline for some shoulder action. I am ready for some romancin’!

1840s – Hmmm…maybe I went a little too crazy with the sleeves, low necklines, and bonnets the size of a serving platter. But I like having a waistline again. Let’s see just how much waistline we can get. Longer! I NEED LOOOOONGER!

1850s – Thanks to my corset, my waist is looking better than ever! However, I’m beginning to miss big sleeves. Every belle needs bell sleeves. I could layer them, like those exotic Asian pagoda roofs I saw in a book once. Speaking of roofs, these stacks of petticoats are getting tough to walk in. Maybe I need some rafters…

1856 – HELLO STEEL HOOPED CAGED CRINOLINE, MY NEW BEST FRIEND.

1860s – These hoops are awesome! Now I can display yards and yards of expensive fabric easily again and everyone has to clear the sidewalk to let me through, like Moses parting the sea. Bonus points for getting the sofa all to myself! Let’s see just how big these hoops can go.

1870s – I’ll admit that I might have gone overboard with the hoops, but now that I’ve turned them into a bustle, I can hug people again and the sidewalks of town are cleaner than ever! The sewing machine makes adding trims to my trim’s trim so easy, too!

1875 – The bustle’s poofs and swags are hiding my hot bod again. :(

1878 – This princess line gown shows off my naturally-enhanced-by-a-corset form perfectly. I’ll never hide my glorious bum under a bustle again! What a folly!

1882 – Well, a little padding back there couldn’t hurt…

1885 – HELLO BUSTLES, MY OLD FRIEND.
I’m sorry I ever doubted you!

1890s – Okay, I’ll admit that the bustle thing got out of hand, but I have learned the error of my ways. Let’s go back to the classic combo of tons of petticoats and huge sleeves.

1900s – I have given up big sleeves in favor of something new: tons of lace and s-bend corsets! They say a puffy breast makes my waist look tinier, but in reality, it makes me look like I am careening forward towards social, industrial, and technological progress, just like a new-fangled motorcar draped in an heirloom tablecloth!

1910s – Rushing towards progress is hard to do in full skirts. A slimmer skirt line is in order. Should I go hobble skirt to display my fashion prowess or skirt suit to further the march towards women’s independence? Either way, it will need more decorative buttons.

1920s – Corsets and curves have been incumbent for too long! I vote for President Bob Haircut and Senator Cloche! Drop waists from the ballot and pass the mascara! The world is ready to finally revel in the glory of my knees!

____

____

Here is 160 years worth of fashion plates!
See if you can spot the trends:

1770s fashion plates

1780s fashion plates

1790s fashion plates

1800s fashion plates

1810s fashion plates

1820s fashion plates

1830s fashion plates

1840s fashion plates

1850s fashion plates

1860s fashion plates

1870s fashion plates

1880s fashion plates

1890s fashion plates

1900s fashion plates

1910s fashion plates

1920s fashion plates

Never Again Until Now: A Review of Corset Story’s Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores

My Victorian Corset Story Corset Story (So Far)

I have heard many horror stories about Corset Story. Indeed,they are still probably the most controversial corset brand out there. Corset Story isn’t their only name, either. You may know them as Corsets UK or CorsetDeal or any of their other 40+ names. While the sale sites are different (perhaps owned by different individuals, like franchisees??), the manufacturer for these brands is the same, so you will see many of the exact same designs from “different” shops. This manufacturer has been lambasted for having the lowest quality corsets on the market. So low quality, in fact, that their corsets have lived up to the modern myth that corsets hurt you: people reported bruises and even stabbing caused by the heinous combination of horrible boning made of non-corset steel (literally pieces of metal for construction work, not corsets) and shapes so tubular that they didn’t even touch your waist, causing many people to hurt their hips and ribs trying to close them (and thinking it was normal because “corsets are supposed to hurt, right?”)!

I had my own encounter with these tubular corsets early into my corseting journey. After my wonderful experience buying my first Victorian corset off eBay, I was gung ho about buying another. I found Punk69’s corsets way back in 2013 before I knew of anything about them. I had just closed my 24 inch corset and was excited to try an underbust in the next size down. I picked a cute cherry one that seemed nice enough to my then-untrained eye:

punk69cherrycorset

When it arrived, I was sad to discover that it wasn’t as curvy as the picture– far from it! So far, in fact, that it has been relegated to holding my makeshift mannequin’s innards together. Lesson learned: corset seller photos lie!

IMG_0348

I use her to model the tiniest of Victorian bodices. Now, tubular corsets are not entirely useless. Not everyone wants to reduce their waist when they wear a corset; they might just want the look. There are also lots of people who are less curvy and/or rather slim and tubular themselves, so a fairly straight corset suits them. Apple body shapes who have large waists, but small hips and busts may find a corset with a very gentle curve is more suited to their needs than a curvier model. But, for me, this shape just would not work!

Disappointed, I swore off eBay corsets altogether, and as my knowledge of proper corset fit increased, I also swore off Corset Story and their like because I found nothing but faults with their products.

Then, tragedy struck:

IMG_0352

My beloved white satin eBay corset suffered a catastrophic bone breech at Georgian Picnic. While fixable with some flossing, after three years of unforgiving wear, the poor soul was barely clinging to life. No longer able to contain my excess holiday pounds, I fear that its time is at hand. I needed a new inexpensive multi-tasking corset to take its place. Despite its many flaws, I really wanted the same model, but the company no longer makes it! I know because I asked multiple times, offered to buy any deadstock, and pleaded with them to see reason and start stocking them again. Alas, it was not to be.

I turned back to eBay and for months hemmed and hawed over the hundreds of thousands of cheap overbusts flooding its pages. I am still considering one because I like the conical bust shape my white corset gave (because of its too-small bust, ironically). It was good for 18th century wear and I already have my custom Hourglass Attire Victorian corset, so I wasn’t looking for another one.

However, in my search, I tripped over Steam Ingenious’s review of the new Corset Story Waist Tamer line from Spring 2015. That got my attention because her blog was the one that introduced many, including myself, to the horrid reality of Corset Story/CorsetsUK/etc.’s sub-standard quality. However, as I read through the post and studied the pictures, I began to feel that perhaps this newer style of corset, the Waist Tamer with Hip Gores, would be worth a try…

But at $135, I balked. At that price, I was halfway to a What Katie Did corset or even another basic custom corset from Hourglass Attire (both still on my wish list!). Did I really need another Victorian-style corset?

But, as luck would have it, a week later, the style went on massive sale and I decided to take the plunge and give this new stock a try! Here’s my experience:

Ordering: Easy, fast, with no hiccups.  I chose the same model as Steam Ingenious: the Waist Tamer Overbust in Black Satin with Hip Gores. There are other styles, including underbusts in this line. I picked the satin fabric over the brocade because my brocade Orchard Corset was very thick and stiff which I do not like. I hoped that the satin would be thinner and more pliable, like my white eBay corset. I normally buy 24 inch corsets and wear them with no problems. However, studying the size chart for this model, I realized that even with the touted hip gores, a size 24 wouldn’t fit over my hips. I opted for a size 26 instead. With shipping, I paid $63.00 = $55 for the corset + $8 shipping. I chose untracked shipping for maximum cheapness.

Shipping: I’m in the USA. Corset Story ships from overseas, so I was expecting anything from a two-week to two-month wait. I was pleasantly surprised that it arrived in only 8 days!

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Packaging: It was packed in a plastic mailer (non-padded). The corset was in a crisp plastic bag of its own. There was a sticker “invoice” of sorts listing the model number and price, but no return labels (you must pay for your own exchange shipping). Out of the bag, the corset is tied together down the busk with a cord to keep it from opening. There is also a product card with a short, thick spiral steel bone sample.

The Corset Itself: I am not as much of a corset-construction expert as Lucy from Lucy’s Corsetry, so my review isn’t as in-depth as hers would be, but here are the basics:

  • This is apparently a two-layer corset: one layer of the poly satin and one layer of the twill. Both are very stiff and heavy, securely stitched.

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  • There is an exposed woven waist-tape and satin ribbon garter tabs. There are also loops at the top of the corset for bra straps(?), a feature I’ve never encountered before.

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  • The wide, unstiffened modesty panel is sewn into the corset, so you cannot unpick the seam to remove it without releasing a boning channel in the process. I immediately cut my modesty panel off with scissors. It left a ragged edge, but I hate modesty panels more than I hate raw edges, so I am perfectly fine with it.

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  • Laces are a good length: plenty to let out to get the corset on and off, but not so long they are overwhelming. They are easy to tighten and do not slip too much.
  • The grommets in the back are color coded at the waist. The third grommet from the top of my corset has a interior split. It doesn’t show well, so I can’t get a photo, but I can feel the laces snag and hear the dragging when they are pulled through. The laces are sturdy, so they haven’t frayed yet, but I imagine this burr will begin to fuzz them up soon enough. (Steam Ingenious noticed a similar burr on her corset as well).

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  • The boning channels are funky to me. At first it felt almost like they doubled up the bones in each channel, one on the other! In actuality, there are applied cotton channels on the inside where the boning is inserted, but the satin outside is double-layered (welt seamed) over them, making the boning lines on the corset extremely thick– almost 1/2″ over the bust curves! This creates a very prominent ridge over the bust, especially the left side where there is also a deep structural wrinkle in the fabric where it caught incorrectly into the binding. I won’t be able to wear this under thinner dresses, but for a heavier bodice, it works okay.

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Terrible picture, but you get the idea. This bodice was shaped over a higher-waisted corset, hence the odd fit over my new one, but otherwise, it works nicely. The shirred inset hides any lumps and bumps from the corset’s thick boning channels.

Silhouette/Shape and Fit: I measure 38-30-36 with an inverted triangle body type. This corset design is nicely curvy on my figure. The waistline is lower than some corsets: it gradually tapers in down the side, then sweeps wide over the hips which I really like. My bottom half is very tubular (my hips are  only 6-7 inches larger than my waist when I’m uncorsetted), so I really like how this corset gives me some va-va-voom in that area! But the biggest treat was that this corset actually fits my bust! I wear a 34F bra, so finding an OTR overbust with enough room for the girlies without smashing them or causing them to bubble over the top is like finding a rare unicorn. I guess Corset Story should rename this model “The Mythical Beast” because, surprise! It fits and it is the exact same shape as the pictures portray! I think this corset would fit a C-G cup best.

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Corset Story advises that the Waist Taming corsets are designed to be worn with a 2 inch gap after an average waist reduction of 3-4 inches. I didn’t quite get my gap down to 2 inches because the hips, though very nicely shaped, were at capacity even on my small-side-of-average hips. The gored design is still very flattering and does not pinch, but if you have more than a 7 inch natural hip spring, you will probably find the hips in this style too small. I am short-waisted (9 inches from underbust to lap) and this corset was about my limit lengthwise. I can sit in it, but it does bump into my lap and boost my breast up. This corset would be the perfect length if you are ~10 inches from underbust to lap. I would recommend this to my fellow inverted triangles who have longed for a flattering, comfortable Victorian corset!

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Waist Reduction: I was able to get about 3.5 inches of interior reduction (26.5 inches). However, the material and bulky boning channels add a lot of thickness back to waist, so my exterior measurement is only 1.5 inches smaller than my natural waist. This isn’t much a of a deal breaker unless you are hoping to squeeze down a size or more for an event. I know many people buy corsets to wear under formal and other special occasion gowns.
BE ADVISED: This is not a short-notice piece of shapewear!
I’ve worn mine four hours a day for 7 days and it is nowhere near seasoned. It’d be very uncomfortable to try to lace yourself down quickly in a corset this stiff, especially if you are new to corseting. If you buy this corset, be prepared to give it plenty of time to break in, much like you would break in a new pair of shoes.
It’s a bit of a myth that the thicker a corset is, the better the quality, and I think C.S. fell for that myth HARD. Victorian corsets achieved amazing shaping with only a single layer and my eBay overbust, cheap as it is, survived over three years of abuse even though it’s paper thin and light as a feather. That was what I really liked about it: lightweight, cool, and easy to wear. My Waist Taming corset appears to be very durable, but I was really hoping for a softer corset (which is why I chose the satin in the first place).  I’m still grieving over my first corset, so I might be a bit biased, though…

Note on the Design:

Above: What Katie Did Storm Overbust

Above: Corset Story Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores
You can see the similarities between the What Katie Did design and the Corset Story one. You can see in the photo that their version is not as cleanly executed, exhibiting the same bumpiness over the bust that my corset has, though mine is not as wrinkly. This image is from the Corsets UK site, the British parent company of Corset Story, one of its many offshoots.

I think the Waist Taming line is Corset Story’s attempt to compete with higher-tier OTR brands like What Katie Did. WKD is known for their smoothly sculpted black satin corsets that are famously a little stiffer and heavier than other OTR corset brands and have gored hips. Corset Story didn’t copy WKD’s designs exactly, which I appreciate because stealing designs is a huge problem in the corset community, but I see C.S. wanting to mimic certain design features in order to appeal to a new clientele. That’s okay. I am glad they are seeking to improve their products based on customer feedback.

Final Thoughts:

Pros: Excellent shape for 1880-1890! A good basic corset that could work as an undergarment or as outwear (would look especially nice with a gothic ballgown skirt!), shape is exactly as advertised and photographed on the website, lots of bust space, nicely shaped bust cups, hip gores provide some extra space and lots of contrast (making the waist look even smaller), very sturdy construction, amazing value if you can catch it on sale, pleasant shipping experience, comfortable if seasoned properly.

Cons: Material is very thick, the boning is very stiff (Steam Ingenious took her corset apart and found the same non-corset steel bones being used in the back channels, but the rest is wide spirals), hips might be too small for some and the bust too large for others.

Overall Corset Rating for Corset Story’s Waist Taming Satin Overbust Corset with Hip Gores:

corset rating

3 out of 5!

I want to score this corset 3.5 or even a 4, but I’m hung up over the bulky boning…otherwise, I really enjoy it!

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This is not a solicited review. I am not affiliated with Corset Story and they haven’t paid or given me anything for this review. I purchased this corset with my own money for my own private use as an undergarment for 19th century costumes, so I am approaching it from that angle. I am not a waist trainer or costuming professional, so this review is based only on my personal knowledge and experience. Your experience may differ (and if so, please share in a comment below!). If you have any questions about this review or any of my other blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me through the Pragmatic Costumer Facebook page!

Five Snazzy Details to Add Pizzazz to Your Victorian Costume

Full, Exhaustive Title:
Five Snazzy Details to Add Pizzazz to Your Victorian Costume

found in Extant 19th Century Garments from Augusta Auctions

I enjoy poking around on internet auction sites for extant garments “in the rough.” Museums can’t hold every original piece of clothing. There are literal tons of antique clothing sitting in private homes and shops that no one has ever seen before! We are blessed in this age of internet commerce to see some of these treasures for a few brief days on websites like eBay, Etsy, or Ruby Lane before they disappear again into private collections. Many of these amazing private holdings posess design details and quirks that are often glossed over by sweeping generalizations about past fashions. Looking through these often less-than-perfect dresses in their wrinkled, as-found condition is a wellspring of fresh sewing inspiration!
Since I can’t buy every gorgeous gown that scrolls across my screen, I have taken to collecting them digitally on Pinterest, combing through online sales pages for pieces with unusual features or appealing designs. One of the many sites I try to check regularly is the Augusta Auctions page. They are an antique/vintage textile and clothing auction house that so kindly keeps pictures of previous auction lots long after the auction has ended (so many times auction sites remove photos soon after the sale is complete). They have garments of many types from the 1700s to modern, but my research recently has focused on the Victorian era (1837-1901). Many of their items are de-accessioned from public museums which means that the Augusta Auction website is often their last accessible record before disappearing from the public view. Rifling through the auction lots has yielded some unusual and strange pieces, but it also has brought to light a few simple, unique design elements that a modern costumer could easily adopt!

1. Mix-n-Match and Matchy-Matchy Accessories
(I guess that’s really two tips in one, so this list has 6!)

Morning Glory Cotton Sateen Day Dress, 1880s
“2-piece, maroon [looks brown in the photos, but it my be more reddish in person] cotton sateen w/ blue floral print, lace trim, cut steel buttons, matching fan.” – Augusta Auctions

I’m not generally a matching maven when it comes to my day-to-day modern clothes, but making my own historical outfits means I pay a lot more attention to color, pattern, and stylish shortcuts. This dress has a classic combination of dense print paired with a plain matching color. The printed bodice and bustled overskirt are separate from the simple tiered brown cotton underskirt, so they can be mixed and matched with other pieces. The solid colored skirt would be very easy to match other bodices with and it’s likely the dress’s original owner had one or two other pieces she could mix together to create a multitude of outfits with, especially since (unlike many bustle underskirts that have plain backs) this underskirt is decorated all the way around making it extra versatile:

A very simple bustle back suitable for an active woman on the job or on the go!

But sometimes you just wanna MATCH. Some women match their shoes to their purse. Others can’t leave the house unless everything from their underwear to their earrings are all the same shade. This day dress in particular comes with a unique matching accessory, especially for such an otherwise ordinary outfit: A custom matching fan!

It matches so well it’s nearly camouflaged!

If you are interested in making a matchy-matchy fan of your own, here’s a semi-tutorial posted on La Bricoleuse:

Making a Silk Folding Fan

As an added bonus, the fabric on the fan was protected from the sun when it was folded up, so it did not fade! It gives us a clue about how much brighter this dress used to be: just look at that pop of ultramarine and hint of crimson! It was a brilliant use of excess fabric. Other ways to use extra fabric scraps to create matchy-matchy accessories include small drawstring purses and coverings for hats and bonnets.

Lined Drawstring Bag Tutorial
By In Color Order

Cardboard and Duct Tape Victorian Bonnet Tutorial
by Darling and Dash

2. Ribbon Flowers
(may be combined with the matchy-matchy tip above for decorating pretty much everything)

Detail of a Silk Visiting Dress, 1860s
“Three-piece buff changeable ribbed taffeta, trimmed with bright coral satin bands, scallops, bows, rosettes and Van Dyke points: front buttoning boned bodice with high neckline; belt with attached back peplum; trained unlined skirt, gold stamped label “Louis Hille Tailleur Pour Dames 398 Rue St Honore Paris”[…] Featured in April 1998 ANTIQUES Magazine” – Augusta Auctions

It’s fairly common to see garments decorated with ribbon bows and cockades, but when I found this dress, the big pink satin flower caught my eye right away. It is extremely similar to modern ribbon flowers that can be found on everything from toddler headbands to coffee cup koozies!

There are hundreds of ribbon and fabric flower tutorials, but for this particular design, there are three methods that will produce similar results:

Ruched Ribbon Flower
Tutorial by Nikki in Stitches

Scrap Fabric Flower
Tutorial by Melissa of Until Wednesday Calls

Round Petal Kanzashi Flower
Tutorial by A Pumpkin & A Princess

In addition to how modern the flower looks, the placement also gives it unique charm. There’s one at a fairly standard location at the small of the back, but another is placed just off the hip and another midway down the skirt. So cute!

The seamstress really liked trimming in general. Just check out the amazing design created with matching pink ribbon/fabric applied in a multitude of ways!

Rosettes, stripes, binding, applique, scalloped edging, bows… the works!

3. Embroidered Accents

Embroidered Visiting Dress, 1870s
“2 main fabrics: black silk faille & black silk satin, satin w/ narrow velvet stripe embroidered w/ wine, brown & blue flowers, polonaise bodice, cut steel buttons & lace, blue satin modesty insert, trained bustle skirt, B 36″, W 30″, Skirt L 40″-59″, provenance, Homans family Washington, D.C.” – Augusta Auction

Victorian costumes often feature lovely embroidery work. They didn’t have access to fancy in-home digital embroidery machines like we do now, but there are so many beautiful modern fabrics and trims that come pre-embroidered today so even if you can’t embroider, you can have the look! Even now, embroidered fabric can be pretty expensive. A whole gown of the stuff might be out of the question for most. A yard or two, though, is enough to add a rich touch to a dress like in this sophisticated frock:

The seamstress who crafted this dress made judicious use of the fine striped satin with embroidered flora, placing it front and center on the bodice and cuffs, but leaving the back plain while edging and gores in the skirt tie the look together.

There was quite a heated discussion on a forum about the legitimacy of using pre-embroidered fabrics in historical costumes. While handwork is always period, pre-embroidered fabric is a fantastic way to mimic the look. The embroidery on this dress in particular features a small, repeating pattern that looks very much like many pre-embroidered fabric available today.

Bonus points for the pieced front and late 18th century revival styling!

4. Bold Buttons

Silk Brocade Jacket, 1880s
“Black silk ground w/ Persian inspired brocade, small rondels in metallic gold, sky blue, maroon & yellow, fitted torso, constructed in style of gent’s 18th C jacket, black velvet trim & back pockets, cream & gold embroidered lace trim, 24 magnificent gold metal buttons inset w/ cut steel faceted beads in silver, cobalt & wine, bright yellow silk satin lining, B 32″, W 24″, L 27-30″, excellent. [De-accessioned from the] Brooklyn Museum.” -Augusta Auctions

The last dress had some pretty nifty cut steel buttons, but this jacket certainly ups the ante! Victorians loved buttons of all types and there are as many colors and styles as you can imagine. The buttons on this jacket are something truly avant-garde and different, though. They look thoroughly modern. They would be right at home on a 1930s suit or a 1960s mod mini dress, but here they sit on an otherwise unassuming brocade jacket!

Like many buttons and pieces of jewelry from the 19th century, these buttons are made of faceted steel studs riveted together. These are unusual for their added color and abstract dot pattern.

As they were 150 years ago, buttons can be an expensive investment, but they can really add a pop of character to an otherwise plain dress! Many Victorian buttons are more “traditional” than these, but Victorians loved quirky buttons of all types– from colorful lions and garden insects to distant planets and birds on a telegraph wire!
Etsy is a great place to look for unique buttons, both antique and modern.

With all the wild figurative metal buttons out there, you could probably use these awesome steampunk mechanism buttons or these ancient glyph buttons and no Victorian would bat an eye (they might even compliment you on them, considering how fond they were of industrial progress and ancient cultures). After all, they were the ones putting spiders, ears or corn, and fighting children on buttons first!

Fashionable fisticuffs, anyone?

5. Stunning Studs

Taupe Silk Tea Dress
“2-piece silk crepe, boned bodice w/ overlay of chemical lace studded w/ cut steel beads, grey velvet trim, label “Jermyn W. 45th St.”, B 36″, W 28″, L 41″” -Augusta Auctions
(This dress would totally fit me! If only I had snatched it up. It sold for only $120!)

Augusta Auctions dates this to the 1910s, but the shape, construction, and styling all scream 1889-1892, so I’m including it here.

Ah, my angsty teenage self sure did love silver studs! I treasured my gnarly Hot Topic studded faux-leather bracelet because it made me feel like an invincible warrior. Surprisingly, it’s not just goths and neo-Victorians who enjoyed being studded with glittery steel. The dresses above had silvery cut steel buttons. This particular dress cut out the middle man and has cut steel applied directly to the lace!

Cut steel jewelry and accessories have been around for centuries as a bright, sparkly alternative to diamonds. In the late Victorian period, cut steel was mass manufactured and widely popular. Steel-encrusted miser purses, opera capes, and shoes were de rigueur. While individual studs were less common, they were popular for wearing indoors because they were excellent at glittering in low light.
Studs weren’t just made of rounded cut steel. Some were spiky enough to make even the hardest-core punk rocker happy! Here are two bonnets with pyramid studs that defy the supposedly frail and fragile femininity associated with the Victorian era:

H. O. Hanlon Bonnet, circa 1887
Metal (the Met doesn’t list if they are steel or something else) studs in action. My favorite 1880s bonnet!

House of Virot Bonnet, circa 1885
Black glass pyramid beads add some fierce glitter to this otherwise plush bonnet.

Victorians loved the interplay between hard and soft surfaces and playing with textures. Some combinations are truly unusual and funky, but if done in moderation and with a careful eye for the design, even supposedly “modern” fashion elements can work in the Victorian era!

Vampires, Pointe Shoes, and Pattern Alterations: A Bustle Ball Gown from Simplicity 4156

My “Golden Moonflower” Bustle Dress
Still haven’t settled on an official dress name yet.

I’ve never made a bustle dress from scratch before aside from my Simplicity 3723 bustle hack and a poorly executed (but entertaining) attempt at a Nerfpunk outfit. However, way back in August, I had decided I wanted to attend Dracula: The Ballet with the DFW Costumers Guild, so I purchased a gorgeous sequin-encrusted sari from eBay and decided it was time to try! I wanted something glittery and dark– it was a vampire story after all! I took a cue from one of my favorite dresses in the Met and decided to use Simplicity 4156 as the pattern base since it was handy and I like how it fits me:

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Sari Bustle Dress Design

After a hectic September, October was supposed to be comparatively calm and un-scheduled–free and clear for sewing a few big projects for upcoming DFW Costumers Guild events. However, as a pithy coffee mug once said, “Man plans; God laughs.” So, short on time and motivation, I threw up my hands at trying to attend the ballet with the Guild on the 17th. Of course you are now reading a post about the dress I wore, so SPOILER! I made it!

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A big THANK YOU to Kim and Greg for sharing their box seats with me!

Since I was so busy, I didn’t get a start on my dress until the week before. I’d never made an evening dress before, much less a bustle gown, so I was nervous. Nothing seemed to go my way! As you can see (hopefully, despite my bad watercoloring) in the original design, I wanted an all-black dress in satin and velvet, but I failed to find a satisfactory version of either. Instead, Christopher helped me pick out a lovely gold rayon/poly-whatever blend and a smooth black cotton/nylon blend: perhaps the strangest blend ever, but very simple to sew with and it had a dull sheen I liked.

For the pattern I turned to my trusty Simplicity 4156. While it is originally designed to be an 1890s walking dress with huge puff sleeves, the gored skirt is actually amazingly versatile and, minus the huge sleeves, the bodice is an excellent base for a classic vest-style 1880s bodice. Thanks to a summer of ice cream and days too hot to move, I had to make three mock-ups before I finally got the pattern to fit exactly as I wanted. I felt kinda proud of myself because after I did all the alterations, I found that Francis Grimble’s “Fashions of the Gilded Age” book had lots of helpful fitting advice that I unintentionally followed, particularly the adjustment for the “extra-erect” figure which, honestly, surprised me since I’d always thought of myself as rather hunched (this, as it turns out, is also paradoxically true).

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I did my third mockup in black cotton twill that I miraculously found at Walmart. I used the twill pieces to cut out my fashion fabric and then turned them into the lining. It was a little thick, but the stiffness meant that the bodice stayed smooth without adding boning to the seams. I fitted everything over my Hourglass Attire corset, a single cotton petticoat from Goodwill, my haphazard pink bustle cage (based on American Duchess’s free pattern), and the bum pad draped with a ruffled tablecloth from my Simplicity 3723 bustle project. The sheer weight of all the sequins on the sari combined with the heavy rayon blend was too much for my bustle to handle, so it’s not as booty-licious as I’d like. Still, lots of swish!

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I tried the cage over the bum pad and settled on putting it on the bottom because I needed the extra fluff the ruffles provided.

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I wore my absolute favorite pair of shoes: some 1980s black suede beauties with lace-up fronts. Sadly they are a size too small and falling to pieces.

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For the bustle, I just gathered and draped the back until I liked it. It’s made from a single length of fabric. I used the selvages as the hem and fringed the drape in front instead of hemming it. I was so short on time I even left the bottom of the underskirt unhemmed (it’s pinked).

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I was so rushed I didn’t take many in-progress photos. Honestly, most of it, especially the crossover front, I just wung. The only real in-progress shot I got was when I contemplated making the dress sleeveless with ruffles instead of 3/4 sleeved.

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Alterations I made to Simplicity 4156, an 1890s walking dress, into an 1880s evening gown:

-No balloon sleeves. I used the sleeve pattern from Simplicity 3723, actually. Fave sleeve pattern ever!
-No standing collar or cuffs. Even though I wanted them, I ran out of time.
-No side peplum. Peplums are very 1890s, so I cut down the front, but kept the back to make an 1880s-style bustle tail instead.
-Crossover bodice front.
-Randomly draped bustle.
-“Accidental” V neck.

You’ll notice that in my design and in this photo, the point d’esprit completely fills the neckline. Indeed, I got all the way done sewing on the high collar on Friday only to discover that the neckline pulled too far up so it choked me in front and gaped at the back. I discovered that even though I had to do an extra-erect posture adjustment, my neck angles forward as though I am hunched over.

…pretty much like a vulture’s posture in reverse…

I assumed if I could trim a half inch off the front neckline, I could just re-attached the collar and solve the problem enough to make the dress wearable. Then, the scissors slipped…

..and thus my dress is a V neck!

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 “Golden Moonflower” Costume Breakdown

Spangled silk georgette sari – $24.99
6 yards black cotton/nylon blend – $24.16
5 yards metallic rayon/poly blend – $19.30
2 yard cotton twill – $6.00
2 yards black pointe d’esprit – $8.15
1 spool of black thread – $2.49
Cotton sheet for mockup – Free! (remnants from Amelia’s Edwardian dress)

Dress Total: $85.09

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I bought the woven wire choker necklace on a whim last winter at a local antique mall not quite knowing what on earth I would do with it. Turns out my shopping sub-conscience is psychic! When I had to re-do the neckline, the woven choker filled it in perfectly.

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After having a horrible panic attack about how hideously hair-illiterate I am, Christopher calmed me down and curled my hair for me. Husband of the Year? More like eternity!

Accessories Breakdown:

Black suede shoes – $5.99
Black sheer stockings – $1 (Dollar Tree has amazing socks for costumes!)
Woven wire necklace – $6
Screw back earrings – $3
White faux roses to disguise lack of hair skills- $8.98

Outfit Total: $110.06

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Looking fabulous despite the messy craftroom, angry kitty, and wee morning hours?

PRICELESS!