Hat Trick: Instant Edwardian Glamour Using a Wreath and Wide Straw Hat

The title of this post says it all! This is the easiest way to decorate a hat ever—it’s so simple I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of it sooner!

I love hats, but for whatever reason, I struggle to decorate them. I can never seem to get the feathers to fluff, flowers to sit just so, or bows to stand properly. However, I was wandering the cavernous aisle of the the local “At Home” (“The-Home-Store-Formerly-Known-as-Garden-Ridge”) looking at Christmas ornaments…in August…during a 105°F heat wave…

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Like Hobby Lobby, At Home always goes Christmas Crazy early. This photo is from an article written in August of last year.

I was looking at the Christmas ornaments and vulturing around the Halloween merch hoping to catch an earlybird sale of some type. Alas, no sales on clip-on Christmas birds yet! I got a whole flock a few years ago and now I always keep my eye out for them. They are perfect for perching on late Victorian hats:

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Deprived of a deep discount on feathery friends, I was about to leave the store when I saw two giant displays of faux flowers. At Home is full of fake greenery, so I had ignored these displays on my way in. However, planted beside the plastic potted petunias was the most glorious seasonal bloom in the whole of the store: the RED LINE CLEARANCE SIGN!

A photo of a treasured red blossom of the 50% off variety.

Redline Clearance in At Home usually means either 20% or 50% off the tag price, but thanks to the brazen commercial exploitation of one of the most beloved holidays of the year and the need to fill the shelves with glitter-crusted burlap Santas before school’s even started, all summer floral was a whopping 75% off! And while I was high on the rush of sudden sales and the heady smell of ten-thousand different air freshener packets from the next display over, I was suddenly struck by the need to buy wreaths wreaths wreaths because FLOWER CROWNS:

I probably could have bought all the wreaths in the world— heaven knows my heart was screaming YAAAS GURL! YAAAS! as I thrust my arms elbow-deep into a glorious pile of polyester roses—but I am strapped for cash and really don’t have any more room to store stuff. So, I settled on a few choice pieces:

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I spent less than $20! It’s a miracle!

I found two wreaths in light, more spring-like colors, and while I was loading them into the cart, I was struck by another sudden epiphany: IF A WREATH FITS ON MY HEAD, IT WILL FIT ON A HAT!

Edwardian hats are huge, drowning in waterfalls of curled ostrich plumes, cascades of silk ribbon, and sprays of flowers. They are opulent to the maximum and, up until my fateful faux flower find, they were well beyond my hat-decorating comfort zone.

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My style is usually a bit more restrained, but looking at the piles of bargain wreaths mounded up like a magical hillside from a fairytale, I knew what needed to be done!

You see, I have this wonderfully wild 1980s straw hat:

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It’s perfectly shaped for 1900-1910, but that zebra crown isn’t the most period-looking finish. So I took one of the wreaths I’d bought on clearance…

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When choosing a wreath, it’s wise to pick one on the fuller side. The more dense/bigger the blooms, the more lush your hat will look (and the better it will hide any *ahem* idiosyncrasies).

…plopped it over the brim to hide the the crown…

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Sushi-roll hat!

…and voilà! An instant Edwardian hat, no millinery skill required!

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There was no agonizing over color scheme, no tedious arranging and rearranging of every single flower, and no waiting! It’s like the Jiffy mix of hats!

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My attempt at an autochrome-esque photo.

Another bonus? Instant restyling options! If you have only one hat, you can just switch the wreath instead of having to get a new hat base. The original full price of the wreath was $15, which is still a bargain if you consider the number of flowers you get for one price and the fact that it came pre-color coordinated!
If you are dedicated to decorating a particular hat, I recommend taking it with you so you can fit the wreath over the crown before buying it. The wreath I fell in love with as a tad too small, but by clipping the wire holding it together, I was able to resize it to fit.

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I used nail clippers and re-tied the ends in place with a stripped twist tie.

If you need to spread the wreath more than an inch or two, you can fill in the gap with a big ribbon bow or a matching bloom. My wreath fits snugly enough that it stays on securely, but if you are happy with your hat and want to keep it just as it is, hot gluing or sewing the wreath in place will keep it from falling off in the wind or when you bend over.

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Edwardian Hat Trick Cost Breakdown:

Wide brimmed straw hat – $4.99, Thrift Town
Floral Wreath – $3.75, At Home (Huzzah for clearance sales!)

Total – $8.74

—– Other Hat Posts ——

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Hat Trick: Turn a Placemat into an 18th Century Hat in Three Steps

Darn string!

Flower Pots and Romanticism: The 10 Second Poke Bonnet

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Update!

Look what I found!

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Her hat looks just like mine!

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3 Dollar Store Products for the Penny-Pinching Costumer

No need to pop tags cuz there ain’t none!

I thought dollar stores had disappeared. After all, inflation is a real life issue. Even many of ye olde quarter machines at the local grocery stores raised cheap plastic snakes and keychains from 25 cents to 50 cents (and even 75 or a dollar!). Could you even buy something cool for a dollar anymore, much less something useful?

Enter Dollar Tree! When I walk through those automatic doors and smell the aroma of $1 potpourri, I feel alive! There are no price tags on the shelves. Every item in sight (except some smaller items) is $1! That box of brillo pads? $1. That potato masher? $1. Rolls of Christmas wrap? $1. A set of child-sized “spaceman” armor? $1! In fact they have a whole section for “Dress-Up and Pretend Play” filled with fairy wings and foam swords. None of it is super high-quailty, but for $1, it’s a kid’s dream come true!


I’ve never actually won a pageant in my life. These are all from Dollar Tree!

But that’s besides the point. Dollar Tree as cheap, awesome stuff for costuming, but it’s not all cheesy kid’s stuff. If you can pry yourself away from the wall of $1 gift bags, there are some great hidden gems.

1:  Stockings

I used to ignore this section of the store because socks are important daily-wear goods that need to be durable. There’s no way a $1 pair of socks could be any good. Boy was I wrong! I found my favorite pair of ivory knee-high stockings at a Dollar Tree a few years ago and they are still kickin’!

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They also sell sheer black trouser socks which are a classy addition to a dark colored ensemble. I found them especially handy to complete my 1880s evening gown. Black stockings have always been fancy, but in the past they were expensive. Now, they’re cheap! Woot!

2: Hair Accessories

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Being hair illiterate, I love those mesh donuts that you slip over a ponytail to make a fat bun! Walmart sells single donuts in a pack with a few bobby pins and a hair tie for about $3, but at the Dollar Tree, I found the donut by itself for $1, a pack of 20 bobby pins for $1, and an enormous pack of hair ties for $1. So for the same price, I got extra bobby pins and hair ties! Plus, Dollar Tree has cute, tiny hairbrushes that fit perfectly in a travel bag or pocket. I’m notorious for forgetting my brush when I travel or losing it along the way, but with these cheap ones, I don’t have to worry about it.

2: Make-up

Me, 20 minutes before the event begins…

I’m not a make-up maven. I love playing with the stuff and I wear it regularly to work, but I’m not buying $20 lipsticks or even $20 foundations. I usually buy my everyday powders/concealer/etc. from mainstream brands like CoverGirl. However, I found a tube of “Light #1” BB cream hanging in the Dollar Tree personal care aisle one day and I thought it might work well for pale 18th and 19th century looks. It was awesome!

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This is my face with nothing on it but the BB cream on the left.
It may look stark compared to the un-covered half of my face, but my face is very ruddy compared to my body. Putting on the pale BB cream actually makes my face match the rest of me! I apply it over my lips as well so when I apply lipstick, it blends in rather than having a very sharp, modern outline.

It gives a very pale, dewy finish that reminds me of Korean make-up more than the powdery matte look most Americans strive for. The dewy look is in line with the makeup our ancestors wore, so it’s perfect for historical applications! You can see it at work in the photo of me showing off my black stockings above. Since I am shiny enough on my own, I sometimes tone it down to more modern tastes with a little pure white eyeshadow (also a Dollar Tree find) to mattefy the look.

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For Georgian Picnic I wore the BB cream with the white eyeshadow (which is very translucent) all over.

I haven’t tried it for daily wear yet because it’s  less-concealing than a brand-name BB cream and a bit on the greasy side, but I do like how hydrating it is. It makes my skin feel soft even after I take it off. Plus, it stays put–seriously stays put–especially if set with a powder. I wore it all day and it hardly moved! Susanna has a wonderful full breakdown of the ingredients and application on YouTube. Dollar Tree often stocks ELF brand products, too, which are cheap on their own, but at the Dollar Tree, they are even cheaper! I adore their brushes and lipstains.

Dollar Tree also stocks lots of holiday decorations for cheaps which can work out perfectly for decorating hats and making themed costumes of all sorts, but these three things are my costuming staples for almost any outfit.

Holla for the Dolla Tree!

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A Brief Trip to 1914: More Easy {Late} Edwardian Costuming on a Budget

I AM ADDICTED TO “SECRETARY” CLOTHES.

It seems that everywhere I go thifting these days, I find Edwardian-esque bits and pieces. I guess my eyes have just gotten so attuned to looking for costume stuff that I nearly forget to look for modern clothes for day-job-me to wear!

I’ve been using vintage blouses to make Edwardian outfits forever, but back in January or so, I found this late 1970s Sears dress on eBay, and it just screamed mid-teens:

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I found the same style of dress listed on Etsy  just today! That one’s listed as 1950s, but this dress looks more like late 1970s to me. Little polyester “secretary” dresses with elastic waists and puffy sleeves were very popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so they are readily available in lots of style, colors, and sizes.

Another 1980s cutie from Etsy with great color.

This one would look great with a red underskirt and a rose-covered hat!

The collar on this dress is so ADORABLE!
I…I may have an obsession…

Most are too short to wear as Edwardian costumes on their own, but with a long, fitted underskirt added, they’re smashing for 1912-1914 outfits! In those years, having a tunic or peplum look over a fitted skirt was extremely popular:

“Costume Parisiens,” circa 1912

“Costume Parisiens,” circa 1913

Fashion Illustration, circa 1913

“Fashion Plate No. 561,” circa 1914

I was in the midst of another Edwardian project when I realized the navy skirt would perfectly match this striped dress I’d bought months before. Add in a serendipitous pair of 1980s Goodwill shoes…

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…a Thrift Town hat…

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…and I had an outfit!

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1914 Outfit Breakdown:

Vintage dress – $12.43, eBay
Brown felt hat – $5.99, Thrift Town
Navy “lace-up” heels – $7.99, Goodwill
Navy cotton sheet (“underskirt”) – $1.99, Thrift Town

Total: $28.40

You’ll notice that the navy blue “underskirt” has a flappy panel that looks a bit odd with the outfit I have on. It’s because I’m actually wearing this over 3/4 of another dress, but I’m not done with it yet! It still needs sleeves and finishing touches, like the kick-pleat which, right now, is nothing but a scandalous open seam:

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If Angelina Jolie was a suffragette

When I’m done with the other dress, I will buy/make a columnar navy maxi skirt to underneath my striped secretary dress. Either way, though, it’s an easy-to-make and easier-to-wear costume that looks pretty authentic for being a polyester remnant of the disco era!

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Minka was jealous that mama was getting all the camera time. What a ham!

Peeking Under Skirts and Sketchbook Covers

Petticoats on the Cheap

Squinting intensely into the distance

In my corset post, I used my pink 18-whatevers/1930s theater costume dress to show you why a corset is important to get the right shape under your historical costumes. Another important piece under my dress is the petticoats, which fluff the skirt out so it doesn’t get limp and clingy. I don’t have a long petticoat at the moment (I ripped it nearly in half by catching it on my heels), so I had to get crafty. Here is what I was wearing under the pink dress:

Tank top corset liner ($3, Rue 21)
Silk slip skirt ($2, Veteran’s Thrift Shop)
Corset ($59, eBay)
Pleated wool skirt ($4, Goodwill)
Brown button skirt ($3, Goodwill)

Is it historically accurate? Nope! Can anyone tell? Nope! Pragmatic petticoating at it’s finest!
(You’ll still need the corset, though)

Also, in sadder news, there is no hope of patching the larger holes in the Gabby dress, so I’ve drawn up a simple plan to cover the major ones.

The dress is a lovely design on its own and it’s a shame that it’s gotten so chewed up. I wrestled with leaving it in its current state, but I can’t bear to leave it like this. Instead, I wanted to repair it as though it was my dress that I still needed to wear for the rest of the winter. So, I will add a front panel of chocolate velvet to match the ribbon trim, covering the two largest holes in the front and shaped pieces on each elbow to mask the place where the mice chewed away the sleeve.  The appliques will go over the existing fabric in order to preserve as much of it as possible. The rest of the plaid will be completely backed with a dark cotton flannel to give it more support. The waistband will be interfaced  and recreated more flannel.

Here’s the major hole in the front panel marked by my 5 inch Fiskar scissors for size.

Here’s the cotton rough I made of the applique panel, again with the Fiskars to show the size and placement of the holes.

The biggest challenge is finding 10 matching buttons for the front. The buttons that were originally on the dress were at least 11/16 inch in diameter (about the size of a quarter). It’s so frustrating to find the perfect size and style button…but there are only 8. Or I find a good shape and number, but they are only half an inch across!

Buying an eBay Corset Part II: Historically Accurate and Off-the-Rack

Finding a Historical Victorian Corset on eBay

This article is a continuation of Part I, so check out that article first for more information.

Let’s start this off by saying I make just enough to get life done and I don’t really have time to attend tons of events anymore, so I feel guilty investing $500 in a custom corset that I will wear in public, at most, 2 times a year. For that much, I could pay rent and buy two-weeks worth of food! I am also impatient, lazy, and incredibly miserly. I don’t live in a place where corsets can be bought from a shop or ordered from a tailor. All I have right now is myself, my cats, the desert, and an internet connection. So, as every penny-pinching lady in my family has done before me, I used what I had on hand: DSL and hours of mad scrolling.

Okay, to begin, here’s what I was after:

Athletic Corset, circa 1885

“Ball’s corset company specialized in creating healthful corsets and those appropriate for active wear. This particular type of corset was flexible, made possible by the shirred elastic sections over the interior coiled wire spring system. It was designed for women to wear while participating in athletic activities such as horseback riding, while still maintaining the acceptable silhouette of the period. According to Ball’s advertising, incorporating the coiled springs into the corsets was a ‘revolution in corsets.'” -The Met

The 1880s produced the “classic” corset shape, so it is the easiest to find. I wanted a corset that was simple and functional. Ribbons, lace, and brocade are all gorgeous, but a corset is like a bra: pretty things look great alone, but can sometimes be a nuisance under clothes. I wanted something I could wear under anything without worrying about strange bumps or bright blue brocade showing through a thin gown. I stumbled across this corset in the Met and I immediately knew that this was the corset I needed. The side springs I knew I probably wouldn’t find, but most modern corsets have spiral steel boning which is more flexible and comfortable than other types of bones, including plastic. I wanted something that would give me a more period-appropriate size and shape without suffocating or stabbing me.

Criteria for my Cheap eBay Historical Corset:

Budget of $75 (including shipping)
White or cream
Satin or Cotton
Back lacing
Spiral steel bones
Overbust
Capable of reducing waist 2-3 inches
1880s in shape

LET THE SEARCH BEGIN!

Here are four tips I learned when shopping for a corset:

PICTURES LIE. It applies in life and it applies to corset buying. Live models are especially deceiving because they make the corset look like it will make you smaller and hourglassed. However, Photoshop exists and these ladies are naturally tiny. Look for photos of the corset itself if you can. The worst listings are the ones where they’ve stretched or warped the picture so you can’t even tell what shape the corset is! GAAAAAA! Also, be on the lookout for fakes.

Make sure the corset has all steel bones. Many sellers will list “steel bones,” but the piece itself will actually only have a few while the rest are plastic. Some even list steel bones, but are all plastic with a steel busk.

When you find a corset with all steel bones, make sure the listing says how many. Many are all steel boned, but only have 8 or 10 bones. If you just want the support so your gowns sit right, these are fine for that, but they will not effectively reduce your waist or give you an hourglass. A really good corset will have 16-24 spiral steel bones with a few flat steel ones in the back by the laces. You can find corsets with even more bones (up to 60!), but most are from professional corset makers…far out of my price range.

Laces should always be in the back. Check out the picture of the laces to determine if it is properly laced or not. First, check what it’s laced with. Shoestring laces are generally stronger and more discreet than ribbon laces. Second, check how it is laced. If it ties with a bow at the top or bottom, either the manufacturer knows nothing about how a corset functions or it’s just for looks. Either way, skip it. Look for laces that are knotted at the bottom and have long tying loops in the middle of the back. Why the middle? Well, if you want your waist to be smallest, it makes sense to have the pulling ends where you want to pull in the most!

After a few hours of searching and a few days of arguing with my wallet, here’s the one I settled on:

Satin Corset, circa 2012

It’s satin, fully boned with 20 spirals, 6 flats, and has a steel busk and grommets in the back. It is cotton lined as well with sturdy cotton waist tape and a modesty panel (I removed it). Most corsets advertise a 4 inch reduction in waist size, but fall short. This one actually gets you down 3 inches– more on that later! The size charts you find in most listings will list natural waist sizes next to the corset size, for example a 22 inch corset will fit a natural waist between 26 and 27 inches (usually considered a size s-xs). Measurements, however, vary from seller to seller, so check those charts closely! For example, the chart for this particular corset listing looks like this:

I have a 28 inch waist. Do you see the quandary? According to their chart, I would fit in anything from a medium to an xsmall! I decided to go with the average, a small. If you are looking to reduce your waist at all, make sure your natural waist measurement falls in the middle or top of your size bracket. For example if you have a 30 inch natural waist and they suggest a large for 30 inch to 34 inch waists, go down a size.  However, trouble again arose when I tried to select a size from the drop-down menu:

According to this new menu, a 28 inch waist was actually the very upper limit of the small’s capacity! This is the hardest part of buying an off-the-rack corset online: measurements. However, I opted to go with the small. I paid $59.95 for my corset, well under my budget. I was a little miffed that I found a similar one at a Chinese wholesaler later, but Glamorous Corset Boutique on eBay was stateside so I didn’t have to mess with customs, plus they shipped super fast and free so I received it in the mail in just 4 days! Would I buy from them again? Yes.

After getting my new corset in the mail,  it was time for the moment of truth: the initial try-on. Prior experience in theater had educated me that the first time you try on a fresh corset, you will need help lacing it because the garment has not yet molded to your body. My sister agreed to help me and much stereotypical tugging and pulling occurred.

You can lace yourself up by tightening the consecutive “rungs” of your corset from top to middle then bottom to middle, but it’s fun to have someone else to giggle with as you hold onto a doorway! For those of you who have never laced before, it’s important that you don’t try to lace your corset as tight as you can right away. If you lace too tight too quickly, you’ll experience all the problems we’ve come to associate with corsets: shortness of breath, back pain, bruises, chafing, and sore ribs. If you lace slowly, however, your corset will bother you no more than your bra– sometimes less! For example, we laced 28 inch me down only to 27.5 inches. That may not seem like much, but remember a corset and a liner/chemise adds thickness over your body, so my waist was actually down to about 27 inches. That’s quite enough for the first fitting. I pranced around the house freely in it. Here I am after three days of wearing it at 26 inches:

I know, I know, tied at the front, but the strings get really long and I have a rambunctious small kitten that kept following me around attacking my corset strings as they slithered behind me! Also, you can see how the hips are a little too big.

It’s important to wear your corset for a few hours a day to get used to it before tightening it further. How tightly you can lace your corset depends on your body type, especially your fat-to-muscle ratio. I highly recommend reading the Dreamstress article “What Size Should Your Corset Be and How Tightly Should You Lace It?” for more information. It’s an amazing post and answers almost all the questions you might have about the general function and fitting of corsets!

Click to visit the Dreamstress blog

Eventually, I got this corset to close fully at 25 inches: the perfect waist size for wearing extant or reproduction Victorian pieces. I am rather “squishy,” so wearing a corset actually feels great!

My waist at 25 inches. That makes my measurements 36-25-35.

I love how this particular corset draws you into a gentle hourglass without jabbing you– praise the corset gods for flexible, spiral steel bones! For historical waist reduction, aim to reduce your waist about 2-3 inches. Keep in mind that as you wear your corset, it will stretch and mold to your individual body, so you shouldn’t share corsets with someone else.

No matter how many pictures of bare-skinned models you see, if you corset without a liner, you will get rope burns on your back.

Corset Burn. It doesn’t hurt during, but afterwards…..yikes!

I use a regular $3 cotton tank from Walmart as my liner/chemise. Many corsets come with a “modesty panel” flap sewn on one side to protect your back, but I remove mine. Unless they are also boned and floating (not sewn in), these flaps will crumple and get in your way. It is much, much better to wear a separate garment underneath you corset instead. I like modern cotton tank tops with some Spandex in them. These will hug your body and not wrinkle up. Wrinkles are the worst! I also like full-stretch tanks from Rue21 and the like for the same reason. They bunch even less than cotton, but you will sweat more. Which brings me to the next reason to always wear a liner: hygiene. Corsets should never be washed in a machine and shouldn’t even be hand washed if you can avoid it. Water will corrode the steel bones. A liner is easy to change and wash. Wear one!

The biggest challenge for me is “the Girls.” I am very top heavy and they are not…well, I hate to admit it, but they are neither firm nor perky. Victorian gowns (and many modern clothes) have a higher bust level than mine, so it’s impossible to fill out a dress properly without extra support. In addition to my new overbust corset, I like to wear a bra underneath. It’s not very historically accurate, but it’s in the spirit of these:

Bust Enhancers and Cover, circa 1890

The only issue with the corset I chose is that it’s made for someone with a B cup, so my 34 DDs runneth over at times, but a tight chemise/shirt or a bra keeps them in check. The hips also wrinkle a little because my 35 inch hips are Barbie-tiny, but 1870s-1890s gowns have full skirts fluffed out with petticoats anyways, so you cannot tell. Also, it means that I have no problems sitting or even riding a bike, which, by the way, I totally did:

1 hour after that first photo of me: Sweatier, but very pleased. Proof that a good liner will save your day (and your corset)!

It’s good to exercise if you plan on wearing a corset for long periods of time. Since the bones in the corset are doing all the work fighting gravity, your abs go on vacation.

In addition to being exciting, relatively simple, and cheap, buying an off-the-rack, mail order corset is super historically accurate!

This corset advertisement is from the 1897 Sears, Roebuck, and Co. mail order catalog. I have a Sears catalog from 1902 that still has the same kind of listing, just different styles of corsets since the fashionable shape began to change. Both catalogs feature a whole section of corsets ladies can send for by mail. At the top of the section is always a fitting guide that offers the same advice we follow today! Most Victorian ladies were on a budget, so buying the best, most fitted corset was out of their reach. It’s quite historically accurate for your corset to be a little wrinkled in spots, or even for the top edge to be visible under your dress if you are wearing everyday clothes, so don’t worry if your eBay corset doesn’t fit like a glove. For example, this photograph from my collection shows a young lady with the same fit problem I have:

I am very happy with my current corset! I’m giving up my press-on nail habit for the next year to save for my next corseting adventure.

Goodbye, perfect nails. Hello, perfect waist!

I’m going to finish my “Teacher Dress” soon, so you can see the corset in action. :)

Here’s a handy-dandy list of things to look for in a good corset and why.

16-24 Spiral Steel Bones
A steel-boned corset is weighty and will pull you in comfortably.
Cotton Lining
Helps keep you comfortable and strengthens the corset.
Waist Tape
Keeps the seams from pulling and helps compress the waist.
Center-back Cinching
You want to tie your corset at the waist, not the top or bottom.
Strong Busk
A wide busk will not deform or twist. Always loosen your corset as much as possible when clasping and unclasping the busk.
4 to 5 inches smaller than your natural waist
Allow extra space to lace it tighter than your natural waist.

Happy Corsetting!