Review of the Historical Fashion Flip-Up Book “Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”

Subuculas, Stays, and Slips!

I like going to Half-Price Books. They have all sorts of out of print and hard to find books, plus a great antique/collectible section! Their Fashion selection, however, is sometimes seriously lacking. I spent one day frantically trying to find the Fashion section after they apparently moved it. I was looking for a copy of The Tudor Tailor, so I asked the front desk after searching through the Art section, the Craft section, the History section, and even the Collectibles section (where books like Fashion in Detail had appeared before) to no avail. Turns out they had no clue where to put fashion books, historical or otherwise, so they stuck them in the “Salf-Help” category! They had very few historical fashion books of any type, but just before I gave up hope, I found this book:

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“Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”
by Margaret Knight with awesome illustrations by Kim Dalziel

Inside, there were stylish illustrations of historical fashions from ancient Rome to the 1960s, all with nifty flip-up clothing layers! At $5, I had to have it!

Inside, there are there are 28 thick cardstock pages that detail fashions for men, women, and male and female children in chronolgical order from earliest to latest fashion, starting with the Roman Empire (27 BC to 467 AD), then the Middle Ages (500-1500), the Fifteenth Century/Early Renaissance, Sixteenth Century/High Renaissance, Seventeenth Century, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, 1901-1920, the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s-50s (combined), and the 1960s.

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Besides the illustrations, each category included a generously-sized foldout describing the changes in fashion and society during the era. Along the edges of the pages are additional fashion tidbits, like hairstyles, hats, and other information not included on the main feature of the book: the flip-up clothing layers.

Each figure has at least one fancy flip up/open/down piece that reveals information about the layer. For example, the “1635” man’s doublet/coat folds open to reveal his shirt beneath and a brief description of it:

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And the “1750s” woman has a layer for her gown and a separate one for her petticoats which both lift to reveal her shift, stays, and panniers underneath:

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The adults clothing has more details than the children’s clothing, but the children’s clothing flip-ups do contain bits of information about popular children’s clothing colors and fabrics.

That’s the basic description of the book. Now, for the review!

This such a cool idea! I love the illustrations and the discovery with each turn of the page and lift of a flap. Children and adults alike are curious about the “weird” clothing our ancestors used to wear and this book is a fun way to explore the basics without feeling like an intruder (how many times have you as a reenactor, cosplayer, costumer, or vintage-lover faced that awkward question or unwelcome groping hand?). The basics are all contained in this book, so it acts as a jumping off point for multiple eras without the intimidating immensity of a fashion encyclopedia.

The illustrations are well-balanced with the double-sided flaps containing the detailed text portion so it’s neither too child-like nor too text-heavy. The colors are well-thought-out and suit the general mood of the chosen eras (lighter colors for Rococo, earthy colors for the Middle Ages, and, of course, bright primary colors for the 1960s).

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There are a few places where I was disappointed, however. The sections, especially for the earlier fashions, are very broad– some covering 500 years or more! I admit that I am not a scholar of the nuances of these earlier eras, so I am not as disgruntled as, say, an expert in the 1340s would be. For example, the Tudor era (1485-1558) is almost entirely skipped, save for Elizabeth I’s reign.

I can excuse some generalizations because this is designed as a children’s book meant to present the very basics of fashion history in an entertaining and quick manner. In a world when most folks know Medieval fashion only from the Lord of the Rings movies, learning even the most basic real Medieval fashion concepts can be confusing to a beginner. The layers and undergarments, which is the main purpose of this book’s illustrations, are all pretty well-covered (ha ha!) despite the broad time swathes. For the most part, petticoats, garters, stockings, stays, and shifts are introduced in the eras they should be.

There was one era, though, which I thought was done a huge disservice: the 19th Century.

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Since this is a book about layers and showcasing the mysterious underwear worn beneath them, it would seem natural to include the many different types of undergarments in the 19th century. It was, after all, probably the most exciting, underwear-centric time in history! There were the short Regency stays and slips, the long stays and crazy-huge sleeve-puffers of the 1830s, the steel-busked corsets and hoop skirts in the 1850s and 1860s, the advent of the bustle in the 1870s and its construction ingenuity in the 1880s!

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Were they centaurs? They must have been centaurs.

Yet, the book dedicates only one section to the entire century and only illustrates the 1810s at the very beginning and the 1850s in the middle– with no children’s outfits to boot! So many shapes that I was bewildered by as a curious child (and even as an adult) are skipped over. The bustle is relegated to a few notes in the top right corner. I would not be as disappointed if the 20th Century decades weren’t given their own sections and illustrations despite the relatively uneventful underwear and layers involved. The 20th Century pages have fewer flaps, and there is little change to the undergarments after the 1920s. The most exciting bit is probably the corset and bullet bra on the 1940s/50s woman:

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The copy of the book I bought was preowned, but despite that, many of the flaps in the later eras had never been touched even though the flaps of the earlier styles, particularly the Roman, Medieval, and Victorian eras, were more “worn in” from use. Whatever person(s) had the book before me was clearly less interested by the modern era! The underpinnings of the 1400s were far more mysterious than the 1940s, at least in this case. In a few decades, perhaps the 20th Century sections will seem more exciting since they will be more distant from the now.

With that said, this book is all about layers and undergarments, so you are literally undressing the illustrations layer by layer down to their skivvies. Some folks might not be particularly comfortable with this, especially since the Middle Ages allows you to see under the lady’s chemise to see her stockings and she’s nude (of course) underneath:

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The illustration is not heavily detailed, but she does have curves denoting her breasts, a little belly button, and the tiniest V where are thighs meet her trunk. Being nude under her shift is historically accurate, but you can easily paste down her shift to make her more modest if you are concerned about it. The children’s layers are not as detailed, so they don’t go down that far and neither do most of the men’s outfits, though the 1960s keeps the playing field even:

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The fashions are Euro/Anglocentric (the author worked for the Victoria and Albert Museum), some of the terms are out of date (the book was written in 1998), the corset/stays/bodies information retains a slightly sensationalized tone, and the 1590s woman is wearing inaccurate pantaloons, but at that point, I’m letting my current knowledge outpace the level this book is intended for.

According to Amazon, this book is for ages 5-7 years, but I believe that’s way too young for this book: not because of the revealing nature of it (the whole point of the book is to reveal the hidden parts of fashion), but because this book has a lot of text and details that a younger child might not appreciate. However, for a 7-14 year old, this book would be a really fun, informative introduction to the world of historical fashion! I would have loved a book like this as a tween and I still appreciate it even though I no longer need it. For $5 or even $15, this book would make a great gift to a budding historical fashionista. The quality of the book itself is very high (great paper, wonderful layout, etc.) and it will answer many questions, prompt new questions, and encourage further research.

Overall rating:

Great fun for a fashion history newbie!

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Saving Face: A Brief History Cosmetics and How to Wear Them with Historical Costumes

When the Rose Blooming in Your Cheeks Happens to be White

I had a lovely time at Georgian Picnic despite the frigid weather. In my rush to get all my warm layers on, however, I completely neglected to apply any makeup!

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Do I have something on my face? NO?! Dang it!

Normally I wouldn’t be bothered by this. I enjoy playing with makeup, but I rarely wear much of it. In fact, my bare face would be considered properly accurate for a period portrayal. Many reenacting circles encourage their female participants to forgo makeup and a common critique of a farb/newbie is their overt use of modern makeup (mascara, for example, wasn’t invented until the 1910s and wouldn’t be worn by a pre-1920s woman). That said, it’s important to note that a naked face may be a “safe” option, but it is not always necessary or even appropriate.

Cosmetics Box for Rouge and Patches, circa 1750-55

Our ancestors adored cosmetics just as much as we do. While they couldn’t walk into their local drugstore and choose from two hundred shades of eyeshadow and lipstick, women did have access to cosmetics both homemade and store bought. Upper class women famously indulged in cosmetics during all eras, even during the relatively conservative Victorian era. The wide range of anti-makeup rants may seem like evidence to the contrary, but there must have been enough women breaking the “rule” to inspire that many complaints!
Indeed, depending on the era, it may be less accurate to go bare faced. The ancient Egyptians and 18th century Georgians are especially well known for their love of makeup. A noblewoman (or nobleman) in these eras would have indulged heavily in various makeups as a part of their regular routine, even more so for court appearances.

The Six Stages of Mending a Face by Thomas Rowlandson, May 29th, 1792
The image above links to an alternate version in the Met. It was quite a popular print and there are a few different variations around the web. Poor Lady Archer! 200 years later and everyone is still laughing at her morning…face.

Commoners were not exempt from cosmetics entirely; though compared to their wealthy contemporaries, their options were much more limited. Homemade rouges, powders, and creams were all popular. The Industrial Revolution played a huge role in making cosmetics more widely available. With so much emphasis placed on a woman to be not only accomplished, but also beautiful, many enterprising entrepreneurs stepped in to provide the beauty nature may have not been generous enough to give. By the Victorian era, even a servant girl might afford a small jar of skin brightening cream, though she might have been better off skipping it thanks to some being laced with toxins!

They must be safe! Everyone knows that printed words never lie…

Many modern women avoid makeup for just that reason– well, maybe not for poison, but certainly for allergic reactions, environmental concerns, or a desire to keep certain chemical substances out of their bodies. In addition, makeup then and now is often tied to morality and societal roles.

Throughout the ages, most arguments for or against makeup are strongly tied to women’s freedom of expression and sexuality. As those values fluctuate, so does the stance on makeup. In Victorian England, for example, makeup was seen as morally corrupt since it “lied” about a woman’s appearance and was associated with prostitution.

In this photo, Belle Archer (not related to the Lady Archer previously caricatured) is wearing stage makeup and looking rather sad for a series of modelling photos taken during her career as an actress. The heavy stage makeup paired with the comparatively skimpy stage outfits 19th century actresses wore made them a target of public ridicule just as many modern starlets are mocked in the tabloids. Time has softened past judgements, however, and Belle is known as one of the Victorian era’s greatest beauties.

Makeup still carries many of those negative connotation today, but with the added bonus of being a required part of daily life. We can thank early 20th century marketers for that. They created a whole new persona for makeup and other hygiene products. Makeup became the symbol of a well-groomed, proper lady. To leave the house without completely covering the face was considered slothful and makeup was as indispensable to an outfit as shoes. To compromise these two views, today’s woman is encouraged to “go natural,” i.e. wear makeup, but not in a noticeable way. We walk a fine line! The prevalence of digital media in modern life makes it all the more challenging. We live our lives through the ever-gazing electronic eye of a camera lens.

Say “Grass-fed Gouda!”

So, how does all this tie back to Georgian Picnic? Well, I am not a strict historical reenactor. I costume for personal pleasure and enjoy socializing with others who share my passion. We agonize over every detail, from the colors to the textures to the smallest button on a cuff. We invest a lot of time and money in our work, so we want to make darn sure everything is the best it can be!
The costume doesn’t stop at the dress. Any costumer will tell you that the right undergarments, hair, and accessories are what make or break an outfit. Faces, however, are rarely emphasized. I think it stems from the modern ideal of personal freedom and beauty. No one likes to be told how they should look, especially if it’s genetically out of our control. I am no exception. I am stubborn, insecure, and probably more than a little vain. Vanity has heavily implied negative connotations, but striving to look your best is natural and, in the case of costuming, kind of the point. We want beautiful clothes that in turn make us feel beautiful so we can take beautiful pictures in beautiful places to make all-around beautiful memories!

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There is no memory more beautiful than six Regency Wedgies (and some 18th century ones) all in a row…

The glory of modern HD photography is also a bit of a curse. Humans react emotionally to contrast and color. A lot of human beauty stems from increased contrast, which is why humans in many different cultures have embraced lining the eyes with dark colors. Rouge on the lips also serves the same purpose. By increasing the color and contrast, the features and expressions of the face become easily discernible. It also helps them show up better at distances (which is why stage makeup is so heavy) and in photographs. If you are pale skinned with pale eyes and pale eyebrows like me, your features will all blend together on camera, which is what happened in many photos from Georgian picnic:

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Little did Jen know that in this shot, I had replaced myself with a wax figure!

So, a bare face is historically accurate, but not so flattering in modern photos! Part of it was the weather. Had it been warmer and sunny, I would have had a bit more natural flush, especially in my lips, but the cold sucked all the color right out of my cheeks, making me look waxy and exhausted. Perhaps it’s just my insecure vanity talking, but I find my sickly complexion distracts from my outfit. Now I know why all those antique beauty and women’s housekeeping books emphasize complexion so much!

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However, unlike 19th century ladies, I rather like my freckles. My sun damage is adorable!

So, if you are going to an event and are hoping to get some flattering photos, adding a little bit of modern makeup to your face might be helpful. I don’t know if I’d call the following a tutorial, per se, but it’s what works for me…when I remember to do it, of course!
Depending on your natural facial contrast, a bare face might be just fine, but if you would feel more comfortable with a little natural-looking enhancement, take cues from our ancestors! I prefer to stick to a natural look. I find leaving the majority of my skin alone (no foundation or powders) greatly helps with this. However, my pale lips and skin do benefit from some pre-packaged “youthful glow.” Women throughout history have used rouge to this end. You can buy modern rouge in liquid and powder form, but it’s very simple to use a modern lipstick as both a blush and lip color. Just dab it on lightly rather than swiping.

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I like a neutral shade that’s fairly close to my natural color. “Kasbah” by Rimmel London, if you were curious.

Sometimes I prefer to use lipstain rather than lipstick much of the time because it applies matte, sinks into the lips, and sticks around for longer than a balm or lipstick (it doesn’t work very well as a blush, though). For a Renaissance or 18th century look, red lipstick dabbed on with your finger is great for mimicking the look of rouge from those eras.

Next, it’s time to go a little anachronistic: Mascara! Remember, I’m not aiming for historical accuracy. The goal is to boost confidence and take photos everyone can be proud of. Indeed, that glorious goop I just declared unfit for pre-1920 wear is a godsend if you are planning on taking photos! It helps increase the contrast of your eyes, making them look brighter. Our ancestors valued long, dark lashes just as much as we do, but while they had to be born with them, we are blessed to be able to apply them right out of a tube. In lots of old paintings, you’ll notice that artists put a line of black or dark brown over the top of the eye to set the eye off.

An early 19th century lover’s eye pendant.
I need to make myself one of these!

You might assume, then, that eyeliner would be appropriate, and it might be, depending on what era/culture you are portraying. However, eyeliner is jarringly unnatural on the face and the dark line in paintings is really there to indicate the presence of lashes. A very light coating of mascara, therefore, is the perfect solution and blends much more naturally with the face.

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I have deep set eyes, so eyeliner would disappear into the crease anyway.

Blonds, redheads, and light brunettes should choose a brown or brown-black for a natural look. Darker brunettes and folks with black hair can use true black. It’s easy to overdo it, so use a light touch. A single, swift coat on the upper lashes only is all you need! I often blot the wand off on a cloth or tissue before applying so I avoid a heavy coating.

This might be enough for most ladies. However, I have one extra step in my routine: eyebrows. You never know how important eyebrows are until they’re gone!

Yup. That’s Anne Hathaway without eyebrows.
Turns out “celebrities without brows” is an internet meme of sorts. It’s kind of creepy how different they look without them!

While my brows are just dark enough to be visible and an okay shape for my face, they do disappear in far shots.

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Through an odd quirk of fate, my eyebrows are perfect for the Elizabethan era. Queen Liz and I share a name and eyebrows/lack thereof. Going eyebrow-less was trendy during her reign.

Pale, sassy, and proud!

However, the Regency period and the century before and after it valued darker brows. Turns out getting nice, fashionably full eyebrows was a challenge for ladies in the past, too. They had a whole list of remedies for sparse brows, including burnt cloves and mouse skin strips! Instead of massacring the local rodent population, I use either eyeshadow in a color that matches my hair or a bit of brown mascara depending on my mood. I avoid using an eyebrow pencil because, like eyeliner, the outline it creates looks too crisp and modern. The ideal Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian brow was arc-shaped instead of angular. They stretched like a gentle rainbow over the eye and were often full across the entirety of the brow rather than just by the nose. My face can’t handle that kind of brow, so I just fill in my natural shape.

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It also brings out that fetching, perpetual “Huh?” look on my face.

The fact that you’re wearing makeup might be noticeable in person, but if you’ve done everything delicately enough, it will harmonize with your outfit, pulling the look together in a way that will satisfy both your costuming sensibilities and your modern tastes without being distracting. Win-win!

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When lighting and weather fail to flatter, makeup can really help you save face. Now, even at a distance in terrible lighting, everyone can see your Regency bitchy resting face perfectly!

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I thought I was smiling when I took this photo. Turns out, I was mistaken.

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Makeup cannot, however, protect you from sudden gusts of wind.

If you are interested in wholesome historical cosmetic options (I strongly recommend skipping the lead white!), there are many recipes available online to recreate antique cosmetics using natural ingredients. Madame Isis’ Toilette, for example, details 17th and 18th century recipes, mixes them, and shows you the results. Various vendors online like Little Bits also sell recreations of perfumes, rouges, and powders. In my own experiments, I’ve dabbled with beet juice rouge and had pretty entertaining results!

Beet Juice and Cornstarch Makeup

Lady Archer would be proud.

Ultimately, the type of makeup and the amount you wear depends on the era and class you are costuming for, the type of event you are attending (reenactment, afternoon tea, convention, etc.), and your personal taste. Makeup for conventions, for example, is often heavier and theatrical in nature both to show up on camera better and portray a specific character. Plus, some of us just like to wear more makeup than others. Just find what works best for your situation and roll with it!

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!

Pinterest Alert: Have You Pinned These? Double Check Your Sources!

There’s a Tear in the Fabric of Time!

This is an FYI for all my fellow Renaissance researchers, costumers, and most importantly, Pinterest pinners!

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“EUROPE’S BRIDE Margaretha von Valois” from The Lost Gallery on Flickr

There is a series of portraits making the Pinterest rounds labelled “Marguerite de Valois” or “Margaretha von Valois, 1572” that, though they may bear a resemblance to other portraits of Margaret of Valois, are actually modern Photoshop artworks by The Lost Gallery and others. They are NOT genuine 16th century portraits, but you may recognize bits and pieces of them taken from other real, period portraits that make them very convincing at first glance. For example, in many of the modern images, the pose and dress are from the iconic “Portrait of a Young Lady Aged 21, Possibly Helena von Snakenborg:”

The portrait above is a genuine portrait from the 16th century.

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This is another clever Photoshop piece entitled “DEGAGEZ! Marguerite de Valois” from the Lost Gallery. You can see that the bodice was taken directly from the previous portrait.

A seasoned Photoshop artist or research veteran who’s stared at hundred if not thousands of period portraits will notice telltale flaws after a moment of looking. Yet, for the general layperson or even an avid history lover, some of these “paintings” are well done enough to sneak their way onto historical portrait Pinterest boards and Facebook posts. These are just two variations of the portrait; there are many others!
They are actually quite creative, but they are not good for use as historical sources. Indeed, they are quite fun as an exercise in historical plausibility. They are clearly convincing enough even with some obvious incongruities, and prove that, if you are not looking for a strict reenactment outfit and directly copying a particular portrait isn’t your cup of tea, you could take the sleeves off of one dress, the hat off another, and put it all together with still another bodice and produce a very rich, pleasing outfit (kind of like Steampunk taking bits of different Victorian styles and mashing it up with modern or all the Elizabethan-fantasy mash-ups worn to renaissance faires. Tudorgoth/Ruffpunk, anyone?).
Still, always double-check your sources for things you find on the internet, especially Facebook and Pinterest where false information can spread more quickly than the truth!

These modern Photoshop portraits aren’t the only pin masquerading as authentic.

Another mis-pin is this stunning art piece by Rozanne Hawksley, which is often mislabeled and subsequently re-pinned as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s gloves:

Et ne non inducas (And lead us not) by Rozanne Hawksley, created 1987 – 1989

In reality, it’s a beautiful piece of modern art made to imitate gloves of the Elizabethan era with a touch of dark imagery in the form of memento mori symbolism. The artist certainly succeeded in creating the look and feel of a true antique masterpiece!
Artwork seems to be a common source of misidentification, usually because people re-pin pictures without checking the source or giving an artist credit. Another art piece that often appears on Renaissance-era boards is this modern chopine by Susan Taber Avila:

“Pink Chopine” by Susan Taber Avila, circa 2006

To a researcher’s eye, it’s obviously a modern re-imagining of a 16th century Venetian chopine, but since most of the pins of this image do not link back to the artist’s website or even the original image url, the source is completely missing from most pins. Somewhere along the way, this art piece was tagged 1600s 1700s chopine (likely noting the style influence of the piece). After that, people searched for 1600s chopine, this image popped up, and it was repinned without a second thought. Pinterest’s page is a screen full of many small photos surrounded by many other similar photos, making it very easy to simply re-pin something and move on without expanding the file or double-checking the source. In addition, the Pinterest search function only scans keywords in the description and tags, not the source material for the image, so even if you are interested in this artwork as a fiber arts piece, you will have a tough time finding the artist! Clicking on an image never guarantees that you will be taken to the primary source of the image. Pictures can be pinned from anywhere on the web and often have been filtered through two or three websites prior to being added to Pinterest’s archives. It can be a wild goose chase to track the original information down!

Movie costumes are another source of confusion, including this spectacular Rengecy dress that has been making the rounds as the real deal, but is actually a costume from the film “Immortal Beloved,” a period drama with many beautiful costumes:

“Immortal Beloved” costume design by Maurizio Millenotti, circa 1994

Immortal-Beloved-25466_3The dress being worn by Valeria Golino as Giulietta Guicciardi during the film.

Fashion works in cycles: what’s old eventually becomes new again! In the case of this dress by George Halley, the opposite happened. I don’t know who first found this pinned as a Regency dress, but it took off. Though it has a high waist and square neck like a classic Regency gown, is actually from 1967!

George Halley Evening dress (nylon, silk, glass, metallic thread, plastic), circa 1967

There are lots of 1960s dresses that are great a mimicking a Regency silhouette (there are also 1960s gowns that look like they are from 1906 and even some gowns from 1906 that look like they came from 1806, so always check the source and your garments carefully). Once again, spreading misinformation is bad, but there is some good to be had out of it. If you happen to have a 1960s dress that happens to look like a Regency dress, voila! Instant costume!

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GUILTY!

Fabric Faces: The Sculptural Beauty of Hally Levesque’s Historical Dolls

Dresser-top Duchesses

I love dolls, especially fashion dolls. I love costuming them just as much as I like costuming myself! Dolls are one of the most ancient toys and have been made in just about every material possible. Before the 20th century, fashion dolls were made of wood covered in gesso (a thick, white paint) and were used less like little girl’s playthings and more like mini mannequins that showed off the latest fashions, called “pandoras.” Other dolls were made from cloth, like this rare 16th century pandora in Stockholm’s Royal Armory with embroidered features and real human hair!

Pandora fashion doll, circa 1585-90

Today, fashion dolls have evolved. There are many types of fashion dolls made in a wide variety of hard materials like resin, thermoplastics, and porcelain. However, the fashion dolls made by Hally Levesque are made of meticulously sculpted fabric with delicately painted features, just like their antique counterparts! Hally’s dolls have such a charming, friendly elegance about them and I fell in love with her Etsy shop the moment I found it! Every doll she creates is thoroughly researched and has a personality all her own. I am especially impressed with how perfectly scaled all of the trims and accessories are. Here are some of her stunning creations:

Anne (c. 1530)

Margaret (c. 1560)

Hally doesn’t limit herself to a single era, but rather explores the costumes of many centuries and countries. For example, the cloth doll that originally piqued her interest was a medieval princess in a book on cloth dollmaking. Her own version is quite stunningly dressed in a houppelande and imposing gold escoffion:

Felice (c. 1440)

And any Georgian woman would be envious of this lovely Georgian beauty out for a springtime stroll in her lovely polonaise:

Susannah (c. 1779)

What impresses me most about all of Hally’s dolls is that she takes the time to carefully research and design their outfits and personas. According to her online bio, just as a human-sized costume looks best over proper support garments, each of Hally’s dolls are “costumed from the inside out (meaning that the undergarments are also constructed according to historical records).”

I was so dazzled by her level of skill and dedication, I asked her a few questions about her creative process and she was kind enough to oblige!

Maxine (c. 1928)

Question: What made you decide to focus on historical dolls? Do you have a favorite era of history that you like to draw from?

Hally Levesque: Well, I’ve always had a love of history – in fact, it was my favorite subject in high school. I believe it all began with reading my mother’s collection of historical fiction novels by Jean Plaidy. I quickly became fascinated with British history and particularly the medieval and renaissance periods. In fact, I still can’t get enough when it comes to reading about the romances and tragedies that plagued the royal houses of England – very few can outdo the Plantagenets and the Tudors on that score! My main passion; however, has been dolls and so it seemed perfectly natural for me to gravitate towards making dolls that represent my other interests. Besides being a history buff, I also enjoy sewing and was curious to find out how clothing from other periods was constructed and just what was going on under all that material!

Marie Claire (c. 1755)

Question: I admit that I’m a “chaotic creator”– I usually follow my latest fancy wherever (or whenever) it goes, so I often find myself getting “lost” in projects: either I have too many at once or I get frustrated, burnt out, or just can’t find the inspirational spark. How do you decide what you are going to make next and how do you stay the course?

Hally Levesque: I wish that I could say that it’s easy for me to stay focused but it’s not and I think that it comes with the territory of being a creative person. I get distracted all of the time. I am constantly inspired by other doll artists and there seems to be no end to the different types of dolls that I would like to make. Quite often ideas for other dolls will flow while I am working on a project and I have to allow that to happen. It’s all part of the creative process. At one time I would finish one doll project before starting another, but now I have no problem with setting a project aside temporarily to start on something new that really intrigues me.
However, to avoid having a bunch of unfinished dolls waiting in the wings, I do make a deal with myself to the effect that it’s okay for me to start another project providing that as soon as I get to a certain stage, I will go back and finish the other. For instance, I have started making an Elizabethan cloth doll and two mixed-media dolls (one’s a pirate and the other I am making for a doll almanac that will be published later this year), but had to set them aside to make a medieval doll for submission to a doll challenge and to make some primitive-style cloth dolls for an arts festival. In the meantime, I am just beginning to play with ideas for a new series of dolls.
Now I’ve had to make a “deal” with myself that I can’t do any more work on the new doll series until the mixed-media dolls are completed. As for the Elizabethan doll, she will probably have to wait a while longer. I’ve joked with my husband that sometimes I wish that I could clone myself so that I could bring to fruition all of the ideas for dolls that I’ve already started and the new ones that are still swimming around in my head.

Tatiana – The Russian Ballerina
One of the hand-sculpted dolls from Hally Levesque’s mixed-media series.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from? Are there any books, websites, or techniques you recommend?

Hally Levesque: I get my inspiration mostly from historical illustrations and movies. I was fortunate in that I worked at a university with access to a vast library. Over the years I have accumulated a pile of information on historical costuming, but the majority of it has been photocopied (this was back before copyright became such a huge issue) and so sadly I don’t have the names of the books from which they were taken. However, when it comes to making Tudor clothing there is an absolutely superb book called “The Tudor Tailor: Techniques and patterns for making historically accurate period clothing” by Ninya Makhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies. I came across it at a library and absolutely had to have a copy of my own. I used this book in making “Anne” and “Catherine”. Another great book is “Period Costumes for Stage and Screen” by Jean Hunnisett, although the instructions can be a bit daunting as they are intended for the highly experienced sewer. I have plans to make an Elizabethan doll at some point and will be using her book as a guideline. A website that I have referred to many times in the past for information is the Costumer’s Manifesto.

Catherine (c. 1536)
“A lady of the royal court, Catherine’s high station is evident in her composure as well as the richness of her dress. This is a woman accustomed to being obeyed, but with a quiet authority and goodness of heart that earns her the love and admiration of all.”

Be sure to check out Hally Levesque’s Etsy Shop, Creative Doll Works to see more of her stunning art dolls! She is also working on a doll project for Cult of Doll (you can see a sneak peek at her entry here).

artists supporting artists

Don’t be afraid of art: share it!
If you know a deserving artist, support their craft any way you can: word of mouth, social media, donations, purchases, or even just a kind word of encouragement! Art keeps the world beautiful.

A big THANK YOU to Hally for creating such inspiring work and graciously taking the time to answer my questions!

Nitty-Gritty Gibson Girl: Fluffing Flat Hair without Rats or Hairspray

From Capellini to Fusilli!

Hair is the hardest part of costuming for me. It’s an essential component for any full look, yet it escapes me. My family is low-maintenance, so we never bothered with fancy hairdos. My father has naturally wavy hair, but my sister and I both inherited our mother’s soft, but decidedly fine and straight hair. Truthfully (as my long-suffering mother can attest), I didn’t even let anyone put my hair up in so much as a ponytail until I was in third grade and then it never came down again. Down and wild or ponytailed and smooth has always been my modus operandi. Doing anything else with it is a lot of hassle for a hairdo that will go limp in a few minutes even with half a can of hairspray flooding it from root to tip.

The Dream

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The Reality

I have practiced more over the years, but curls, puffs, rats, and hair products remain firmly out of my realm of expertise. The curling iron laughs at me. Pincurls don’t stay curled. A perm is a distant dream.  So what can a stright-fine-greasy-yet-dry hair girl like me do to create all the fluff a stylish historical vixen needs? Braids, baby! Braiding your hair to get the needed volume is an old trick from the days before mousse and hairdryers.

Enid Bennet, circa 1920
Frizz is your friend!

I like having my hair braided. However, I can’t wait to undo them because when I take braids out, I get full-on poodle fluff! They give you that frizzy, fly-away volume that works perfectly for 18th century and Edwardian hairstyles!

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BAM!
I took this picture after wearing two braided pigtails all day.

What follows is my slap-dash Gibson Girl Pouf experiment.
This method works best for hair that is shoulder-length or longer. It’s by no means a perfect system since it started as an experiment, so keep that in mind. What works for me may not work for your hair, but it’s worth a try if you’ve also struggled with the puff!

 I have a very firm center part (naturally) and years of wearing a ponytail has trained my hair to fall back and flat. This causes my hair to gap around rats and flop around my ears. It’s also oily– yes, I have tried all the treatments; I’m just naturally that way– and smooth, so pins don’t stay in for long. Recalling the miraculous fluff of my post-braided hair, I decided to perform an experiment. To retrain my hair, I braided it upwards, towards my face. That’s key to getting volume into the roots. I did that to my whole head, braiding up and forward.

101_8162YAY! I did illustrations!
(because I honestly and for true didn’t expect this to work, so I didn’t take many pictures)

The point of these braids isn’t to create neat little plaits for day wear, so looks don’t matter.

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Thank heavens!

I did the front half of my head in four sections: front (bangs), sides, and crown. The back I braided and smooshed into a vaguely bun-like shape. To keep my sexy braids in check, I coiled them into mini buns.

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hairknots

Thus making them even sexier.

If you can braid your hair wet, then do it that way. I don’t like messing with wet hair. Wet just makes it more tangly. Instead, I braided my hair then took a hot shower to soak it. After that, I tackled some projects for a few hours until my hair was dry enough that it wouldn’t sop the pillow. Then I went to bed.

I have (tried) sleeping in curlers and pin curls before and found it impossible. I thought that the giant bulky braidy-buns would be bothersome, but aside from the neighbor’s decision to practice drums at 2 am, I slept well.

My hair was still damp in the morning. If you have a blowdryer, you can dry your hair that way, but I don’t have one at the moment. Instead, I entertained the neighbors by sitting out on the front porch eating yogurt. They have become accustomed to my weirdness, I believe, and didn’t bat an eye.

Once your braids are dry, you can follow almost any of the many Gibson Girl pouf tutorials, including adding rats and hairpieces for even more volume. My method uses your own hair as a “rat” and involves no back-combing (teasing) because brushing out back-combed hair is the devil. I didn’t take any pictures of the adventure that occurred after the braids had finally dried. Hair is challenging enough without wrangling a camera one-handed at the same time:

Illustrations to the rescue!

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First, undo the braid at your crown. Comb it gently to fluff it up. Clip a bobby pin to the ends (or a small elastic) and roll it. This roll is going to act as your “rat,” so it doesn’t need to be perfect. For a Gibson Girl pouf that puffs over your forehead, pin the roll close behind your front braid. If you want height at the crown for 18th century styles, place the roll further back. You could also add a seperate rat into this roll to puff it up even more.101_8165

Once you’ve got the crown roll secure, undo your front braid and comb it gently to fluff it. Roll and secure it behind the crown roll.101_8166

Undo and fluff your side braids, rolling and arranging them to your liking behind your top roll.101_8168

Make a bun with your remaining hair if you haven’t already. Finally, chocolate time!

Here are my results:

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Doing my best “Dracula” face. I was trying to do the fang-over-the-lip look, then remembered that Van Helsing may still be out there…better to just smile oddly and hope he doesn’t notice…

My Gibson’s fluffy and messy because OMG I HAVE POOF AND I WANT IT ALL!

I was more concerned with retraining my hair to stop lying flat than I was with how neat and tidy every hair was. The retraining was a sucess! My hair will actually stand up on its own and support itself!

I didn’t use hairspray or anything on it and it still looked decent three hours later:

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Here I’ve undone the bun and let the back down for a softer look.

I am obviously not a hair expert, but for a first try experiment, I am so pleased! This method requires a lot of preparation, but now that I know it works, I can work on refining it. A hairdryer would make life sooooo much easier…

The key to a good hairdo, especially some of the more complex historical styles, is finding what works for you. There are all types of hair, all sorts of styles to choose from, and different skill levels for each. Some people are naturally adept at the art of coiffures. Others (like me) would rather focus on other things. Experimentation is the best way to figure out what will work for you!

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More Gibson Girl Tutorials:

Edwardian Hair Mysteries Solved – Part 4 – Beginning Styling

The Seamstress of Avalon: Gibson Girl Hair: A Tutorial

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This braiding method also works perfectly for Regency and 1880s hairdos if you have bangs, fluffy styles of the 17th century, and frizzy Elizabethan poofs if ringlets refuse to cooperate. Even guys can get in on the act (Shakespeare Pouf, anyone?).

Hint: The more/smaller/tighter you make your braids, the more fluff you can achieve.

The Three Shoes Every (Penniless) Historical Costumer Needs

For Every Cinderella Without a Fairy Godmother
A.k.a “Shoes for Stepsisters”

It may be impossible for a fashionable woman to have too many shoes, but what if your problem isn’t a lack of closet space, but a lack of funding? As lovely as it is to get a fresh pair of shoes for every new outfit, it’s not always feasible. Historically accurate shoes can be expensive. If you don’t like to tie yourself down to one specific stylistic decade, buying all the necessary historically accurate boots, slippers, and heels can really drain your bank account if you’re not careful. I love historical reproduction shoes, but between needing a new corset, buying sewing supplies, and having the annoying habit of needing food to survive, I don’t really have enough money to buy a new pair every time I change costuming eras. Instead, I have built up a core set of three shoe types that can mutitask across time periods.

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My Three Favorite Costuming Shoes

These shoes may not be historically accurate, but they are historically appropriate. There are only so many ways to shod the human foot, so while materials and decorations may have changed, there are a few basic shoe styles that have cycled through history in different incarnations. We are blessed that modern fashion is so all-encompassing: we have every imaginable shoe type available to us! It’s just a matter of finding the right one for the right price. With a little legwork and luck, you can squeak by in nearly any era with only three pairs of shoes!

I chose the following shoes for their comfort, simplicity, ease of availability, and ability to be worn as everyday modern shoes as well (Huzzah for raiding your own closet for historically appropriate shoes!).

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Low-Heeled Mary Jane or T-Straps
Wear them for: Elizabethan and Stuart (1590-1630), Victorian (1860-1900), and Edwardian (1900+) Costumes

My pair:

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T-Strap Shoes by Angel Steps

My pair takes the Mary Jane style a bit further by being a t-strap, but both styles are workable. This is my favorite pair of shoes! Angel Steps brand is marketed by Amerimark and comes in many different variations and styles. The company, however, can be difficult to work with. You can read more about that adventure and see these shoes in action in “Halloween Thrifting Challenge: Early Stuart Era (1603-1625)

Mary Janes are shoes with a strap over the instep. They were popular in the Elizabethan era, and can be used for mid-Victorian shoes. The heyday of the strappy Mary Jane, however, was definitely the Edwardian era.
There are many variations of the Mary Jane style: wide straps, thin straps, t-straps, or multiple straps over the instep. For the most versatility, though, a single strap or thick t-strap is the easiest to blend into multiple eras. The key to the historical appropriateness, however, is the low heel. Modern women love towering high heels, but historically speaking, “high heels” weren’t very common and usually maxed out around 3 inches. For the most bang for your buck, choose a neutral color like black, white, or brown. These colors will work in all eras and are the most authentic, especially for earlier costumes.

Extant Examples:

Elizabethan/Stuart
Leather Shoe, circa 1600

Elizabethan shoes had a long tongue with straps over them that tied in place. This style of shoe is very hard to find (unless you buy recreations or find the miraculous modern incarnation), but you can modify a pair of modern Mary Janes to mimic the look by wearing a fabric rosette on top. Rosettes were super trendy during the early 1600s and were rather large. Simply slip a rosette onto the strap of your Mary Janes and you’re good to go! Both men and women in this era wore this style of shoe, so if you are a dainty-footed gentleman, take a peek into the ladies’ shoe department. Just remember that women’s shoes run smaller than men’s, so order up about two sizes (an 8 in men’s is about a 10 in women’s). Surprisingly, side buckles existed, but likely just on children’s shoes.

Victorian
Women’s Bar Shoes (Mary Janes), circa 1880-85

Mary Janes were known as “bar” or “strapped” shoes during the 19th century (Mary Jane was a patented shoe name in the 20th century) and were very popular, especially during the 1890s.

Edwardian, Flapper, and Beyond
Bar Shoes (Mary Janes), circa 1919

Once the 20th Century hit, Mary Janes and T-straps were all the rage! Multiple thin straps were especially popular and usually had long, pointy toes, but simple rounded toes were still used for utilitarian working and walking shoes.

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Pointed-Toe Louis Heel
Wear them for: 18th century, Late Victorian (1870-1900), and 20th Century Costumes

My Pair:

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My Sexy Suede Heels!
I found these at the local Thrift Town second hand shop. They were $3 and are really REALLY worn in (they need new heel tips right now). Suede isn’t historically accurate for 18th century shoes, but unless you get really close, it doesn’t really matter. The shape is uncommon, but not unheard of.

The Louis heel is a curvy heel. Technically, a Louis heel has a very specific curve and other variations have other names. However, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to call all appropriately curvy heels Louis heels because when you’re poor like me, there’s no point squabbling over details, especially since a good curvy heel is so hard to find anyway.
Louis heels are named after King Louis XIV and Louis XV of France. Both loved heels and show off their collections in many of their royal portraits. Many of the heels on Their Majesties’ shoes are blockier than later incarnations. The curvier heels seen on lady’s shoes has also been attributed to Madame Pompadour, King Louis XV’s mistress. Once she started wearing curvy heels, so did every other 18th century lady of fashion!
Heels went out of style during the French Revolution, but were revived in the late Victorian era. The American Bicentennial in 1876 created a rococo revival. 18th century styling, including buckles, can be found on many shoes of the era. The Louis heel stayed fashionable into the 20th century, but other heel styles like the mid-century stiletto pushed it out of the limelight and into obscurity. However, finding a good curvy heel is still possible, especially at second hand shops and online. Pretty much any color or heel height under 4 inches will do, but choose a color and heel height that that you feel comfortable wearing often.

Extant Examples:

18th Century
Latchet Shoes, circa 1760-75
and
Mules, circa 1740

18th Century Louis heeled shoes had latchets–two straps that crossed over the top and were held in place with a buckle. Outside of reproductions, these criss-crossing latchets aren’t available on modern shoes. With a little bit of creativity and some pretty fabric, you can recover shoes to create latchets, but another option that requires no alteration is the mule (backless heels). Mules with pointy toes were very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so there’s usually a good selection available second-hand.

Late Victorian
Rococo Revival Style Pumps, circa 1890

By about 1870, the modern pump was already beginning to be recognizable. Many evening shoes of the era were just like a pair of pumps you would find in your neighborhood shoe shop today. If you find a pair of leather pumps with a curvy Louis heel, you’ve struck Victorian gold!

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Flats
Wear them for: Medieval (5-14th century), Renaissance to Stuart (14th century to 1630), Regency (1790-1832), and Victorian (1832-1860)

My Pair:

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Green Velvet Semi-Flats
My flats aren’t perfectly flat (they have a 1/2 inch heel), but they have a nice high vamp and rounded-point toe that works well with lots of different costumes. Plus, they are comfy. I bought them second-hand for $2 with Regency costuming in mind. You can see them in action (sort of) in “Transforming Edwardian Nightwear into Regency Daywear.”

Flats can be as basic or fancy as the occasion demands. Really, you could pretty much costume every era with flat shoes. There are small nuances for different eras– the Medieval poulaines, Tutor cowmouths, Regency’s knife-sharp pointed toes, and squared Victorian slippers— but a gently rounded toe will get you through almost every era without trouble. Flat shoes can also very easily be made at home if you’re feeling crafty! The only caveat for flats is that they shouldn’t show “toe cleavage” over the top of the vamp. Also, make sure they fit over stockings (stockings can help hide toe cleavage in a pinch as well!). Almost any color or decoration will work depending on your outfit, but a good leather or satin flat in a natural tone will work through more eras. Simple ankle boots made of leather or cloth can work for all of the eras listed above, too! In college, I had a pair of flat Rocket Dog ankle boots that worked well for medieval. It was heart rending when they wore out.

Extant Examples (too many to count, but here are a few):

Medieval
Saxon Shoe, 6th-9th century
and
Child’s Ankle Boot, circa 1350-1400

Besides flat slippers, flat-soled ankle boots were nearly universal. You can make reproductions of Medieval shoes from leather if you plan to do lots of medieval costuming.

Renaissance
Slashed Leather Shoe, circa 1500-1550
and
Slashed (finished with buttonhole edges) Velvet Shoes, circa 1550-1575

Slashed shoes matched the Renaissance trend for slashed sleeves and other garments. Just as a sleeve’s slashes allowed luxurious poufs of fabric to show through, slashed shoes allowed brightly colored stockings to peek out. All those slashes would fill your shoe with pebbles in no time! These slashed shoes were for the rich nobles who did not have to walk or work in the dust often. Lower-class shoes looked much as they had since ancient times.

Regency
Spangled Silk Shoes, circa 1793-98
and
Leather Walking Boots, circa 1795-1815

If you love wearing flats, this is your era! Heels (except the tiniest kitten heels) were out of fashion. Ankle boots were gaining popularity again after being completely out of fashion in the 17th and 18th century and now had front laces. Flat shoes of this era and the Victorian era could be made in leather or cloth by a craftsman or at home. In 1790-1810, pointed shoes were in style. They start transitioning to square toes around 1820.

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Early to Mid Victorian
Cotton and Silk Shoes, circa 1845-60
and
Silk Satin Boots, circa 1830-1850

Shoes during the first half of Queen Victoria’s reign rarely had heels and were generally made with a very noticeable square toe. However, since many women made their shoes at home from patterns out of fashion magazines, middle and lower class shoes, especially for daytime wear, are usually more rounded.

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Going Beyond the 3 Shoes

While these three shoes will let me wiggle by in nearly every fashion from 1590 to now, it is a very limited shoe wardrobe. It’s better to think of these three shoes as three shoe types instead. I’ve collected a few variations of each shoe type for specific outfits, like this pair I plan to use when I finally get my Edwardian dress project off the ground:

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These 1990s Purple Pumps were $4 at Goodwill.
I think I may have a “thing” for suede shoes…

These pumps are a variation of the first type of shoe in this list–the Low-Heel Mary Jane–with a bit of the second type–Pointed-Toe Louis Heels–mixed in for a good dose of Edwardian spice! As soon as you learn to recognize the major characteristics of historical footwear, you won’t feel as overwhelmed when you’re digging through shelf after shelf of shoes because you’ll be able to instantly judge whether the shape is historically appropriate or not. After that, all the little nuances like materials, decoration, and color fall into place easily!