9 Inexpensive Christmas Stocking Stuffers for the Historical Costumer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Shoe Laces ($1-12)

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

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

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

7. Faux Pearl Jewelry ($3+)

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

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

8. Long Evening Gloves ($8-25)

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

9. Book Phone Case ($10+)

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

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

HAVE A SAFE AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

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

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

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

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

via Quora

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady’s Hat, circa 1885 via the Met Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

But don’t worry, you still look fabulous!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRING IN THE HISTORICAL HAIR!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY COSTUMING, M’LADIES! ;)

Bonnets that Deserve Better: A Dozen Ugly Ducklings in the Met’s Headwear Collection

I love a good bonnet, even if badly photographed. <3

Museum photography has come a long way in the past decade. I remember when the only way to explore a museum’s collection was to physically travel to view an exhibit in person, be buddies with a curator, or read about them in textbooks, sometimes with a blessed-but-grainy black and white picture the size of a domino. Now museums around the world have their collections photographed and available for free online!

We have gone from this:

To this:

Bonnet, circa 1870

Huzzah! Hooray! Oh, happy day!

And believe me, I am infinitely grateful. But, I am also infinitely concerned with systematic forward progression and implementing improved standards of quality (i.e. I am demanding and persnickety). Today, I am picking on the Met because the Met is one of my favorite museums. They seem open and honest about their collections– even candidly blogging about some drawings in their collection were massively mis-attributed! You can even give them feedback about their website, rating it and saying what you liked and what you didn’t. I appreciate their openness and make full use of it. MMoA, you asked for it!

In my many invested hours of research (i.e. PINTEREST), I have discovered many beautiful Met Museum objects with hideous photos, in particular, 19th century bonnets and hats. Granted, there are plenty of hideous objects with lovely pictures as well. There is clearly a miracle-working photographer in the costume department because they made this clunky sunbonnet look so lovely I kind of want it…which is saying something because I LOATHE 19th-century sunbonnets!

Cotton Sunbonnet, circa 1860
This photo makes it look good enough to actually wear!

Now, compare that picture with this one:

Sunbonnet, circa 1838
Ah, there’s the warm, familiar hatred again. If Jedi had to wear sunbonnets, I would instantly become a Sith. No questions! Sunbonnet Crusher duty? SIGN ME UP!

Okay, so maybe I am exaggerating a little. You see, that second bonnet isn’t terrible at all! In fact, it’s actually way more adorable than the photo lets on. It’s made of a spotted calico that’s kind of polka-dotty from a distance, it’s got pinked trim, a nifty straw brim, and a sweet bow perched on top. But that photo just does not do it justice when you compare it to other bonnet photographs in the collection:

Snedden Designer Bonnet with Pearls, circa 1883
(another bonnet that has benefited from the leap in photography technology)

Velvet Evening Bonnet, 1802

Bonnet, circa 1887

“But, Liz! Those are all fashionable, fancy-lady bonnets! You can’t compare a daytime 1850s sunbonnet to a 1880s millioneress’s bonnet!”

True: there are many bonnets of vastly different styles, decades, price-points and occasions, but being fancier doesn’t make them any less likely to be photographed poorly. The Met does not discriminate based on social class! Case in point:

Which of these two photos looks like a million bucks to you?

I started making note of all the bonnets I found that were begging for a better photo. The list was quite long! However, I narrowed it down to just a few.

MOST of the bonnets are this list were not picked just because I thought they needed a prettier photo–though, confession: some are on the list because they are OMGorgeous! There are so many pretty-but-not-artistically-photographed bonnets in the Met’s collection, like this early 19th century bonnet. However, many of them, despite their flash-blasted, yellow-tinged photographs, still shine through with clear detail. Instead, I chose bonnets that I thought were actively hampered by their photo– those with great texture that was lost, fit that was hard to judge, or colors that weren’t properly portrayed, all details that are actively explored and sought after by costume and textile researchers.

THE TOP 10 BONNETS AT THE MET THAT DESERVE BETTER PHOTOS!

#10: “Ye Old Bonnet?!” circa 1799-1810

Originally #10 was this straw bonnet that I loved the shape of, but there is no view of the front. However, I stumbled upon this bonnet/headdress just before publishing my list. I was so intrigued, I knew it had to be on the list! There is no other “bonnet” like it in the Met’s collection and if that date is correct (question: has anyone seen something like this from the era?), it would make it one of the earliest pieces in the bonnet sub-category. I want to know more!

#9: “Happy Spring Day in a Dust Storm” Bonnet, circa 1860

This is one of those “It’s just so pretty it needs to be shown off!” bonnets. The layers of trimmings are so lovely, but the dingy, grainy photo does its richness a great disservice.

#8: “Black Velvet Mystery” Bonnet, circa 1850

This bonnet already has a beautifully lit, crisp new photo, yet, it’s impossible to tell how it fits! It’s listed as a bonnet, but the shape and fit isn’t obvious. Does it perch on the back of the head? Is it a child-sized cap? Or is it bigger than it looks? This is a piece that would really benefit from a display head.

#7: “Snow Princess” Lace Bonnet, circa 1885-90

Another stunner suffering from bad lighting and graininess! This bonnet is mummified in lovely lace, has a velvet edge, and a feather on top! The interplay of textures and true color are lost, though, and the angle of the two photos almost look like two different hats! Click here to see the second photo of the back. You’ll see what I mean. Also, this hat has a photo of the designer’s label, but it’s not listed in the description (J. Pendlebury / Wigan). This was a very expensive hat during its day! It would be so lovely for a bride.

#6: “Scarlet’s Envy” Promenade Bonnet, circa 1851-1862

The vast majority of the Met’s mid-19th century bonnet collection suffers from small, badly-lit photos. I imagine they must have been doing them all in a  swift batch in order to give us, the demanding costuming community, visual references. The Met has worked hard to get photos for every object’s online catalogue page! They are getting closer to achieving that goal. I am so thankful for their hard work. However, this gal is beautiful, but the silk gathers and layers upon layers of delicate trimming aren’t very well portrayed. I also think it’s later in date than listed. Any bonnet experts have a firmer date for it?

#5: “Autumnal Delight” Bonnet, circa 1864-1867

This bonnet is just fabulous! At first I thought that it was a lovely example of straw work, but then I read the description…can you believe this bonnet is made of horsehair?! I would have never guessed!  Once again, the small, grainy photos erase this bonnet’s main draw: the unique materials and lush interplay of textures. Just look at those woven plumes and tiny tassels! This is probably my personal favorite bonnet on the list. I would wear it in a heartbeat.

#4: “The WAT?!” Bonnet, circa 1800-1925

I’m calling this one that “WAT?!” bonnet not because I find it poorly designed (though the display certainly makes it look odd), but because it is in desperate need of a cleaning, some context, and a more accurate date. 125 YEARS, MET?! REALLY?! This bonnet/hat is from around 1900 and would have been paired with a Gibson Girl hairstyle, hence the shallow back (to fit around a chignon) and large forward swoop (to go over the puffy pompadour front). It even has a designer label inside that they photographed, but the cataloger failed to note in the description. It’s not a show-stopping hat by any means, but it certainly deserves better basic cataloguing in addition to a fresh photo!

#3: “Cinderella” Bonnet/Cap, circa 1845-50

Just look at that lace and ribbon! Wow! Even in that terrible lighting, it looks amazing. However, the image is small and grainy, so you can’t see all the wonderful details. This one is just too pretty not to have a better photo!

#2: “Faceplant” Poke Bonnet, circa 1840-69

This bonnet is so sad! It looks like a jellyfish washed up on the shore or a snail trying to crawl away. I suppose if you were a nice “Sunday’s best” bonnet that got labelled as a poke bonnet, you’d be sad, too. This bonnet would be so much happier if its beautiful silk satin shirring and lace were properly photographed on a stand or mannequin!

#1: “Moping Mop” Ribbon Bonnet, circa 1841

The last bonnet  looked sad, but this poor bonnet is actively trying to hide. Perhaps it’s in such poor shape that this is the only way to display it (like this crumbling 1830s straw bonnet), but it’s completely impossible to tell that it’s even a cap/bonnet. What’s even odder is that unlike many of the bonnets in the collection which suffer from dating swathes that range from a generalized 20 year period to the egregious 125 YEAR RANGE OMG MET WTF, this bonnet has been dated precisely to 1841. In addition, it was purchased with donation money in 1982, apparently by choice. Either it was part of a lot that had other pieces in it the Met wanted and the cap just came with, or they purposefully bought it, possibly with provenance granting it such a firm date, like a letter or label. And yet, here it is, just flopped on a table like a mound of seaweed.

The more I looked at these bonnets with less-than-ideal photos, the more I realized how shallow and callous it was to judge a bonnet by its photo. In our massively visual online culture, objects with the prettiest images often get sharing priority, meaning that many perfectly fabulous fashions get ignored! This affects not only personal research, but can affect the quality of conservation, too. Many objects that receive well-made professional photographs often receive special cleaning and repairs in order for them to display and photograph to the object’s best advantage. In a collection like the Met’s–with over 300+ bonnets alone– such a large undertaking would involve not only lots of time, equipment, and effort from the photographer(s), but a large investment from the conservation department– and let’s face it: we may love bonnets, but there are probably more pressing conservation projects than cleaning a common straw sunbonnet, no matter how cute it is.

Interested in seeing more awesome bonnets with horrific pictures?
Click here to view the Met’s bonnet collection online

Let me know which one is your favorite! Is it a delicate straw bonnet from the 1840s? A sky-high feathered stunner from the 1880s? A tubular Regency poke bonnet? Post a link below so I can see it!

Fashion and Feminism: Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute and the Hunt for a Healthful Corset

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Portrait of Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute in an article commenting on her corset research and practice (among other things), 1890s.

Before I proceed, I am going to ask that you read this post with the following disclaimer in mind:

I do not fluently read/speak French. Therefore the translations provided below are courtesy of Google Translate, which is not perfect. I tried to verify the translations through multiple dictionaries to ensure that I am not misinterpreting the author’s intent, but sometimes things can be lost in translation which is why I have provided the original French alongside the Google English translations.

 

le-corset

Wikimedia’s photograph archive from the book “Le Corset” written by Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute c. 1900 showcases a wide variety of body shapes in the late Victorian/early Edwardian period. The book has illustrations (photographs overtraced by hand) of women of many body types modelling the “old” corset style from the 19th century and the “new” corset style we call the S-bend or flat front corset, which was supposed to prevent lower tummy expansion and be healthier than the older style.

captureClick here to see all the illustrations.

As you go through the photos, notice all the women the have lower belly paunch that comes from age, childbirth, medical conditions, weight gain, gravity, and from wearing corsets which push belly fat and organs downwards– effects which Gaches-Sarraute wished to correct with her new corset design.

This revolutionary and controversial book is one of the most famous pieces of corset literature from the early 20th century.
(The other, also titled “Le Corset” but by a different author, contains the infamous corset x-rays)

You may already be familiar with some of the images from the book, if not the book itself:

Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute vehemently opposed the Victorian corset because of the health problems she observed–like hernias, constricted ribcages, displaced organs, and weakened muscles–in the women wearing them. At first glance, the book may seem decidedly anti-corset and has lent much to the modern hatred/fear of the garment. However, the author herself states that she is not anti-corset:

“I could not think propose the abolition of the corset, we have seen elsewhere that has its uses; it is towards the elimination of its main drawbacks I directed my efforts.
Original French: “Je ne pouvais songer à proposer la suppression du corset, nous avons vu d’ailleurs qu’il a son utilité; c’est vers la suppression de ses principaux inconvénients que j’ai dirigé mes efforts.”

In fact, she is pro-corset, but only if the garment was made to more healthful standards. Her goal was quite a noble one: to improve the overall health of women by changing what she saw as the root cause of many female health problems— bad corsets.
Thus she designed a new support of her own:

Fig. 7 – Corset Gaches-Sarraute

It is very similar to the girdles that we see later in the century and still wear. In many advertisements, the short, light-reduction version of the S-bend corsets closest to Gaches-Sarraute’s original design are called “girdle corsets.”

It was meant to support the organs from below, free the chest from compression, and encourage “proper” posture. She believed her new corset design not only helped women’s organs, but improved their beauty and mental health. This design became the basis for the S-bend or straight front corset that took the fashion world by storm during the first decade of the 20th century.

With an abdominal corset that supports and relaxes her, the woman has less drawn features, eyes less circled, she is more vivacious, more energetic…Many women, sick without the cause of their condition being well determined, condemned to an almost constant repose, are now vigorous, healthy, able to walk, and without exaggerating, are reborn to life. Did the simple change of corset produce such results? Yes, because to this day all corsets, constructed without rules or laws, acted in the opposite direction to natural indications, and thwarted all physiological functions.”
Original French: “Avec un corset abdominal qui la soutient et la repose, la femme a les traits moins tirés, les yeux moins cernés, elle est plus vivace, plus énergique…Bien des femmes, malades sans que la cause de leur état fût bien déterminée, condamnées à un repos presque constant, sont aujourd’hui vigoureuses, bien portantes, peuvent marcher et sans rien exagérer renaissent à la vie.Le simple changement de corset a-t-il pu donner de tels résultats? Oui, parce que jusqu’aujourd’hui tous les corsets, construits sans règles, ni lois, agissaient en sens inverse des indications naturelles et contrariaient toutes les fonctions physiologiques.”

As we know now, the S-bend was not the cure-all Gaches-Sarraute hoped for. It came with its own set of problems.
Though the distended lower stomach caused by the older style of corset was considered unsightly and unhealthy, it had the advantage of allowing viscera some means of expansion. The S-bend/straight front corset did indeed keep the organs from being distended downward, but instead, it pressed them up, much as pregnancy does. The long, rigid front of the S-bend corset could become very uncomfortable since pressure from meals, gas, urine, menstral/hormonal changes, etc. has nowhere to expand except up against the diaphragm. This was not directly the fault of Gaches-Sarraute’s medically-minded design, but the effect was exacerbated by fashion adaptations made by mass manufacturers (as is so often the case, isn’t it?). Many straight front corsets made for the mass market extended too high on the body to allow for expansion of the ribs and upwards movement of the organs.

W. H. K. & S. “Ascot” Straight Fronted Corset Ad, 1902
Notice how much higher it extends compared to Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute design.

Modern corsets suffer from similar problems as we value the straight front, but crave full coverage to avoid unsightly bulges. This hybridization contributes in large part to the corset’s uncomfortable reputation as mass-manufacturers focus on overall slimness rather than the comfort of their wares. Without room left at the top and bottom of the corset to allow for the expansion and movement of flesh, tubular fashion corsets press too much everywhere, leading to chafing, numbness, breathlessness, and constriction. Coupled with general ignorance of how corsets should fit and be worn, it’s no surprise that the garment has gained such a painful reputation.

Inès Gaches-Sarraute and corset-lovers everywhere are cringing so hard right now.

The size/looks-before-comfort method of corset wearing has always been a problem.
Yes, even Victorian and Edwardian women wore ill-fitting or improperly worn corsets, often purchased “off the rack” in shops or through catalogs.  It’s a common myth that everything was perfectly tailor-made to fit by the women themselves. By the mid-19th century, corsets were manufactured in large factories and purchased much as we purchase a pair of jeans today.
Victorian women were number-conscious just like us, too!

Women have heard from their friends about a corset that looks good, which makes a pretty size [waist] – that is the only fact that interests them: they want to wear it, hoping to benefit also from an aesthetic point of view; But as their physiological state and conformation differ, if the corset is applied under the same conditions it produces the contrary effect and hurts them.
Original French: “Elles ont entendu parler par leurs amies d’un corset dont on se trouve bien, qui fait une jolie taille — c’est le seul fait qui les intéresse: elles veulent le porter, espérant en bénéficier, elles aussi, au point de vue esthétique; mais comme leur état physiologique et leur conformation diffèrent, si le corset est appliqué dans les mêmes conditions il produit l’effet contraire et leur fait mal.”

On this point, Gaches-Sarraute and modern corsetiers absolutely agree: do not sacrifice fit for looks! Fortunately for modern corset makers, the corset’s recent rise in popularity has increased awareness of proper fit. Gaches-Sarraute’s principles play heavily into modern corset design, like reduction points closer to the hips, cupped ribs to allow room for comfortable breathing, and embracing the underbust cut for ease of movement.

Gaches-Sarraute’s underbust design was revolutionary. For the first time in over 300+ years of corset evolution, the female breast was not held within the corset. This was a big change. The low front leaves the bust unsupported and pulls weight from the abdomen upwards, creating a top-heavy apple shape with natural-state breasts, which didn’t suit the Victorian feminine ideal of defined hourglass curves. Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute saw this as an bothersome, but positive side effect:

There is therefore a reform to bring to the costume, tedious reform, but which is necessary. The woman who wishes to wear the abdominal corset must not allow herself to be stopped by this modification; She must not hesitate to subject her clothes to the radical transformations required by the apparatus.
Original French: “…il y a donc une réforme à apporter au costume, réforme ennuyeuse, mais qui s’impose. La femme qui veut porter le corset abdominal ne doit point se laisser arrêter par cette modification; il ne faut pas qu’elle hésite à faire subir à ses vêtements les transformations radicales exigées par l’appareil.”


This is the sort of loose, unrestrictive clothing Gaches-Sarraute was probably expecting.

Fashions did change, but not quite as Gaches-Sarraute might have hoped. To adapt to the new corset shape, the dresses of the early 1900s are different than any feminine fashion before them: the waist moves low to the pelvis, bodices hang full and loose, and women in fashion illustrations appear to be rushing forward so fast they are leaving their skirts behind them.

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1904

Les Modes, 1904

Because the new style of corset moved the point of reduction to the soft abdomen rather than over the floating ribs, women discovered they could achieve greater reductions than before, an effect Gaches-Sarraute obviously was not aiming to achieve originally. She notes with some amused befuddlement in her book:

Before ending the long enumeration of the modifications made by the Abdominal Corset , I must point out a curious phenomenon, which is difficult to explain; I mean the general thinning of the woman and the slimming of the whole area covered by the apparatus.
Original French: “Avant de terminer l’énumération déjà bien longue des modifications apportées par le corsetabdominal, il me faut signaler un phénomène assez curieux, assez difficile à expliquer; I mean the general thinning of the woman and the slimming of the whole area covered by the apparatus.

We would call this effect “waist training” in our modern vernacular. Gaches-Sarraute noticed that the shape and weight of her patients changed after they had worn the corset regularly. From her Observations section later in the book:

Madame. H, 48 years old. Obesity, heart palpitations, very bad condition, does not leave the couch, varicose veins. First corset, October 1898. Since then, a lot thinner: 40 cm of belly circumference [15.75 inches], Since then, has thinned a lot: 40 centimeters belly, circulatory disorders have decreased and general health is much better, the patient walks very well”
Original French: “
Mme H…, 48 ans. Obésité, palpitations de cœur, état général très mauvais, ne quitte pas la chaise longue, varices des membres inférieurs. 1er Corset, octobre 1898. Depuis lors, a beaucoup aminci : 40 centimètres de tour de ventre, les troubles circulatoires ont diminué et la santé générale est beaucoup meilleure, la malade marche très bien.”

It probably wasn’t just the cinching power responsible for Mme. H’s transformation. She might have been able to move around more due to the lower back support provided by her new corset, boosting her impressive weight loss results with increased physical activity.

Back support has long been one of the main functions of corsets and corset-like garments. To provide the back support which Gaches-Sarraute believed Victorian corsets lacked, her corset design was very sharply angled at the lower back. This created artificial lumbar hyperlordosis, commonly called swayback. Some people develop this naturally, but by modern medical standards, it is considered a form of bad posture because it places stress on the lower disks, hip joints, knees, and, with the added pressure from the corset, the kidneys. However, this sort of posture was considered both powerful and graceful– and quite masculine. It was the posture of well-pedigreed gentlemen and soldiers standing at attention with their chests puffed out in confidence.

Early 19th Century British Uniforms

German Soldiers, 1901

Dr. Gaches-Sarraute’s design gave women this same posture, and straight-front corsets were often advertised as “military front” for that reason:

Foster Hose Supporter Ad from 1901

Corset advertisement, circa 1901-1905

This hyper-extended ideal posture was adopted by models, fashionistas, socialites, and famous personalities like Camille Clifford and Edith Lambelle Langerfeld:

Camille Clifford is famous for the curvy figure and is known to many as the original Gibson Girl. She embodied the epitome of the new S-bend look: flat abdomen, swelling bust, and prominent derriere. Her extraordinary photos must be taken with a grain of salt: she is also one of the greatest examples of early photo retouching. The retouching is evident here by the unnatural smoothness of everything from her hips up where the wrinkles of fabric suddenly vanish.

Edith Langerfeild “La Sylphe” was an exotic dancer known her extreme flexibility and extreme forward-arching posture, though not for wearing corsets (she regularly danced semi-nude). She combined the fashionable swayback posture and her contortionist skills to create an exaggerated version of the look sans-corset. Her career– and signature style–extended the forward-leaning trend into the 1910s, though the waistline moved up from the hips to the just under the bust.

Outside fashion photographs and illustrations, the average woman did not usually adopt the exaggerated posture–as this informative article, “The S-bend in Context” by Marion McNealy, shows– and some created the illusion of the shape with padding rather than posture.

Women walking, circa 1902-1905
Edwardian women in day dresses going about their daily lives for comparison to the fashion images above.

Photograph of a working class woman walking, circa 1905-1908
A great example of how the underbust design affects the fit of the bodice over the bust compared to a Victorian corset.

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Padding options from the 1905 Sears Catalogue
They are still called bustles, though they are quite a bit smaller than those of the 1880s!

The S-bend posture ideal had lasting effects. In 1932, Elizabeth Arden released a newsreel urging women to abandon the now “old” swayback style of posture Gaches-Sarraute’s straight front corset encouraged:

Elizabeth Arden advises women to adopt the modern straight posture we still strive for today. This posture ideal has much to do with our focus on unisex athleticism and greatly slimmed-down fashions (athleisure, anyone?). It’s quite impossible to hide the edge of a rigid corset under a pair of yoga pants! Many women wear only one or two layers which hug the body and is often cut to reveal skin and structure. We no longer deal with the bulky layers and heavy skirts our female ancestors considered fashionable, which leads to another of Gaches-Sarraute’s reasons for not throwing out the notion of corsets entirely:

The main role of the corset should be to support the clothes and prevent constriction of ties around the waist, so as to prevent overflow of the viscera downward under the influence of this constriction.
Original French: “Le rôle principal du corset doit être de soutenir les vêtements et d’empêcher la constriction des liens autour de la taille, de façon à éviter le refoulement des viscères vers le bas sous l’influence de cette constriction.”

This same sentiment is shared by Robert L. Dickinson who wrote “The Corset: Questions of Pressure and Displacement” for The New York Medical Journal in 1887:

“In the woman who wears no corsets, the many layers of bands about the waist on which heavy skirts drag are sufficient to cause considerable constriction”

Just like the fashions of the Victorian era, the fashions of 1900 were all about layers that relied on a tight fit at the waist. Women sought to make these layers as lightweight and full as possible to avoid bulk, but there was still many hidden supports under those beautiful outer skirts:

I covered more about historical clothing layers in earlier posts: “With and Without: How Wearing a Corset Affects You and Your Clothes” and “Lifting Skirts and Loosening Ties: What goes under an Edwardian Dress?

A corset takes and distributes the weight of the skirts, supporting all the layers so they do not dig into the skin– the very definition of a “foundation garment!”
Gaches-Sarraute’s low-cut corset lead to the creation of a new  foundation garment: the brassiere, though not quite as we know it now. Gaches-Sarraute was emphatically against altering her corset design to provide breast support, devoting an entire chapter in her book to her argument against it. She believed that the new design provided enough support to the breasts by means of the expanded, upraised ribcage it created and that:

Trapping the breasts in an impermeable fabric promotes wilting and atrophy of the gland.
Original French: “Le fait d’emprisonner les seins dans un tissu imperméable favorise le flétrissement et l’atrophie de la glande.”

Gaches-Sarraute’s entire mission was to spare as many organs as possible from pressure, including the mammary glands. She even describes a problem many modern women who have worn an underbust corset with a modern bra have experienced: the dreaded pinch that happens to the flesh trapped between the corset and bra band.  Modern tastes and social mores press Western women today to wear bras, especially in conservative American culture: modern American women are expected to have high, round breasts that do not show nipples– a goal that mandates daily bra wearing under our relatively thin, sheer clothing. Edwardian women, in contrast, wore multiple layers of cloth over their breasts, so show-through wasn’t as much of a worry. Their concern with the lack of breast support was out of habit (used to old corsets) and practical (the need for support while working/exercising) which is why  some women found the underbust unsatisfactory. This meant that underbust corsets didn’t take over the world in a blink. Instead, Victorian styles and high, demi-bust versions of S-bend corsets were sold right along side the shorter style, much, I am sure, to Gaches-Sarraute’s chagrin:

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Corsets Department page from the 1905 Sears Catalogue. Left side shows older Victorian style corsets while the right side corsets are S-bend straight front corsets.

As any large-breasted woman–myself included– can attest, unsupported breasts have many painful complications of their own. Once they are past a certain size and age, they no longer are self-supporting, creating both comfort, health, and aesthetic issues. She brushes these notions aside, saying, “there are few women with breasts sufficiently large for it to be necessary to provide them with a support/il y a peu de femmes pourvues de seins assez volumineux pour qu’il soit indispensable de leur fournir un appui.” However, she begrudgingly acknowledges the criticism of her design and offers a solution. One of the most famous images from the book shows her brassiere design of choice:

She was far ahead of her time when it came to the design: fifty years later, women would be wearing a very similar look:

Formfit Ad, 1949

Spencer Ad, 1959

Inès Gaches-Sarraute’s corset design, whatever our personal opinions of it, undeniably revolutionized fashion even though the woman herself cared very little for any of the outside frills and fashion. She was concerned only with the internal workings of women, not that of their needles and thread. From her earliest design trials in the late 1890s (her first recorded recorded observation is dated 1895), she recorded the health improvements she saw in her patients after wearing her new corset design, claiming to have observed nearly 4,000 cases of successful recoveries ranging from healing incontinence to treating infertility.

When studying old texts like “Le Corset,” it is important to remember that medical practices and knowledge 120 years ago were very different than today. We cannot verify all of Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute’s claims. Her writing must be viewed with some skepticism, as she is writing to promote both her work and designs as well as writing with the limitations of Victorian medical knowledge. As even she states, it was hard to find enough uncorseted women to form a control group, making it difficult to tell which medical conditions were caused by corsets, exacerbated by them, relieved by them, or completely unrelated. For example, many 21st century women have rounded, low bellies like those pictured in “Le Corset” even though they have never worn a corset in their life– it’s just how some bodies store fat and where loose skin forms after childbirth.

 One thing that is clear, however, is Gaches-Sarraute’s steadfast devotion to the healing and liberation of women’s bodies. She was determined to improve and advance women’s lives via her new corset design:

Woman has glimpsed the possibility of altering her way of life; she wants to take part in the work and physical exercise of men; On the other hand, she is incommoded by the present dress, she is ill, and, consequently, ready to accept its modifications. I appreciate this happy disposition, convinced that nothing can be done for women except with their own consent, and I shall be happy if my work, based on scientific and physiological data, is appreciated by the medical profession and by hygienists. It will be much easier for me to fight against fashion and prejudice, which take no account of the needs of our organism.
Original French: “La femme a entrevu la possibilité de modifier son genre de vie, elle veut prendre part aux travaux et aux exercices physiques des hommes; d’autre part, elle est incommodée par le vêtement actuel, elle est malade, et, par suite, prête à en accepter les modifications. Je saisis cette heureuse disposition, convaincue qu’on ne peut rien faire pour les femmes qu’avec leur propre assentiment, et je serai heureuse si mon travail, basé sur des données scientifiques et physiologiques, est apprécié du corps médical et des hygiénistes, car il me sera alors beaucoup plus aisé de lutter contre la mode et les préjugés qui ne tiennent aucun compte des besoins de notre organisme.”

Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute, as a female doctor, saw her unique opportunity to influence female freedom. As a medical doctor, she had the knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biology that seamstresses, fashion designers, and corset manufacturers at the time lacked. As a woman, she personally understood feminine needs and sensibilities in a way that her male medical colleagues could not. In addition to designing a new corset, she advocated for sensible dress, championed bicycle riding, and was even willing to let women wear pants if they agreed to stop wearing old-fashioned corsets.

Bike Riding with a Corset

Bicycling in lounge pants and and old-fashioned corset. Whoopsie! Sorry, Dr. Inès!

Her legacy continues today in the form of medical corsets/braces (which help thousands find relief from back pain/scoliosis, postnatal complications, hernias, and more), modern corsetry design principles, and, for better or worse, our cantankerous relationship with one of the most controversial garments ever made.

The full text of “Le Corset” is available in the original French on Wikimedia.
It is available in multiple formats, including a wonderful scanned PDF version.

When it comes to corsets–and clothes in general–everyone has different needs. Corsets are certainly not one-size-fits-all, and they aren’t all one-style-fits-all either! Some find the underbust S-bend corset suits their body and is just as pleasant to wear as Gaches-Sarraute hoped it would be. Other people find the flowing curves and high front of the Victorian corset more comfortable and supportive. Many more still have no want for any corset at all, and that is perfectly fine, too.
As for my tastes: Remember those too-tall S-Bends from earlier? Yeah, those work great for me if patterned right! I like the flexible demi-bust front of a Victorian corset for support, but the curve of my back and titled pelvis work best with the back and hips of the S-bend, so long as there is plenty of extra room in the ribs and hips for all my luscious lipids to move around in!
This sort of knowledge is not inherent or concrete. It is something you learn over time with experience. Remember: a corset is just a garment. It is the person filling it with that matters most!

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Animated Edwardian Stereograph by Thiophene_Guy

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!

Let’s Try This Again: A (Better Fitting But Still Imperfect) Edwardian Dress from Butterick 6093

Cotton Candy Colored Edwardian Barbie!

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Butterick 9063 is based off of general fashion trends from 1912 (some possible period inspirations can be seen here). The construction is pretty straight forward and modernized, so Butterick calls this an “Easy” pattern. It’s simple exterior hides a slightly more complex garment, and after phutzing with it for a while now, I would call it more “advanced beginner.” My first version was very enlightening (and very blue):

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I made a lot of mistakes with my first version— chief among them being choosing the wrong size! However, it turned out pretty cute for a first try. My sister liked it and was bummed that it wouldn’t fit either of us. We share similar measurements even though our body types are quite different, so I decided to make another mockup attempt which, if it fit better, Amelia could have. I had a few more inexpensive cotton sheets lying around, so I let her pick one she liked. Laura, the queen of Shear Madness, had sent me a lovely embroidered dupatta which I though would make a good accent for collars and cuffs. A thrifted cotton shirt donated some UFO-shaped fabric buttons for a final touch:

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Amelia decided she liked the contrasting pop coral pink against the teal and while the single-sided collar is snazzy and all, maybe a symmetrical collar setup would suit her better…?

So I plotted:

Amelia Pink Dress Design

And together, we settled on a triangular collar similar to my first dress attempt, but this time on both sides of the neckline (the design on the left).

Previously, my dress had been much to small, especially in the hips. I could barely sit! If you ever tackle B6093 for yourself, pay close attention to your hip measurement and how much ease you’ll need to sit down otherwise:

With thoughts of wardrobe disasters floating in my head, I thought it might behoove me to cut the pattern according to the size chart on the back of the envelope. According to the chart, the best option for Amelia and I would be a size 16. However, the finished waist size would have been 34.5″– a whopping 4.5 inches of ease in what should be the most fitted part of the dress! Remembering how the size 12 waist was too small and knowing that the size 16 waist would be much too huge, I cut the hips a size 16 and tapered the waist down to a size 14. The fullness of the bodice in my first version seemed like enough to me, so I cut the bodice pieces out in the same size as before: 12.

That’s a lot of numbers. Unfortunately, they don’t all come in one envelope, either. However, I had raided Hancock fabrics during a pattern sale, so I had both size selections. After working with this pattern now for a second time, I have learned that mixing and matching pattern numbers in key areas is the way to go for a better fit. The way the dress is constructed means that most size adjustments need to be made on the sides of the pattern pieces rather than in the middle (like, say, slicing something for a FBA). Making post-construction alterations are also very tricky because of the side zipper and because the loose-fitting bodice is gathered to a tight, darted skirt, meaning you can’t let it out or take it in without taking the entire dress apart.

Thus, I prayed that 12b+14w+16h=excellent!

I didn’t take many progress shots, except this shot of me testing the fit on DumDum since Amelia is in far-off Colorado and thus unavailable for fittings:

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This is also right before I put the sleeves on. Seriously, the sleeves in this pattern confound me! As you may recall (and if you don’t, it’ll be fairly obvious in the picture below), my previous dress suffered from a case of muffin top sleeve caps:

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It’s like rabbit ears or plate armor…..or GAGA!

If you happen to be an extraterrestrial/pop star with shoulder protrusions, this is the pattern for you! However, if you are an average human attempting to mimic Edwardian fashion, the shoulders poofs are maddening. No one else who has made this pattern ended up with lumpy shoulders, but I ran into the exact same problem again with Amelia’s dress. Even with TWO rows of ease stitching, the sleeve cap was well over an inch too tall. I ended up just sewing further down the sleeve cap to achieve a smooth shoulder line. I can only conclude that I am either an idiot or cursed by some vengeful pattern witch.

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It always seems I must turn to sleeve voodoo to get things to work. Perhaps it is coming back to haunt me now?

In between tackling the sleevils and adding the collar buttons, I took on a temporary second job (just for this month). Lack of freetime notwithstanding, I finally got Amelia’s cotton candy Edwardian Barbie dress done!

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If the skirt looks a bit long, you’d be right. Amelia is much taller than I am. She wasn’t available for fittings, so I was pretty liberal with the addition just in case she wants to wear heels. I’m actually wearing my tallest pair of platforms (5″) underneath and it still puddles! I also took advantage of the sheet’s already finished hem, so hopefully she won’t need to hem it up (if you do, I’m sorry, Minnie!).

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The color of the cotton sheet really varies in photographs depending on the light. Sometimes it photographs as  as blush rose, other times, orange shrimp. It’s kinda funky.

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The pretty lace dickey is an antique, and unfortunately, not quite strong enough/big enough for wearing. It does make a nice dummy cover, though!

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I pleated the back instead of gathering it in this version to help combat the awkward back-poof I got with the first dress.

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I decided the skirt looked to plain and, well, bedsheet-like without some sort of accent, so I fudged an applique made from the dupatta scraps.

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The waistline of this dress really benefits from a belt or corsage to cover the awkward join where the faux wrap front meets. The pattern includes a belt, but I opted to add a little bow at the corner. It’s made from an antique stamped steel buckle that is handily dated on the back!

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I added a pin back so it can be moved if Amelia wants to wear a belt or wear it on her shoulder or something of that sort. I paired it with a cheap gauze scarf from Walmart as an impromptu sash with moderate success.

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Despite my (in my opinion) clever patterning, the dress still ended up larger than expected! It’s not horribly baggy, but I’m afraid that on my slim sister, it might look like she’s wallowing in a duvet. Ah, well! I have to send it off to see. If nothing else, it will make a passable Halloween frock!

Candy Colored Edwardian Dress Stats:

Queen-sized cotton sateen flat sheet – $3.99, Thrift Town
1 yard cotton fabric (to line collar and applique) – FREE! (Thanks, Nana!)
Embroidered teal georgette dupatta – FREE! (Thanks, Laura!)
22″ invisible zipper – $2.49, Hancock Fabrics
Thrifted white shirt (for buttons) – $4.59, Goodwill
Antique stamped steel buckle – $6.18, eBay
Invisible zipper foot – $11, Joann Fabrics
(Okay, so not part of the dress, per say, but very much needed!)

Total: $28.25
$17.25 if you don’t count the zipper foot. :P

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UPDATE!

Some of Butterick’s possible inspirations directly from the Delineator, Butterick’s ladies’ magazine!

Butterick 6093 Inspirations

From left to right:
Oct. 1912: Cross-over bodice with squared collar (from view A of B6093) and the lacy, squared cuffs with long button closure (View B)
August 1912 and September 1912: Brief fashion for single-sided curved revers/lapels/collars. The Aug. 1912 dress on the right has the lace overlay and single-sided wrap of View B.
Oct. 1912 again: Illustration of sleeves fashions including the lacy, squared cuffs with long button closure (this seems to have been a brief trend in fall/winter ’12)
Nov. 1912: THE SKIRT! This is the exact skirt design of View A in B6093 consisting of a tri-pleated/tucked wrapped overskirt and bow-bedecked belt!
April 1912: Another curved, single-sided lapel like View B (also paired with a square collar as in View A) and the possible inspiration for the lace overlay used in the promotional pictures. It is from a Bedell’s Fashion Book ad for Easter and Spring dress styles.
Sept. 1911: Shows an older dress (left) transformed into the newer fashion (right) with a single-sided lapel and wrapped overskirt (and lovely contrasting underskirt!)

Here’s the amazing link to scanned issues of the Delineator (Thanks again, Terri!) where you can find these images and so much more: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000545715

Butterick 6093: Hiccups, Mixups, and a Mockup

My Too-Tight 1912

So this project began as many of mine do: a challenge. Back in August of 2014 (yes, it HAS been that long!), Butterick released two 1912 patterns in their Retro line, B6108 and B6093.

Butterick’s Retro line is made up of re-released/reworked patterns pulled from the Butterick archives. Most dresses are from the 1930s-1950s, carefully chosen to appeal both to the vintage loving crowd and modern seamstresses. So when Butterick boldly threw two 1912 patterns into the mix, the modern sewing community was less than impressed. One blogger even called them “the latest innovation in birth control!” And, judging by the release pictures, I can understand the confusion:

I actually like the styling of this one and the coat looks very well made, but I can see how with long line paired with such gloriously wide lapels would intimidate the modern fashion palette.

Again, nicely made, but the model is a bit overwhelmed by it (and the hair). Again, it’s not exactly to modern tastes.

1912 isn’t exactly a fashionable year by modern standards (and that polyester lace doesn’t help matters), but to the costuming community, the patterns held potential. B6108 was instantly a favorite and while the long-sleeved example dress frightened folks at first, once people realized that B6093 had a short-sleeved, lace-less option, the patterns flew off the shelves!

For a while, I couldn’t find them anywhere because they were bought up almost as quickly as craft stores put them on the shelves. However, earlier this year, I finally hit a pattern sale at the right time and snatched up a copy for myself. The cover bears the line drawing of both design options. Universally preferred View A lady in green on the left appears in her large, fashionable hat while the poor line model for View B casts down her eyes as though even she knew no one liked her.

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“God, Francis! I told the ladies you were going to be fabulous. I vouched for you, and you show up with handkerchiefs stuffed in your cuffs and only one lapel! Take your stupid little purse and go!”

Poor View B! I felt like it was getting way more hate than it deserved, so I decided to do a little research to find which original pattern Butterick based it off of. I contacted the company hoping that they would have more information, but they sent only a very vague reply: “These patterns are inspired by vintage patterns from Butterick in that year. Beyond that it would take some digging to get more answers from you.

I didn’t press them much further, but turned to my usual Googling method and found out that the lacy cuffs were a brief fad around 1912:

View F in this Sears Catalog ad has the same squared lace cuffs.

And the single-sided lapel? That was a larger trend that was popular throughout the 1910s, especially in 1911 and 1912:

The Delineator, 1911
The Delineator was one of Butterick’s pattern advertising magazines and I wish there full issues to comb through on the web so that I might see if there is either of the B6093 designs in them! How awesome would that be?! But, alas…

The Delineator, November 1911

Day and walking dresses, from 1912, “De Gracieuse”

Silk Dress, circa 1911-1915 (the seller dates it to 1915, but it looks earlier)

Donaldson’s of Minneapolis Evening Gown, circa 1914
This gown is from the Glenbow Museum website which has a tendency to not hyperlink well, so I am including the item number here: C-4600. This is one of those gowns that is dangerous to wear–I might drool all over it!

However, the illustration that most caught my attention was this one:

Mode Illustree, November 5th, 1911
From a now-defunct eBay auction, sadly. But at least the image survived!

I liked everything about it and it looked like a perfect candidate for transforming View A from shamed to acclaimed!

Aside from the single lapel, this dress design has fan of lace that stands out from one side of the collar. Perhaps this was what the designers were trying to emulate in their design? Having an asymmetrical lace drape was popular and could be bought pre-manufactured to add to your dress.

The American Dressmaker, April 1912

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Collars with side ruffles in the Sears, Roebuck, and Company catalog from 1912 (see the whole thing here!)

Here’s the dress plan I came up with:

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I planned to use some nice faux silk and a sari I had to make a nice dinner dress (I love dinner dresses), but I ran into a few hiccups along the way.

First, I couldn’t find a nice faux silk I liked at a price I could afford. Also, I decided that a nice cotton sateen would be better and more breathable. However, I failed to find that either. I usually find lots of cotton sateen sheets at the local thrift shop, but I failed to find ANY for nearly a month! So I settled for a plain deep blue cotton sheet. Turns out, that sheet would be both a blessing and a curse. I did luck into a 100% silk shirt that I plan to use to make a dickey…at some point…

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I cut out the pattern a few months ago, but then life happened and I hit a major sewing slump. By the time I picked the project back up, I realized I’d cut the dress a size too small! This pattern really does run true-to-size, so according to my measurements, I needed a 14 or 16. I’m between sizes thanks to my large bust, so I usually cut a 14 and do a full bust adjustment. This pattern, however, is designed to fit very loosely up top, so the bust size is more flexible. I should have cut a size 14, but instead, I cut a size 12! Guess I was in Simplicity rather than Butterick mode that day. Both companies follow different sizing charts and I fit a size 12 in Simplicity patterns. Oops! So I shifted focus from making a full dress to just creating a wearable (if I lose 5-10 pounds) mockup. Using the cheap cotton sheet worked to my advantage because I didn’t worry about wasting materials and it was easy to sew.

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B6093 has a curved, semi-circlar collar/lapel. My inspiration image and most of the period fashions I found have triangular lapel shapes, so I tucked and folded the pattern tissue until I got a shape I like. Folding the tissue rather than cutting it is a great technique because you can make alterations to this particular cutting without damaging the original pattern. That way, you (or someone else) can go back to the original design in the future.

Otherwise, I pretty much made the dress directly from the pattern. I did opt to mix it up a bit and use the short sleeves from View B to match my inspiration dress, but I followed the directions pretty much to the letter.

Butterick lists this pattern as an “Easy” design.

NO. FALSE.

Easy, to me, is something like a drawstring skirt or Simplicity’s Jiffy pattern line from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (only 2 pattern pieces? Sign me up!). The Easy designation on this pattern is really a misnomer. While B9063 isn’t difficult, it’s definitely not Easy unless you have prior sewing experience. It has set-in sleeves, hand-tacked facing (for this mockup, I cheated and used iron on hem tape. Worked like a charm!), interfacing, lining, collars, sewn-in pleats, and an invisible side zipper all of which can be–and in my case, were–finicky.

When I got about 3/4 done (and got distracted with secretary dresses), I discovered that when I put the wrap top together, it gaped–a LOT: a whole two cups worth, and we’re not talking bra sizes…

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Ah, the flattering pictures I suffer for costume science!

Patterns are drafted for a B cup. I have DDD/F breasts, so usually I have to do a FBA to get my girlies to fit. Dresses in 1912 still had fairly full tops and are meant to skim over the breasts, not fit to them. Hence, this pattern has a ton of design ease built in (over 7 inches!). It is designed to be worn over a dickey or blouse to keep it appropriately modest, but this much gaping, even over a blouse, would be far too much! Turns out that you must fiddle with the amount of cross-over to get it to lay properly. In my case, that meant closing the V up a bit, subtracting bodice length, and fiddling with the distribution of the gathers in the front to keep my “two scoops” contained!

The invisible side zipper scared me, but it turned out okay considering that I don’t own a zipper foot. Indeed, I own an invisible zipper foot–which would be just the tool for the job if it wasn’t for that fact that it was invisible because it didn’t exist.
I own a very basic Singer “Simple” machine. It works great! But, it did not come with a zipper foot. It came with a button hole attachment and even a button attachment, but no zipper foot. What sort of weird logic is that? Most Easy and Beginner patterns out there require zippers, not buttons, so I don’t know why Singer chose to include button attachments with their beginner level machine. Ah, challenges!

So I sewed that sucker in without a zipper foot! YEEHAW!

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It is definitely not invisible, but it works! A raging success, considering I just jammed it under the regular presser foot and prayed.

Speaking of jamming and praying, with the help of my Rago 821 waist nipper, I was able to stuff my size 14/16 body into this size 12 dress to get few photos!

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I love the 821 because it does a good job of smoothing from underbust to hips like the columnar corsets of the time did.

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Here, you can see how blousy the top is. If I had the B cup bust this pattern was designed for, the flounce would be for even front-to-back. As it is, when I make a “real” dress out of this pattern, I will pleat the back rather than gather.

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Ah, those little sleeve crowns! They are from the sleeve head being too tall at the top. Otherwise, the silhouette is very flattering on my body type. The Edwardian era is gold for inverted triangle body shapes!

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The pattern has a very long, open kick-pleat on the side seam. It’s not historically appropriate, so I just added a gore made of the sari fabric to fill it in! It’s a nice little accent piece now.

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Sitting in this dress was a trick. While the top is very loose, the skirt is very slim. I don’t have huge hips by any means, but the skirt was far too tight even though I have the recommended hip measurement for a size 12 (36″). If you have a large derriere or thighs, going up a size or two in the hips would be prudent!

Here’s the dress on my more-to-size sewing dummy:

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I think I did a pretty bang up job of nailing the inspiration image. I have the trim for the bottom saved if I ever lose fit into this dress and want some more pizzazz.

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My dress form has a longer torso than me, so the dress hangs better on it. If you are short waisted, you may want to shorten the top of the skirt so the hips fall in the correct place.

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I haven’t made the dickey yet, so I tucked some antique lace into the neckline.

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I added the little rosette from the drawing by cutting motifs from the sari scraps and mounting them on a pinback.

 Despite my stumbles, this pattern went together quickly. It took about a week of sewing 2 hours a day, so 14 hours? Was it Easy? No. Is it suitable for a beginner? I’d say yes. It uses basic techniques and combines them to form an interesting, pleasant-looking design. If you’ve had a bit of sewing practice and are ready for a more complex project, this is a good candidate. I am not a serious seamstress and made a lot of errors from the start, so I wouldn’t say that my experience is what you should expect. If you have the right tools (*cough* zipper foot *cough*) and pay careful attention to sizing, then this pattern will go together very nicely. I certainly like my mistake-filled mockup and look forward to fixing the mistakes in a future dress!

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Dress Stats:

Butterick 6093 – $1.99, Hancocks or Joanns…I don’t remember
Full sized cotton flat sheet – $2.99, Thrift Town
Sari – $22.49, eBay (I still have the bulk of the sari left over since I only used the first yard. So, like $5 worth?)
Pinback – $0.79, Hoby Lobby
1 22″ “invisible” zipper – $4.43, Walmart
Iron-on hem tape – leftovers from a $1.49 roll so free-ish

Total: $16.69

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See my latest version and updated review!

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