The Procrastinator’s Purse: A Free Printable Reticule Pattern

So I am the queen of procrastination and when I made my Renaissance Fair dress last month, I realized the night before that I had nowhere to put my “modern necessities,” i.e. my cellphone, chapstick, safetypins, and the like.

Drawstring purses are pretty easy to make and there are tons of variations ranging from a simple square folded over to more complex bags with flat bottoms, and fancy linings. I have made simple drawstring purses mere minutes before I had to be out the door, but this time I had a few hours. Plenty of time for a slightly gussied-up version! All I knew is that I wanted something shield-shaped that could fit my book-shaped cellphone case and other sundries. This is the final result, which I’ve dubbed THE PROCRASTINATOR’S PURSE:

I was originally going to do an exhaustive walk-through of how to draft your own pattern for one from a piece of US Letter (A4) paper…

…but then I decided to save y’all the trouble and just make a PDF version you can download and print from home!

The Procrastinator’s Purse Pattern PDF

To maximize the size, it does go all the way to the edges of the paper, so your printer at home may cut off the top and bottom a bit. Just draw it back in. I am no professional pattern or instruction drafter myself, so don’t worry about getting it just right. This is the Procrastinator’s Purse, not the Perfectionist’s Purse!

I put two shapes on the pattern for you to choose from: a sharp triangle bottom (solid line) and the curved shield-shaped bottom (dotted line). Seam allowance is already accounted for. This pattern can be sewn with a 1/2″ or regular 5/8″ seam allowance. It’s just up to your personal preference and how much room you want.

The first time I made this purse, it took two and a half hours because I was just making it up as I went along and I added trim. Now that I know what I’m doing, the plain striped version I whipped up for this post took only an hour to make!

Step 1: Cut 2 of your fashion fabric and 2 of your lining fabric. The lining will show, so keep that in mind when picking out your fabrics!

I picked two scraps for this demonstration: striped faux-silk from the Regency waistcoat I made for my friend Wix and swiss dot cotton from my Butterick 6093 project.

If you want to add any trim across the front of your purse–like I did for the yellow and black version of this bag–sew it to the right side of your fashion fabric first before proceeding with the next steps.

Step 2: Pair each fashion fabric piece with a lining piece. Put the right sides together. Use a pin to mark where the top line of the drawstring stitching goes on each side.

Step 3: With right sides together, sew each fabric/lining pair around the squared top edge starting above the pins marking your drawstring. I recommend backstitching at the beginning and end of your stitch line for strength.

Clip the corners before turning the pieces right-side-out. Iron the pieces flat, turning under the seam allowances about 2 inches down the sides. This will make sewing the drawstring channel easier. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of this step, but if you scroll down to the picture in step 5, you can see the leftover fold marks.

Step 4: Sew the drawstring channel. The channel I put in the pattern is 1/2 inch wide. This is top-stitched, so your stitching will show on the outside of the bag. Pick a color of thread that blends into your bag (at least for the most part).

Step 5: Once you’ve got both drawstring channel stitch lines done, make small snips in the seam allowances so you can iron it flat. Do this to the seam allowances on both the fashion fabric and lining.

Once you’ve snipped the seam allowances and ironed the two halves of the purse flat, put the two halves together with the fashion fabric sides together.

Step 6: Stitch the two purse halves together starting below the bottom of the drawstring channel. Backstitch at the start and end of your stitch line for extra strength. Be careful not to sew the ends of your drawstring channel shut!

This purse is not bag-lined, so it will have “raw-ish” edges on the inside (remember: this is the Procrastinator’s Bag, not the Perfectionist’s Bag!). To minimize fraying and add strength to the seam, I zig-zag stitched close to my original stitch line and trimmed away the excess fabric for a neater finish (especially if your fabric wants to fray like my faux-silk did).

Turn your Procrastinator’s Purse right-side out and iron.

Step 7: Cut two long pieces of ribbon and thread them through the drawstring channels on each side of the bag.

28 inches is a good length for your ribbon, though if you like longer, more luxurious tails, you can cut yours 32 inches long. You will loose about 2 inches of length trimming the ends later, so keep that in mind.

For this demonstration purse, I used 1.5 inch wide poly satin ribbon from Walmart, which is about the widest you can fit into a 1/2 inch boning channel. For my first yellow purse, I used 3/4 inch wide ribbon elastic (the type used to make headbands and hair ties). I like the elastic  because it holds the “scrunch” at the top of the bag better than the smooth ribbon, but it does make your bag bob around when you walk and it will stretch the more stuff you carry.

To get the ribbon through the channel, I folded it over a few times and put a safety pin through as a makeshift bodkin.

The following steps are optional ones I did to achieve the look I wanted. You can do all sorts of things to personalize your Procrastinator’s Purse depending on how much you procrastinated. Have a few hours left? Add some beading. Have a few minutes left? Just tie your ribbons together and get in the car, girl!

Since I had an hour left, here’s what I did to my purse:

Trim the edges of the ribbon diagonally. This removes the pinhole left by the safety pin and will help keep the ends from fraying. To weigh them down, especially if you used a lightweight synthetic ribbon like my Walmart poly one, tie a simple knot an inch or two back from the end. You could even add beads (like the large-holed ones used for add-a-bead jewelry) if you wanted to gussy it up for evening-wear!

Tie the ends of the other ribbon together to form a carrying loop.

This purse is very deep, which is great if you have a large phone or plan to really stuff it full of souvenirs. However, all that stuff puffs out the point, distorting the nice shape and leading to a lot of inelegant and frustrating digging around for tiny things at the bottom of the purse.

To alleviate both these problems, I squared off the bottom with a line of stitching 1.5 inches up from the point. I marked a optional stitching line for it on the PDF pattern. This stitch line can be moved father down, too, if you want a squared bottom, but your phone/fan/etc. needs a bit more room.

The joy of horizontal fabric stripes: my fabric happened to have a handy-dandy line right where I needed it!

And for a last bit of pizzazz, I added a dangle to the point of the purse. For both purses, I used an Indian wedding earring from a pair that I found at a flea market.

AND IT’S DONE!

This purse is big enough that everything in the above picture– cellphone+case, chapstick, 40″ strand of glass pearls, vintage cigarette-turned-business-card case, safety pins, hairpins, and fan– fits inside:

Shazam! Magical disappearing act!

Huzzah! Now I have one version that matches my Renaissance dress and another that will work with my Regency and Edwardian dresses!

It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty, practical project for the ambitious Procrastinator!

If you make your own Procrastinator’s Purse (or any drawstring purse), pop over to my Facebook Page and send me a picture so I can see it!

Fluffy Sleeves and Fleurs de Lis: Simplicity 5294 at Scarborough Renaissance Fair 2019

I wasn’t feeling too keen on celebrating my birthday this year, but my sister decided to pay me a visit! She’d never been to a Renaissance Fair and Scarborough Fair in Waxahachi, Texas is only an hour and a half from where I live. So to Fair we decided to go!

Last year I wore my Game of Thrones inspired dress:

However, we would be going the last day of the final season and it just seemed odd to be wearing it out and about when most Thrones fans would be at home celebrating/mourning the end of an era. Honestly, I didn’t really feel like getting caught up in a discussion about the show…I just wanted to wander and enjoy hanging out with my sis and my husband. Plus, it’s a cool dress looks-wise, but it’s not a cool dress temp-wise!

I owe my life to that hand fan!
This was taken before I added the neckline trim and got the belt I originally wanted.

After tackling one of my childhood dream-dress patterns, Simplicity 4244, a few years ago, I had gotten all nostalgic for the other patterns that had set my heart aflutter waaaaaaaaay back when.

Many of them happen to be Andrea Schewe’s Renaissance patterns from the late 1990s and early 2000s:

I remember coveting all the patterns in this catalog. My sister and I played the “Wishbook” game with it: “That one’s mine!” “Well, this one’s mine, then!”

The star of the Renaissance collection was the “Ever After Dress,” which, for those of you that have been missing out on a slice of fairytale wonderland, is based on the dresses from the movie “Ever After:”

The original trailer in all it’s 1990s cinematic glory! This was my favorite movie to watch at my Nana’s house when I was a kid.

The costumes in the movie aren’t Historically Accurate, but they are based on late 15th and early 16th century dresses, mostly Italian despite being set in France, but once again, they were aiming for Historical, not Historical™, so don’t stress over it too much. Frock Flicks has a nice overview of the film costumes if you’re curious.

Portrait d'Isabelle d'Aragon (Isabella of Naples raphael

“Thou art welcome to direct your gaze hither, Sire.”
Isabella of Naples Duchess of Milan, wife of Gian Galeazzo, by Raphael, 1480-90

1486-90 'Portia_and_Brutus',_painting_on_panel_by_Ercole_de’_Roberti

“Verily, sir, I am here for naught but the food.”
Portia and Brutus, circa 1486-90

The movie had fantastic costumes–most famously the “Just Breathe” masquerade dress (and my favorite, Rodmilla’s green gown):

Simplicity, already high on the peak of the Renaissance Fair pattern boom, leapt at the opportunity. Andrea Schewe was commissioned to recreate the look for a pattern which soon became one of the most famous costume patterns from the Big 3:

Oh, how I pined for this perfect princess dress!

The Simplicity Ever After dress pattern was really popular for wedding and fair gowns through the early 2000s and it turns out this pattern has not one, not two, but SIX versions that have been printed over the years…each with a totally different pattern number! The design itself, however, remained unchanged.

In the Misses’ sizes, the first release was Simplicity 0657 then 8735. It sold so well that Simplicity asked Andrea Schewe to sew new samples for the re-release’s envelope front, Simplicity 3812:

The re-release cover. I like Views B and C much more here. I never cared for either in the original samples, but in the new fabrics, the details really show up and I love the gold version of View B especially!

These patterns only went up to the largest standard Misses’ size, either 18 or 20 depending on the release. But this pattern was so immensely popular that Simplicity did something so rare and wonderful that it’s basically a unicorn and I think it deserves a sparkle effect: EXTENDED SIZED PATTERNS UP TO SIZE 32W!

This is an accurate pictorial representation of my brain when I discovered 9228 and 5294 on eBay.
(Made with Gify)

Besides the regular Misses’ sized patterns, Simplicity released 9228 and later 5294, both of which were available in sizes 18W to 32W. That’s up to a 54″ bust measurement! One of the constant troubles with costume patterns from the Big 3 is that they do not offer larger sizes. I was so excited to find not only did this pattern get offered in larger sizes, the samples they made were styled to look like the Misses’ size envelope as well (so often “Plus Sized” versions of things are styled completely different from the regular sized things instead of adapting the design to be proportional to the increased size while maintaining the original look).

Sadly, all these patterns are Out of Print, so the envelops are only available second hand. However, Simplicity has recently added the Misses/Regular size version to their Print-On-Demand service as EA381201…but not in the extended sizes.

So, if you want one of the extended sizing patterns, you must scour the ‘net if you weren’t lucky enough to pick up a copy when it originally was in stores. Because they’re out of print, they can be kind of spendy, but I found a copy of 5294 in the 18W to 24W range for a reasonable price. I immediately snapped it up! It was worth the investment 100 fold!

This is the back so you can see the glorious measurement chart! Also the yardage….holy cow, the yardage! The few older online reviews I found mention this dress is a fabric and trim hog and they were all 110% correct! The dress is worth it, though, IMHO.

Pattern in hand, I set out trying to find a suitable fabric.

Now when I say suitable, I’m not talking suitable for a Screen Accurate Reproduction® or Historically Accurate dress. While lovely, I didn’t want to make it out of taffeta or velvet. When I say suitable, I mean suitable to survive the blazing Texas heat! Bonus points if I could also combat the heinous humidity that’s been plaguing us during an abnormally wet spring.

Linen would have been the HA-ish solution. While not exactly court gown material, it’s wicking and the most breezy of all the fabrics which is why it has been favored in hot climes for centuries. But, I had neither the cash to buy the stuff nor the patience to deal with its tendency to wrinkle more than a raisin at the slightest provocation.

After squishing my skirts into a hot, humid car for an hour and a half (which would set the wrinkles like a nice, steamy iron), I would certainly emerge looking not unlike these grapes or a crumpled paper ball…

Instead, I decided to make the dress out of cotton because it’s breathable, but also cheap, comes in a wider variety of prints, and wrinkles waaaaaaaay less. I wanted to find a brocade or embroidery-esque print to mimic the wild silk fabrics I saw in paintings. I was especially keen to find a nice mustard yellow. Yellow’s not “my color” (being a pale dishwater blond), but I love it! And the patterns I found were just fabulous!

Visitation (Detail, from Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence) by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1485-90

Portrait Of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1488

Found another History Sister and she’s wearing a bangin’ brocade! I decided to copy her look a bit, minus the spaniel-ears. I save that look for my early 19th century dresses.
Ritratto di Gentildonna (Portrait of a Gentlewoman) by Leonardo Boldrini, circa 1490s

However, most of the colors we associate with the Renaissance period are rich jewel tones like wine and navy. I found tons of beautifully patterned fabrics, but only in darker colors like emerald or black. I had just about caved to a black and gold design until science gently placed its practical hands on my shoulders and shook me back to sanity: I needed something light colored and less likely to absorb heat and cook me alive.

Then, I found this nifty fabric online:

It doesn’t show well in photos, but the dots and outlines are metallic gold.

Minka giving my new fabric the Cat Butt Blessing.

And it reminded me a bit of Eleanora di Toledo mixed with medieval heraldry:

16th century…a bit late for my dress’s style.

Early 15th century, a bit too soon for my dress’s style.
(PS, I found this image on a great Hungarian blog about hennin)

Mash ’em together, average ’em out, and you get roughly the correct era for my dress (1490s), right? Right?!

Cheap it wasn’t after shipping, but not any worse than a quilting cotton from a certain chain fabric store beginning with J–about $7 a yard. It’s a great cotton, though, lighter than a standard quilting cotton, but thick enough not to be sheer.

The envelope recommended 5 1/4 to 5 3/8 yards of 52″ wide fabric. I had 6 yards of 45″ wide fabric…with a one-way design…

It was a very, VERY tight fit.

I had to reduce the skirt width a bit to get the enormous gored skirt pieces to fit on the fabric. I thought about ignoring the gores and just using the full rectangle yardage, but I didn’t know how that would work with the pattern’s peaked front. In the end, I made it work. THANK HEAVENS. The slight reduction didn’t seem to affect the drape of the dress too much.

If you want to make this dress out of 45″ fabric, you will have to reduce the width of the skirt pattern or piece your fabric because the pattern pieces are wider than 45”.

This dress in general takes a lot of fabric and trim. Each skirt is 4+ yards and the huge sleeves are over a yard each on their own:

Giving my 1890s sleeves a run for their money in the poof department!
Shoutout to Mistress of Disguise for graciously offering her help selecting a complimentary fabric. I thought about using the cream organdy sari for the underskirt as well as the sleeves, but after cutting the sleeves out, I didn’t have enough left. Fortunately, the original mustard color doesn’t look too bad on me despite my pastiness.

I was so proud of myself: I got the dress to a wearable state well over two days in advance of the event! So much better than my usual method of “Wait until the day-before to do everything and let the panic inspire you!

Yes, those are my DnD Barbie dolls in the background. Yes, I have weirder nerd hobbies than rage-sewing Historical costumes. Yes, I do own a vacuum and wastebaskets, I swear!

At that point, it was mostly untrimmed. Kinda boring. The basic dress shape of this pattern is nice, but it is really the trimmings that elevate it from nice to WOWZA. Trimming took quite a bit of time getting everything placed just so– almost two days. Altogether, it took a week of four-hour sewing sessions to get the dress to its current state. I admit I was still sewing when my sister got here, but I got it done enough for Sunday’s Scarborough trip!

Still need to make the tie-on sleeves at some point.

The previous day was rainy and we were sure the ground would be soaked and sloppy, especially the parking area which is just an open field. I wore my not-so-pretty boots in anticipation but to our amazement, the sun had dried out most of the muck. The sunshine also meant that my choice of a light-colored cotton fabric paid off! I was warm, but not uncomfortably so. It was the perfect blending of science and fairytale with a Happy Ever After ending!

To keep cool, I took a fan and, most helpful of all, picked up an $8 paper umbrella from Hobby Lobby’s party section. 100% would recommend! Between the parasol and marinating myself in sunscreen, I didn’t even get sunburned!
To hide my modern necessities, I got a cheap little faux-leather book case for my phone and made a simple drawstring purse from scraps. A few other little accessories like my favorite braided gold necklace, antique brooch, and a decorative bun-roll (made last minute by wrapping trim scraps over one of those tubular mesh hair rollers) rounded everything out:

My sister wore the teal version of Amazon’s “Renaissance Dress” which is a good option for anyone looking for a fast, inexpensive costume that’s easy to wear, plus it’s flattering on a variety of body types. It has ties in front and back for an adjustable fit and comes in a huge selection of colors. It costs about $50. She was quite pleased with the quality. I made her a flower crown to go with it as a belated birthday gift.

Flower crowns are beautiful, easy to make, and fun to wear. You just need some flowers of your choice, a hot glue gun, and a wide fabric-covered headband!

Chris even got in the festival spirit of his own accord! He wore his punk-rock kilt, grabbed a cap and belt, and even joined the dulcimer lady for an impromptu public duet!

We took in the hilarious shows, the magical musicians, ate overpriced-but-tasty food, and cheered for the jousters (I’m kicking myself a bit for not getting a picture with the slightly villainous knight Sir Joseph, whose colors I happened to serendipitous be wearing). The fair was fab and there were lots of fairies and tieflings and elves running around for Fantasy weekend.

Great sewing pattern, great fun, great family–it was a good way to spend a belated birthday!

For a more technical (ish) review of Simplcity 5294, click here to read my write-up about it on PatternReview.com

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:

IMG_0457

“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.

IMG_0464

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:

IMG_0466

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:

IMG_0468

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).

IMG_0489

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.

IMG_0470

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!

bustle centaur

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:

IMG_0483

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:

IMG_0476

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:

IMG_0488

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!

From Cup to Curl: How to Get Fabulous Historical Hair Using Straws

Big Hair was a Big Deal Long Before Dallas and Dolly Parton!

Those of you that browse my rambling frequently are well aware that I am hair illiterate. Indeed, I know next to nothing about taming my crispy, unruly mane. Yet, I am slowly teaching myself a few tricks here and there, and the internet has been a boon for my boring locks.

As a strong adherent to the old cliche that “every curly-haired girl wants straight hair and every straight-haired girl wants curls,” I have dreamed of lovely curls since childhood. When I was very young, my mother had tightly permed 1980s poodle hair (her words, not mine!), and I remember playing with her pink plastic hair pick, pretending I had a perm that needed fluffing, too. I am infinitely envious of those glamorous 1980s superstars like Bernadette Peters and Whitney Houston who had curls so luscious no scrunchie could contain them! A perm is still on my wish list (even though everyone who survived the 80s or who has naturally curly hair tries their best to talk me out of it).

Besides wanting crazy amounts of day-to-day curls, my historical costuming adventures have reenforced just how important curls have been throughout the ages. The 1980s do not hold the monopoly on excessive amounts of curl! Indeed, many eras require spiral curls to achieve the right look:

1679-unknown-noblewoman-by_med

An Unknown Nobelwoman painted by the wonderful Jacob Ferdinand Voet modelling a 1670s hairstyle.

This lovely Portrait of a Lady by François Henri Mulard displays the shorter spiral curls popular during the Regency era.

This mid-19th century teenage girl has possibly the most enviable set of sausage curls in the history of mankind! I found her photo (and the one below) while I was researching Victorian haircare and have been obsessed ever since!

This unknown beauty from the 1870s perfectly demonstrates the decade’s fashion for intricately curled and mounded hair.

Other eras benefit from the volume brushed-out curls can give, especially late 18th century and early 20th century hairstyles:

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, late 18th century, demonstrating the infamous “hedgehog” hairstyle.

Miss Carlyle and Miss Clarke enjoy tea Gibson Girl style while attempting to balance the hair piled fashionably high on their foreheads.

Many of these looks were achieved through wigs and hair extensions. Buying and selling human hair has been big business for centuries and one of the greatest criticisms of hair fashions was the fact that many styles often meant that the majority of the hair on a woman’s head was not her own, but that of a complete stranger! Much of the hair used to make switches and wigs came from peasant girls in rural areas, so a princess might literally have the hair of a pauper.

Fancy hairstyles and the hair switches required to complete them, circa 1867

 Unless you are lucky enough to be gifted by nature with thick, voluminous locks, hairpieces, rats, rolls, and wigs are all part of a modern historical costumer’s hair arsenal. There are plenty of awesome tutorials with tricks to boost the volume of your natural hair with socks and hair rats or make yourself a completely new hairdo using a wig. Jen of Festive Attyre always has beautiful big Georgian hair thanks to a combination of curling her own hair and adding in a hairpiece:

 I can barely handle my own hair, so rats and hairpieces escape me and wigs are a whole ‘nother beast entirely. I do have a squishy net doughnut that I use to help me make buns, but otherwise, I have very few hair-boosting tools (indeed, I didn’t have a hairdryer until my sister bought me one for my birthday this year). My go-to to get the volume I crave has long been braiding. I used a single braid to get fluffy 1890s “New Woman” hair:

101_8173

How to Get No-Fuss Fluff for the New Woman

I have been known to wander around the apartment complex looking like this:

Photo-0308_resized

To get to 1890s/1980s worthy fluff, you must first re-live the 1990s.

If I braid my whole head like this, I am rewarded with glorious poofy hair that looks like it was crimped:

1554499_10152665956522550_5045949545912880505_n

Enjoying the irony as Mother Nature wearing faux foliage in the middle of a Taco Bell.

However, it’s not curls. I’d attempted pin curls a few times over the years, but I never got them to work satisfactorily, so for Georgian Picnic this year, I decided to try something new. I had been stumbling around Pinterest as one is wont to do at 3am when I started seeing all these pins about straw curlers and the photos made my jaw drop:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAA! SO GORGEOUS!

Most the the tutorials I found were for African American hair and I worried that my pale, limp locks wouldn’t be able to support the curls thanks to their lack of texture, but I decided to try it anyway. Anything for those spirals!

I found this tutorial and when I saw the curls she got at 6:06, I freaked out!
CURLS! SAUSAGE CURLS! JUST LIKE 1860s GIRL’S SAUSAGE CURLS!

 I think I would have fallen out of the chair if there wasn’t a cat in my lap digging her claws into my thigh for dear life. The day before Georgian Picnic, I bought a cheap pack of 100 straws for about $1.50 at Walmart and commenced experimenting. I was aiming for a hairstyle like this:

Portrait of Jane Horley by Rolinda Sharples, circa 1815-20

So I separated the front half of my hair and curled it, leaving the back uncurled (I put it up in a bun). I didn’t use any products in my hair before, during, or after. I did have slightly damp hair when I began.

IMG_1410

My hair in its natural state.

???????????????????????????????

I bent the straws and held them in place with bobbie pins, murdering quite a few in the process. Long metal hair clips would probably work better. You might even have some and not know it! Check your sewing kit. Fabric clips and hair clips are quite similar.

I will admit that I had a little trouble rolling the hair onto the straws. Most of that just springs from my inability to roll hair (hence why curlers, pin curls, and any other type of curl had thus far been unattainable). I rolled my hair over itself instead of all along the straw like in the video. This worked for my purposes in the end, however, because Regency curls are short anyway.

I slept on my straw-filled hair, but as I would later find out, the straws work their magic in only a few hours. When I took out all the straws, this is what I ended up with:

???????????????????????????????

My hair is much longer in front than a Regency woman’s would have been, so my curls hang lower than most portraits show.

???????????????????????????????

After phutzing with the ringlets a bit.

This is the hair I attended Georgian Picnic with. Since it was my first attempt, it was a bit messy, but it did suit the romantic aura of the era pretty well.

15805763385_e000834432_k

Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

When I got home, I separated the ringlets with my fingers just to see what they looked like looser and I was rewarded with light, fluffy, fairly natural-looking curls:

???????????????????????????????

I lost about 1/2 of my hair’s length to the curls, mostly due to the way I wrapped them around the straws. If you wrap the hair more evenly over the straws, you won’t lose as much length.

The curls had good volume and made a nice Gibson Girl pouf pretty easy. I wish I’d taken a photo! Since I’d gone this far, might as well go the extra mile and brush everything out!

???????????????????????????????

Helloooooooooo giant hair of my dreams!

I’m only a few hairpins, some hair powder, and one fabulous hat away from this:

Portrait of Catherine Clemens by George Romney, circa 1788

I am so excited to have finally found a curling method that works for my hair! The curls held well until I had to wash my hair the next day, so they are perfect for long events. They survived wind, rain, and my hat in great condition. I tried them a second time for my dress photoshoot and only left the straws in my hair for about two hours. The final curls were a bit looser, but still held up to outdoor photography. Plus, I’d gotten a bit better at winding the hair around the straws, so the results were much smoother:

???????????????????????????????

I also did fewer curls to save time and ended up liking the look much better.

So  my straw curler experiment was a complete success! There are skinny wired-foam curlers that work similarly, but I never got them to work as well as these good ol’ Wally World drinking straws– a cheap and effective solution!

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!

IMG_1941

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.

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!

15620581557_c31f58ec15_k

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:

15620586867_200522e34d_z

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!

???????????????????????????????

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.

???????????????????????????????

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 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. I also carry a tinted lip balm with me to events now, especially outdoor ones. Texas gets hot and dry, so protecting your lips with a balm with SPF and a little hint of color is smart. Just swipe it on for protection and a touch of color!

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.

???????????????????????????????

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!

62d4f711bf55edb0b3125e32ee1b6a4d

Yup. That’s Anne Hathaway without eyebrows.
Turns out “celebrities without brows” is an internet meme of sorts. It’s kind of unsettling how different folks 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.

IMG_1935

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.

rs261521_405749-lpr.jpg-edit-use

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.

???????????????????????????????

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!

???????????????????????????????

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!

???????????????????????????????

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

???????????????????????????????

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!

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!

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.

101_7089

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!).

–1–

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

My pair:

101_7068

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.

–2–

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

My Pair:

101_7079

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!

–3–

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

My Pair:

101_7075

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.

134_3044

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.

—–

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:

101_7128

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!