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

I AM ADDICTED TO “SECRETARY” CLOTHES.

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

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

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

Another 1980s cutie from Etsy with great color.

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

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

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

“Costume Parisiens,” circa 1912

“Costume Parisiens,” circa 1913

Fashion Illustration, circa 1913

“Fashion Plate No. 561,” circa 1914

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

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…a Thrift Town hat…

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…and I had an outfit!

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1914 Outfit Breakdown:

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

Total: $28.40

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

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If Angelina Jolie was a suffragette

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

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

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Georgian Picnic 2014: Adventures in Cold Weather Regency

Freezes, Failures, and Fun Times!

Once again, November rolled around, bringing with it the panic that I had absolutely nothing to wear to the DFW Costumers Guild’s Georgian picnic! I, like so many, fall into the “new event, new dress!” frenzy. This is frequently– nay, inescapably–accompanied by extreme procrastination. Sure, you know about the event months in advance, but sewing for it? Pffft! If your dress isn’t still in pieces at 2 am the night before the event, you are a better person than I!
As an added bonus, this year’s weather decided that it had been too generous last year (temperatures had hovered in the upper 70s) and we deserved to be punished for our indulgences. The forecast called for wind, rain, fog, clouds, and freezing temperatures. Were we deterred? Almost. Did we sway? Heck no! We thrive on challenges!

I decided to give myself even more of a hard time by choosing to make Regency outfits for Chris and I. Neither of us are really built for the era, but I had been meaning to give Simplicity 4055 a try after picking it up during the 99 cent pattern sale. Regency isn’t exactly known for being cold-hardy, either, but I already had the sheet to make the dress, so it was pretty much decided.

My original plan was to make Chris a tailcoat. It’s the signature garment for Regency men, and is high-cut in front with long, swooping tails that reach the knees in the back. He’d worn breeches without complaint last year, so I felt that he shouldn’t have to wear them again this year, especially in light of the poor forecast. I decided to attempt recreating this fashion plate for him:

Classic regency, but with loose trousers. Lots of Regency trousers tend to look like 1980s leather leggings that would make even David Bowie a tad self conscious.

Jenni of Historically Dressed was similarly inspired by this handsome design. The classic blue tailcoat was just what Chris needed to look the part of a Regency picnicker. I thought I could easily make the perfect tailcoat out of McCalls 7003:

An easy job, right? Just cut away the front panel and leave off the pockets.
Nope, nope. and nope. The instructions are easy to follow, but it’s made of way more pieces than it needs thanks to the waist-seam design. I thought the waist seam would come in handy when determining where to cut the coat front, but it turns out that it was way too high on Chris. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to bother him with pin-filled hours of fitting time, so I wung it. As always, bad plan. I made an XXL because Chris is a size 52 and all of his coats are too short in the sleeves and bind across his thick, wide shoulders. The “finished” coat was, shockingly, too large in the shoulders and too long in the sleeves:

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Taken Friday night after I finished the waistcoat. I was hoping I could pin the coat into submission, but there was no saving it. *sigh* Such a waste…

While it did look very close to the inspiration drawing–including the too-long sleeves and puff shoulders– it just didn’t flatter him at all! In addition, my cotton duck didn’t want to play nice with the lining and I accidentally ironed one corner of the velvet. So, basically, the coat was a fail. I’d wasted four days on it, so I was deep into Wednesday with absolutely nothing to show for it! Humph!

I toyed with the idea of using this tutorial to fudge a tailcoat out of a suit coat and even bought a jacket to try it out on, but never got around to it (I plan to try it out later). Instead, Chris and I shifted gears. He was never crazy about the tailcoat idea anyhow and he was going to need his heavy wool coat. It just so happened that right next to the blue tailcoat fashion plate on Historically Dressed there is a fashion plate of a jaunty gent wearing a big brown coat, sans tailcoat underneath! Perfect.

Fashion Plate, circa 1813
Bonus points for the waistcoat matching my dress fabric!

I returned to my trusty ol’ Simplicity 4923’s vest pattern and just chopped it off at the waistline marking. I made a size XL/50 (the largest size Simplicity patterns for in men’s), and ended up having to add an extra two inches on each side to fit around his arms. The pattern actually runs a bit small, which is unusual for modern costume patterns from the Big 3. The good news is the waistcoat will pretty much carry through the majority of the 19th century. Men’s clothes became pretty standardized in the 19th century and the coat/waistcoat/trousers combo has remained with us ever since. I love multitasking pieces!
To add a bit of bling, I made him a “watch fob” out of some charms I got at the Lobby of Hobbies for half price. He doesn’t actually have a watch to attach it to, but the trousers we found at the thrift shop had a fob pocket, so I couldn’t resist. It was fashionable to have fob charms in the Regency era and poorer folks wishing to imitate richer folks would sometimes wear watch fobs without a watch attached to them. Historical posers? I am all about historical posing! Especially when the result looks so darn fancy:

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Dapper photo courtesy of Jen from Festive Attyre.

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Christopher’s Regency Outfit Breakdown

2 yards striped cotton fabric – $4, Walmart
2 yards cotton muslin for lining – $??, remnant of mysterious origins
2 covered button kits – $4.98, Hobby Lobby
Creamy cotton dress shirt – $3.99, Thrift Town
Light khaki trousers – $3.99, Thrift Town
Suspenders – $1.99, Thrift Town
Gauze scarf for cravat – $5, Walmart
Fob charms – $5.76, Hobby Lobby
Felt top hat – $22.39, eBay

Total: $52.10

 Friday night is a blur, but I did get my dress done in time! I used Simplicity 4055, which is a commercialized version of a Sense and Sensibility pattern. Remember when I said Regency isn’t the best suited for my body? Most of that stems from the fact that I have a very low set bust and the ideal Regency bustline was almost at shoulder level!

Fashion Plate, circa 1813

Even stays only bring me up to the height which most women achieve with just a regular bra. You can modify the dress pattern to fit a modern bustline, but as low as my bustline is, the dress looked much more Edwardian than Regency and would require way too many pattern tweaks to fit right. So, to get the girls up to an acceptably shelf-like position, I sliced and diced a modern balconette bra and used my underbust corset to push everything up.

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I felt like this lady:

Fashion Plate, circa 1802

 The sensation of presenting two grapefruits on a platter means you’re doing it right, and once I hoisted everything up as high as it could physically go, I only needed to add two inches to the bottom of the bodice front to get it to fit.
Now, I’ve heard Simplicity 4055 View B described as a “Regency turtleneck.” That’s an uncannily apt description. Even after shaving an inch off the neckline, when I pull the drawstring up to gather the bodice, the neckline rises to my collarbone. I opted to forgo the waistline drawstring in favor of gathering, which gave me a little more control over how the fabric lay over the bust.

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

I used a very worn second-hand sheet for the fashion fabric. The lining fabric is actually nicer than the fashion fabric, yet I loved the stripe and drape of the ratty old sheet. It was labelled as a full size sheet by the thrift shop, but it turns out it was only a twin! Despite the shortage of fabric and one-way design, I was able to squeeze the pattern into it. I ended up having to sew a seam in the center front since I couldn’t cut the bodice on the fold. Thankfully, the gathers hide it. I also set the sleeves in “backwards.” When I sewed them together, they ended up (whether by design or my poor sewing) with a slight curve down the seamed side. If I put them on the way I was supposed to, the sleeves curved backward! So, I just flipped them, and it seems to be working just fine. Otherwise, the pattern was very straight forward. It goes together quickly. I got mine done in about five hours after I put my mind to it.
I accessorized with a string of coral beads, a vintage velvet beret, a shawl made from two Walmart scarves sewn together (inspired by Jen’s Regency Shawl Hack), vintage gloves, and leather kitten heels I found at Goodwill.

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I also pinned the portrait miniature I painted of Christopher in his 1730s outfit from last year’s picnic to my dress using a straight pin (and didn’t get poked once!):

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

To keep out the chill, I borrowed Jay’s idea for making cloaks out of polar fleece and made myself and Becky slapdash capelets. Not the most attractive of garments, but they definitely did their job!

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While it didn’t rain on our picnic, it was overcast and windy and everyone was huddled up in coats, shawls, cloaks, and spencers.

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

Still, we had a good time and when we finally grew tired of the chill, we trooped over to La Madeline for coffee, quiches, and warmth!
I decided to get a few more pictures of my outfit later in less-chill surroundings a home with tamer hair and a bit of makeup:

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Lizzie’s Regency Outfit Breakdown

Worn out full/twin size striped poly/cotton sheet – $1.99, Thrift Town
White cotton sheet for lining – $1.99, Thrift Town
Linen tape for drawstring – $1.99, Hobby Lobby
1 yard polar fleece – $2.97, Walmart
2 scarves for shawl – $10, Walmart
Coral necklace – $6.50, eBay
Vintage velvet beret – $4.99, Thrift Town
Vintage embroidered gloves – $3, Veteran’s Thrift Store
Leather kitten heels – $7.99, Goodwill

Total: $39.43

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On an entirely different note, I got a job! Huzzah!
I am going to be working at the city library part-time as an aid. I start training today, and I’m so nervous I can barely type! My father jokingly called it my “Hobby Lobby fund.” I don’t know my schedule yet, so I don’t know how much it will cut into my blogging time. If things get sparse around here, just know that I am busy encouraging literacy elsewhere!

Dying Dyes: What You See Isn’t Always What Was

Fugitive Dyes

Here’s the word of the day: Fugitive. No, not a criminal on the run, but fugitive dyes. They’re shifty like crooks, escape their bounds, bleed, run, and time can rob them of their colors. They can be hiding anywhere: in your closets or the collections of even the most secure museums.

Fugitive dyes are unstable. Made from pigments that are not light or color fast, they can fade even if they are well taken care of. One of the most famous examples is this black mourning dress worn by Queen Victoria on the day of her accession to the throne:

Queen Victoria’s Privy Council Dress, circa 1837

That’s a black dress?!
Well, not anymore, but it was.

Originally, this dress was a deep, shimmering black, but the fugitive dye has aged poorly. Black dyes have been historically notorious for fading, usually to this rusty brown. Some black dyes also fade to blue or even purple, depending on the dye used. These changes can be tracked using chromatography, the science of pigments and coloration. You can actually watch the changes at home if you cut a strip of coffee filter paper and make a fat dot at the bottom of the strip with a washable black marker. Put about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of a glass and dip the end of the coffee filter with the dot into the water. As the paper soaks up the water, it will travel up the fibers through the marker spot, carrying pigment particles with it. Depending on the marker, the hazy streak that forms above the dot will be orange, blue, or purple.

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Click here to check out more detail instructions on how to do your own chromatography experiment at home (the kids love to make butterflies with it).

Black isn’t the only fugitive dye. Many natural or early chemical dyes are prone to color changes and fading. Another excellent example of a non-black fugitive dye is in this beautiful 1860s silk gown (which recently sold on eBay):

Silk Dress, circa 1860-70

Buttonhole Detail on 1860s Silk Dress

The bright violet buttonholes look out of place on this sienna-brown dress, but they give a big clue to the original color: a gorgeous, soft lavender. Indeed, this rustic gown was once a flashy purple. There are a few spots of original color visible in the folds of the skirt, as well as vestiges of it along the hem. The most startling remains of the color can be found in the armpits, which, I will admit, upon first viewing appeared to be bleached. But as the seller pointed out and examination of the photos confirmed, the light purple “stains” are actually well-preserved patches of the otherwise degraded dye!

Area of Preserved Fugitive Dye on 1860s Silk Dress

Lavender, like black, is a color known to be especially prone to discoloration, though almost any color can be achieved with fugitive dyes. Most fugitive fabric dyes fade to differing shades of tan, especially natural dyes, but fugitive dyes are not limited to very old garments. Many modern handmade rugs and vintage garments (like this 1940s cotton tablecloth) are affected. The effects of fugitive color are not limited to dyes and fabrics, but are exceptionally common in paintings. Artists love to experiment with pigments and even common colors, such as indigo and red lake are prone to fading. One of the best examples is this painting by Robert Campin:

“Virgin and Child before a Firescreen” by Robert Campin, circa 1425-30

 Though her flowing robe appears to be a light blue-tinted white, the fabric was originally intended to be a rich purple. It is common practice for painters to layer washes of pigment to build deep, dimensional colors. In this painting, the underlying wash of red lake has faded, leaving behind only the consecutive layers used for shadowing. The other red pigments in the painting are made of different (considered then to be lower-quality) pigments that have, ironically, remained colorfast through the centuries.

Modern artists may opt to use fugitive colors’ transitory properties to their advantage, creating works of art that are meant to fade and change. However, if the piece was meant to last, fugitive dyes are a major challenge. There are many factors (chemical reactions, water, etc.) that can cause dyes to change color, but light is the most common. UV radiation is especially harmful, but even incandescent and florescent lighting can wreck havoc on unstable colors. Humidity-controlled darkness is the safest place to store most pieces.

For more information about and examples of fugitive dyes, check out these articles:

“The Fugitive Color” on Artist Daily

“The Fast and the Fugitive” on Grackle & Son

“A Safflower Frock Coat” on Reconstructing History

“Collecting Historical Tablecloths” on The Vintage Table

“c. 1910 Silk Dress” on Adventures of a Costumer

“The Weeping Dress” by Martha L. McDonald