Friday, September 14, 2018

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The State of the Book (2) Address

Abby works on Cynthia's (Redthreaded) hair while I photographs each step for "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty," coming July 2019.
Hi! I've been a pretty terrible blogger again this year, but I have a good excuse this time. We've been working on our second book, "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty," for the entire year thus far.

Behind the scenes with Nicole (Diary of a Mantua Maker) for the 1781-83 hairstyle and accessories photos.
While we've been sharing parts of our journey on Instagram stories, I realize we haven't really shared much about our explorations and projects on our regular IG and FB feeds or here on the blog. So...without further ado...

A quick description of what you can expect in the new book...

We're including original 18th century recipes and how-to's in the book, so you can make your own natural beauty products.
...original recipes for pomatum, powder, rouge, and lip salve, and the tools of your toilette...

...various methods of curling and for various types of hair, including Asian and African hair...

We've worked with as many hair types as possible in the book - here Jasmine is being coiffed a la 1780.
...full how-to's of hair styles from the 1750s to the 1790s and all the cushions and stuff you need to create them...

We're including patterns and tutorials for making the necessary hair cushions to get those great heights in the 1770s - here Laurie Tavan reveals the secret, a giant "donut" hair cushion.
...patterns and tutorials for accessories for every hairstyle, including caps, hats, a calash bonnet, lappets, and a pouf... lots of meaty essays about hygiene, styling, trends, and myths. Woo!

The infamous calash bonnet in progress - we give the pattern and a step-by-step guide for this tricky yet epic piece of head gear.
We're finishing up the manuscript now to meet our September 30th deadline, followed by all the photography, illustrations, and patterning a couple weeks later. Then the book will go into editing and layout, ready for release in July 2019. That seems like a long time from now but a lot of work goes in even after the manuscript is written. There will be a pre-order opening sometime in the next 6 months, darlings - we'll let you know!

We're very very excited for the second book. It's meant as a companion to our first book, "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking," and we hope you find it useful and fun. <3

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Monday, September 3, 2018

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A Little History of "Vienna" Victorian Congress Boots

With the release of our shiny new "Vienna" Congress Boots this season, we thought we'd give a little history of this interesting, rather special kind of footwear.

In the US the elastic-sided boot was known as the "Congress Boot" or "Congress Gaiter." Elastic-sided boots were patented in England in 1837 by J. Sparkes Hall but the elastic wasn't particularly good. Vulcanization was developed in 1839 by Goodyear but the resulting improved elastic does not appear to have been used in ladies' boots until the late 1840s.

The Met, early 19th century elastic-sided shoes. 13.49.37a,b
Shoe Icons - high cotton shoes with elastic at the sides. This is likely an example of "shirred goods." 1840s
There were two types of elasticized fabric used in congress boots - one was the true elastic web made from vulcanized India rubber thread, which is most like what we have today. Boots with the elastic webbing date from the 1850s (England) and the 1860s (US). The other type was known as "shirred goods" and was made of stretched rubber threads, running horizontally, that when "released" drew up the fabric they were sewn into for a shirred or puckered look. Boots with shirred goods are contemporary with the elastic web boots, with the web being the preferred method presumably due to stretch, recovery, and longevity.

Shoe Icons - 1860s-1870s elastic-sided boots in brown glace leather, AKA "bronzed kid." This was a *very* popular leather for women's shoes and boots and unfortunately isn't made today, but we got as close as we could with our patina brown colorway.
Nancy Rexford notes that the congress boots (with inferior and then better elastics) were worn in England for 10 years before they made their way to the US around 1847. (Women's Shoes in America, 1795-1930, pg. 206).

This coincides roughly with Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838. J Sparkes Hall was a bootmaker to Queen Victoria and claimed the Queen "walks in them daily and thus gives the strongest proof of the value she attached to the invention."

An interesting page from "Der Bazar: Illustrirte Damen-Zeitung, Volume 7," 1861, showing a variety of congress gaiters with bows and other decoration.
After 1847 congress gaiters were very popular for ladies - with restrictive clothing, people needed to put on their shoes and not worry about laces coming untied. Bending down in corsets or tight clothing isn't comfortable, polite, and sometimes not even possible, so the 18th and 19th centuries saw several alternative fastening methods for shoes - buttons, buckles, elastic - contemporary with shoe strings (laces).

The popularity of congress boots continues through the 1870s but the function of the boots begins to shift from being a fashionable style to being more for outdoor or practical use only. By the late 1880s congress boots for ladies are not considered the height of fashion but they were still being made.

Here is a page from the 1886 catalog "Grand Magasin du Samaritain" showing two congress boots with the more fashionable side-buttoning boots. They were still hangin' in there in the mid-1880s in Paris, which is known to be a fairly fashionable place. ;-)
There was a bit of a revival in the 1890s and turn of the 20th century for the "Ladies' Up to Date Congress Shoe," but it faded out fairly quickly. Elastic-sided boots continued to be made in the early 20th century but were relegated to "comfort shoes" and were not at all seen as fashionable for women. A quick bimble through Zappos today, however, will turn up a variety of congress gaiters, now commonly called Chelsea Boots, some very fashionable. Now that's a footwear style with staying power, 170 years old!

American Duchess "Vienna" Congress Gaiters in black or patina brown - true, glorious reproductions perfect for the 1850s, Civil War, and bustle periods.
Our new
"Vienna" Congress Boots
are available in
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

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Fall Pre-Order is OPEN!

American Duchess F/W2018 Pre-Order is open Aug 30 - Sept 20 at
Ladies! It's time for NEW historic shoes and boots! It's "go big or go home" this Fall and we've poured our hearts and soles into creating many gorgeous new designs for you, plus restocking some old favorites with a few improvements to make them even better. Here's what we've got for you this Fall...


Camille Edwardian Boots in burgundy/black and black/black. Velveteen and Leather - real lace up closure (no zips!), and the sexiest 2 inch French heel. Oo la la!
We call these stunners "Smexy Boots" in the Batcave, truly gorgeous reproduction late Victorian / Edwardian boots in velveteen and leather. The Camilles, named after Camille Clifford, have a 3 inch heel for you historical-height-lovers, a lace-up closure over a 3.5 - 4 inch tongue for plenty of adjustability, and greatly improved ankle and calf silhouette for a good, curvaceous fit.

(1890 - 1925)

$179 ($199)


Mae Edwardian shoes in black suede paired with smooth black leather. Real button closure and gorgeous 2.25 inch French heel. YUM.
In our range of Edwardian stunners this season we have "Mae," the prettiest Mary Janes with a twist. Mae is done in suede and smooth leather with a diagonal split strap with button closure. We've used our new 2.25 inch French heel - oh so elegant - and pointed-toe last. Wear these with absolutely everything from 1900 - 1925, Lolita, Goth, or modern apparel.

(1900 - 1925)

$140 ($160)

Theda "Skeletor" Oxfords in black and ivory - gotta love that ribcage vamp paired with 2.25 inch French heels and pointed toes.
Also coming along in the Edwardian category is Theda, our faithful reproduction of a Pierre Yantorny design from the early 1920s. We lovingly call these shoes "Skeletor," as they have a distinctly spooky "ribcage" design on the vamp, paired with our 2.25 inch French heel and an adjustable lace-up closure. Wear Theda for anything 1900 - 1925, Lolita, Goth, Steampunk, or just because they're so ridiculously cool.

(1900 - 1925)

$145 ($165)

Vienna Congress Boots in patina brown. These are amazing Civil War era boots with 1.5 inch heels, elastic gussets, and delightful satin bows.
We're proud to introduce our latest mid-Victorian style, the "Vienna" Congress Boots. Popular from the 1850s all the way through the 1880s, these elastic-sided boots are easy to pull on, perch on our 1.5 inch Victorian heel, and even feature a sweet little satin bow, a trendy Victorian touch. Wear the Viennas with any Victorian day wear, particularly Civil War ensembles.

(1850 - 1880s)
$160 ($180)

The all-new Tavistock - revised with easier closure, leather soles, and improved fit.

Our most popular and original Victorian Button Boot, Tavistock, is back for round two, sporting some tweaks and improvements to the design. Now with easier-to-use button closure and real leather soles, you'll enjoy improved fitment through the ankle and tops as well. Don't forget your button hook!

(1890 - 1925)
$179 ($199)

Restock! Fraser (Black), Pompadour (White), and Renoir (Black) are coming back into stock and are available to reserve now.
Restock Alert!
Let's celebrate the return of some of our most popular designs! Pompadour (White), Fraser (Black), and Renoir (Black) are all available to order again. Fraser has been improved with a new leather lining, and Renoir's button closure is easier to use and the fit of the ankle has been improved. Don't miss your chance at three of our most desirable styles!


Pre-Order For ALL of these is open
August 30 - September 20 at
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Thursday, August 23, 2018

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The Eternal Sunshine of the 18th Century Gown

This year at Costume College it really was all very, very yellow
This year I kindof copped out at the Costume College Gala...but in a very Georgian way. I can't really say that I wore the same dress as I have done for two years previously - rather I wore the same yellow silk taffeta now in its fifth 18th century incarnation.

2016 - The yellow silk gown as 1740s daywear - this is unfortunately the best and only picture I got of this incarnation!
This silk started out as a 1740s English gown with robings and winged cuffs. I wore it with all the 1740s fluff - kerchief, apron, cap, and wide-brimmed pink bergere - for daywear at Costume College in 2016. For the Gala of the same year I wore exactly the same gown but with a trimmed petticoat and different stomacher, inching it forward into the 1750s.

2016 - The yellow silk worn as a 1750s English gown with trimmed petticoat and stomacher and 1750s-appropriate hair style and shoes.
The gown never quite fit me how I liked, so in 2017 I picked it apart and remade it as an Italian gown from 1785-1790. I was going for a specific garment for my rendition of the 1790 portrait of Mademoiselle Guimard by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, so my bodice was a little funky, with a surplice design with trimmed lapels, closed over an ivory underbodice. My intention with this version of the gown was to be able to wear it lapels-open or lapels-closed, but the lapels didn't quite line up with the neckline how I intended so I knew at some point in the future they would have to be removed.

2017 - Spot the Italian gown. Most of it was hidden under the blue kurdi robe.
I wore the Turkish ensemble with the Italian gown almost completely obscured for the Costume College Gala in 2017, then later wore gown again for our filming with Racked at Van Cortlandt House in New York, changing the look of the ensemble with the skirts pulled up, and frothy apron, kerchief, cap, and brain hat.

2017 - Same gown, very different look, though I kept the lapels open, a little nod to the playfulness of the 1780s. Photo by Meredith Barnes at Van Cortlandt House.
Costume College 2018 rolled around this past July and I once again turned to the yellow silk, finally removing the lapels and changing the bodice to a center front closure over the laced underbodice, similar to this gown in The Met. I kept the flippy-flappy bodice and added new trims in the spirit of the 1780s - fluffy white sleeve puffs, neckline ruffle, and a deep hem guard all made in a silk-cotton with a woven-in spot and trimmed in narrow French blue ribbon. I also stitched 5-loop bows to the side back points at the waist where the skirt pulled up, matching a blue breast bow in front.

2018 - The yellow silk lives on! Now with new trimmings and styled with white and blue

Plus here's a little sneak peak of one of the new caps in our upcoming second book, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty
Even though I didn't have an impressive new dress for the 2018 Costume College gala, I enjoyed the little chuckle of remaking and retrimming a favorite 18th century garment for three years running. Refashioning old textiles and gowns was such a common and accepted part of 18th century dress and it's been rather fun to explore all the different ways this gown can continue to live on regardless of size, weight, and taste changes. If you'd like to learn more about just how common remaking, altering, and retrimming was in the 18th century, have a listen to our recent podcast with Dr. Carolyn Dowdall:

Now comes the question...what shall be the next version?
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Friday, August 17, 2018

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Where to Find Great War Era Sweaters

Original advertisement for 1919 sweaters - image from Wearing History (click through to visit her blog post on these sweaters)
I don't know about you, but when I see September on the horizon, no matter how hot it is outside, I start thinking of Fall wardrobe. Autumn colors and cozy fabrics flood my imagination and I take to the internet seeking the ever elusive vintage-style knitwear.

This year I'm obsessed with Edwardian and Great War era sweaters. The knits of the World War I era were surprisingly modern - think hip-length cardigans with shawl collars and belted waists. This sounds like something you can surely buy today, but as with so many modern items there always seems to be something off about a design. Still, we are undeterred, so here are my tips and ideas for where to source your own WWI style sweater or cardigan this season.

1. The Thrift Store

"I wear my grandma's clothes; I look incredible." Don't I wish! The chances of finding an extant Great War era sweater...and then also wearing it...are slim to none. BUT! You might get lucky and find an early 2000s shawl-collar cardigan that either fits the bill or can be altered to the right look. Don't be afraid to look in the men's section as well. Double-breasted, shawl collar sweaters seem to have been relegated to menswear in recent decades.

An example of a thrift store found sweater. The collar never sat quite right on this garment, but it all had the right look when put together.
2. Amazon

It sounds crazy, but if you're good at keyword searching you might be able to suss out some good sweater juju on Amazon. Searching for things like "shawl collar sweater," "shawl collar sweater coat," "hip length cardigan," and so on. Again, don't be afraid of dipping into the gentleman's realm, but do double check the measurements, especially shoulder width. Prices and quality vary wildly on Amazon, so you may just want to nip to the other options below...

This men's sweater has some of the elements we're looking for - shawl collar, double-breasted front, although it has zip pockets and may be a tad short on the high hip.
3. Etsy

You have several options on the ever-popular vintage-and-handmade platform. For clarity's sake I'll list them individually...

A. Have something knitted for you. I found a few vendors on Etsy who will knit on demand for you, either by hand or machine. Some will knit from original vintage patterns (hallelujah because there are lots of those available!) while others offer pre-made designs that are pretty close. It may be possible to request alterations or customizations. Just contact the vendors you like to ask about custom designs. Prices on custom-knit garments vary, but be prepared to shell out a respectable amount for someone's literal handiwork.

This style from Woolen Fashion Shop is made-to-order for you in Latvia. They offer a variety of color choices and make to your measurements, if you don't mind the wait. This sweater is available in 100% lambswool but in speaking with the shop owner, she has said that is can also be made in merino wool.
Woolen Fashion Shop in Latvia machine knits what appear to be *gorgeous* sweaters (among other things) according to your measurements and in a wide variety of colors. This looks like a stunning deal at $95.00. Just be prepared to wait for any custom-made garment.

Kath's Knitwear currently shows sweaters made from later vintage patterns, but it appears that she is open to custom projects too. It is worth it to contact her to see about doing your own design from a photo or original pattern.

B. Seek a vintage/repro/thrift sweater in the right style, regardless of the age. This could mean something from last week, the 1980s, or the 1920s, etc. You're looking for the design elements - hip-length, shawl collar, belted waist. Be prepared to spend a long time searching, though, which can be an enjoyable Saturday afternoon or untold hours in an internet shopping vortex, depending on how you feel about buying clothes online.

This vintage sweater from Desert Moss on Etsy has the right details and is reasonably priced.
One thing to pay particular attention to is the fiber content. We love the 1970s and 80s for the Edwardian revival pieces, but we don't love the sticky acrylic and polyester that garments from these periods can be made in. Try for full or at least partial natural materials.

C. Find ye olde vintage knitting pattern. There are lots and lots of these on Etsy (and elsewhere on the internet). Download or purchase the pattern and fire it off to the custom knitting maven you found from method A or...

Try an original knitting pattern from Wearing History

3. Knit That Thing Yourself

I personally do not have the prowess to knit anything, let alone a fully-formed sweater with a collar and sleeves and pockets and stuff. BUT! If you are a savvy knitter, bust out your needles and go for it. The next best thing to an authentic original is a newly made, one-of-a-kind sweater made from an authentic original pattern.

UPDATE - Several lovely followers (and Abby) have found other sources for sweaters, either ready-made or patterns. I will list these below:

Vermont Country Store - several options for long, shawl-collar sweaters. I'm getting this one and while it doesn't have a belt, I feel confident that I can find a matching-ish wool yarn and knit one, even with my feeble knitting skills.

Vermont Country Store - I'm getting this one!


Those are the ideas I've come up with for sourcing your own WWI-era sweater, but if you've got any other secret sauce to spread atop this post, please let me know in the comments section!

p.s. This post is crammed full of affiliate links so I can afford my Starbucks addiction once in awhile Help a chai sister out. <3
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

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The Green Goblin - 1790s Dress - For Real This Time

Nicole, me, and Samantha in our Regency gowns at Costume College 2018
I promised finished-dress-worn photos of this little devil of a 1790s project, so here goes...

I was quite pleased and surprised that this gown held together long enough to be worn at Costume College. I rinsed it out in the sink after JA Fest and the water turned green - always a bit terrifying - but the muddy hem washed out decently well and those shamelessly serged seam allowances kept the dress together through rinsing, mangling, drying, and ironing.

I don't hate it! I wore the dress with a ruffled shirt chemisette, little bow, a sash, and Lydia Fast bonnet - oh, please don't mind that long ribbon name tag badge thing. It's a Costume College thang.

Even though I had to cut the train off this gown, it drags just enough to be fun. I really like how the voile drapes, too, in those tiny tiny whipped gathers.
Friday at CoCo, during the day, seemed to be the unofficial Jane Austen Festival Survivor's day. A lot of beautiful 1790s and Regency gowns were walking around. I like to think of this period as "comfy historical."

Our Lydia Fast bonnet is a work of art. I don't think I will ever try to make a hat again, tbh - Lydia's work is just peak.
I wore the Lydia Fast 1790s bonnet made in emerald green silk and trimmed in pink, along with an emerald green sash Abby lent me. I liked the green-on-green tonal thing and wished I'd had more dark green accessories to play it up a bit more.

Abby ties good bows. We weren't sure this green would work with the light sage green dress but I really liked the multi-green tonal thing.
In the end, I quite like this gown. It's a good standby, very lightweight and easy to wear. I love the adjustability and options for changing up the look with accessories. I hope to wear it again soon!

Heeeeere's Abby!
I have *lots* more Costume College photos to share soon - stay tuned!
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