Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Guts - Inspecting the Insides of 18th Century Garments

Vintage Textile, c. 1780s (click through for more). This is the waist edge at the center back of the bodice.

Lauren here >

Historical costuming is a journey. It starts with an interest, grows into experimentation, and somewhere along the way it might turn in to ... well ... obsession. ;-)

For me, over the years I've become more and more interested in the original construction techniques of various garments. I know how things are put together today but how did mantua-makers in the past approach garment-making? We face the same challenges across the centuries - draping, fitting, setting sleeves (ugh!) - but we come at them from different perspectives and experiences.

The back of the bodice, interior - what do you see? There are boning channels at the center back. The armscyes are left raw; there's some top stitching and facing around the neckline; I see two whipped seams either side of the CB; the side back seam was finished in the lining then the outer fabric applied and top stitched. The more we look, the more clues are revealed. Vintage Textile - click through for more.

With 18th century dress I'm fascinated by the "order of operations." The Georgian mantua-maker seemed to do everything in reverse, fitting the lining of the gown first, then building the glorious outer garment atop, making heavy use of top/visible stitching and working from the outside of the garment.

They appeared to give few hoots about interior finishing. The interiors of surviving 18th century gowns are often a hot mess. Many a gown shows raw edges at the waist seam and armscyes. At the same time, some archaic stitch techniques were used to produce clean and efficient seams.

Vintage Textile - gown - 1770s-80s. This is the center back where the skirt is stitched to the bodice. Feel better now?
This idea of efficiency seemed to override everything else - how quickly can the garment be put together, and how quickly can it be disassembled and re-made? How easily can your milliner get that old trim off and get the new, fashionable trims on? 18th century people were an impatient lot - they expected their gowns fast and the milliners and mantua-makers obliged. Fabulous on the outside, janky on the inside.

The interior of a sacque gown, showing the back. eBay listing (click through for more)
So next time you're beating yourself up over the wack interior of your Georgian dress, cut yourself some slack. <3

For *lots* more Georgian gown interiors, check out our Pinterest board.
To learn how to construct these gowns by hand with the original methods, pre-order The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.
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Friday, April 14, 2017

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1820s Green Dress Construction Details - Bodice

Happy Friday!

Abby here again for more yummy 1820s Green Dress construction info & detail shots! If you missed previous posts you can check out the general observation & sleeve details, dating, and the story behind the dress if you just follow the links.

Today, I want to go through the bodice of the 1820s dress....

This is a shot of the interior of the neck. The small stitching at the edge is to hold the piping in place and you can see that the piping seems to have been folded over and whipped down to finish the raw edge. It's all sewn at about 10 stitches per inch.

Moving down from the neckline this is a dart that was taken at the CF in what appears to be the lining only, and carefully stitched down with either running stitches or top stitches at 18-20 spi. This would be done to help shape the fabric around the bust and neck, as it puts the upper part of the bodice on the bias to accommodate curve.

Further down you see a few tacking stitches that seem to connect the lining to the fashion fabric where the piping is. You don't see this stitch on the outside of the gown. 

At the CF of the gown the skirt has been whipped to the bodice waistband lining. There are only a couple of these stitches still in place. I'm also questioning how old the stitches are with black thread, and if they're a later alteration (that I'm grateful for because this meant that the pieces never got separated.) 

The dress was fastened with hooks and eyes in the back that are now gone, but their evidence still remains. There were 11 hooks and eyes used in total. 8 were on the bodice of the gown and 3 were on the waistband, which you can see the evidence in the picture above. The hooks and eyes on the bodice were about 1.5" apart.
My thumb is at the shadow of where the old hooks were on the bodice. You can see that they were inset by about 3/4" which allowed for an overlap placket. 

Some fun piecing on the waistband of the bodice
The bodice waistband is a separate piece that was cut on the straight of grain (1.5" wide w/ 1/4" seam allowance on both sides). It was folded and pressed at the bottom, but as you can see it wasn't hemmed. This is between the waistband showing the amount of fabric that was taken up in the bust dart. The seam allowance on how the bodice is attached to the waist band changes. The CF bodice and waistband have a 1" seam allowance while the CB drops down to only 1/4".
Here's the center front of the bodice, you can see the large bust darts that go out of the shot and the piping that is at the center front. Even though the dart in the lining helps curve the lining over the bust, and it seems obvious that the silk would do the same, I actually had a hard time following the grain line to confirm that. 

Here's a detail shot of the bust dart, you can see that it is VERY long, and is top stitched/prick stitched from the outside. The stitches are about 18-20 stitches per inch!

And finally, we have the back. The curved "seam" is actually just decoration, and is created with folded silk and piping to give it it's structure. 

Here's a better detail shot where you can see a bit of yarn popping out and where the trim is attached to the bodice, between the piping and the folded parts. You can also see how the placket lays in the back too, and how those stitches are visible. 
Ok! That's it for now with the gown (sorry it took so long to post! eek!) Next post will be about the skirt construction!

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

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How to Research Like a Boss: Part 6

How to be a Boss at Research Part 6: I’ve done all this research & I want to share it with the world - Rules of Engagement

Ok, So here we are. You’ve gone down a rabbit hole of research filled with primary sources and some good secondary sources, and you are excited because you really feel like you have something to share with the community. Oh My Lordy – that is awesome! Now it’s just important to keep a few things in mind when you share this information.

1. Absolutes are dangerous. Some things can be absolutes: People need to be able to breathe to survive. People wore clothes in the 18th century. Etc etc, but to try and say “In the 18th century women only ever wore/did/saw/said/tied/etc this one way.” Or “XYZ NEVER happened/existed/etc” is dangerous. When I attend academic conferences you rarely hear these types of statements, and when you do hear them usually the person gets heavily questioned in the Q&A by their peers, and almost always there’s a peer there that has primary source documentation that proves the speakers absolutist statement dead wrong. You know what happens then? The speaker looses their footing, and you as an active listener and participant in this field of study begin to question everything they said. Credibility is lost. So even though that person might have had valid and interesting information, you’re going to disregard it because of their absolutist statements that were quickly discredited.

Here are better ways to express your findings:
“My research shows that xyz seems to be the norm within abc…”
“As of right now, it is my belief that xyz happened…”
“It seems plausible that this could have been a standard seen…”

You get the idea right? You can make a statement about your research in a way that leaves the door open for changes in the future, whether by you or someone else. This is the norm that I have seen in academic papers presented at conferences. Like I said in a previous post, what we know about dress history is changing everyday. To pigeonhole yourself in an absolutism is a disservice to you and to the field of study.

2. Release yourself from the need to make a “name” for yourself. Usually the desire for this results in the pressure to make “absolutist” statements. I get it. I really do, you want to make this your career, or you want to be the “best” in the hobby, and you think by finding an empty tree stump to plant your historic costume flag into is going to get you the notoriety and respect you need to feel validated. I have to be honest, as someone who felt this pressure when I was in school, and had this desperate need to really yell out and stake my claim in this field…it’s just not the best way. Because when you do this, you open yourself up for harsh critique. Then you find yourself alone on your tree stump with a bunch of other people questioning you, and your fight or flight tendency kicks in. If you’re a fighter – then you’re going to alienate people and eventually lose respect because people will see you as someone who is mean and argumentative. (Remember, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.) If you go into flight mode – then you’re feeling attacked, hurt, and despondent…and you might want to throw in the towel and not do any more research again because of how mean people can be. You might be an amazing researcher though and you have lots to contribute to the field! Let’s be honest, both avenues suck. You will make a better name for yourself by being kind, keeping an open mind, and sharing your well sourced and documented information, without the expectation of notoriety.

3. Honesty always commands respect, even if it means acknowledging you don’t know everything or even an answer to a simple question. I’m going to use myself as an example here: I know a lot (not everything – no one knows everything) about 18th century women’s fashion. I know a lot about hair products, hair hygiene, and hairdressing. I know diddly-squat about Edwardian fashion, and I know even less about the Viking Era. Don’t ask me about Rev-War uniforms, cause I don’t have a damn clue…and you know what? I’m perfectly ok with this. It’s not my area of expertise and it’s not my area of study. I know plenty of people out there who can answer questions related to these subject matters, and it' not me. So I go to them or refer people to them when I get asked. Lying about my limits of knowledge just makes life harder for everyone involved. It's ok to not know everything. If you knew everything thing there would be nothing fun to discover down the road ya know?

Not from me & not about your clothes. I know nothing Joseph Ducreux. 

4. Submit your abstract to local conferences, historic societies, CSA, etc to help get experience and get your name and information out there. It may seem super intimating (it definitely was/still is for me!) to submit a lecture proposal to a museum, academic society, etc, but in my experience submitting and vetting papers, reasons vary as to why or why not papers are accepted. Some conferences have a lot of paper submissions and have to reject a lot of proposals, and some have few submissions and they'll accept all the submitted abstracts. There were times when I've been on a committee that received a really cool submission, but it was just ever so slightly off from theme of the conference and so we ended up passing it up. Other times, I've been on committees where it's obvious that the submitter did not really put a lot of effort into their proposal and it was reflected in the quality of the submission....and there were other times where we accepted every paper submitted! The best advice I can offer is to reach out, put yourself out there and try. You might get rejected. It's ok! You also might get accepted...and frankly sometimes that's scarier! It's always worth submitting to local/regional conferences like Costume Society of America's Regional conferences because they are really intended for people who want to practice/share new findings/get feedback etc. It's a much more welcoming and safer environment than what you might assume. (I don't know if y'all have picked up on the fact that I used to have terrible anxiety relating to giving papers. Still do...) is really a great way to share your research, meet new people, and make more contacts in the dress history field.

5. Just like giving a lecture: if you make a statement on the Internet (Facebook, forums, blogs, etc) be ready to back it up. I don’t think I need to say much more than that – but just in case. If you’re going to make a statement about something, it’s wise to just share the source where you got in from in that same comment vs. making the statement and skipping away assuming that people are going to take your word for it….because they’re not…and it’ll turn into a Lord of the Flies situation if you’re not ready. (See No. 1 – above and my post on Tertiary resources)  

6. And finally:

And that's a wrap for this 6 part (goodness...) series.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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How to Research like a Boss - Part 5

How to Research like a Boss: Part 5 - Tertiary Sources & the Changing Research World – Rules of Engagement, or, Facebook with Caution. (For Review: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

1. Facebook groups and forums are not valid points of research. Let’s just call that spade a spade. When you post a question on Facebook you’re going to get a sea of responses. Some will be good. Some will be terrible. Unless the person answering your question is backing up their statements with primary and good secondary sources, take what they say with a grain of salt. There are experts on these Facebook groups, but having a discussion or conversation about something is different than using these groups to post academically viable research.

Keep an open mind & be kind. Dress history is huge right now in academia. With this explosion of popularity comes an explosion of new research and discoveries that are changing how we view the past. What we know now is probably going to change in 5 years. While research from 20 years ago was ground breaking at the time, it’s not always valid today. This is ok! This is good! This is progress! We are learning more But how do we deal with these changes as Humans With Egos? It is important to be kind and courteous on the Internet. If you're going to engage in Facebook groups here’s a quick list of how to not be misunderstood:
  • Add a smiley emoji. (really). If your comment is a statement without clarity of mood or tone, it will most likely be taken as snarky or rude, even if you don’t intend for it to be. We’re a delicate species, and emojis are a good way to easily express whether you mean for the statement to be nice... or not. 
  • WHEN YOU WRITE IN ALL CAPS – IT MEANS YOU ARE YELLING AND IT MAKES PEOPLE REALLY, REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE. Please don’t do it. Please. I’m uncomfortable even reading this. 
  • If you critique someone, makes sure it’s constructive. Telling someone they did it wrong, without at least applauding them for trying to even do it right, is just mean. They tried; it’s a step in the right direction. Let’s encourage the forward movement.
  • If someone disagrees with you, don’t get defensive. Ask questions. Honest, thoughtful questions. Your opponent may have spent the past year researching that subject for their masters degree and may have found some new-to-the-field information. Asking questions gets you a lot farther and keeps the lines of communication open.

2. Are you looking for answers or validation? They are not the same thing. One of the reason I am not a fan of Facebook groups is because I see a lot of people looking for validation to do something that they probably shouldn’t be doing. This isn’t research. It’s the search to validate an inaccurate choice. When you post a question like “Are any of these fabrics accurate?” and you get a lot of “No because XYZ” and you find yourself going, “Yeah but…” or “but I don’t want to spend the money” or “I don’t want to order online” or “Isn’t this good enough?” it’s time to acknowledge that you were looking for validation. People’s time has been wasted, including your own. Think about what you’re making and why you are making it. Are you trying to make a 100% historically accurate gown or a costume for a pretty princess tea? Both are OK! Girl – you do you – but don’t pretend to be historically accurate if you’re not. Just be honest with yourself and everyone around you about what your costuming intentions are.

3. The number of years in this field or hobby do not always equal expert. If you ask someone to back up their statements, and all you get is “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, etc,” walk away. Dress history research is changing every day, and we cannot rest on our laurels and past work. While there is a lot of Ego involved in this hobby, the truth should be our cumulative goal. For example: The past 3 years my research focus has been 18th century hair care: pomade, powder, how it was used, actively using it, reading about it, hairdressing manuals, everything. Do I think my research is the "End all Be all" – never to be improved upon? Hell. No. I think what I’ve done is lay the ground work for future scholars to build upon when it comes to a nuanced understanding of hygiene, beauty standards, and practices in the 18th century. I am proud of the work I have done, and I will stand by it. However, if I am still arguing the same point in 25 years when there is new scholarship and research abound, then I’m the crotchety fool who needs to get her knickers untwisted and realize that the new generation has access to information I couldn’t even fathom in 2014.

4. Some blogs are well researched. Some are not. Back in grad school (2009) I started my costuming blog and it has been the biggest blessing in my life. In 2011 I gave a paper about the commercial power and affect on research that the blogging community had (and has continued to have) on the dress history world. Some people loved it...some hated it...but the fact is that this community has changed the world of dress history, ultimately for the better. With all that being said, does this mean that blogs should be your go-to for all your research? No. Simply put, there is good research on blogs and personal websites but there is also total garbage. Blogs are wonderful jumping-off points and can be amazingly supportive and inspirational, but should not be considered academically viable sources. 

5. Explore the Community. If you have the desire to engage in conversation and learn about dress history beyond Facebook and blogs, the go for in-person experiences. Person-to-person is almost always better when it comes to debates and conversations, as the nuances of tone and intent are better understood. Create your own costumer’s guild in your hometown, join a research-focused reenacting unit, or attend conferences and lectures at museums. Join Costume Society of America (or the UK  equivalent). This is how you meet people. I cannot tell you how many brilliant minds are in this field that are not on Facebook groups and forums. Go to events. Meet people. Talk to them. Grow and learn and make new friends! Weee!

Alright...that's wraps up this edition of "How to Research Like a Boss" next week will be our 6th and final installment of this "How to Research Like a Boss" Series!
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Friday, March 31, 2017

Help a Georgian Gal Out - Please Vote for Us!

Dear Ladies and Gents of Centuries Past,

It's the last few days of the Fedex Small Business Grant contest, and we need your help. The finalist are decided upon a popular vote, and we've unfortunately fallen quite behind. The companies ahead of us are truly amazing and we'd like to be counted among them when the vote is up on April 5th!

The Fedex Small Business Grant awards several cash-and-service prizes to help support and grow tiny companies like ours. With the $25,000 prize, we can hire employees, develop new historic shoe styles and accessories, make more patterns and write more books, and explore options for domestic footwear manufacturing. It's a big deal to us!

So please help us make it to the next round. Though we are small and nerdy, we are proud to be part of a wonderful, mighty community of historical costumers, and we thank you for your support. Voting is open until April 5th, and you can vote once every 24 hours.

With Much Love,

Lauren, Abby, Chris, and Jenny.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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How to be a Boss at Research - Part 4

How to be a Boss at Research Part 4: Secondary Sources - Rules of Engagement.

Hey Y'all! Here we are at Part 4 of this series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) on how to be a Boss at Research. We've finished up with going over primary sources and now we are ready to move on to the most common type of source for the average individual - secondary sources...mostly this is going to consist of books, academic journal articles, well research newspaper articles (<--- this is tricky because of the internet today, and how much "click bait" there is - think New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian etc. Not US Weekly or Daily Mail. K?), and academic websites (.edu are more credible than .com).

1.      The Issue with Older Publications. History books from earlier in the 20th century are problematic. Today we utilize books that were first published in the 1960s or even earlier, and they’re considered indispensable tomes of dress history knowledge. The problem is, is that for every well-done book there is at least one or two that are rubbish (this goes for new publications too, sadly.) Look at the writing style as well…sometimes you can tell when they’re just totally full of it. For example, I have a couple of books that were published in the early 20th century (pre-1950s) and while I love them because they’re fun and pretty and lovely, I don’t reference them for actual research because they’re not always factually useful…unless I’m trying to find an origin to a myth that is driving me bananas. (*Shoots a death glare at Cunnington*) Even if the information may be correct, how are we to know when they do not always bother to tell us where they got their information from? This tendency is more a reflection on how scholarship standards have changed over the century, but it still doesn't mean that the books should be completely trusted.

      It's also like what I mentioned in my first post, with the change and evolution of information that is coming out all the time - this does mean that previous published works by "the greats" is going to change or be considered wrong. Does that mean you should ignore their work? Absolutely not! But it does mean that the part of the books where they have imposed their own interpretation of their research does need to be taken into consideration. For example: Janet Arnold and Norah Waugh were contemporaries, and even they did not use the same terminology. Norah Waugh uses the term "Polonaise" correctly in Cut of Women's Clothes but Arnold misidentifies the "Polonaise" in the labeling of her patterns to be associated only the skirts being tied up in the back. We now know that Waugh was correct through Brooke Welborn and Kendra Van Cleave's article "Very Much the Taste and Various are the Makes" published in the Costume Society of America's academic journal Dress (Volume 39, Number 1, 2013) which confirms the "Poloniase" gown as it's own creation and not solely associated with rucked up skirts. 

       Does this mean that we should now ignore everything Janet Arnold says? Um. NO. It just means that when you're reading older sources you need to take into consideration the evolution of this field of study. Because it's changing all the time. This is a good thing, and it will change how we view historic dress in the years to come.
2.   What about new publications? Today, even though books and articles are much better about using footnotes and citations to validate and back up arguments, you will still see perpetuation of mythology in books or just blatant mistakes. (Hell, there will probably be mistakes in our book, too. We aren’t perfect!) It's important to keep in mind 1. the purpose of the book, is it supposed to be scholarly/coffee table decor/how to? The purpose of the book changes how you should interact with it. 2. How they cite their sources. 3. Just because it's new doesn't mean they're not still perpetuating old ideas. If something rings "off" to you, see if you can find out where they got their information from, and compare it to the actual source. I've done this a couple of times, and every time I've been able to walk away learning something new. It doesn't always mean I agree with the author's viewpoint, but it does mean that I have grown and changed as a scholar. 

3.      Check out the bibliography and works cited in the back.  If anything this will help you in your own research. Remember people interpret things differently, and so sometimes it’s good for you to go direct to the primary source and read it for yourself. You might walk away with a different perspective than the author, or you might find that you now agree with the author once you understand the context from where that information came from.

4.   Your taste in books will and needs to evolve. When we first get into the hobby we are thirsty to get our hands on ALL THE BOOKS! This is great, and an excellent way to really start to learn about dress history. I mean, I think we can all agree that Kyoto Costume Institute's book, Fashion is pretty much one of the best books ever (cause pretty picture's ya'll.), but it's a book on a very broad subject, the information is pretty superficial, and doesn't really delve deep into the underbelly of dress history. However, take the book Textiles in America by Florence Montgomery, and here you have another large book that covers a larger time span, but it is incredibly detailed and focused on historic textiles.This specialization is something that you will need to better understand dress history, and will make you a better researcher, too. So while books that cover dress history as a broad subject matter are great to get started with, you will want and need a library of focused dress history subject matter to assist in your research.

5.      Think about the type of book and its intention. For example, our book is project based, and is meant to be more of a sewing guide than a research tome that has appeal for beginners and experienced sewers. While all of our construction techniques are based off an amalgamation of primary and secondary sources (and a lot of original garments over the years…), we also want it to be accessible and enjoyable. So, we tried to keep the essays light and easy to read while keeping the information as accurate as possible, to the best of our ability. Should you use our book in your master’s thesis? Eh…maybe…maybe not, if you’re doing research on how a gown is constructed and our book has the same technique that you see in the original and we just do a better job explaining it, then yeah, it’s going to be useful for you, but this book isn’t coming from an academic publisher, like Yale, and so the book’s purpose is different. Does that make sense?

6.      If the author makes a statement that sounds so ridiculous you want to laugh out loud, it’s probably not true. Beware of the Perpetuation of Mythology.  “People had mice and rats in their hair!” ….seriously. I’ve read this, and I’ve had people try to tell me this. Just stop and think about that statement. Really think about it. Now, think about Queen Charlotte, refined, elegant, well mannered, well-respected Queen of ENGLAND with a RAT in her hair. It’s ridiculous. Would YOU want a RODENT in your hair? No…well…maybe some of you would, but that’s your personal business. People were not stupid in the past. When you read statements like this, or that women would catch on fire cause of their petticoats (um….no...because of wool and hem lengths) please practice common sense and extreme caution.

7.      Is your or the author’s viewpoint affected by modern society’s social mores or other past cultural quirks? Ankles, Elbows, and Boobs: three parts of a Georgian woman that are hotly debated. Authors, Reenactors, and Costumers will perpetuate myths surrounding these body parts without ‘seeing’ or acknowledging the visual reality. Women wouldn’t show their ankles in the 18th century? 1st Then why were shoes and stockings such a big damn fashion deal? 2nd Why do I see so much damn ankle in fashion plates, prints, and portraiture? 3rd Fabric is expensive why would they want to risk stepping on it? 4th It’s unsafe to have too long of skirts when you’re working. You need the hem to be short enough so you do not hurt yourself. It’s common sense and it is disproved when you just start looking at images! Ankles are EVERYWHERE and it’s OK! But where did this myth come from? Was it a bias that started in the late Victorian era? Was it a reflection of the social conservative mindset of the 1950s? Frankly, Who knows? I’ve been able to find some references that seem to make it appear to be a bias well after the mid 1800s, but it’s a myth, that’s for sure, and it’s a myth that started in the author’s personal social bias and is not an accurate reflection of the time period they’re writing about. Be extremely wary of this. The Georgian Era is not the Victorian Era is not the Mid-Century Modern Era is not Today. Make sense? Think about how different we are, as an overarching culture today than we were 20 years ago. This ebb and flow is a constant throughout history.

Think about it....

Well, that was hopefully pretty straightforward when it comes to secondary sources, next week is tertiary sources! :D
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