Wear The Right Underwear
|The right undies for 18th c - petticoats, smock, stays.|
|This is just a mockup, but you can see how bad the skirt looks without enough puffage underneath.|
|Much better fullness in the finished costume (but ignore those shoes)|
In Short: petticoats, hoops, and corsets. Do not skip these!
For a fun little learning game on dressing from the inside-out 18th c. style, visit this link on the Colonial Williamsburg website.
Fit and Tailoring
If your underpinnings are looking swell, the next biggest issue is fit. You could have the most beautiful, intricate, and mind-blowing gown in the world, but if it doesn't fit you, it will look shabby. If you are making your costume from scratch, take the time to make a mock-up, and remedy any fit issues. Taking in the side-seams is a good place to start, followed by pinching the back seams to account for modern sway-back-ness. If your bodice has darts, take these in or let them out.
|This is one of the first costumes I ever made. It's taking a lot of guts for me to show you this monstrosity! But it is the perfect example of REALLY HORRIBLE FIT. Please don't make too much fun of me!|
If all else fails, take the garment to a tailor!
Undertrimming and Fabric Choice
Now I am a believer in affordable fabrics. If you shop hard and are particular in your fabric choice, you can find affordable, beautiful silks, even synthetics, that looks great and don't drain your pocketbook dry. If you are shopping for fabrics based on a historical piece you've seen in a museum, try to match it as closely as possible in terms of the overall look - what are the colors used, how big is the print (or embroidery), what is the texture and sheen of the fabric?
|This gown is an okay fabric (taffeta), but it has NO trims at all, unless you count the funky lace cuffs.|
In the words of Truly Victorian - "trim, and then trim again."
Accessories - Finishing a Costume
Going out without a hat, gloves, and a neckerchief these days is no big deal, but in the past this would be considered "undressed," and highly improper. For 18th c. ensembles, the extra bits you need include a wig or a cap, a hat, a neckerchief, possibly gloves or mits, stockings and shoes, possibly an apron, and jewelry (I'm thinking middle to upper class here, but toned-down versions of these things are true for lower classes too). At the very least, one must attend to their tops and bottoms - what is on the head and what is on the feet, because both of these areas are conspicuous with 18th century clothing.
|Here's a "complete" outfit - wig, ribbon around the neck, proper shoes, enough trimming, and appropriate fabric choice. This could be taken further with a neckerchief, sleeve flounces, and a big awesome hat.|
Now, I don't always get it right. I try, but sometimes my hair looks like crap, or my petticoats aren't puffy enough, and I am certainly guilty of undertrimming! How great it is when a costume is complete, though, and you both look good and feel good wearing it!
If you are looking for resources on where to get some of these items, particularly hats, shoes, and wigs, do visit my Resources Page. Comments and e-mails are always welcome!