Thursday, October 27, 2016

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Behind the Scenes at Simplicity Creative Group, NYC

Lauren reporting -

We're back! Last week Abby and I traveled to The East Coast to attend Rufflecon and spend a few days in New York City afterwards.

While we were sipping hot toddies at the hotel bar, we met Ginny from Simplicity, a Rufflecon sponsor, and had a great chat that, among other things, resulted in a visit to the Simplicity headquarters on Madison Avenue the following Monday. How exciting! I had just sent off The Red Dress before we left, and of course I've always been curious what the inner sanctum of one of the major sewing patternmakers was like.

New York! The view from our Times Square hotel
Monday arrived and we walked from Times Square to Madison Ave, checked in (feeling very "official" with name badges), then went up to the floor that Simplicity occupies. Ginny showed us into the boardroom where a nice collection of early Simplicity pattern catalogs were laid out on the table for our perusal.

We enjoyed several 1940s catalog, a 1937 catalog, and a few 1950s too.
Then the unexpected - a meeting, like a real official meeting, with five of the top gals at Simplicity! Gosh! We talked all about vintage and costume patterns, about how patterns go from a concept to a finished product, a lot of history of the company, and ideas for the future. It was stimulating, to say the least.

Then the tour. We did a quick whirl around to see each department. There's a large area where patterns are cut and tested (*all the testing*) and sample garments are made for the pattern envelope photos. In addition, a great lot of work goes into writing and illustrating the instructions for each pattern, all the grading, marking, and laying out, the graphic design and information for each pattern, the catalog, and advertisements. It's quite intense! Typically a pattern, from concept to completion, takes about 5 - 6 months, which is faster than ever thanks to digital technology, and passes through myriad hands to become the best version of itself.

Many dress forms chill in the cutting room hallway. They had all sorts of shapes and sizes, even a tiny infant dress form.
Along our tour we even spied The Red Dress ready to begin its journey to becoming a full, multi-sized paper pattern for next Summer.

It was a wonderful experience, and there are many good things that came out of our meeting with The Patterning Powers That Be. One major thing we noticed is that Simplicity really cares about the fashion subcultures using their patterns - for example, the Lolita community, Steampunk costumers, and vintage fashionistas.

Original print from the 1937 Simplicity pattern catalog
We spoke particularly about the vintage patterns, and were pleased to find that Simplicity has started digitally scanning their original vintage patterns and grading them as-is, rather than re-drafting from scratch and leaving out or changing vital elements. This effort is particularly evident in their new vintage reissue patterns for this Winter catalog - a couple new 1940s and 1950s, and two new, *fabulous* 1930s dress patterns (8247 and 8248). We saw the sample garments for both of these patterns and were floored by how authentic and beautifully made each was.

Simplicity 8247 - 1930s dress with jacket.
Simplicity 8248 1930s dress with two views. This green sample dress was so beautifully made I was nearly convinced it was real vintage.
Since Simplicity is expanding their Vintage offerings more and more, of course we were full of ideas and have plans to develop more vintage patterns with them, particularly styles from before Simplicity existed.  .... but those are exciting development for the future ;-)

From the 1937 Simplicity Pattern catalog
All in all, what a splendid experience we had visiting the Simplicity headquarters and getting to know the women who make these wonderful patterns for us. They are truly professionals, many of them having been with the company for decades, and are as excited for the future as we are.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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DIY Hair Powder Shaker, or, DIY Powdered Sugar Shaker (depending on your Pinterest Mood)

Hello Lovelies!

Abby here  -

Today, I wish to speak with you about Arts & Crafts, while attempting to teach ya'll something that will make Pinterest go crazy with excitement!


I guess it depends on 1 of 2 things.

1. You're really into 18th century hairdressing (like me) & you want/need a way to get the hair powder on your head.

2. You really like powdered sugar on everything.

3. All of the Above.

(Note: If you're 3. Welcome to the club. Powda-Sugaaaa!! <-- 10 pts to whomever can guess which "Bad Lip-Reading" Video I just referenced)

Anyways - what I'm about to show you is a very easy, fast, and relatively cheap way to make yourself a powder shaker that can be sealed securely & wont cost you $20 at Williams & Sonoma (please don't ask how I know how much they cost - it was a dark & desperate moment in my life.)

Here's the history deal - Women & Men pomaded & powdered their hair in the 18th century for a variety of reason (too many for me to go into at the moment). It is not something that is necessarily relegated to social class or strictly vanity (though social beauty norms are a thing & hair is a part of that). It was just a normal part of hygiene in the 18th century - just like washing our hair with Shampoo & Conditioner is a normal part of our hygiene in the 21st century (though this is starting to change - hooray - cause S&C is bad for your scalp/hair - fyi).

When looking for ways to apply powder to your hair there are a few different options. The one we are all probably the most familiar with is the bellows & mask that we see in prints like this one here.

The Englishman in Paris, 1770, James Caldwell via PBS 

La Toiette d'un Clerc de Procuruer, Carle Vernet (1758-1836) Here (Note: The hairdresser is using what is either a silk or wool puff with the hair powder in that drawstring bag instead of bellows. This is also extrememly common and often recommended in hairdressing manuals. You can buy new swansdown puffs on Amazon for about $50 a piece - expensive but worth it. If you're a die-hard you can try and find vintage ones in antique malls/ebay/etc but be away the quality of the feathers is going to be varied due to age.) 

But here's the deal - this is not the easiest or the only way to get that powder on your head. The powder puff is great for finishing your hair style on your own (like with that final application of powder after your hair has been dressed), but when it comes to trying to powder your hair or wig in the back, etc, it's not all that easy to use a puff. Personally, in my opinion, using a shaker is the easiest way to apply powder to your whole head. (Also - I'm biased because I came up with this idea on my own, only to later have it validated by primary sources *hair flip of accomplishment*.)

Lady Drudger going to Ranelagh, 1772, Lewis Walpole Digital Collection

The Lovely Sacarissa dressing for the Pantheon, 1773,  British Museum 
So yeah, these are variations of the same image, that's normal in the 18th century - but aren't they fabulous?! 

Now, here's the deal - the historically correct option for a hair powder shaker is going to be made out of tin, with a handle and a fine mesh sieve for the top (this is to help ensure that only the finest powder comes out - you don't want it clumpy - the powder needs to be "fine as snow"). So when it comes to buying a powdered sugar shaker to use for your 18th century hair powder, the ones with the holes are easiest to find, but obviously they're not going to prevent clumping as easily as a mesh shaker. I have bought my shakers up until this point...but when we were going to Rufflecon this past weekend, I realized that I didn't have my very expensive shaker from Williams & Sonoma with me in Reno (I was so desperate - it was ungodly expensive. Don't make my mistakes). 

When a shopping trip to all the big box stores gave me nada - I decided to get crafty & make my own. It was so quick, cheap & easy, that now I want to share with ya'll how I did it - Here we go!

NOTE: The use of a Mason/Bell jar is NOT - I repeat - NOT historically accurate. If you wish to use/make one for hairdressing do NOT use it in front of the public. This is NOT an interpretation tool. It is for private use in your bathroom. Kapeesh?! Cool.

Materials: 1. Mason/Bell Jar in the "Jam" size (I got blue cause I'm festive) 2. Wire Mesh (This came from one of those sink drain strainers in the kitchen section, you could also use window screen mesh from the hardware store, or whatever tickles your fancy so long as it's a wire mesh.) 3. Wire cutters 4. Sharpie.

Use the lid of the jar as your pattern. Lay it on top of the wire mesh and trace the pattern using a medium/large felt tip marker. It will be a bit hard to see so it's ok to make the mark thick. 

Look at me being economical in my patterning & cutting. *high five*

Using the wire cutter - carefully nip the wire around the outside edge of the mark. Don't worry if it's not exact, but try and follow the line as best as you can. The mesh can be a bit wiggly so don't worry if it stretches or compresses. 


Now it's time to add it to the screw-top-ring-thing part of the jar (what is that part called?)

Just pop it into place and push the edges into the top of the ring. If the mesh came out a bit big - you will see that you can just push the mesh up and it will create a dome shape. See? No problems. 

Double Boom.

Now you can add your powder and go crazy. POWDER ALL THE THINGS!!!! (Is it weird that I'm now craving French Toast?)

But wait! There's more! Don't forget the seal lid. Pop that sucker on.

And then add the ring back on top & guess what?

You got damn better security for storage/traveling than you do with those dinky plastic "lids" of the overpriced powder sugar shakers you buy at the store.

And that my friends - is how to save some $$ and feel accomplished in your craftiness in about 10 minutes. :)

Real Quick - The hair powder in my jar is my own, that I make. It's made mostly out of wheat starch (btw - wheat starch is not flour) which was the most common way that hair powder was made in the 18th century. If you want to do a super fast DIY & you don't want to drop money on wheat starch (cause it's hard to find & expensive) Corn/Potato/Rice starch will do fine - they have a similar feel to them (I've experimented a lot...) but unless you're doing a specific impression where you know flour was used - don't use it. Ok? It's too coarse & unrefined (name that Disney Tune!), and it will not behave the same way that a starch would. 

<3 <3
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Monday, October 17, 2016

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Spotlight: New "Londoner" Edwardian Oxfords

Lauren here -

This month we're celebrating the new Fall/Winter styles we've opened for pre-order all at once. Each week we're taking a closer look at each style, the inspiration and research behind it, and how we made our version.

This week the focus is on the "Londoner" oxfords. I'll just say right now that I'm madly in love with these (you may think I say this about all our shoes, but truly, these oxfords hold a special place in my heart). And for the first time for our regular product range, we've done some really interesting colors.

For the past several years, we've been wanting to do an Edwardian oxford. This is a style that I've been asked for by many people many times, so there was no better time to get it going than for this Fall and Winter season.

Londoner Oxfords in Cherry (left) and Tan (right)
The Londoners are based on a great many early 20th century women's oxfords. *A great many.* Women's fashion for this period is heavily influenced by menswear, with tailor mades and work clothes, sharp details and clean lines, paper collars, neckties, and the footwear to complement. Ladies' oxford shoes featured stacked leather heels, pointed toes, and broguing, and were worn by all social classes. We have several pairs of women's oxfords in our study archive, and museum collections are also full of them.

An original pair of women's Edwardian oxfords. Click through to see how these looked when they came to us....
In designing our version, I wanted to use the Gibson last and heel shape for comfort and stability, and the broguing was a must. I spec'd the design for ivory and black, and these were the first prototypes:

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz - the first prototypes for the Londoner in ivory and black. Uninspiring.
Hrm. How boring. What was in my head wasn't quite translating, so it was time to try something different.

What was it about the original oxfords that made them so cool? The design with all that broguing was pretty cool, but perhaps just as important was the patina. The antique oxfords were dimensional and came in all kinds of interesting colors, like deep dark red and burled tan.

Pair of Shoes, 1910-1914, Victorian and Albert Museum
Oxford, 1900-1919, Shoe Icons Museum
Oxford, 1914-19, Pierre Yantorny, The Met Museum
Shoe, 1910-14, Victorian and Albert Museum
Pair of Shoes, c. 1900, Victorian and Albert Museum
Shoe, 1910-14, Victorian and Albert Museum
This brought to mind some beautiful finishes I'd been seeing on men's classic oxfords lately, so we decided to give something like this a try. The result was a deep "cherry" cordovan finished in black, and a burled "whiskey" tan deepening to a darker brown, both with stacked leather heels and good sturdy leather soles.

"Londoner" Edwardian Oxfords in Cherry (left) and Tan (right) with two-tone ombre effects on the toes, heels, and broguing. Each of these is hand-finished and polished.
SO much better than the plain black and ivory, and I'm glad to see you gals feel the same. So far in the pre-order the "Londoner" in cherry has been the most popular, followed closely by the tan colorway. I know you are going to love them when they arrive!

Pre-Order for "Londoner" and all the new Fall/Winter styles is open through November 1st for $20 off per pair, plus nice combo deals on accessories and shoe care products. USA orders over $165 get free shipping as well. :-)

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Sunday, October 16, 2016


New York, New York!

Today we are in New York City!


Although Abby has been here three times, Lauren has never been, so it's quite the experience. We're not at loose ends, though. Our three days are busy with all manner of fun thing, from seeing the dapper Dandy Wellington perform live jazz, to having a little pop-up shoe-showing party (do come if you're in the area!), to meeting The Vintage Voyageur, to perusing The Met, to checking out Slapback and other vintage shops, to seeing Dangerous Liaisons on Broadway (omg!), we are busy busy busy!

We just wanted to drop in an say hello before pulling on our spectator shoes and touring The Big Apple. We'll have lots of photos and fun to share with you here and on our Facebook page. For now, wish us luck (especially Lauren) in our NYC adventures.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

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Rufflecon 2016!!!

Hello lovelies!

Lauren and I are currently off on a new adventure together - first was China & now we're off to Stamford, Connecticut for Rufflecon! (this is the part where I do that echo thing that people always do - "con..con...con...")

That's right ---- Lauren and I are travelling again. 1 month after China. We're just now starting to get over our China jet lag, and we're jetting off to NYC for a week.

We might have lost our minds. They're probably somewhere over Nebraska right now (Hi, Nicole!)

But hey, we're here, we're moving & a shakin' and we're excited to see what Rufflecon has in store for us. Neither one of us has ever been, but we're quite looking forward to the experience!

So here are the classes we're teaching -

Basic 18th century draping - I'll be demo-ing how to cut a bodice shape on Lauren for the class & taking questions from the audience.

How Not to Drape.

18th Century Pattern Hacks - Lauren will be presenting the same lecture she did for Costume College for the Rufflecon Crowd. The Ruffle-cap of Doom will probably be making an appearance. (Bahahah - it's punny - get it?)
All the OL. All the time.
Miss Fisher's Wardrobe - Again a repeat of Lauren's from Costume College & something that she blogged about right here.

All that Miss Fisher Goodness right here kids.

And finally, a new one for Lauren & I -

1780 vs 1880 aka "The Strip Off" - I'll be wearing my 1780 Levite gown & Lauren will be in her 1880s gown and we'll be picking off our layers bit by bit and discussing the differences & similarities between the pieces until we get down to our underwear. Thus - thanks to the randomness that are our Facebook Livestreams, we have dubbed this class the Strip Off. It'll probably be making it's way to a Facebook Livestream near you. Soon - ish..


So on top of the 4 classes, we're also participating in a Fashion Show & "Couture Showcase" which will give Lauren a chance to talk about her design process for the shoes & how they're created, etc. I'll probably just be there for comedic relief.

It's going to be a hell of a weekend - that's for sure!

After the Con of Ruffles we will be spending a few days in NYC! Lauren's never been before & so we're hoping to make good use of our time in the City. Stay tuned into our Facebook & Instagram bot for Royal Vintage & American Duchess for regular updates and pics from our trip! We'll also blog about all of it once we're back & recovered. Again. :)

Alright - Till next time lovelies!

<3 <3

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Spotlight: New "Fraser" Early 18th Century Leather Shoes

Lauren reporting -

As you all know, this year we've opened all of our new Fall/Winter historic styles for pre-order at the same time. We've also made the pre-order period longer - through November 1st - and each week, I'll be focusing on each design and sharing my inspiration, research, and references.

This week the spotlight is on "Fraser," the new earlier 18th century leather shoes perfect for cosplay, French and Indian War, or any ensemble from c. 1700 - 1760.

"Fraser" has been in development a *long* time. We first prototyped this design way back 2012, when it was called "Lexington." Then it became "Madison" in 2013, but through factory changes and re-development and other stuff happening, the design, name, and timing still wasn't quite right. Finally here we are in 2016 with two seasons of everyone's favorite TV show set in 1740s Scotland behind us, with the 18th c - inspired patterns released by Simplicity this past Summer, and the timing couldn't be more right.

When I was designing the Frasers, I wanted to include differences between them and the Pompadours. I knew you gals would be using them for more rough-and-ready events, and needed a lower heel, more robust materials, and a good comfortable shoe. We've done the "Fraser" with a tapered toe and our broad 2 inch French heel, essential hallmarks of earlier 18th century footwear. Additionally, instead of tabs we're using latchets to be worn with buckles, and we've done pointed latchets, tongue, and dog-leg seams, also design cues from early 18th century shoes.

Comparing silhouettes of all our 18th century shoes (click for larger)
The Frasers are calf leather on the upper, lined in canvas like original 18th c. shoes. This is very comfortable and allows the shoes to conform to your feet more quickly. The heels are leather-covered; we've soled in leather as well; and, of course, we've included the white rand between the sole and the upper, one of the most identifying elements of women's shoes in this period.

There aren't very many surviving common women's leather shoes in collections, but we do have lots of contemporary advertisements and records about women's footwear. (Nicole of Diary of a Mantua Maker does excellent research in this vein. Also check out The Old Bailey for records). In looking at the records, leather was the second most common material after wool ("stuff"), and black the most common color.

Hampshire Museum, 1710 - 1730 (record no longer available)
LACMA, 1740-1750 M.82.26.4a-b (record w/o pictures)

Shoe Icons, c. 1770s 

We've done the Frasers in black leather (of course!) as well as ivory leather. I'm *so* happy with the final result of these beautiful, accurate, early 18th century shoes, and I know you'll love 'em too. Frasers are on pre-order through November 1st for $20 off, plus combo discounts on buckles, stockings, and leather care products, as well as free USA shipping if your order is over $165.

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Friday, October 7, 2016


Vintage Pants Review: Vivien of Holloway Swing Trousers

Lauren reporting ...

As you may know, I have a bit of an obsession with vintage trousers. This comes from my love of vintage style clothing, naturally, but also my deep seething dislike of modern women's pants and how they fit (don't actually fit) the modern female body.

Over the past couple years I have made a lot of pants and to be honest I no longer have most of them. Mostly this is because my waist is expanding (so I would need new pants anyway), but also I made mistakes on some of them and just didn't enjoy wearing them.

At the same time, I had a great reluctance to purchase retro/repro trousers due to materials choices, the cut, and the pricetags. It wasn't until a friend of mine gave me a pair of Vivien of Holloway trousers that I became a new VofH addict.

Now, the pants that were given me ended up too small rather quickly (that expanding waistline again...) but I felt confident ordering more of the swing trousers from the UK, and luckily Vivien of Holloway makes this style in a gazillion colors.

Trousers: Vivien of Holloway 1940s Swing Trousers in Bottle Green
Cardi: Emmy Design Sweden
Head Scarf: Burnley & Trowbridge
Shoes: Restricted
I took a risk and got the bottle green swing trousers, then worried about what I was going to wear them with. I worried right up until the day they arrived, but shortly thereafter I found that they go with just about *everything* I own. Hooray!

More importantly, it's the fit of the Vivien of Holloway pants that I love. They are generous in the tummy area, where I need generosity- but they fit nicely around the waist. The legs are wide and end in a cuff - I hemmed mine so I could wear them with flat shoes.

The fabric is alright - I know they make these trousers in a variety of fabrics, usually blends. This particular pair is 65% polyester / 35% cotton and they were a little sheen-y before I washed them. They also have these trousers in a majority wool blend, a more drapey poly/viscose blend, and 100% cotton denim.

My one gripe is with the lack of pockets. There's a token patch pocket on the right hip, large enough to fit a smartphone, but otherwise no pockets. That's not enough to keep me from buying more of these though - I ordered a pair in dark red yesterday and can't wait for them to arrive.

All in all, I highly recommend the Vivien of Holloway 1940s Swing Trousers. They're comfortable, flattering, pretty well made, and fairly priced.


Do you have a recommendation for vintage trousers? Let me know in the comments!
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Monday, October 3, 2016

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Introducing our Fall Collection of Historic Shoes - Pre-Orders Open!

It's a big day! For the first time, we're presenting our entire Fall collection all at once.


This year we have new offerings in several of our historic categories. There's "Fraser" 18th century shoes perfect for cosplay and earlier 18th century impressions. There's "Renoir" Civil War Button Boots in black, our popular true side-buttoning boots for c. 1850-1880. And finally we've got the "Londoner" Edwardian Oxfords, absolutely fabulous reproduction lace-ups from the early 20th century in two new colorways, cherry and tan, with ombre patina to bring out the broguing.

We're very proud of our new designs and hope you love them too! Here's a little bit more about each one...

"Fraser" 18th Century Shoes in Black or Ivory

These beauties are perfectly suited to the first half of the 18th century. A good, solid, leather shoe, the Frasers feature the hallmarks of early-period footwear, with pointed latchets and tongue, dog-leg seams, the characteristic white rand, and a chunky Louis heel.

We based the Frasers on a number of primary sources. There aren't many plain leather shoes from this period surviving in collections, so we looked at other sources such as advertisements and prints, along with the overall silhouette and construction of women's footwear from the first half of the 18th century. The result is a lovely, elegant, sturdy shoe that will serve you well at a variety of events both indoors and out.

Frasers are on sale for $135 through November 1st, and also qualify for combo discounts with buckles, stockings, and shoe care products. They are available in black and ivory - order yours here.

"Londoner" Edwardian Oxfords in Cherry or Tan

We've designed a lot of shoes over the past five years, but I have to admit that these are some of my favorites. Sophisticated yet very practical, with menswear details combined with a curvaceous French heel, the Londoners a great all-around shoe for both historical and modern wear. We've chosen leather all the way through, with stacked leather covering the heels, and a beautiful ombre finish on the uppers.

V and A c. 1910-1914
These pretty oxfords are accurate for c. 1900 - 1925. They're based closely on a number of antiques in The Met and V&A, along with a few in our collection here. They're a great choice for Downton Abbey dress-up and Great War reenactment, but they also crossover splendidly to today.

Londoners are on sale for $140 through November 1st. We also have additional discounts on stockings and shoe care products for you. Available in cherry and tan - place your order here.

"Renoir" Civil War Button Boots in Black

Lastly, we finally have our popular "Renoir" Civil War button boots in black. As with all our button boots, these are the real deal - no zippers, no elastic, nothing modern. The Renoirs are all leather with the distinctive late 1850s knock-on opera heel, a square toe with no toe box, and a scalloped button fly.

Renoirs are on sale for $170 through November 1st. We have discounts on combo items as well, such as the necessary Victorian Button Hook, stockings, and shoe care products to keep your boots in good condition. Order your here.

We are now taking pre-orders for all of the above styles! All pre-orders receive a $20 discount and combo item deals. In addition, any USA orders over $165 get FREE shipping, and all of these styles also qualify for EasyPay. Good times!

Place your orders at
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