Tuesday, July 19, 2011

1860s Inspirations

I leave for my reenactment on Wednesday evening, so I thought I'd show you some dresses that have given me a lot of inspiration.  All of the dresses I make for a living history event are inspired by original garments, photographs, and fashion plates (magazine drawings) of the time period.

All of these photos have come from personal collections or museum websites.  They are intended for informational purposes only.

All of these dresses date between the years 1860 and 1865, during the American Civil War.  This was during the Early Victorian period, and this era marks the time when skirts were at their fullest.  The Crinoline (or Hoop Skirt) was invented in 1846 in order to reduce the need for multiple heavy petticoats.  By the late 1850s they were the height of fashion. The crinoline allowed women to wear bigger skirts, without weighing them down completely.  However, they were not very practical garments, as they easily knocked things over while walking, got caught in doorways, and were easily upturned (by tripping, climbing in a carriage, wind) which exposed the wearer in an improper fashion. 

By 1865, skirts started to move toward the back of the form, first by using an elliptical crinoline (oblong hoop skirt with more skirt to the back, and flat in the front) and then to an early bustle style.  Many bustle dresses of the late 1860s were constructed by "re-making" a skirt that was meant to fit a crinoline.  The dressmakers would shift the bulk of the material to the back in order to emphasize the rear.  The bustle helped support the weight of the fabric.

Considering how many dresses of the early 1860s were re-made, it is wonderful to find examples that have been left intact.  The dresses in these photos not only teach us about what people wore.  They teach us about the textiles available, sewing techniques, The economic health of the country at that time, and even social norms for that particular culture.

Haha, well hopefully I'm not boring you all with this mini-lecture.  I will be in Manassas until Monday, and I'll have lots of photos to share when I return!


Thursday, July 7, 2011

My #1 Dorkiest Quality

So, despite my being a fashionista extraordinaire (har har har), I am a Civil War Reenactor.  Fashion history, as well as it's present has always fascinated me.  Reenacting allows me to make reproduction clothing that will actually get seen.

This year represents the 150th anniversary of the war, and the group I reenact with is preparing for an event in Manassas, VA July 23rd and 24th.  Besides prepping the clothing, making new outfits, and packing our camp gear, I have been doing some reading to prepare mentally as well.

This week I read the book "Washington Square" by Henry James.  It was originally published in 1880, but most of the story takes place just before the Civil War.  It tells the story of a forgettable (meaning dull) heiress, and her love affair with a mercenary gold-digger. The book is fantastic, but what I enjoyed even more was the film adaptation.

The movie was released in 1997, but overall the costumes (while not being perfect) are closer to an accurate portrayal of the time period than those of most other civil war era films (especially Gone with the Wind, those costumes are not even close).  Some of her dresses are rather gaudy, but that is befitting of her character.

Here are some fun photos, but I would definitely recommend viewing the movie to get the full effect.

I will be posting a lot on this era the next month or so, especially after I get back from the event in Virginia.

Happy Thursday Everyone!

The Treasure Chest