Sunday, December 16, 2012

For Love of a Dress


When I was just a wee little lass, I spent a lot of time in libraries. There were two, conveniently located on my way to and from school. I can still clearly remember the way the light slanted in through the windows as I walked through the non-fiction section, looking for a book on costumes (I can't remember why I was looking for costume books), and I found...

Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Women's Clothes, 1680-1840, by Janet Arnold.

Specifically, the 1775 polonaise. Something about the striped pattern and the silhouette captured my attention. The neat diagrams certainly helped, too. I checked the book out, made some photocopies, coloured some of those copies, and set about with grand dreams.

It's been over 15 years since I first saw that dress. It's the one that started all my love of historical costumes. I'd been to a few SCA events before that, but the kind of outfits my mum had made for me did not satisfy my then-unknown love of structure. I was not yet a proficient seamstress. I'd made a few things for school, and a Star Trek costume, but I hated sewing. Still, I had visions of one day wearing a big floofy gown.

Fast forward some 4-6 years. I can also remember the way the light slanted through the windows of my apartment when I found Katherine's website, and specifically a green polonaise that she'd sewn entirely by hand. I was blown away by A: how pretty it was, and B: that she'd had the patience to do it by hand. I hated sewing by machine! It took so much time! The idea of doing an entire outfit, by hand, blew my mind.

Shortly after this, I got into gothic lolita fashion and started learning to love to sew. Not too long after that, I started going to local conventions, simply to have an excuse to wear a costume out in public.

Somewhere in there, I fell in love with Victorian fashions. I think I loved them for the same reason I loved that polonaise. They have a similar silhouette: the heavily structured bodice, full skirt, "business in the front, party in the back" skirts. Victorian is my prime area of costuming, as there are great, commercially-available patterns. Late-18th century seemed a little harder for me to get into, with not as many patterns available. Even though using Japanese pattern books for gothic lolita taught me a fair amount about drafting patterns, the incredibly-necessary fitting of Georgian gowns still seemed too far out of reach. I did make a Butterick pattern one year, but I didn't make any of the underpinnings, so I was always afraid of ripping it in some horrible way while wearing it.

Over the years I've expanded into other areas of historical dress. I fell in love with Elizabethan, then Tudor costumes. I got into cosplay. I started going on a local attraction even though it's not all THAT interesting and kind of expensive, simply because I have an excuse to wear a new Victorian gown every year.

I'm not really sure when I came back to the late 18th century. I read a few blogs of costumers that cover many eras, and I always find myself loving their 18th century outfits and wishing I a: had one to wear, and b: somewhere to wear it. I have the same feelings about Civil War era gowns, though at least for those, my Victorian group would be easier to fit into.

I decided quite recently that it didn't matter that I technically have no event I can wear a dress like this to. Eighteenth century was my first true love of historical fashion. Therefore, I will make a dress.

And it will be beautiful.

ETA: American Duchess has a great article on how she "found her era". Mine would probably be Victorian bustle as that was the first era I started sewing for. I've been known to tell people to just give me time and enough images of an era I previously haven't considered, and in time I will probably come to love it as much as Victorian ;)

Road to Costume College 2018

Gosh, where did the first half of the year go? (I know where, winter was unusually long and dark and cold, and it's effect lasted longer...