Like many costumers, I dabble in many time periods. Some I have loved for a long time; having attended my first renaissance faire at the tender age of 4, I’ve always had a fondness for the Elizabethan era. Some I have come around to after a long period of skepticism: this actually applies to several periods that I’m now interested to in – Regency I never thought I could wear because I’m a big girl and only got into because of dance, late 18th century I never liked because I couldn’t see past the ridiculousness of the giant panniers on French court gowns and never knew any better, and and the 17th century just struck me as a low point between the extreme fashions of the 16th century and the extreme fashions of the 18th century, until I started working in a museum where I had to study it more closely. But the period that I consider to be my favorite is the period that got me into historical costuming in the first place, and that is the crinoline era, or approximately 1855-65.
Ironically, it’s the period that I know the least about in terms of detailed historical context; I’ve never really had any occasion to study it – I’ve never even been to a civil war reenactment! But I’ve always loved the bold shape and dramatic scale of the crinoline. It began with a resurgence of love for The King and I when I was in high school – it had been a childhood favorite movie, but at age 15 I decided I loved the character of Anna, and I loved her clothes. I became obsessed with the story – I watched every movie version I could find and read Anna Leonowens’ real memoirs, any biographical information that I could find on her, and the 1939 Margaret Landon novel all the movies are based on. I also took a ballroom dance class which cemented my love of the polka.
I bought my first hoop crinoline sophomore year, and made a gown to go over it for a friend’s masquerade-themed Sweet Sixteen (this, for better or worse, was my second ever machine-sewn garment) – it was made of polyester crepe-backed satin with crappy lace and metallic ribbon from Jo-Ann Fabrics, and the pattern frankensteined together from a Simplicity Civil War dress and a Butterick halloween costume. I was totally out of place at my friend’s party when everyone else was wearing cute party dresses with masquerade masks, but I felt majestic.
I’ve come a long way since then in terms of research and construction, and I still have a great love of this period. My next gown after that was made from an original Harper’s pattern, and my most recent one based on a Tissot painting (long-time followers of this blog have seen my Young Woman In A Red Jacket ad nauseum). I unfortunately don’t have much opportunity to wear this period anymore – I used to go to balls and dance workshops fairly regularly when I was in college, but in my current job I’m rarely free on weekends to go to events. I do already have a couple of projects lined up, though, just out of love – I recently bought a white striped voile for a Tissot-inspired sheer that I’m very excited about!
I’m going to close this post with some of my favorite crinoline era images, and very self-indulgently include a few of me as well. Other than that, until next time!