For this prompt I’m going to post something I’ve been sitting on for a while: some highlights from a class trip to the Cora Ginsburg Gallery in NYC from last year. We saw some amazing stuff there – they let us touch 17th century lace! Everything had gorgeous details and I could not resist getting up close and personal…
Just a quick one because I again am writing late at night right before I have to go to sleep. These are some dream projects that I would love to do once I have underwear from every time period that fits correctly and money to buy all the beautiful silks in the world.
Hey guys! I ended up having a VERY busy few days over the weekend and wasn’t able to blog much, so I’m going to try to catch up on the prompts that I missed this week! (Because guess what, I picked them because they correspond to posts I want to write! Being in charge is fun 😊). This is day 3’s prompt: a new technique that I’ve experimented with recently.
So I have in the past been known to write about my attempts to dress my hair in historical styles. More recently (back in October), I dyed my hair bright blue, for which I had to bleach my hair a lot which as you might imagine damaged it a lot, but it was worth it because it was blue, and then I had to dye it back to a natural hair color to do some museum programs in costume, at which point it was no longer a fun color so it was just sad and very over-processed. So in order to make myself feel better about my life, I decided to experiment with the hairdressing technique to end all hairdressing techniques: 18th century pomatum and hair powder.
Now I’m not going to write too much about pomatum and powder in the 18th century because there are several scholars out there who do a much better job of it, but if you, my gentle reader, are not familiar with it, I will say this: pomatum and powder, along with false hair and various pads and other understructures, are what allowed 18th century women to do their own hair in those crazy large styles that you see in portraits and think, “Damn, that couldn’t possibly be someone’s real hair, it must be a wig!” Most of the time it is natural hair because in the 18th century wigs were so tightly fitted to your head that you needed to keep your head shaved to wear them. There are lots of myths about hair and hair hygiene in the 18th century that have been busted recently, so go read about that.
I got my pomatum and powder from Heirloom Haircare, the etsy shop of Abby, the apprentice milliner at Colonial Williamsburg. She uses original 18th century recipes, including materials such as lard and powdered cuttlefish bone, and she sticks to a standard recipe that has a lovely lemon and clove scent. The other place where you can get 18th century hair products is LBCC Historical, who carries a wider variety of scents and products from different time periods as well. I put my hair powder into a powdered sugar shaker as per Abby’s suggestion. Here’s what my hair looked like when I started out:
Then I put the pomade into it. I divided my hair into six sections to apply the pomade, it probably turned into more like eight in reality.
Then I powdered the crap out of it! I have a lot of hair, so it took a LOT of powder. I also probably over-powdered the top because it took a while for me to realize I needed to flip my hair around a bit to get powder into all of the layers and underneath.
This is how it looked when it was first powdered. It’s sort of that middling grey color you see in a lot of portraits, which made me pretty happy! The powder absorbs the most of the grease in the pomade, so it doesn’t feel terribly greasy, though it is definitely a different feel. It’s a lot thicker as well! I threw it up into a random twist just to see how it would hold, and it maintained lots of nice volume and had great hold. This style is held up securely with one 3″ hairpin.
I tried out a very simple 18th century style with no padding or crazy curls or anything – my hair was very cooperative and it only took me about 10 minutes. The front pouf is pinned over just more of my own hair that I rolled up, no teasing or anything. The side curls are kind of crappy but it was like midnight when I was doing this. My point being, it was simple and it worked. It’s nice when the historical techniques work like that.
I kept the pomatum and powder in for a week. By the end of it my hair was a little bit greaser, but actually not much. It did soften a bit through the week, and returned to my natural color as the powder got combed through more and more. This is my hair before I washed the pomade and powder out:
And this is after. Look how much thinner it is.
I pomaded and powdered again for a ball in Williamsburg in March and did essentially the same hairstyle. It still looked pretty good after dancing for three hours!
So that was my experimenting with pomatum and powder. I was really glad to be able to do it because it helped me stress less about my hair while it was really damaged, and I was able to wash it less because you can leave the pomatum and powder in for a week, which probably helped me not damage my hair more. And I was able to successfully create some simple 18th century hairstyles with very little preparation, showing that the historical techniques worked, and that crazy 18th century hairdressing, while it certainly LOOKS fantastical to a modern eye, was totally actually historically feasible. Yay!
Oh boy I do love to slip Bob’s Burgers references into unrelated things!
Anyway, today’s CoBloWriMo prompt is “Write about five things that make you happy”. One particular thing that makes me very happy is research. I’m a rapturous researcher – I love getting sucked into the black hole of any obscure topic that comes my way for hours and hours and hours, and then bouncing around to another topic as soon as it catches my fancy. I’ve been in graduate school for Costume Studies for two years, which has let me research many of the topics that I’m very interested in, but it has also made me tone down my rapturous research tendencies in order to focus enough to write papers and such (which has been VERY CHALLENGING for me). So now that school is over, I’m going to indulge my little researcher heart and write about five of my favorite random research topics!
1. Fancy Dress Costumes
I LOVE fancy dress costumes. They are invariably hilarious and adorable. They’re basically bad puns manifested as costumes from a time when puns were the highest form of humor. Fancy dress costumes could range in theme from famous people to literary characters to inanimate objects to vague concepts to basically anything you could think of – rainbows, mailboxes, literally anything. You could dress up as another time period by putting a perfectly good period costume over your contemporary undergarments for an interesting silhouette disconnect. There was even an infamous Hell costume, designed in the 1860s by the house of Worth. Fancy dress costumes are endlessly fascinating – they give us interesting insights into the more playful side of the 19th century, which is generally (pretty much erroneously) considered to be a very repressed time period. They show interest in progress, with all sorts of costumes embodying different fields of science and new technology – a famous Electric Light costume (that was also designed by Worth!) was worn by Mrs Vanderbilt at the Vanderbilt ball in 1883. There’s also an interesting aspect of gender play involved, with popular gender-role-bending costumes for women ranging from subtle ones like “Lady Brigand” and “Female Graduate” to actual cross dressed characters like Viola from Twelfth Night. Fancy dress parties were popular entertainments in general, but they were especially held at the very highest levels of society – Queen Victoria of England and Empress Eugénie of France were well known for hosting lavish fancy dress balls. Later, the tradition would carry on with events like the Shakespeare Ball of 1911, a massive London society event used to raise funds to build the national theatre, and Poiret’s Thousand and Second Night parties.
2. School Uniforms and Academic Regalia
As part of the Harry Potter generation, I grew up with a fascination with British boarding school culture that I continue to cultivate today. I love to watch documentaries about Eton and Harrow, especially because I love the idea of preteen and teen boys walking around in tails suits all the time (which sounds like a TERRIBLE plan). I love that there’s a school out there whose uniforms haven’t changed in 400 years and their students voted recently to continue to keep it (the school is called Christ’s Hospital and they wear yellow stockings because supposedly in the 16th century they thought the color would keep away rats). One of my favorite movies called Another Country is set at a school that they don’t say is Eton but is clearly supposed to be Eton and a major plot point is that the prefects and other older boys called the “house gods” get to wear waistcoats made of elaborate materials while the other boys wear plain uniform waistcoats (this actually apparently is a real thing at real Eton as well). The whole badges-blazers-and-boaters thing is an interesting microcosm of the extremely stratified British class system that Americans find really fascinating.
I started researching academic regalia because I got bored at someone’s graduation one time, and that has also turned into a Harry Potter-related research topic. Academic regalia is probably the closest contemporary muggle equivalent to what we should be imagining wizard robes look like, which are described very little but I assume are based on medieval academic and clerical garments. It also means I never get bored at graduations anymore – once you learn a little bit about hood colors and sleeve shapes you can spend any academic ceremony guessing the degrees of the faculty members in regalia (which I suppose is only fun when you’re really nerdy, but I am really nerdy, so). They’re also probably the closest Americans will ever come to British ceremonial dress, which we also find endlessly fascinating.
I’ve been dabbling in bookbinding as a craft for several years – I learned enough very basic techniques to teach a “Make your own sketchbook!” Unit during art week at a Girl Scout camp I worked at in the summer of 2012. Since then I’ve done a few more projects, and read a bit more, and somehow I find this fairly mundane craft really fascinating? To the point that I actually did end up writing a paper about medieval bookbinding for a history of textiles class. A lot of the hobby bookbinding books that you find in the craft section of Barnes & Noble focus more on contemporary techniques that are kind of craftsy and good for making “art books”, but as a true nerdy historian I find myself more interested in the traditional side of the craft. When I used to work at Colonial Williamsburg I would often go stand in the back of the bookbinders’ shop and just listen to them interpret for way longer than necessary, and I still sometimes fantasize about becoming a historical bookbinder (if they’re ever looking for a new apprentice bookbinder at CW I will definitely be jumping on that!). I don’t really know why it fascinates me so much, but I do love books, and as a person who sews (and sews historically) I guess I’m interested in applications of sewing outside of the realm of clothing. (Also, MINIATURE BOOKS ARE ADORABLE – my current favorite bookbinding book is More Making Books By Hand by Peter and Donna Thomas.). It’s a difficult craft to practice at home without some serious consideration, though – to really do it “right” the process is fairly equipment-heavy, but with some research you can usually find simpler, more small-space-friendly techniques.
4. Corset-Induced Smushy Face (and other non-conventionally-attractive women in art)
You know when you’re wearing a corset and you sit down on a couch or a contemporary chair that doesn’t have a very straight back and you attempt to recline but it just pushes your boobs up toward your face and your chin down toward your chest in a probably fairly unflattering way? It turns out this has always been a problem! I love seeing corset-induced smushy face in art. It’s one of those things that really makes me as a historical costumer feel a strong connection across time to those women I am seeking to emulate with my work and research. My boy Tissot has a couple of ladies in various paintings with corset-induced smushy face for sure, and if you look carefully you can see it around in the background of plenty of domestic and pastoral scenes all over 19th century art.
I also just generally love seeing women who don’t look perfectly thin and angelic in western art – and this ranges from Madame de Saint-Maurice (1776), who’s fat and SUPER fashionable (I will do a reproduction of her outfit one day! Should have had that on goals yesterday) to all the weird-looking barmaids and jolly washerwomen and plump servant girls who fell asleep in the kitchen and let the cat steal the meat again in 17th century Dutch genre paintings. I love them all. Those are the images I really identify with, because guess what, different body types existed in the past also.
So I belong to an organization called Markland, which is sort of the teenage son of the SCA who left home at 17 because fuck you, dad, you don’t know my life. We do very similar stuff (wear garb, have wars, feast, sing around campfires, dance a maypole sometimes), but we’re smaller and some of our rules regarding historical documentation for certain things are less strict. One of those things is heraldry – creating coats of arms (or “devices” to use proper SCA terminology, “coat of arms” only applies in very specific circumstances) that represent ourselves. This is a favorite activity in my Markland group, but our number 1 heraldry guy doesn’t always make it to our meetings, so I’ve sort of been picking up the heraldry research to help out my friends as needed, and because of the way my brain is wired I’m kind of obsessed. Heraldry comes with very specialized vocabulary to describe how it looks and how different pieces of it are positioned, and some very strict rules about what colors can and can’t go next to each other, how many of certain things you’re allowed to use, etc etc, and I LOVE THAT STUFF. It gives me real joy to help my friends navigate these restrictions to create something that they love (and real frustration when they don’t understand that just because you CAN put a million different things on your heraldry doesn’t mean you SHOULD because that’s not how they did it “Back Then”). My favorite heraldry moment was going through Randal Holme’s 1688 Academy of Armory and finding primary documentation for the heraldic penis.
Hi friends! It’s been a while. But hopefully not for much longer! For one thing, School’s over and my thesis is done so I’m going to have more free time going forward in general. But for now, you’re going to be hearing from me more than usual for the next 30 days because I’m organizing a costume blogging challenge called CoBloWriMo (Costume Blog Writing month)! I’m going to try to post every day for the month of June. If you’re reading this and you’re interested in joining us, check out our Facebook group! So, without further ado, here is my first CoBloWriMo post!
Today’s prompt is “What are your goals for 2016?” I’m sick and I need to go to sleep so I’m going to be brief, but I’ve got some costuming goals, some blogging goals, and maybe a life goal or two.
My first costuming goal is to finish a couple of unfinished projects that have gone by the wayside for various reasons.The first is my 18th century outfit, which dedicated readers may remember from last year. It’s finished to the point that I can put it on my body and wear it for a day if I have to, but it’s nowhere near actually finished. Most importantly, I need to finish the stays, which are unbound at the top and bottom. This was actually on purpose – I needed to put them together very quickly when I made them and so didn’t do too much fitting of the pattern, and as a result the front panels are too short and don’t cover enough of my bust. I’ve recut the panels that don’t fit, but they still need to get sewn together, boned, and attached to the rest of the stays, and then I can do the leather binding and eyelets. Once that’s done, I can fit and finish the caraco (and make tons more 18th century stuff!). I’d also like to make an underpetticoat for this outfit, and maybe try a different shape of skirt support.
The second is the new 1860 corset I started back in January. I went through two different mock ups and countless alterations and the pattern just frustrated me so much that I kind of rage quit. Now that I have my old corset back from someone that I lent it to, I may just copy the pattern off that one (based on the 1860 French corset in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines) and adjust it.
The third is my red kirtle. I wear it all the time but it’s technically not done – it’s supposed to have black stripes around the bottom of the skirt, and a lining in the bodice. I also need to recut the waistline – I exaggerated the point at the waist a little because I thought it looked pretty, but it makes the waist wrinkle when I sit down, which is not super desirable, and pushes the bones up in a problematic way. I also would like to get my whole court outfit to look more like this painting:
So I might add some gold trim, if only for the Faire season. I had hoped to be able to do my hair like this, but alas for I cannot – I’m going to have to cover it because I cut a lot of it off recently (!!!)
Here are some other things I’d like to make this year:
I’ll keep this simple: I’d like to blog more. My goal for CoBloWriMo is to post every day. Afterwards I would like to post at least twice a month. I would also like to bring back my attempts at regular features – Movie Monday and Sketch Saturday.
I’ll keep this simple also (because now I really need to go to bed): I’d like to get up earlier, draw more, rely on electronics less. And I’d like a full-time job. Dear universe: take notice.
A few days belated, but definitely worth the wait! I finished the sewing on my 1780 outfit about five minutes before I had to put it on this morning. A few of the pieces aren’t 100% completely finished, but they’re wearable and they look great! I had a lovely day at South Street Seaport, and totally geeked out about the Hermione the whole time like the huge nerd I am. She was absolutely gorgeous and I am in love.
The Challenge: Out of your Comfort Zone
To begin today’s post, I present you with one of Google’s more questionable associations… So that happened! Also, I found a perfectly-sized basket to carry with my 18th century outfit! Someone was getting rid of it on my block and it was just sitting out on the stoop. I picked it up on the way to work and carried it around with me for the rest of the day. I couldn’t figure out why I was getting weird looks, but apparently casual basket-carrying is not common outside of Colonial Williamsburg… Anyway…
After working on my super awesome red shoes, I was so excited to get started working on the rest of this outfit. I immediately started working on a shift, which I figured wouldn’t take me more than two or three days…but it ended up taking about a week and a half. I did a lot more of it by hand than I originally intended to – because speed is of the essence on this project, I am trying to work as much on the machine as possible without any machine finishing being visible on the outside of garments – and as much hand sewing as I do, I am not very quick at it. So it took forever, but the shift has hand-finished seams and hems, which look quite nice! I used this tiny rolled hem tutorial for the neckline. I’m probably going to press it flat, but it made it very easy to sew a teeny tiny hem!