Whenever I give a talk there are certain questions I can be almost certain I will be asked.
- How long does it take to make one of these dresses?
A long time. A long, longtime. But it does depend on the dress. A Regency, even hand-sewn, can go together in 12 hours. I actually counted with the tea gown, and it took between 32-40 hours from draping to hemming. The Ninon dress was much longer, thanks to all the hand-sewing and bodice boning. The Japonisme dress would have been relatively quick, were it not for the hand-appliques obi motifs.
- Are the dresses (and corsets) uncomfortable to wear?
Chiara in Ninon said “Yes!” much too enthusiastically to this question this time, much to my chagrin.Certainly cramming all five us into a car for the ride from dressing to Premier House didn’t help with the comfort factor. I like to say that they are ‘differently comfortable’. Like a suit isn’t the same as jeans, but you wouldn’t necessarily say uncomfortable.
- How do you sit in them?
This question comes up whenever I show the Raspberry Swirl, and to some extent Japonisme with its bustle and Lady Anne Darcy with its paniers. I have to remember to coach new models in sitting in hoopskirts and bustles, so they can demonstrate onstage. This time I forgot, but I’ve got brilliant models, so I turned around in the last few minutes before the talk and noticed Chiara talking Julie through the finer points of sitting in a hoopskirt. The trick is to slide your hands along the side of your hoop or bustle as you sit down, catching hold of a hoop or bustle wire and raising it behind you, so that you sit directly on the chair, with the wires collapsed on top of each other behind you, rather than on top of the hoop or bustle wires.
- What is holding out the skirts?
This gets asked about the Raspberry Swirl (no surprise!) and also the Lady Anne Darcy robe a la francaise and its panniers. People want to see and touch. I have to be sure to put the model in (slightly inaccurate) fully closed and modest drawers for the inevitable moment when someone asks to see beneath her skirt.
- How do they go to the loo?This always gets asked in the most charmingly delicate, roundabout fashion, and I try to find a delicate way to say things like “they didn’t wear anything under their skirts in the 18th century” and “even Queen Victoria wore divided drawers”. I do NOT ask my poor models to demonstrate squatting in a hoopskirt!