I’ve been asked why my historical garments don’t always look perfectly pressed in my photos.
There are five reasons for this (what a lovely coincidence, it means this works perfectly as Five for Friday):
First, my garments are made from fabrics that are as close to historically accurate as I can manage, which means they are made from natural fibres (silk, wool, cotton and linen), which don’t always press as crisply and smoothly and permanently as synthetic fabrics, nor stay as crisp and pressed. This makes them look rumpled, but its also part of their charm, and part of what we value them for.
Think of Princess Diana’s wedding dress, and how rumpled it looked as she got out of the carriage. If the woman about to become the Princess of Wales can’t have a perfectly pressed, non-rumpled dress out of certain silk fabrics, it’s not possible.
For an example of this, look at the photos that Mandi Lynn of A La Mode photography took for the Radio New Zealand photoshoot. I spent hours ironing and steaming every single layer of these frocks, they went straight from the steamer on to the models, and straight from there in front of the camera. The frocks are as perfectly and pristinely pressed as possible, and yet there is still a suggestion of rumples and wrinkles. It’s simply the nature of some fabrics, particularly silks.
And here is Queen Victoria in her wedding dress by WInterhalter. Note the silk of her skirt, both smooth and rumpled:
Second, by the time photos have been taken, my garments have usually been lived in and worn for a fair bit. They have been put on a model, often crammed into a car with as many other models in big dresses as can safely and legally fit in a car. If I’m wearing the dress, I’ve probably had to drive in it. Then they get sat in, moved about in, pressed against, etc. They stop looking absolutely pristine and freshly pressed.
I actually value the bits of wear that my costumes get: both the momentary wear of sitting creases, and the longer-term wear of dulling finishes and worn hems. It makes them look real, and lived in. Sometimes movie costumes look too perfect and freshly, and I’m not able to maintain the suspension of disbelief that makes the film believable and enjoyable.
There is plenty of historical evidence to support wear, tear, rumpling and crumpling happening in period. Women attending balls wrote of coming home with wilted ruffles, torn flounces, and a general state of dishevelment, and cartoons satirized the wear to clothes that happened at the crush of the royal court in England, with attendees arriving with feathers proud and frocks pristine, and leaving looking no better than the beggars who had lined the way there, hoping for a bit of largesse.
Here we are, all freshly pressed and dressed, taking tea, before a talk and photoshoot. By the time the talk and photoshoot happened a certain amount of sit creasing would inevitably have set in
Third, sometimes I specifically want an un-pressed look for historical accuracy. There is both painted and photographic evidence that period frocks weren’t always perfectly pressed. Ironing was difficult and time consuming; not everyone had the time, equiptment and inclination. At certain periods, there was actually a cache attached to the crisp, square creases of a garment just removed from the dressmakers box, so garments were purposefully left unpressed.
Here is Charlotte Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s niece (and at one point his potential wife, though thankfully he decided such a marriage was a bit too squiggy (probably not in those words) and married someone he wasn’t related to instead) in a beautiful sky blue silk gown, with marked horizontal creases across the front of her gown. The creases are probably an indication that the gown was brand new, fresh out of the box and never worn – indicating both her family’s wealth, and probably also alluding to her youth and untouched status.
As another example, here is a lovely late Victorian couple, posed in what may be their wedding finery with boutonnières and corsages. Her gorgeous silk satin skirt is puckered at the seams, has a badly finished hemline, and is quite creased, and yet, this was at a time when a posed studio photograph was still a momentous occasion.
Fourth, sometimes I just don’t press things.
I’m a busy woman. I run my own business, work over 8 hours a day 6 days a week, write an almost daily blog, sew, teach Baha’i children’s classes every fortnight, do other volunteer work, and manage to keep my house reasonably tidy, my husband and I reasonably well fed with home cooking, and some semblance of a personal and social life going.
My garments involve a lot of fabric, and a lot of pleating and gathering and trim which make ironing difficult. Ironing one of my outfits properly takes, on average, at least an hour. For a talk with 6 models and myself, that’s an entire work days worth of ironing (with teeny breaks for tea and lunch). And it has to be done very shortly before a garment is worn, which leaves me little time to deal with models getting sick, pouring rain requiring change of venues and alternate frocks, or any other emergencies.
For proper talks and photoshoots I usually manage it (with lots of help from the models and other volunteers), but when it is just for a personal event I often decide I’d rather spend an hour with Mr D, wash the dishes, have a nap, play with Felicity, etc, than iron a dress.
Finally, photography can seriously emphasise wrinkles and creases. A dress can look quite acceptable in person, with any creasing lost in the movement, but when you see a photograph of the same garment, the static pose and lighting make any creases glaringly obvious. Our 1890s woman in her silk skirt probably looked much less creased and rumpled in person.
For an example of this, lets look at pictures of my 1913 Carte Blanche dress at last years Aethercon ball. It had been an incredibly full-on and stressful day for me, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make the ball, the weather was terrible, and I wasn’t up to wearing the heavily corseted frock I’d meant to wear. Carte Blanche was a last minute solution, and I couldn’t be bothered ironing it. It’s also made from tussah silk, a very which means that even at its most freshly pressed, it looks slightly rumpled. Completely un-ironed, it was very creased, but different photographs make it look more or less creased:
One day I’ll have lots and lots of space, and ideal storage situations so my dresses don’t crumple, and professional irons and steamers, and people other than me to do the ironing and steaming every single time, but for now, my dresses are going to have the occasional completely crumpled moment. Unless you want to come over and do the ironing for me? 😉