When I set the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #5 “Bodice” I knew exactly what I wanted to make: a 1720s robe de cour bodice for Mariana Victoria, for the 18th Century Court Dress sew along.
And when the challenge was approaching I got started – adapting my Ninon pattern for a later date, dyeing the fabric, cutting the bodice lining, sewing in the boning channels.
And then life got in the way.
First there was The Project (still ongoing, amazing, and unfortunately I can’t show you photos yet, but soon, I promise!), which is a full time job in and of itself. Plus I have proper work to keep doing – life goes on and the money must come in.
Then, I got a weird virus that is basically Mini-Mono / Glandu-Lite fever (depending on whether you speak Americanese or Kiwish). My MIL had it, Mr D had it, half a dozen friends had it, and it is weird and awful. First you feel tired and run down for 2-3 weeks, with scattered days of thinking you are coming down with a cold or the flu. Then you have three days of low fever and feeling like you are going to have the worst cold/flu you’ve ever experienced. But it never quite happens. Then you have another 2-3 weeks of feeling extremely run down with scattered episodes of low fevers, impending-flu-ness, and exhaustion. I’m still in the 3 week not-quite-recovery period, and it’s completely destroyed my schedule. I’m so far behind on everything.
Then, to top it all of, I lost half my Mariana Victoria bodice. The two back pieces with lacing holes part worked? No idea where they are. A thorough search of my sewing stuff hasn’t revealed them either. So the project is on unplanned, enforced hold until I can locate them!
So, way behind on the bodice challenge, but determined to submit something for it, I ran across another PHd (Project Half Done) while doing my Mariana Victoria bodice location rummage.
The PHd was an 18th century waistcoat I started for Mr D back in 2009, when I made the Lady Anne Darcy dress. I’d finished the outside of the waistcoat, got the lining part done and all pinned in, and then abandoned it when it wasn’t completed in time for the event, and there was no longer a pressing reason to make it.
But I now had a pressing reason to make something bodice-ish, and any PhD that can become a PFF (Project Finally Finished) is a triumph. Besides, there was only that tiny bit of lining to sew it, it would only take me an hour or two, right? (famous last words).
The photos above are actually a couple of hours into my picking it up and working on it again. I forgot to take ‘before I did anything to the PhD’ photos. It turns out that sewing the lining in was really tricky, because I used some extremely strange construction techniques when I started this thing. I’m not sure where on earth I got them from: they aren’t modern, and they aren’t historical, and they made it very hard to put together!
But I persevered, pinning and pickstitching and unpicking and re-sewing bits.
And then, finally, it was done:
It has some serious problems, but I’m still rather pleased with it.
The serious problems include the extremely peculiar construction, the fact that it has never actually been tried on a real man’s body (who know if it will fit Mr D or not), the pattern/cut, and the materials used. In other words, most of it.
I think I used the pattern from Costume Close up for this waistcoat, but looking at it now, I think I must have made up a lot of the pattern – it doesn’t really match anything period.
The outer is made from matelasse, the same fabric I used for the petticoat I wear with the Lady Anne Darcy dress. I have a vague memory of seeing one example of a quilted or matelasse men’s waistcoat, but I had a thorough search of 18th century sources and couldn’t find it, so perhaps I’m remembering wrong. In any case, it is very unlikely to have had a back and front both of the same fabric.
My waistcoat is fully lined in a cotton check. Vaguely plausible, but not likely for a 1760s waistcoat.
And my buttons, while they do a reasonable job of looking like late 18th century waistcoat buttons, do not look like mid-18th century waistcoat buttons (and the rest of the waistcoat is mid-18th century in cut – or closest to mid 18th century). Oh, and they are plastic. Very plastic!
And my buttonholes are machine sewn, since there was no point in spending the hour-per-buttonhole it would have taken me to work them by hand on such an odd garment.
Now, for the good news. The waistcoat does more-or-less fit me in stays, and I do have a matching petticoat, so it has potential as a really-not-historical foundation to an 18th century steampunk riding habit for me, should I ever need such a thing.
And for years I thought the matelasse fabric was synthetic, but I did a burn test of a scrap of it, and it turns out it’s a silk cotton blend. Happiness! So while that still isn’t a period fabric, it does make me feel much better about both the waistcoat and the petticoat of it.
The best news of all, of course, is simply that it is done, and I’ve completed something for the challenge!
The Challenge: #5 – Bodice
Fabric: 1ish metre of silk-cotton matelasse, 1ish metre of cotton, both purchased 5+ years ago, and I can’t remember what they cost, so free.
Pattern: I think I used a waistcoat pattern from Costume Close Up as my basis
Year: vaguely 1760s.
Notions: Thread, vintage plastic buttons.
How historically accurate is it? Not accurate fabric (because natural fibres still aren’t accurate if they are not the right kind of fabric, in the right weave, used for the types of garments they would have been used for in-period), not accurate cut, not based on period examples, 1/2 machine sewn, 1/2 hand sewn, not accurate notions. Let’s face it, it’s a costume: 20% if I’m generous.
Hours to complete: 7.
First worn: Not yet, but I think I will do that 18th century steampunk photoshoot someday, so at least it will be worn once!
Total cost: $0
Last week’s Charles James Surrealist frock elicited some strong feelings from you raters. Some of you adored it, some of you hated it, and some of you adored some bits and hated others. The pleated front was particularly divisive: half of you were fans of the mastery of fabric manipulation, the other half of you thought it was a scary alien fabric explosion. Whether you liked it or not, James’ green frock was memorable, but came it at a rather bland 7.6 out of 10, which is what happens if you balance a bunch of raving 10s with a few ‘eww’ 3s!
One of the things that many of you commented on with the green frock was how terrible the mannequin was, and how much that affected your perception of the dress. With that in mind, I’ve picked a frock that may win the award for worst mannequin styling photo ever:
I’m pretty sure that comes straight out of a Dr Who episode…
Luckily, there are better images of the dress! And oh boy, for an era which is known for being white and demure, is this dress ever va-va-voom!
Check out that neckline!
And it plunges in back too:
I’ll let you discuss whether you think it would have been worn with all that skin on display (and presumably without a support garment, because there is simply nowhere for one to go!), or with some sort of modesty under-dress or chemisette.
The daring silhouette is balanced by delicate details and elaborately embroidery.
Those metallic motifs do look suspiciously like lips though…
What do you think? Previous white Regency frocks have been dismissed as overly sweet or frumpy, or just flat out boring. This one is more likely to be criticised for being overly sexy and provocative, and maybe a little too exciting.
Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10
Fashion is often criticised for being frivolous, pointless and superficial: existing for no purpose, and being driven by nothing but the whims of people with too much time on their hands.
People who say this couldn’t be more wrong. Fashion is one of the truest indicators of the state of society, and as you trace the history of fashion, you see all of the events which changed the world are reflected in changes in clothes, and sometimes changes in clothes change the world.
Wars interrupt trade, and lead to changes in the availability of dyes and fibres, which show up in clothes. Trade routes out of the American South were blockaded during the American Civil War, and Europe and the Norther US had trouble sourcing cotton fabric. The South, in turn, had trouble sourcing silk and luxury items like buttons. Not quite a century later, World War II would cause so much unrest and destruction in the Far East that a number of varieties of silkworms went extinct, and certain silks can no longer be manufactured.
Dress, 1860–63, American, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.42.76.1ab
Wars can also foster trade. The various Crusades exposed Northern Europeans to the luxury fabrics of the Middle East, both those imported from China along the Silk Road, and those produced in Constantinople. What they saw, they wanted, and a trade in satins and velvets North from the Byzantine and Ottoman empires through Venice made the city rich and powerful, and forever altered Northern European fashions.
Portrait of the Venecian Doge Francesco Foscari, ca. 1457–1460 or mid to late 1470s, Lazzaro Bastiani (1430–1512), Museo Civico Correr, Venice
Natural disasters like earthquakes and major storms wipe out industries and destroy technology. The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 hugely affected the Southern European textile industries, contributing to the rise of cotton as an acceptable textile for everyday wear, and the dominance of Northern European textile manufacturing throughout the Industrial Revolution.
Caraco jacket, late 18th century, cotton, Belgian, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Natural disasters often lead to pestilence and epidemics, which have their own effects. A drought in Kashmir in the 1870s led to widespread famine, which turned into epidemics of disease. By the mid 1880s, it’s estimated that 70% of the weavers in Kashmir were dead, taking with them the Kashmiri shawl industry, and a garment that had been the epitome of luxury in Western fashion for almost a century.
Political alliances led to exchanges of materials and trends. The marriage of Catherine of Aragon to Henry VII saw the introduction of the farthingale into England in the 16th century, paving the way for the classic stiff Tudor and Elizabethan silhouettes.
Catherine Parr in a skirt supported by farthingales, by Master John, 1545, National Portrait Gallery, London
Fashion has also affected politics and world events in its own right.
Wars have been fought to gain control of fabric and fashion. Much of the English conquest of India was driven by a desire to control the flow of Indian cotton fabrics into the West (and tea, but fabric was a huge part of it).
Bergére hat, 1780s, lined with ca 1715 Coromandel Coast chintz, Meg Andrews
Wars have also been stopped, or at least paused, for fashion. During the 18th century ‘little ambassadors’ or dressed fashion dolls were routinely allowed to cross borders during conflicts where all other goods were stopped.
And nations have even engineered their entire foreign policy around fashion. Louis XIV of France set out to make France the most important nation in Europe by making it the leader in style and fashion. He created a uniform of court clothes (the robe de cour and justacorps) that became the proscribed court wear across most of Europe for a century and a quarter. At points he almost directly bribed Charles II to make the ensemble the prescribed outfit at the English court, thus spreading France’s influence, and selling France’s silks. The Sun King even want as far as to have mirror-makers and weavers kidnapped and brought to France in order to ensure that France would have the best mirrors, and could make the most beautiful fabrics.
Louis XIV and heirs with the royal governess, Formerly attributed to Nicolas de Largillière, now unknown, circa 1710
In the HSF Challenge #11, The Politics of Fashion, due Sunday 15 June, the challengers are asked to create an item that illustrates the intersection between politics and fashion. I’ve given a few ideas, but these are just a fraction of the ways in which clothes have changed and been changed by world history.
As with the Innovations challenge, this challenge may require some research, which obviously I think is fantastic. I can’t wait to see all of the beautiful creations, and to see all the ways in which we have found links between the way governments and nations were shaped and changed, and fashions were shaped and changed!