Five for Friday: Questions I’m bound to be asked at a talk

Whenever I give a talk there are certain questions I can be almost certain I will be asked.

  1. 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.

    Hours and hours of work

  2.  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.

    Ninon: more elegant than comfortable

  3.  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.

    Julie demonstrates how to sit in a hoopskirt  

  4.  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.

    Showing off my easy-cheap-not-exactly-historical hoopskirt

  5. 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!

    Delicately discussing indelicate things


  1. I’ve played weekend-long LARP roles in hoop skirts, and that experience has convinced me that you can *only* deal with bathroom breaks in a hoop skirt if you have open-crotch drawers. Otherwise, you have to mostly undress to pull your drawers down.

  2. Nicole says

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve wondered about some of the sitting and using the ladies things but never asked 🙂

  3. Karen Ralston says

    People are always surprised to learn that women didn’t wear drawers until the 19th century–and I love explaining the practicality–and necessity –of split drawers.

    • Elise says

      Ok, so embarrassed: what did they do once they had full drawers? For that matter, what about the 1910s and early 1920s long corsets? What did they do then?

      (Blush…Rabelais always made me blush, too)

      • As someone mentioned, there was a lot of dehydration and holding it! One solution was drop-bottom combinations (drawers and a bodice in one, with a button bottom). I’m not entirely sure on the longline corsets, but I have noticed that the drawers that were worn with them were very wide in the leg, so I suspect there was a certain amount of just pulling one half of the drawers to the side.

  4. Robin's Egg Bleu says

    I have a feeling that lots of women who wore hoops and multiple layers of petticoats were dehydrated most of the time. I know when I’ve got all this on, I tend to avoid liquids so that I do NOT have to go to the privy anymore than absolutely necessary. It’s such a pain!

  5. The way we have worn clothes has changed considerably down through the centuries. It’s tempting to say people so easily forget that, but the reality is much worse: most people never knew it! I would imagine the history of clothing – particularly underwear! – would be an excellent topic for a high school topic.

  6. I’m sorry I was overly assiduous re: discomfort! Next time I will adopt the phrase ‘differently comfortable.” 🙁

  7. When out for fun in my gear I get those questions too. I haven’t had to go to the “loo” in them yet. I just know that if I ever do I pray it is a roomy space and not a porta potty. Lord knows how you would get into a porta potty with hoop skirts. Never mind getting turned around and properly possitioned! (Now I’m picturing myself backing into one with my hoops lifted up fully in the back and tilted to one side. Bare backside peeking out of split drawers. Hat, parasol, reticule, gloves dumped on the ground outside the door…..)

    • At a lot of reenactments they make sure to have at least one handicapped portaloo and designate it “for ladies” lol. It helps…a little. As long as you don’t put your parasol and gloves in the “purse holder” (what at least one tourist a season is overheard referring to the urinal as…)

  8. Seamstrix says

    I have spent many, many (many) years living for long (hot) days in full Elizabethan court dress and can safely say I have extensive experience in the more earthy aspects of wearing them. Honestly, porta-johns aren’t that bad. The hoops whill squish to a certain extent and with the small porta-johns the walls can actually help you keep the skirts up by bracing on the walls. Of course you don’t bring anything in that isn’t neccessary, but I’ve never had to take my hat off. The only problem is when one does the more….erm……solid elimination as wiping one’s self around a bundled up hoop skirt can be a real challenge. And, yes, backing into the loo is the correct method but always check before hand that the lid is in the upright position because once you get in, you can’t see anything down there!

    • I sometimes suspect that the term Ladies-in-waiting refers to them waiting around until HM needs a wipe.

      • How the H E double hockey sticks do you get a lady in waiting in the porta potty with ya! And thanks but no thanks…I think I’d prefer to completely undress and do it myself! Hope the line up at the loo isn’t too long!

        • Seamstrix says

          We use sticks. Srsly. Wrap a bit of TP around the end and go. It ain’t elegant but it gets the job done.

  9. Cheyene says

    I’m dying over all the comments! Oh my gosh! lol! 😀

  10. Had to laugh at your not-exactly-historical hoop skirt. It looks like you ‘ve used alkathene water pipe for the hoops, which is what my daughter used under her 16th birthday Marie Antoinette outfit. And rather like your last minute story of the pet en l’aire, it was still going together (there was an electric drill involved) at the last minute. Guests helped finish it 🙂
    Have recently found your blog and am enjoying it very much.

  11. I love how we do costuming for two different things–yet get pretty much the same questions. Oh, and aren’t you hot in that?

  12. Delicately discussing indelicate things – you are brilliant! I loved reading this and hearing all of your answers. Your work is stunning – each of these pieces leaves me in awe.

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