I thought it would be nice to give us something a bit easier to start with, and I think it’s good to remember that not every important historical garment is massively elaborate and over-the-top.
Throughout history people have depended on simple, workable garments – the historical equivalent of our T-shirts. There are lots of periods when even the very rich wore mix-and-match separates that were (relatively) washable and easy to make. One of the things about Princess Alexandra that particularly impressed Queen Victoria when they met was her frugality in dress – Queen Victoria commended her for wearing the same jacket with multiple skirts, and thought it demonstrated a praiseworth restraint and sensibility in dress and character.
I was hoping to do a whole post of simple historical inspiration, but the problem with simple, easy to wear, easy to make garments is that not many of them have lasted to come down to us. We tend to wear T-shirts until they are unwearable, and carefully preserve our fanciest garments, like wedding dresses, for posterity.
In my mind there are three ways to interpret ‘Something Simple’;
- Make a type of historical garment that you are really comfortable sewing up. I can whip up a full 1850s cartridge pleated skirt or a 1930s day dress in a couple of hours, whereas an equally easy (technically) 18th century chemise takes me a little longer, just because of practice.
- Make something that really is simple in design and techniques, like a Roman pallas (it’s just a hemmed rectangle), or a fichu (a hemmed triangle), or an apron.
- Make something that is a wardrobe basic for your favourite period, like the aforementioned 1850s cartridge pleated skirt or 18th century chemise.
If you are stuck there have been some fantastic suggestions on the Facebook page, and here are a few inspiration pieces:
First, the aforementioned pallas and stola:
Second, I am obsessed with the sheer fichu (I’m sure there is a proper Renaissance name for it) that Ghirlandaio’s blonde is wearing. I want to make the whole outfit, but I’m wear just the fichu over a modern strapless cocktail dress because I love it that much.
Another obsession? These pockets. All you need is some fabulous 18th century appropriate fabric, and a few hours:
A little more complicated, but so eminently practical, a mid 19th century chemise:
This ‘teens evening dress didn’t get the highest Rate the Dress rating, but that had a lot to do with the fabric. In a different fabric, it would be a stunning and easy dress:
Speaking of stunning, I adore Natalia Goncharova as a fashion and textile designer, and her dresses really rely on simple cut (a basic tube with shirred shoulders) and fabulous fabric – so very easy to imitate.