Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Question: Fabrics and Maternity Clothes

Today I'm answering two questions from readers and fellow writers. The first is from Sandra Ardoin.
I'm particularly interest in materials--what was available, when was it being used and for what clothing articles, details to better describe them in our stories. For instance, I don't think muslin was the muslin of today, so how did it differ?
 The simple answer is cotton. Cotton was king of fabrics for most of the 19th century. I won't go into a lot of detail here, but the history of cotton is fascinating and revolutionized fashion. But, cotton was not used in ball gowns. And there were no synthetic fabrics either. Other fabrics included wool gauze, silks of all kinds, taffeta, organdy, one called crepe de chine that I'm really not sure what it was, wool of varying gauges for colder climates and things like coats and capes, linen, and muslin. The ubiquitous calico was not a special kind of fabric. It merely referred to cotton fabric decorated with a small print. Just like today.

Muslin is the one most likely to be described wrong by a modern person. Back then muslin was a fine fabric, very soft and used for undergarments. During Napoleon's Empire, in France sheer muslin dresses worn over pink body tights was a very popular look for the merveilleuse. Today we'd call them fashionistas or divas. There are surviving examples of Egyptian muslin with a thread count of over 700. The fabric is so fine you can see through it. It was also very soft.

The second question is from Margaret Brownley.
I have a pregnant heroine.  How did women accommodate their unwieldy figures in the 1890s?
In short, about the same as today. Corsets were still worn because the corset was the equivalent of a bra today. Its purpose was support. Not restriction. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of 1890's maternity dresses, but I do have this one dated around 1859 in England.

The lines would basically be the same for the 1890's, though with a smaller skirt and different sleeves. I hope that helps.

On Monday, come back for a post where I'll share some fashion resources that in my opinion every historical writer should have on the shelf.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ensemble Inspired by a Spoon Bonnet

This first "rave" post was going to be a dress. But then I saw this hat Monday evening and knew I had to do this instead.

Hats don't pop up often when you're looking at fashion online. And it's even rarer to find a picture of just a hat. This one is magnificent!

Near as I can tell it's a spoon bonnet, circa 1862. The spoon bonnet was all the rage throughout the 1850's and the first half of the 1860's. They're quite comfortable and a lot more practical than the poke bonnet that preceded it in the 1830's and 1840's.

It looks to be made of velvet. The frame underneath the velvet is probably wire. The ribbons look to be satin, and the flowers most likely silk. Most artificial flowers back then were silk. I wish it was on a head form to know for certain if it's a spoon bonnet. The most popular hairstyle at the time was worn low on the back of the head with a center part, and the spoon bonnet fit over the hair without messing it up or giving the lady hat hair.

I'm in love with it for three reasons. First, it's purple. Purple! My favorite color. And did I mention it's velvet? Velvet! Second, it's a spoon bonnet. One of my favorite 19th century hat styles because it's so versatile and comfortable. Third, it's iconic to the part of the 19th century I'm writing about right now.

Not to mention I already have in my "collection" the perfect pair of boots to go with it. And the perfect dress to finish the look.

And there you have it. The only thing the lady still needs is a pair of gloves and a shawl.

One final word. Nowadays there's such a notion as being too "matched" in fashion. Or, as my sister puts it, "matchy-matchy". In the 19th century there's no such notion. It's also entirely possible to see this dress paired with a chartreuse straw bonnet.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This and that and some news

I don't know how many people are still reading this, but I need to get it up and going again. Have some ideas on what I can do.

So, the news. Everyone and their mother knows by now I had two requests for a full at conference last fall. From Tamela Hancock Murray and Rachelle Gardner. Well, it's finally off to them! I've conquered my first series proposal at Tamela's request, including conquering the dreaded synopsis. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I got stuck for a few days trying to figure out the end of book three. That one is the least developed.

I'm considering a new weekly thing on my blog. Maybe more than weekly. I love 19th century fashion. Love love love it. Especially the middle part of the century. Other writers I hang out with are always asking me fashion questions. My Pinterest account is full of dresses from the 19th century, heavily favoring the 1860's right now. Because that's what I'm writing right now and because it happens to be my favorite decade of the 19th century.

Instead of me just raving about dresses I'm in love with, I'd love to answer questions about historical fashion. Specifically from writers, but I'm open to questions from others too. I think it'd be fun.