My first large sewing project for myself was, fittingly, an 1860s gown nick-named “Belle.” (This is the full story of Belle.) Owning a gown like this was a childhood fantasy for me, ever since my first days of loving Gone With The Wind. I finished construction of this gown about four years ago and since then I’ve lovingly stored it and its accompanying undergarments and hoops in my closet, alongside all my modern clothes.
I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to wear Belle for the last four years, not only to give a purpose to the dress I so lovingly created, but also to see how it feels to wear it for a hours at a time. I just recently attended an event called Fezziwig’s Ball, which was presented by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers in Salem, Massachusetts. I was able to sing Christmas carols, dance, and have a real experience wearing Belle–and I was in the company of others who not only appreciated my hard work, but who had also worked hard to create and wear their own 1860s dresses!
I learned a vast amount of small details about the practicalities (or hindrances) of wearing 1860s clothing. For example, I understand now why vintage dances from this period turn constantly in the same direction: because your hoops gain so much momentum that they can only sustain fast, continuous movement in one direction, not changing directions. That particular sensation was just not as clear when I was practicing dancing in modern pants or knee length skirts. Also, I have much clearer idea of why women would faint so often. Imagine dancing fast for four minutes in modern clothes, but then imagine doing the same amount of movement while laced into a corset! I felt faint after four minutes of fast dancing, and my corset wasn’t laced nearly as tightly as ladies would have been laced in the 1860s.
I had so much fun learning first hand and am quite sure I have more lessons in store for me in the future! I’m eagerly awaiting the next 1860s themed ball to be presented in March 2011 by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, the Returning Heroes Ball, a specifically 1860s Grand Ball.
- Fezziwig’s Ball (shoeblogs.com)