In 2014, I started a series of posts using the acronym 19CBRE, meaning “19th Century Ball Room Etiquette”. (You can read about my reasons for starting this series of posts in the original post here.) I’ve been on-and-off-again posting in this category (the last post was in 2016…), but I’ve had some further ideas in mind despite not actually posting them.
“If you are prudent you will not dance every dance, nor, in fact, much more than half the number on the list; you will then escape that hateful redness of face at the time, and that wearing fatigue the next day which are among the worst features of a ball.
The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen. London: Hogg and Sons, 1859. 343. (Available online here)
The reason the quote reminds me of Denmark is because I most certainly did not escape “that hateful redness of face”! That’s a tall order in a warm room. I was also exhausted the next day, but that was due in part to a wonderfully long week of dancing all day each day. As evidenced in this case, sometimes these evils are worth facing… and sometimes I find that I would rather conserve my energy for the dances I really enjoy and not dance every single dance. My choice often depends on the venue, the special qualities of the ball, and the skill level of my partners. Facing a challenging set of dances in a special ball at a special place is more likely to lead me away from the etiquette manual’s guidance. What choice would you make?
If you’d like to read more of the snippets of etiquette I’ve highlighted over the years you can do so here.
There’s still a post coming soon about the construction details of my 1896 Cycling Ensemble, but I have quite a bit to say so it’s taking a bit of time to write. While working on it I found some great examples of other ingenious bicycling clothing for women patented and advertised around this time.
I mentioned the skirt variations in the introduction post for the cycling ensemble:
“Most women in the 1890s stuck to the traditional, socially acceptable silhouette of an ankle length skirt for bicycling, but this could be dangerous as the skirt could become entangled in the spokes and chain while riding. Solutions to this problem included adaptations to the bicycle, such as a ‘skirt guard’ that sat over the rear wheel and kept the skirt from entangling itself, and adaptations to the clothing, including skirts with cords that could allow them to be raised while riding and skirts that were one piece in the front but split into legs in the back, as with a modern ‘skort’ (a skirt/short combination garment).”
I thought it would be fun to share the patents I found that illustrate these other styles of skirts!
First, an example of a bicycle ‘skirt guard.’ The ‘skirt guard’ is visible on the back wheel on the bicycle. Here is a patent from 1898 showing a skirt guard, as well.
Next, I have a patent from 1896 for a skirt with an ‘elevator’ which would allow the skirt to be raised with cords to make cycling safer. You can see the bloomers she is wearing underneath when her skirt is raised. This would allow the cyclist to be appropriately clothed while not riding and safely clothed while on the bicycle.
The next patent from 1895 shows the ‘skort’ style. This looks like a skirt in the front but is split in the back. The back is quite full, so that the appearance is that of a skirt.
Then I also came across this unusual method of a skirt with pieces that button on and off in front and back to reveal a bifurcated style underneath from 1895. It looks like this was designed so that the folded up pieces will hang from the front of your bicycle so you have them handy when you arrive at your destination. But I wonder how hard it would be to twist and bend in your corset to button and unbutton all of these connection points? My guess based on personal experience twist and bending in a corset is that it would be quite a challenge to do by yourself!
Here’s another interesting patent from 1896. These very full ankle length trousers that look like a skirt can be buttoned up around the knees to turn into knee length bloomers.
This image shows a women clearly wearing bloomers, but with a knee length skirt on top to still give a nod to the 19th century aversion to women opening wearing trousers (or bloomers).
I love that most of these women are shown wearing their gaiters! It’s justification for my own pair. I came across this advertisement for ‘bicycle leggings’ as well. Neat!
Finally, here’s an example of a corset intended specifically for sportswear and athletic pursuits. It makes use of some stiffness as well as some elastic and is expressly made for activities such as bicycling.
My inspiration for creating this ensemble is a talk I’ve been invited to give at both the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Newport Historical Society. The talk, titled Undressing History: Active Pursuits, Women’s Sportswear c.1900, will take a look at the clothing women wore to participate in sports and athletic activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I’ll be actively dressing in multiple of my sportswear ensembles from 1885 to 1925, including clothing that could be worn for tennis, ice skating, bicycling, croquet, and swimming. I’ll discuss the cultural context of women’s participation in athletic activities during this time as well as the garments themselves: how they functioned while being worn for active pursuits, what they were made from, and how the silhouettes compared to non-sports clothing. I’ll be presenting this talk twice: on February 28 in Providence, RI and on March 28 in Newport, RI. If you’re interested in joining me, you can find more details about the event here.
As you might have noticed from my links to other sportswear ensembles I already own, I was missing a cycling ensemble. Bicycling became hugely popular for women in the 1890s, with a peak in 1896, so I felt that I must include this form of sportswear in my talk. And while I could use my 1895 skating ensemble as an example of the silhouette that would have been worn for bicycling while wearing a skirt, I felt it would be fun to show what the more daring and dedicated sportswomen of the 1890s wore: a bloomer suit. Full they might be, but those are pants!
Daring and dedicated, that’s me in this outfit. Most women in the 1890s stuck to the traditional, socially acceptable silhouette of an ankle length skirt for bicycling, but this could be dangerous as the skirt could become entangled in the spokes and chain while riding. Solutions to this problem included adaptations to the bicycle, such as a ‘skirt guard’ that sat over the rear wheel and kept the skirt from entangling itself, and adaptations to the clothing, including skirts with cords that could allow them to be raised while riding and skirts that were one piece in the front but split into legs in the back, as with a modern ‘skort’ (a skirt/short combination garment).
While that is amusing, I thought it would be more fun to make the most socially daring option: fully bifurcated bloomers. Some women wore these under a skirt while riding in order to maintain modesty. And some women, daring in terms of breaking the social conventions of the time and dedicated in terms of taking advantage of the newfound freedom a bicycle afforded, wore skirts that they would remove while riding, with bifurcated bloomers such as mine underneath.
Interestingly, a fashionable, tailor-made wool jacket like this could cost as much as $50 in 1896. Calculated in today’s dollars, that would be over $1,000. Quite a sum, and that doesn’t even include the bloomers or accessories! For those who had less disposable income, a linen suit provided a more economical option. With cheaper fabric, a dressmaker instead of a tailor, and patterns shared amongst customers, a full linen suit could be obtained for $7. That’s down to just about $150 in today’s dollars.
I have lots of construction details to share from making the bloomers and jacket, so there will be a detailed post focused on that soon. For now, here are a few close up photos of details, including my hidden pocket!
It was an exciting adventure to get photos of this outfit. In order to get timely photos I had to take the outdoors as I found it, snow and all. I valiantly tromped around, but I’ll admit that my feet were getting pretty wet and cold by the time we were done! Here’s a behind-the-scenes action shot on the way to getting the more finished photos–following my photographer’s path in the snow in a rather futile effort to keep the snow out of my shoes.
Sometime in the spring, perhaps, I’ll be able to ride a bike in my ensemble and get photos that give more context. In the meantime, we got some lovely winter-y photos and had some good laughs! Thanks to my intrepid photographer for making the time to take photos!
Over the summer, my dance group was invited to create a turn-of-the-century atmosphere for a weekend on Bakers Island, off the coast of Salem, MA. Today, the part of the island we were on is managed by Essex Heritage and is home to a lighthouse, but for our visit the idea was that visitors to the island could get a sense of what the island would have been like over 100 years ago when there was a large hotel located there.
We didn’t actually dance, but we played historical games and activities and explained our context to the visitors. They came upon us along various paths during their walking tour.
I wore my 1904 Anne of Green Gables ensemble. This time, though, I had a new belt and I got my hat to behave. It’s supposed to flip up in back, but was misbehaving last time I wore it and was flipped down in back. Boo!
The new belt is green silk covered with the same lace that I used on the skirt. The green isn’t a perfect match to the skirt, but I like that it coordinates without being too match-y. Taking a photo of it also allowed us to capture the subtle lace detail and woven stripe in the fabric of the blouse better than we did last time, which was a bonus outcome.
In between tours, we took some group photos around the lighthouse and the light keeper’s house. The light keeper’s house, in particular, provided us with some really adorable photos. These were provided to us by the light keepers, who keep their own charming blog (currently about their stay on Bakers Island this summer) which you can view here.
Behind the scenes, we needed to arrive before the visitors to set up. Given when boats were available that meant we had to arrive the day before the visitors. There aren’t any indoor accommodations we were able to take advantage of, so it was camping in tents for us. I’m not really a camping kind of person, but thankfully other people had tents to share. Between the modern equipment and food that we needed as well as the historical clothes, games, and amusements, we had quite the pile of luggage for two days and seven people! Here we are waiting for the boat back to the mainland.
A new adventure complete! The croquet set is still in place but the players are gone! Maybe someday there will be others (or maybe us, who knows?) to once again bring history to life on this island.
A few months ago, I had a post with the same name that focused on two Regency dresses that had experienced closet shrinkage. The post was centered around what I did to make them wearable again. Around the same time I was battling the Regency closet shrinkage, I encountered the same problem with two of my older mid-19th century dresses as well. Boo!
It took me awhile to do anything about the problem and even longer to post about it, but here we are.
There was a time when the back edges of Evie’s bodice met from top to bottom. In fact, if you look at the pictures in this post from 2013 you’ll see that there was even excess fabric around the waist (yikes, but that does mean my waist has expanded a fair bit!); however, by February 2016, the bodice looked like this:
Uh oh! That wasn’t going to do for wearing at a ball! So I brought my corset and bodice (plus the other bodice I’ll mention shortly), got all laced up, and had a friend measure the gap between the back bodice edges and take pictures for documentation (so I wouldn’t forget the measurement, because let’s face it, my memory is pretty terrible sometimes).
Then I pondered my options. There was no way to let out the seams on this bodice, as the fabric has scarred at every point the needle and thread passed through. Plus, I didn’t leave much seam allowance anyway. Given my limited options, I decided that a placket was the best way to go. Many extant dresses using lacing as the method of closure on bodices and I’m sure that ladies in the 19th century changed sizes, too. I went on a hunt and couldn’t find an example of a bodice with a placket showing between the lacing, but museums have the benefit of being able to put their collections on forms rather than real people, which allows for easier adjustability to have the lacing edges touching. (If you know of any examples of a bodice laced with a placket under the gap, please let me know!) Anyway, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to assume that some ladies in the 19th century used the same method I did to allow adjustability in their bodices.
In addition to the placket, I also had to extend the bertha to bridge the gap. For that I was able to unfold my seam allowance, respace my gold ruffle, and cover the remaining gap with a rosette of gold like the one on the front of the bodice (another instance of the benefit of saving all the scraps from a project–this finished off the gold bits I had leftover from the original construction). Thankfully, these changes worked. I wore Evie to a ball in March 2016 and was happy as a clam. The placket was hardly noticeable and now the dress is much more adjustable!
The second bodice was for the dress named Annabelle, which was made in 2011 (and worn again later in 2011). This bodice also closed all the way down the back when it was made. Well, that’s not the case any more. Actually, a few years ago I’d already converted the closure from being hooks and eyes with folded over seam allowance to lacing with less seam allowance folded over in order to eek out a little more space, but that just wasn’t enough. By 2016, here’s how we were looking. It was time for a more drastic update.
Not bad! The only thing I want to change is making that top edge actually stay matched rather than the one side riding up. But that’s a minor change. Overall, I’m pleased to be able to continue to wear this dress!
There we are–two more examples of how to fix the-dress-no-longer-fits problem! It was incredibly lovely to receive comments on the Regency post that other people also experience closet shrinkage and have already adapted their clothing to deal with it or are now inspired to do so. It is my hope that continuing to post about this topic will encourage others come to terms with their own changing size as well as ideas for how we can all deal and move forward while still being able to wear our finery.
Summer temperatures lingered on here until just the other day, though they were not quite as hot and humid as they were on the 4th of July…
The day of the event started off a bit rocky, as I was confused about what time I was meeting my friends to carpool and so was just starting to get ready as they were getting in the car to leave the house I was supposed to meet them at, an hour from my house! I wound up driving to the event by myself and getting there a bit late. It wasn’t a great way to start the day, but at least it went up from there.
Being the beginning of July, it was hot, even in the morning. I was dripping sweat just standing still in the shade and I didn’t sit down until after pictures were taken because I knew how wrinkly my rayon dress would be as soon as I even looked at a chair! See, no wrinkles… yet!
As you have probably deduced by now, I made a new dress! The goal was to have a war-time 1940s dress made from a fabric that had been sitting in the stash since 2013 waiting to be made into a 1930s or 1940s dress.
The dress is constructed from 3ish yards of rayon. (I don’t remember the exact yardage.) It’s a greyish/mauve color with little teal clovers all over. It’s machine sewn and hand finished. The seam allowances are left raw on the inside–a detail I have noticed in 1940s dresses I’ve had the chance to observe.
The dress closes with 12 buttons which run in groups of two down the front (and a hidden hook and eye at the waist). It’s a perfect detail for wartime, when I’ve read that zippers were being used less frequently so the metal could go to the war effort. The buttons-in-groups-of-two detail was directly inspired by this image. (The image came from this post by The Closet Historian. It has many lovely dresses from the Spring/Summer 1943 Montgomery Ward catalogue.)
I spent lots of time looking at buttons on Etsy in order to find some that matched the particular shade of teal I was looking for. I was so pleased when I found them! It was only after I ordered them that I realized they were shipping from Europe. I was very nervous they wouldn’t arrive in time for the event! Luckily, they arrived just a few days before, giving me just enough time to sew them on the dress. Whew!
I couldn’t find a buckle in the same teal color and I thought that might be too matchy anyway, so I went with a slightly grayish mother of pearl buckle instead, also from Etsy.
The pattern is a mix up of two different things: a 1970s shirt dress pattern for the bodice/sleeves and a self-drafted skirt pattern. I wanted to get the two pleats in the front of the skirt like the inspiration image has while also making the hem as full as was allowed during wartime rationing–a sweep of 74″. These two requirements made it easier to pattern something myself than try to start with anything I could easily find. I like the pleats in the front, but wish I had placed them a little farther towards the side seams. Oh well!
The back of the skirt is shaped with darts. Turns out they’re a little tipsy and listing towards the side seams… oops. The square-shoulder 1940s silhouette is achieved with the assistance of some super thick shoulder pads. Looks pretty silly on a hanger but slightly less silly on me, thankfully!
I like this photo of those of us from our group who were dressed in civilian clothes. In fact, there’s a whole series of us walking towards and away from the camera. It was hard to narrow it down to just one!
Before I made it, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about an early 1940s day dress. I like shirt dresses when I see them but I don’t usually wear clothes with collars (nor many garments with buttons), so these were an unusual touch in my wardrobe. I’m pleased to report that with the proper accessories and hairstyle I felt perfectly comfortable and un-frumpy in this new decade. Win! Next up, a post with all the details of my successful victory rolls!
Whether you sew historical clothing or not, I think it’s likely you’ve experienced the following phenomenon: You buy or make a lovely dress or other garment and wear it once (or maybe you wear it a lot). The season changes and you put said lovely garment away in the closet to await the next year’s season. When you next go to wear it, you realize that the garment no longer fits. It has obviously shrunk in the closet! I find that circumferences are the worst culprits for closet shrinking: waists, ribcage, arms… How dare they?!?
This has happened to me with both modern ready-made clothes and historical ones. Unlike modern ones, which usually hang around for a few years until I feel emotionally ready to donate them to someone else who might actually fit into them, my historical clothing has the benefit of being able to be resized with relatively little effort (certainly much less than making a new garment!). Depending on how I’ve constructed the garment, seams might be able to be let out or, being the pack rat that I am, I have more of the fabric hanging around and I can cut new pieces or add to what is there to expand at the necessary areas.
The more often I come across this problem in my wardrobe, the more I realize the benefit of making my clothing more adjustable from the start, with things like drawstrings and lots of overlap on opaque garments. (Did you notice that most of the closures on my recent 1817 Duchess Regency Gown were drawstrings? There might be an intentional rationale there… My 1811 Elusive Blue Gown also closes with ties and drawstrings, another intentional decision.)
In the past year or two, I realized that two of my older and oft-worn Regency dresses had experienced closet shrinkage. I wanted to continue to be able to wear them and so I started thinking of the best ways to alter the size to make them wearable again. Luckily, both of these dresses fall into the category of ‘I kept the extra fabric and have plenty to play with to resize them.’
It’s always closed with hooks and eyes, but when I went to wear it last year it wouldn’t close! With some safety pins, we got it to this point, but I was afraid for the integrity of the fabric because it was stretched so tightly.
I was able to use someone’s small scissors to take out the stitches along the back edge with the loops on it to get a bit more fabric across and we used the safety pins for bars with a piece of ribbon folded behind to stabilize the now-only-one-layer of fabric. But I wasn’t willing to let people see it looking like this!
Thankfully, I had a shawl with me and I wore it the entire evening to cover the back. I was apparently nonchalant enough that no one realized I was wearing a shawl to cover the fact that my dress wouldn’t close, but I was awfully warm while dancing! Something had to be done before I would wear the dress again.
I pondered multiple ideas, but the one I settled on was to cut new center back pieces with more width to them and sew them over the current, too-small pieces. I also had to piece the waistband to extend it as well as re-pleating the skirt to fit the larger size waistband, but it looks pretty good, I’d say.
The inside of the dress now looks like this. Previously, it was unlined (I did a post about the original inside finishing of this dress, which you can see here). Now, the center back panel has a lining to help stabilize it and encase the original back panels and waistband extension. Still tidy, yay!
In addition, the armhole openings had become quite tight. I wanted a little more space to be comfortable, so I also added underarm gussets (the upside down triangle). I simply opened up the seam and added a diamond shaped piece. It’s diamond shaped and folded in the center to hide the raw edges inside and out. I didn’t bother to add a band at the bottom, as I figured this gusset was in a place no one was likely to see such detail.
The other dress is my 1812 white square neck Ikea gown. I made this in 2012and have also worn it many times. Before the recent changes, I had made no other alterations to the dress since I first made it.
This dress also had a panel added to center back, but I had to more carefully follow the details of the dress, including the small seams (because of the sheer fabric) and the tucked waistband. This dress has spent a lot of time in the sun, and between that and being gently washed a few times, the fabric has become a much brighter white than it started out. It’s not noticeable, until I add a piece of the same fabric that has been sitting in my stash and the light hits it just right. (It’s convenient for pointing out the new fabric though, because it’s pretty obvious in the picture below!)
Sometimes, this would bother me. But it’s only noticeable in some light and I hope that eventually the pieces will also brighten. Plus, it’s entirely historically reasonable to piece a gown using more of the fabric that hasn’t faded in the same way as the rest of the garment to adjust the size. It’s much more practical than making an all new garment!
I had to regather the skirt on this dress (like I had to repleat the red one) to accommodate the new waistband size. I also added an underarm gusset on this dress to help the arm openings be more comfortable.
While the red dress fit pretty perfectly after the alterations, the white dress alterations proved to be too much (it’s hard to fit these things on yourself when the closures are in the back!) and I now need to move my eyes over and add a drawstring to the top of the back neckline to keep my undergarments from showing. Sometimes it seems like some garments will never leave the to-do list. Oh well! Does that happen to you? You think a garment is done until you wear it and realize it needs something changed or added? (I’m proud to report that between the time I started writing this post and the time I finished writing this post I completed those final two notes–drawstring and bars–and now the dress is done and ready to get put away! Hooray for getting rid of UFOs!)
Do you ever resize your modern or historical clothing after closet shrinkage? What methods have you used?