Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Period Accurate Accessories?

Over on the Cloak & Corset Facebook page last week I posted the following: "Remember - any accessory, even if not period appropriate, is better than no accessory."
Apparently this advice, shared by a highly respected, fellow instructor and long-time teacher at Costume College, did not sit well with some or was taken out of context. Allow me to clarify my thinking of using accessories in your historical costumes.

First, inasmuch as your time and resources allow, you should strive to complete your period outfits with appropriate accessories. Many times a costume will seem incomplete - most often it's missing the accessories, including shoes, hairstyles and headwear. Accessories are many times the last thing we put our attention to when hastily finishing the dress to be worn in two days. Then we have that crisis moment of "Oh, crap! I need a hat."

Particularly in 19th C. wear, something on your head is a must 99% of the time. Well, for me, I'd rather grab any sort of hat or doily headcovering (within reason) than go without. I know it's not at all period accurate, but my head needs some sort of clothing/decoration.

Now in relation to my "any accessory rather than no accessory" thought, I would not put on my purple Tinker Bell baseball cap to wear with my new white sheer Regency gown. No way. But a simple straw craft hat from Michaels with a ribbon pinned to the top crown and the sides pulled down over my ears and tied under my chin - well, I could live with it if I had to - and knowing I would be getting a much more period replacement as soon as I was able. It's not accurate, but then again, the costume would not look complete without something on my head.

A modern nylon lace fan is so much better than seeing one standing in a ballroom using her hand to cool off . But on the other hand, a neon pink plastic fan would be totally wrong and would only draw negative attention toward oneself.

A plain black modern umbrella (on the small size) can do in a pinch or even one of those tiny white nylon parasols, but don't be taking a modern umbrella with a Monet painting printed on it and expect an historical looking ensemble.

The thought is to research a bit on the period you are re-creating. Look at museum displays, fashion plates, paintings and photographs - only focus on accessories. Get a feel for what the jewelry, gloves, bonnets, reticules and shoes looked like. Be resourceful with the time and money you have to get as close to that look as possible. And ignore the temptation to use any ol' thing because it looks "old-timey." 'shudder'

Remember, accessories can add tremendous value to your historical ensemble. Use them in relation to your outfit (e.g. no bonnets with ball gowns or boots on the dance floor). And always keep working to improve your period accuracy (if that is what you wish).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When Does Fashion Go Out?

When researching fashion trends of the past it's really hard to tell when the older styles were put aside and forgotten. They usually stay around, being worn by the older folks and those resistant to change, until eventually everyone adopts the new way.

It's kinda like the new iPhones and such. They are the hottest thing in cell phones. But I don't have one. Does that mean my two-year-old phone isn't going to work anymore? I'm going to use it for a long time until it wears out. Eventually I'm sure I'll get some sort of touch phone, but I'll stick with what I have for now.

This is the same sentiment for clothing. I have a favorite skirt from around 2005 that I still wear and isn't much out of style. I'll probably have it in my closet for some time because I love it. And yet, that doesn't prevent me from buying a new skirt today to include in my wardrobe.

All the articles and fashion publications we read from decades past show current trends. Once the new stuff is talked about the old items are lost from the written word.

Take the corded petticoat for instance. Just because the wired crinoline was patented in 1856 doesn't mean the petticoat was discarded immediately. As my five-year-old skirt still is worn, I bet the corded petticoat from 1845 was still worn in 1850 (if it was not worn out of course).

What do you think? How long are fashions worn before they are tossed aside? Would you have continued to wear a corded petticoat when a steel hoop skirt was available?