Saturday, June 14, 2008

Apparel of the Masses

When did t-shirts get so expensive? I realised that I have been wearing the same tired t-shirts for years now ("Republicans for Voldemort?" SO 2004!) so I thought I might trot over to CafePress and pick up a couple new ones. I had my eye on one in particular: "Paul Revere Was A Tattletale" which I think is hilarious. But not for $26.99 (including shipping)! Even better was a CW-themed shirt that showed a "caution: historical interpreter crossing" sign. Again, hilarious. Again, 26.99? Darr. Maybe I'll just wander over to one of those "make your own" sites and spit out that "kiss me hardy!" t-shirt I've been dreaming of. :)

Ah, how far we've come in two hundred years. For the past two weeks I've been surrounded--literally--by the outfit below, which was put together by no less than three members of the women's team at CW. Briefly, let me explain how clothes in the 18th century worked...

First, you have a shift, which is a cotton undergarment that goes from your elbows to your knees.

Then stays, which are not a corset. They are heavy cloth and metal, tying up the back, which creates a cone shape in the torso, not the hourglass figure we think of when we see people being winched into corsets.

Then you have hoops. Or not, depending on your status in society. Not "hoops" like Scarlett O'Hara type hoops, but two small cages worn on either hip that create the look of "wide birthing hips" so desired by women of this time. CW's hoops are pocket hoops, meaning there is a hole in the top of the canvas bag that contains the metal cages, so that women can carry their possessions around in their hoops. Alternately, you might wear a regular pocket, which is a pouch that ties around the waist.

Then a petticoat, which is outerwear. A petticoat is not a skirt, although it looks like one. A petticoat has two sets of ties, one ties around the back and the other around the front. A small slit in either side let you get at your pocket. A lot of people ask if the women at CW have cooler clothes for warmer weather. Not really. Usually they'll wear worn-out or lighter weight clothes, but there are no short petticoats here. The alternative is to wear more layers when it gets colder.

On the top is the gown. A shortgown, which goes to about the knees, or a full-on gown, which covers the whole petticoat, except where it's open in the front. In the eighteenth century, the stomacher (the bit that goes across in the front) would have been held closed with straight pins: CW uses hooks and threat eyes. A gown is not a dress, something I've been reminded of repeatedly, as I sit in the middle of the women's team.

Lower-class or working women would have worn jackets, which are not the outerwear of today, but single-layer shirts that are either tied in the front or pinned closed.

An apron would be tied over all to protect your petticoat (or show off your lace, if you're rich), and a kerchief would be around your neck to protect your skin from the sun and your modesty from roving eyes.

Everyone wears a cap, except for people wearing wigs. This is not the "non-period period" mobcap, but a sort of modified bonnet. It doesn't protect your face from the sun: a straw hat would be pinned in place through the hair to shield your eyes and skin.

And then in the winter you'd add a cloak and mitts--mitts have open fingers so women could still be working and sewing even if it was cold. They could also be worn in the summer to protect from the sun. No sunscreen here!

Orange Brocade by ~ColeV on deviantART

So this dress was made for a new production at CW called "Old Maid" that is opening in a couple weeks. This dress is for the Old Maid herself--a woman who is desperately trying to attact a husband. It has two petticoats, the one underneath is barely visible here, but it's pleated across the bottom, and the one on top is gathered like like drapery. They are actually sewn together into the same waist-tape, so that the actress has less around her waist. After this picture was taken, the executive decision was made to use a set of full hoops, so the dress is actually wider than it appears here--about five feet. According to one of the women I work with, who is also teching on this show, the actress has to walk sideways through a door to make her entrance. Which is period accurate. Also hilariously funny. The aquamarine bows and tassels are only pinned on--when the dress comes in for cleaning, they will come off so they won't get crushed by the dry-cleaning process. This picture was stolen off the Deviantart page of the woman who put the gown and petticoat together and figured out how to gather it all up--she's got more geeky details of how it went together for any of you costumers out there. At one point, the petticoat was tied onto a mannequin and hoisted up onto a table for hemming--a feat that required three people--prompting her to note: "It's like raising the flag at Iwo Jima!"

I'm hoping once I move into my new place and have some room to spread out to get some fabric and some patterns and make my own period clothing...first I'd like to make a suit of clothes and then, if I'm still feeling it, a petticoat and gown of my own. Something in green, perhaps...

1 comment:

Samantha said...

Stays and corsets are interchangeable terms. They are boned undergarments that force the body into the desired shape of that period's particular silhouette. Unfortunately those not in the know usually only think of the corset's brief hourglass era from the 1810's through 1910's instead of it's entire shape changing gamut from the 1500's to today. The only real difference between corsets and stays is that the term stays was used til about 1840 then replaced by the term corset. So yes, I suppose you are technically right in that the colonists would use stays seeing as the term corset had not yet been coined.