Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Public Service Announcement: Pinterest and the Costumer

I say the following in the spirit of good research, which for me as a(n) historian is so crucial to one's credibility in the field. I don't mean to belittle or attack anyone, just to hopefully help folks when looking for inspiration for sewing projects.

I know a lot of us make historical clothing for different reasons and with different levels of accuracy in mind, so far be it from me to judge who does what. However, citing your sources correctly is imperative for everyone because it gives credit where credit is due and helps spread correct information. In our age of technology, nothing spreads faster than false information which is almost instantly accepted as truth because it's on The Interwebz. I've been victim of this myself a few times, I readily admit!

But one thing in particular is bugging me. Pinterest. A lot of things are circulating as fast as the flu on there that are either a) original garments or images with incorrect information or b) modern garments and images, whether from a movie or a modern sewer, which are said to be originals. I also have a lot of problems with Pinterest outside of historical clothing, but this subject pertains most to my blog and its readers.

I'm going to focus on part B of the above statement, with particular regards to the costumes from Italian costume house Tirelli Costumi. This company makes drop-dead gorgeous stuff! It is just stunning in its detail, and looks very close to original garments.

These are some of the main offenders. All of them are from movies and are not original garments.


So what's the problem with these costumes being mislabeled as originals clothes? Well, I like to think of it as the difference between primary and secondary sources when writing research papers. Primary sources are from the period, written, made, or otherwise created by people who lived in that particular time. They act as evidence which is then interpreted by historians who then write... secondary sources. These are historians' interpretations of history, to put it most simply. They take the rough data and give it some kind of meaning. Both sources are used in research, but they mean different things and have different weight. Primary sources are like the bloody knife found at the murder scene with the alleged murder's fingerprints allllllll over it. If you want excellent evidence to prove that the alleged murder did it, there is little better than that!

When I seek to create a period garment, I like to gather at least three "primary sources," or what I consider my bloody knives (morbid, lol). Stuff I know will back me up as being done in the period I wish to recreate. These three sources  are:

1) original garments
2) original fashion plates, paintings, or other images (taken with a grain of salt for artists' interpretations)
3) original photographs (if available--obviously not before the 1830s!)

Movie costumes are not one of these things. They are costumers' interpretations of past fashion. They are "secondary sources." They can absolutely be inspiration! But they are not the bloody knife to bring into court to convict the murderer.

So if you see a movie costume you love and want to see if you can "prove" aspects of it existed in the actual period, try to find your pieces of evidence to back it up--then go for it!!

13 comments:

Scene in the Past said...

Thank you again for identifying that first one for me. I saw it on the Sewing Academy, of all places, and did an image search to find what I thought was the original source. I also hate it when reproductions are identified as originals, so I thought I was being really careful! It was definitely not a repin from anyone else.

Samantha said...

i have seen that one in particular come up a lot from lots of different people... and actually, jen pinned it too! i hope you don't feel like i singled you out! i've been thinking about writing this post for a long time, but seeing it come up again today reminded me.

Quinn said...

It's quite true that you do have to be careful when labeling images. It's also true that tracking down the original source for some images is super challenging sometimes, so thanks for sharing these images in particular. I agree that it is important to separate reproductions from original pieces in terms of research and sources, but that doesn't mean that a reproduction can't provide inspiration, whether it can be backed up or not. Some things are just lovely for what they are. As you pointed out, different people have different aims in their historical sewing, but that doesn't mean that inspiration images should be labeled incorrectly.

Best,
Quinn

Rebecca said...

I do consider myself a historically accurate seamstress and not a "costumer". However, I pin originals, repros, and movie costumes onto my historical clothing boards. It's a matter of inspiration for me, but I always do the research to back it up. If I find a movie garment that I love, I'll find similar period examples of the different components (bodice, skirt, etc), and make sure it's feasible that they actually would go together. But my boards are a mixture, and hopefully that won't confuse any other pinners. :-)

The Choll said...

This is yet another reason why my Pinterest account is so neglected. I enjoy perusing the pretty pictures, but it is BEYOND frustrating to track a lovely gown or accessory back to "uploaded by user" or a random Tumblr account. Grr!

In other news, I (among many others, I'm sure!) have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!
http://threadheaded.blogspot.com/2013/03/id-like-to-thank-academy.html

ista said...

I try to only pin primary source items and include all the information I have including museum, item number, date, description. the few items that don't have that I don't count on being original to the period.

Yes it takes longer to pin, but *I* want to know exactly where images come from and the full details
http://pinterest.com/costumerw/

Stefanie said...

I dislike pinterest for the same reason. When I find images I like I always try to find the correct source, because I do like to know what exactly can be seen on the image. But finding the correct source isn't always as easy...

Yvonne Virgadamo said...

Thank you. I find it really frustrating when I can't trace something back to the original. I try very hard to label each of the historical pieces with all the information I can find about it. If I know it is a reproduction, I label it as such. If it was only "inspired" I label that too. Unfortunately I pinned a lot of things when I first started without back-checking them, so now I have an enormous amount of images to go through and label properly. I apologize for any misunderstanding this may have caused.
I do try to show my documentation for what I do on my blog, and I think I'm doing a fairly good job there. I've been doing some posts on specific items that are found in collections as I find them. It's helping me to keep what I've found organized and accessible.

Kendra said...

I think the problem is that there's a mix of people using Pinterest, and a lot of us use it as "ooooo pretty!" inspiration. I know when I use it, that's how I use it. I don't see it as a particularly useful research tool, and I keep my research files separate. Okay, sure, I see images on there that I want to track down, but because its so focused on images, most accompanying content gets lost.

K said...

Thank you for this! I own a lot of originals and a number of them show up on Pinterest -- except they don't have the information that I put on them when I display them, and they're frequently misidentified (e.g., "cotton" when they're really wool, "solid color" when they're really print, "polka dots" when they're really figured). But then, I've never understood why people want to re-post other people's stuff.....

keowyndrial said...

Thank you for posting about this! I agree: it's why I avoid Pinterest, since someone posting the source so I can follow it back to the original page is waaaaay too rare an occurrence to make searching through it useful when looking for real examples. I tend to use museums' digital collections and Google searches (usually to museum sites if the site itself is tough to navigate), anyway, since it's faster AND accurate...

Anna W Bauersmith said...

Does anyone know how to make the majority of the pinterest boards private? My pins are full of random thoughts about an item that have to do with what ever I am thinking about at the time (travel, size of bonnets, flowers, etc.) This is meant for me, not everyone to get all confused. I'd rather have a visual bookmarking system in my computer actually.
Anna

Glenna Jo Christen said...

Keowyndrial... As shocking and depressing as it may be, even museums sometimes get at least the dates wrong.
After going through many collections and talking to curators over the years I understand why this can happen. Curators can't be experts in their museum's entire collection or even a large portion. Even if it is a specialty museum, they can't be experts in all aspects. As a result, they depend on various sources for dating items; the donor's family stories (we know how wildly off those can be!), their own expertise, comparison to similar well documented items and very often, their educated (or otherwise) guesses.
I've had at least a few museums actually change the dating on items after I was able to offer valid reasons and/or documentation for corrected dates. (Talk about personal validation for your own research! :-))
As others have pointed out, Pinterest is not a reliable source for research, but it is great place to share what interests us, which is the point of it after all, right?
Glenna Jo