Friday, March 23, 2012

Going the Distance: Quick Fixes-White Collars

This section is focused on things you can do to update your existing wardrobe to make it more accurate. These suggestions are all things that I believe can be inexpensively and easily done, and can immediately take your visual impression to the next level of accuracy. A few of the suggestions will be elaborated upon in the following posts, because they relate to fabric and silhouette choices that are complex in their historical context. I have written this section with the beginning re-enactor in mind: someone who has been given or purchased a dress and accessories and wishes to improve them until she can make (or have made) an accurate dress of her own.

White Collars: The overwhelming majority of women during the period wore white collars with their dresses. These were not only decorative, but highly functional as well. Collars served to protect the dress from the dirt and oils of the body. They were removable which meant that they could be easily washed of the dirt and oils they picked up. When one thinks of the laundering practices of the 1860s, one can easily see why a woman would rather wash a few collars than a few dresses! Collars were often basted or pinned into a dress, and could be switched out between dresses.


If you look at the images in the day dresses category of Anna Allen’s website, you will note that most of the collars are THIN. Many measure less than 2” in depth. In the 1840s and 50s, WIDE collars were fashionable. So choosing a wide collar in the 1860s would have instantly dated you as being “out of fashion” to the contemporary eye. They are often of plain white cotton (or sometimes linen), sometimes embroidered (again in white—known as whitework or broderie anglaise) or with a lace edging (like whitework or a net lace). Full lace collars are much rarer, and if they are lace, they are very fine.

Plain jewel collar.

Collars of the 1860s come in generally two styles: a “jewel” collar that lays flat around the neck, and a stand up collar that stands up from the neckline of the dress. Stand up collars sometimes had an "outer" collar made of the dress fabric. This was a permanent feature of the dress, but was still always worn with a white collar underneath. Collars tend to be front opening, following the front opening of the dress.
Outer collar of dress fabric with inner white collar.
White stand up collar.
Jewel collar with fancy edge.

There are only a few exceptions where collars were NOT worn: with some sheer summer dresses and with wide-necked dresses like ball gowns or children’s dresses. The only time colored collars seem to be worn was during deep mourning, when a black crepe collar would have been chosen. There is little evidence suggesting collars were ever of the same fabric as the dress.
Black collar for mourning.
Sheer dress without collar.

Collars are very easy to make. If your dress pattern does not include a collar pattern, Kay Gnagey has relatively inexpensive patterns to make them:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Going the Distance: Introduction Pt. 2

A word or two before diving into section one:

For my “primary evidence” in this section, I will be referencing a body of images as collected by Anna Allen on her website: ( I believe the number of images provides enough of a survey of the “norms” in 1860s clothing so as to be a sound basis for generalizations about the clothing of the time. Generalizations may sound dangerously vague, but a more accurate picture of the past can be shared with the public when re-enactors seek to portray the average person of the 1860s, instead of anomalies.

Juanita Leisch, in her book Who Wore What?, gives an excellent example of this. She asks her reader to imagine being given the task of dressing a mannequin in the style representative of the reader’s time period. The reader would likely choose the “norms” of her society’s styles to portray her time period, like jeans and a t-shirt, and style the hair in a way considered fashionable today. This mannequin would give an accurate representation of the average woman of the 21st century to, say, an alien from another planet, or historians in the 22nd century.

In preparing an historic impression, we should think of ourselves as the mannequin we dress using the norms of that particular society to portray the average woman of the time. This means looking to period sources to discover exactly what the norms are for the period, in our case, the 1860s.  This does not mean that I don’t believe in researching special impressions, but they are just that: special. And the re-enactor who takes on a special impression has the duty to inform the public of the uniqueness of his or her impression, so as not to mislead the public.

Lastly, I’d like to make a note on my terminology. I will never say “never”, and I will also never say “always”. There are exceptions to every rule, but we shouldn’t necessarily take those exceptions and run with them. This refers back to my previous statements about portraying the norms of society. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Summer in Williamsburg

If you also read my Livejournal, you already know my good news: I will be spending the summer as an intern in the Margaret Hunter Shop!

I am beyond excited for the incredible opportunity, and of course I am thinking of all the things I need to get done before then (like finishing my new stays!). So you can expect a lot of 18th century clothing during the summer months.

This is really a dream come true for me... UTR 2011 was my first ever visit to Williamsburg, and I definitely had no idea I would be returning so soon or for so long! So if you are in the area, I would love to say hi. I'll be behind the counter learning 18th century sewing techniques!

Michael and I at UTR 2011

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kalamazoo Living History Show

What a fun event! Just about exhausting as a reenactment, if not more so! I came away with lots of goodies, and most of them were only mildly superfluous... ;-)

Here's a pretty bad picture to prove I was there. It was the end of the weekend, and I think my feathers and turban decided they were DONE behaving!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

1812 Gown Anatomy

This is a work in progress, for a Regency picnic in April. I wanted something different, so I chose a high neckline. The closure is based on this gown:

Here's how it works!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Eyes Have It

I couldn't resist the corny, cliche title... :P

Thought I'd whip up one of these just for fun. I used what I had on hand, namely Crayola colored pencils... I'm hoping I can do something a little more spectacular with nicer materials! But this will do for this weekend's trade show.