Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dressing from the Inside Out in Revolutionary Times

Yesterday I attended a district Daughters of the American Revolution program in Cupertino.  Prospective member and new friend Charlene rode up with me and we had a great time, chatting and laughing all the way there and back, but the highlight of our day was the terrific program.  Feather Tippetts (yes, that's her name!) historical costume designer, demonstrated how women back in Revolutionary War times dressed, from the inside out. She makes sure that all of her clothing is historically accurate.  To read more about her work check out this article in the Mercury News.  Here is a little snippet that describes her work:

With a French Milliner as her maternal grandmother it’s hardly surprising that costume design and creation are a passion for Feather. The owner and principal designer of Grand Gestures Historical Costume, she creates garments as historically accurate as possible. Her clients include Impersonators, Re-enactors, and Interpretive Speakers at Historical Sites. Frequently called upon as a speaker and consultant on historical clothing for museums, educational institutions, and private clubs, she also leads workshops on design and construction for students focusing on historical costume.

Beginning with a linen shift, stays filled with reeds are laced on,  These stays provide good posture and make it impossible to slouch. They are different than corsets, which did not come along until later in history.
 Next come the petticoats -- women usually wore two or three of them -- and a white cloth that covers the neck as women wanted to protect their skin from the sun.
Pockets were made, some simple and some decorative, some small and some large, and tied around the waist under the petticoats. Girls sometimes embroidered fancy pockets as gifts for one another.  Petticoats and gowns had slits in the sides so that women could reach into their pockets.   Women used them in the same way we do purses today -- they may hold a fan, a writing utensil, coins, etc.  Now the old nursery rhyme makes more sense as you can imagine walking along and having the ties come undone on your pocket:
Lucy Locket lost her pocket,  Kitty Fisher found it,
Not a penny was there in it, only ribbon round it.
The final flower print petticoat and then the day gown were put on.  The day gown only had a skirt on the sides and back so the petticoat showed in the front.  Therefore, women could change the look of their clothes by wearing a different petticoat as the top petticoat.
Back of day gown.  This is what a woman would wear at home, out shopping, around the village....

Back to basic shift and stays, to begin dressing for a ball.  The first step is to tie on panniers -- these consisted of hoop pockets, created with reeds bent by steam.  All women could sew.  Some women made their own clothes and some had maids that did the sewing.
Next a petticoat was placed over the panniers.  The idea was that the more cloth you could use and display in your gown, the wealthier your husband was, hence the additional width provided by the panniers.
 The top of the gown (with side and back skirt) was put on and laced.
Next a stomacher was selected.  The stomacher was pinned over the chest and upper tummy area.  They didn't use safety pins back then, they used straight pins which were quite pricey.
 A gown top was chosen -- look at the lovely detail:
This was called a transition gown -- the front was the flat 'monobust' look from Britain, but the back was full and of the fashion of France.  The French influence on women's clothing was taking hold.
Taking her final bow with an ostrich feather in her hair.  The history Feather shared was as wonderful as her costume.

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