Friday 30 August 2013

What decade are you and where do you want to be?

The 18th century society I belong to, Gustafs Skål has a Facebook-page and recently there was a question of why you are a member. For me it’s about friendship, a large part of my friends can be found there, but it is also, quite naturally, about a love for history and the joy of making clothes. When I first joined I wanted to make historical clothes for myself and though I have always been partial to the 18th century, the real reason that I have almost exclusively sewn 18th century clothes for the past 11 years is because Gustafs Skål was there when I was looking for some kind of historical society that would allowed me to make costumes. It could very easily have been another époque as I’m partial to other times as well. You have probably not missed my love for the 17th century and I have never really let go of my dream of having an outfit from, at least, each of the past 600 years, or so. But Gustafs Skål was easy to find, it was active and people there were friendly and welcoming, and as it is so much more fun to make clothes when you know when you will wear them, that has been the century I have drawn my inspiration from.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775
But has it, really? I find that I have been thinking of which period I choose to re-create and, indeed, what other people do around me, and I’m curious. If you would say, in broad terms, that you do Medieval, 16th century or 18th century or any other time, what periods, more exactly, do you make? I know there are some who are very versatile and do many different times, but many, probably the most, of us, keep ourselves to a much narrower time frame. When it comes to the 18th century, I would say that the majority of costumes made can be found in the range 1770-1800. I know I do, most of the time and so do most of the people I know as well. But why? It is only a third of the century, after all.

Should we blame Marie Antoinette? In her court gown has it all. Big hair, big skirts, frills and lace. It is, for so many of us, the archetype of an 18th century woman, blithely forgetting that big hair wasn’t fashionable for most of the 18th century and the large panier had largely fallen out of fashion in the 1770’s except as very formal wear. If you opt for he last 30 years of the 18th century you can take your pick from the simple to the grand and you still get to have poufy hair.

I love the early 18th century. I think mantuas are a scream and small rococo-hair so elegant. And I love the large paniers hat looks so absurd. My first big 18th century love was the 1740’s. So why do I do so little from that period? For several reasons, I think.

Budget, for example. Big paniers may not really demand more fabric than pocket hoops (depending on you construct your petticoat), but definitely more than petticoats worn with a cul. And the late 18th century made cotton more and more popular, which for the modern wallet are much more affordable than silk. That goes for men’s clothes as well, early 18th century demand more fabric of boat coats and waistcoats.

Then there is peer pressure. That sounds a bit harsh, but we all draw inspiration from each other, online and face to face. Gustafs Skål has a (not strictly enforced) timeline of 1746-1792, the life of Gustaf III of Sweden. Still, most do the late 18th century and if you meet people dressed in beautiful clothes you get inspired by them.

Study of a girl facing left by Carle van Loo
Simplicity. Small petticoats are easier to handle than big ones. Large paniers are a bit of a handful to navigate. Also, silly as it sounds, are big hair. Anyone who has tried to make it on yourself knows how hard they are to make and the toll they take on your arms. But you can wear a wig. A well-styled and well-cared for wig is something that you can more or less plop down on your head any you are set to go. True, you could have an equally style Rococo-wig but in all my years I have actually one seen one of those! And almost none that have taken the effort to style their own hair. If you do early 18th century you almost always make a high bun with a cap. Which is period, but I would love to see someone in one of the more complicated styles that were around.

And, for me, there is vanity. The late 18th century suits me. It suits my figure as it is curvier and no matter how much I bone my stays my body won’t conform to the ramrod straightness of the earlier decades. And fluffy hair looks better than strict.

I would like to venture out, though. I’m currently making yet another 1790’s gown and though I think it will be lovely and that it will be useful, it is still the fourth garment made after the same basic pattern that I have made these past years. It has become my go-to pattern, if you like. So I have deliberately been looking at the earlier decades of the 18th century to see if there are any styles I ought to try out. Some day, when my to-do list are shorter, but still. One can always plan ahead.
A mantua, of course. Also, hair in the very early 18th century was quite fluffy.
Mantua, ca 1720

Mantua ca 1708
The Marchioness Angela Maria Lombardi, ca 1710
A riding habit. I have wanted one for 11 years and again, early 18th century and at semi-big hair.
18th century French school

Henrietta Cavendish Holles, Countess of Oxford by Godfrey Kneller,1714
A Robe Batante or Volante. Actually, that one has been in the pipeline for ages. I remember that every summer when I wish I could lounge around without stays on a hot 18th century event.

Mrs. Elizabeth Symonds by Allan Ramsey, 1740

And even if the smallset 18th century hair doesn't suit me, there is the 1760's where hair is getting some volume and is, I think, very pretty.

Natalia Alexandrovna Repnina by Per Krafft, 1768-69

Lady Georgian Poyntz by Thomas Gainsborough, 1765

Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, probably 1760 as she dies that year.

Portrait of a lady by Francis Cotes, 1768
And what about you? My post focus on the 18th century and upper class clothing, but I would love to hear what favourite decade you have and why. And what you would like t make that you somehow never get around doing


Nycteris said...

Thanks for this very interesting post. My favorite "lost decade" is the 1820s. It's after Jane Austen lived, and before the 1830s-American Civil War era that a lot of people around here like, but I adore the 1820s styles that are inspired from all eras of history, especially Classical and Renaissance eras. Not to mention I really admire the Romantic era in literature and would love to have a fitting outfit for this too-little-noticed decade when Gothic Medieval styles were all the rage and sleeves and hairstyles hadn't reached their ridiculous 1830s heights. Yes, the early 1700s also seem to be very undeservedly lost to costumers/reenactors- quite a shame!

Cassidy said...

I think your reasoning for the popularity of the end of the century is very sound. The Revolutionary War is a huge thing for re-enactors here, and even though a lot of people lean more toward costuming for fun than for actual re-enactment events, it still seems to have an effect.

I agree that the earlier part of the century should be reclaimed, too! I love 1690-1720, and I would love to see some more of that, or just to do it myself. (I do live in/near an area where colonization was going on at that time.) Beyond that ... I feel like I see a lot of "long Regency", out to maybe 1825, and then people seem to pick up with the Civil War - there should be more late 1830s and 1840s! This is quite specific, but I also really love 1916-1921, which gets neglected between Titanic-era and the roaring '20s flapper stereotype.

Johanna said...

Eventhough I'm new to actually making historical costumes I've loved to look and think about them for a long time. It was first when I got the chance to go to events that I really started to make them though, and since the annual event I can go to is a 18th century event, then 18th century it is.

When looking at my favorite eras it's quite clear that they share some characteristics though. I love a general hourglass shape with a lot of fabric in the back. My favorite decade is definitely 1870s, with big bustles, so maybe it's not strange that when it comes to 18th century I prefer the 1780s with skirts gathered á la polonaise. I'm dreaming of making a 1520s Cranach style gown one day though.

I have talked for years about making a 1680s upper middle class outfit, since I am at a museum where the 17th century is very important, and there is actually a miniature drawing that I would base the gown on, but since I'm not really fond of 17th century fashion it keeps getting pushed back on my project list. So I definitely need to like the fashion to actually recreate it.

Isis said...

Julia Brown: Thank you for reading! I have a soft spot for the 1820's too and I agree, it is very underused!

Aurora said...

Well, when I first joined Gustafs Skål I was very much into the 1760's and 70's, but in later years I've found myself growing more and more fond of the 80's and 90's... Firstly, I prefer styling my own hair to using wigs but it's not full enough for the tall hairdos of the 70s... Secondly, I've never owned a dress with paniers and I doubt that I will ever get one, I'm a bit too practical for that. Thirdly, I found out that the 80's-90's fashions suited my face and figure better. And apart from these purely aesthetic and practical reasons, the dramatic tragedy of the years before and during the French revolution appeals to me... it probably has to do with the fact that I've been into doom metal for ages. ;-)

ZipZip said...

Dear Isis,

Do a mantua, do a mantua! They are fabulous and would probably suit you! I love them.

Yes, I've been noticing the preponderance of late 18th century costume too, and think your arguments and those of previous commenters are sound.

My favorite era is 1750s-1760s: I love the high Rococo, the curviness, the piling on of all the trim, the artificiality of it. I haven't worn mid-18th century yet, though I've had an outfit in the making for a few years. Partly it's due to expense, since I want the full-on gentry look.

The other favorite? 1870s. Again, frou-frou. There's just something refreshing about letting go your inner fluff-lover, since I wear tailored, even severe, clothes daily.

Why then do I have so many 1790s outfits? I like them, they look better on me than the ubiquitous 1812-13 outfits people favor due to War of 1812 events, and the only event I ever reliably attend is Regency-themed. Like your Gustav's's there and it's welcoming.

Very best,


Isis said...

Cassidy: Yes, it is very understandable that an important event make an influence. :) And I agree that the periods you name are neglected areas. I really like the coat dresses of the 1820's and would like to make one myself. And early 18th century- definitly early 18th century! :)

Isis said...

historiekullan: I like periods with a pronounced waist as well. A Carnach-gown is quite high on my want list too! May I ask which museum you work at? And which miniature?

Isis said...

Aurora: You are one of the few who made really nice Rococo hairstyles before you went later, though. :) I have a really nice photo of you when you are fixing it before some event in 2002.

Johanna said...

I'm working at Falu Gruva, and the miniature is just a little drawing of a master miner and his wife on the edge of a map of the mine from 1683. There isn't much detail, but that of course also gives me quite a lot of freedom in interpreting it.

Aurora said...

@isis: Thanks, I wonder if I have seen that photo. :-)

Isis said...

Natalie: There will probably be a mantua. But not until next year! :D

Isis said...

Historiekullan. I have never been there, though it is on my list for things to see. :)

Isis said...

Aurora: I'm not sure if you have. I'll scan it for you the next time I find it.

Kendra said...

In some ways I'm lucky because since I don't have any fabulous reenactment locations to play at, I can make whatever the hell I want. But I have refined my costuming over the years to just focus on those eras that work for the main costume events I do - renaissance Venetian for my singing group and later 18th century for the 18th c group I formed. I would like to do more bustle sometimes, but there aren't too many opportunities to wear it and most of my friends aren't into the few events where we could.

Lately what draws me to eras is crazy hair. I agree, there are many pretty eras of 18th c hair -- but they're not crazy and that's what I want! I am thinking abt doing a mantua so i can do 1690s/1700s big hair. But yeah. I am hair obsessed!

Isis said...

Kendra: There are some crazy hair in the 17th century. But I always wonder what the back looked like in the very early and the very late years of it. :) Not to mention the 1870's. I have a some of photos of ladies in my family wearing the most amazing hair pieces!

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