Saturday, 7 January 2012

Accuracy and Historical Costumes

In the meantime, I have been reading my new Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion Vol.3 (sadly doesn't include the dress style that I want to make, but is a fabulous source for detailing) and the Tudor Tailor (love this book!)  Frustratingly, the more I read the more muddled the picture seems to get.  According to the TT, my corset is too late for the gown with the sleeve style that I want; farthingale or not is a subject of some debate and the bum roll gets no mention, thus far.  In comparison, some of the online sites that I have looked at are very specific about the corset/farthingale/bum roll combination being correct for the time frame that I am looking at.  Looking at pictorial evidence, I see the bum roll shape that I am after, and yes, the farthingale is up for debate, but I think I would rather that than a series of heavy petticoats.  Kirtles I am now more confused about than ever, and as for the gown.. well!

In the depths of a sleepness night last night, I contemplated my favourite passage from the TT, which discusses the three types of activity associated with making historical clothing: replication, reconstruction and re-creation.  Replication aims to duplicate an item entirely, reconstruction involves "justifiable speculation" and re-creation "uses guesswork and imagination".  The TT's outfits are reconstructions and the passage, when badly paraphrased and edited by me, reads something like this:

"The aim of the project will also determine the integrity with which the costume is... made.  A key issue in this regard is the notion of ... 'Accuracy'.  The more accurate a reproduction costume is, the valuable it will be as an educational tool.  Each garment has a cultural biography, courtesy of the society that made it.  A reconstruction takes shape as a biography is built for it."

For me, that is exactly what these projects are, an education into how women dressed, at distinct periods in time, and the experience of how it may have felt for them.  The education is a selfish one, but in learning for myself, I do also have the chance to share the detail with those friends and family who are interested, and I do want that knowledge to be accurate.  A replication is beyond my skills and budget, but I think that the Victorian Costume could be classed as a reconstruction and would like to achieve the same level with this project.  If the corset/farthingale/bum roll combination, which I am already invested in and keen to try, does prove to be inaccurate in terms of the covering gown design I like so much (as the TT suggests), do I have to give up my romantic end image in favour of accuracy?  Or am I going to slip into re-creation and then live with the nagging voice (cos there is one!) that says "this isn't quite right, is it!"

More reading/research required, and I think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get the Margo Anderson patterns as the ones in the TT are, again, not exactly what I am after.  But then, do I get the Tudor or the Elizabethan patterns? or damn the costs, both?  Ouch, I hear my bank account having a moment.

Decisions, decisions.... shall we go back to admiring my half finished corset?

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