Historic Costuming, History, Just for Fun

Historical Costuming- That Other Cool Thing I Do

If there is one thing that has remained consistent in the past 13 years of my life, it’s my love of historical costuming. I probably have over 100 costumes and costume accessories that I have made stored in my room. So how did I get started in this craft? It all started with a little movie called Marie Antoinette (2006). When I first watched this film by Sofia Coppola, I was in love. The costumes were amazing and I wanted them. Of course, costumes like that can’t be bought at any store, and even 18th century Halloween costumes fall far short from the costumes I wanted. So that meant I had to make them myself.

So here was twelve year old me, never having sewn a costume before, looking through the material at JoAnn Fabrics. I got two patterns that were for 18th century dresses and got to work cutting them. Now the problem was that I didn’t know how patterns worked and kind of skimmed through the directions. So this lead to a lot of poorly made, ill fitting garments at the start my adventures into costuming. I also dabbled into Victorian/Edwardian children’s garments, inspired by the American Girl dolls and especially the movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday (2004).

Posing in an Edwardian dress at age 16.

Making costumes became akin to an obsession for me. There was one point where I was churning them out every month, sometimes every week. I got an idea for a costume and off I went to JoAnn to get fabric. I still have a ton of fabric left over from my early projects in my house from how much I bought of it. I didn’t pay all that much attention to measurements, garment construction, or historical accuracy; I just wanted to keep creating.

Eventually, as the years went by (and my schoolwork became more intense) I slowed down with how many costumes I was creating. I only really had time to make them during the summer or the holiday season. But in that time, I learned better garment construction and researched actual historic dress to make my costumes more historically accurate. I now have costumes from the medieval period, Renaissance, 18th century, Victorian era, Edwardian period, and 1950s. My only regret is that my grandmother, who also sewed and made costumes for me, died before she could see what I have created. I know she would be proud and I keep her memory alive each time I sew something.

My love of costuming caused me to pursue fashion as my major in college. I had the opportunity to take a historic costume course which I loved. For my internship, I worked at the Morris Museum where I was able to work with historic costumes. I catalogued and conserved them and prepared them for display. At the time I worked there, we were preparing an exhibit on Prohibition which featured dresses from the 1920s. In my last year of college, I worked in my school’s costume collection where I preformed work similar to what I did in the museum. I have also tried my hand at theater costuming where my background in historic dress comes in handy.

1920s dresses from the Morris Museum’s Prohibition exhibit.

Below are some of my many dresses from various time periods. I didn’t include all of them because that would be a ridiculously long post. There’s a good chance I will create more posts about specific costumes in the future and go more in depth about the history of different types of dress.

The Medieval Period

A 12th century bliaut (just introducing you to some historic costume terminology) with Celtic knot trim.
And the sketch
I made this 12th century bliaut to double as my Cersei Lannister costume for Halloween. All of those jewels and pearls are hand stitched.
The sketch
Bliaut with machine embroidered ivy.

Green velvet cape with gold satin lining.

Sketch for a 14th century gown with tippets (the sheer material hanging from the sleeves) that I would love to make if only I could find the right darn material.

The Renaissance

Italian Renaissance dress I made from left over red satin.
This one is meant to double as both an Italian Renaissance gown and a Tudor kirtle (an under gown).

The 18th Century

Robe a l’Anglaise (French for English Gown)
A sketch for a costume I plan on making in the future.
Robe a la Polonaise (Polish Gown) or more appropriately, Robe a l’Anglaise Retroussee.
Caraco jacket and skirt

Most would call this style a polonaise, but I recently found out that a true polonaise has a different construction than this dress.
Sometimes I do my own embroidery too!

The Victorian Period

An 1860s gown. I was 13 here.
An 1880s bustle gown.

Accessories

Of course, I need accessories to go along with my dresses or they wouldn’t be complete. When I need shoes, I try to buy ones that look historically accurate, but sometimes I need to embellish them. This pair I did a complete makeover of:

I re-upholstered these old shoes and used epoxy putty to craft the appropriate heel shape for 18th century shoes.
And here was the end result, complete with rhinestone buckles.

I make hats with decorations.

I have plenty of fans that I have painted too.

And have styled wigs for my 18th century costumes.

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