Costuming, costuming, costuming… Planning frivolously unwearable outfits, spending more than you meant to, sewing all evening and then being unable to get to sleep because you're too inspired. Waking up early, knackered but still buzzing, and taking bits of stuff to work with you – not because you actually anticipate being able to insert corset boning in the office, but because you can't bear to leave it behind… Ahh, why can't I do this for a living?? (Because it's less fun if you've done it before, and if you *have* to, I suspect…)
If you don't already know what I'm planning to wear for Alex and James's joint 30th birthday party, and would actually like it to be the intended surprise, read no further now…
So, Pirates of the Caribbean, then. Fab movie, fabber costumes – rooted in historical fact, even. A little battered by the tempests of Hollywood design, but recognisable, nonetheless. So when Alex suggested a Masked Ball theme, what could be more obvious than to recreate Elizabeth's Gold Dress? (the one that her Dad gives her with the tight corset that makes her faint. Hopefully, I won't be reproducing *that* detail…) So this week, I've mostly been researching 1770s fashion (ahem). I think that it's basically a fairly early robe a l'anglaise with a triangular stomacher (cream with gold embroidery) and a cream damask petticoat (or jupe). The fabric is a gold satin brocade with a large floral-type design – conveniently similar to some curtain fabrics available today. The costume goes together as follows:
Under everything, she wears a linen shift, which in period would have had lace attached at the neckline and cuffs (which are elbow-length, rather than the very long sleeves seen on Elizabethan and renaissance chemises). In the movie costume, the lace may be attached to the dress itself, for ease; I'll construct it the more period way.
Over the shift, the aforementioned corset is worn, and a pair of 'false hips' – the movie costume actually uses a short hoop-skirt, but I'll be using a pair of pocket hoops. Over the hips, I may need one or more petticoats, to stop the boning in the hoops showing through the top skirt.
Then the decorative petticoat that shows through the split in the robe is worn on top of that, and the stomacher is pinned or laced onto the front of the corset
Finally(!) the robe is pulled on like a coat and fastened to the stomacher, by pins, ties or hooks and eyes.
So, I have a fair bit to make, then! I have ordered linen for the shift, and I think I have tracked down some suitable lace on eBay (lots of it actually; we'll have to see how the prices go…). The linen is bright white, so once I've made up the shift, I may try tea-dying it. Apparently, 18th century shifts were made of quite sturdy, shirtweight linen, not the extremely fine stuff you would see a couple of hundred years earlier.
Fortunately, my recent bouts of eBay enthusiasm have resulted in a plethora of odds and ends that will be very useful. I bought a huge quantity of cotton drill that can be used for corsetry (or at least the mock-ups), and 20 metres (yes, really) of plastic covered boning that will be used for the pocket hoops and the longer bones in the corset. I'm hoping to try using cable ties for the rest of the boning, but there may be a problem in that I'm pretty darn *tall* and cable ties only come in lengths up to 30cm or so… I also have some glazed cotton that someone on eBay sold me as 'satin or something similar' that is proving useful for the pocket hoops, and which may be used to mock up the dress itself – or at least to provide the 'structural' petticoat to go over the hoops – there's about 5m of it.
I think I've tracked down a suitable brocade for the robe itself, but I'm awaiting photos to be sure. I've also ordered a bunch of cream coloured calico that should be useful for draping and/or lining the robe. The stomacher and jupe are more problematical; there are no shortages of cream damasks, but a lot of them look like curtains or throws. It would also be nice to have a design that 'fits' the triangular shape of the stomacher, but that's probably hoping for too much (or at least, I'd have to embroider it myself, and that's probably a leap too far).
I've come up with a few sketches that I really like for the dress itself (in a meeting, oops). Will try and scan and upload them sometime. As far as I can tell (not being an expert), it's not really a truly historical shape, but a mix of elements from the era. The bodice is quite restrained and upright – very wide necklines were in vogue for a lot of this era, but I guess wouldn't be practical in the Caribbean anyway (especially as fair skin was a beauty asset). It's my guess that it was designed that way to make Elizabeth appear more of an innocent girl-woman than a flaunting rich girl. It's also possible that most paintings are not of day-wear, which this gown is, but rather people decked out in their finest evening-wear.
The skirt is also intriguing; the robe is definitely a l'anglaise – that is, it isn't a sacque dress, where the back part is all loose and pleated. The fashion with this style of bodice was to have the narrow centre back panels cut all in one with the back of the skirt, with heavily pleated sections over the hips – as seen here. That later became reduced to a point at the centre back, on a fully cut waistline. But I don't think either of these patterns would account for the slight train the gown appears to have, when you see her full length and in profile. I haven't found any shots of the back waist of the dress, but I think I'm going to treat it like an Elizabethan dress – straight across at the back. Dresses with this cut were generally worn polonaised (i.e. the overskirt all gathered up and floofed out), but at least that means it's a plausible cut!
Equally, I have a feeling that the gathered sleeves of Elizabeth's dress are an invention of the costume designer. I haven't seen similar ones anywhere else! They're cute, though, and a defining feature of the dress, so I'll see if I can manage to recreate them. So, the current status is: