Monday, December 11, 2017

1799 Blue Tunic

Photo courtesy of my awesome sister Camille!

So the c. 1800 evening dress needed a little interest/color to it. I was open to almost any outer-dress option, except I didn't want an evening robe; basically all original full-length robes are trained, whether that's from a fashion plate, original, or painting. I've seen a lot of costumers just leave the train off because they want to dance in it, but to me that's the wrong way to go about it. I wanted something that would be accurate for the occasion, without fudging, because I knew that existed.
c. 1797 Open Robe from the MET

Little tiny sleeveless spencers, short jackets and half robes were what I was looking into. The possibilities for the styles, colors, and materials were endless! They can be seen in paintings, although they are very common in fashion plates. There really aren't any extant examples, so I didn't have anything to go off of there. I read as many descriptions as I could from magazines; the materials that I found were muslin, satin, lace, crepe, and sarcenet (a thin kind of silk; exactly how thin is yet to be determined). Yellow, blue and pink were the most common colors used, although I did find some black, orange and purple examples.
 April 1799 Ladies Museum Fashion Plate
January 1800, perhaps published in the Ladies Magazine?
May 1799 Ladies Monthly Museum

I decided on this last one....because Neoclassicism. Plus it didn't seem like very much work, and the amount of color per square inches was higher than the sleeveless spencers. Because there really aren't many actual existing half-robes for evening wear, I tried to go about the construction from the most logical standpoint. Unlined seemed best, and with the new discovery of the whole bodice-and-skirt-cut-in-one-with-a-drawstring, that seemed a good idea, keeping the cut of it as simple as possible. The original description (minus the long S, which doesn't exist on my keyboard) from Ladies Monthly Museum is this:

"The Greek vest, of blue muslin, fastened by a diamond clasp on the right shoulder, with a silver girdle and trimming of silver round the skirt; plain gown, with sleeves very short, and a neat pleating round the neck and sleeves. - Turban, a la Grec, blue muslin, with silver bandeau, and ostrich feathers. Shoes blue silk."

I draped the half robe on my dress form, trying to get the best neckline curve, and also balancing the fullness from the shoulder with the fullness at the waist.
This WAS version #1

This is one of my really not-smart moments.....I drafted the half robe in an afternoon of boredom probably back in August and then threw the finished thing back in my scrap bin. When I was ready to pick it up in September, I realized I had used that scrap for another mock up a week or two ago. Whoops. Let's be honest, it's a rectangle with a triangle at the top. It doesn't look like anything special.

The whole thing took me probably under 20 hours, completely hand-sewn. The material is this cotton voile from Mood Fabrics, which is close to historic muslin, just not as thin or as uneven; it took almost exactly 2 yards of fabric. The trim at the bottom isn't accurate at all, so I wasn't wanting two rows of it. Someday, I would like to sew on either real silk ribbon, or embroider the bottom so it's a little more authentic. Again, without existing examples, who's to say how this would have been carried out? It's still a shot in the dark. Yet we DO know rayon isn't accurate, I'm not kidding myself.

The waist originally was just a drawstring; you pull it on over your head and tighten it, adjusting it to be even all the way around. The ribbon at the waist was just sewn on one side, with a hook on the other. I discovered at the photo shoot that it would NOT. STAY. PUT. The ribbon kept slipping all over the place. You can see in some of the pictures it's too slippery. For pictures it was fine, but before the ball I permanently tacked the ribbon in place, so now the whole thing isn't adjustable. Oh well, adjusting the back was a pain.
In theory, this picture would be really cool. But when a white dress meets sunlight.....I call it, "blobbing." New verb for the day, folks.

The little pin on the shoulder I already owned, it was cool to recycle that. The description from the Ladies Monthly Museum mentions a diamond clasp, even though you can't see it in the picture. I think more research would be required to know exactly what was accurate, but I figured that the only accurate way to do that would be to wear real diamonds, which I couldn't afford anyway. I like the size of this one, it feels like a piece of jewelry, without being too heavy on the shoulder.

This hairstyle is based on a Roman bust from the Louvre, called, "The Kaufmann Head", ca. 150 BC. I wanted to do something that was more purely Classical, rather than Regency.
Female head, modeled from the Aphrodite of Cnidus, called the Kaufmann Head. 


I texted my hairdresser, and asked how I could get my hair like this. She said, "Oh, you can' have to have naturally curly hair."

Challenge accepted.

So I Googled how to create naturally-curly looking hair for people with straight hair. I came across...the straw method. It is the most unglamourous and undignified process in which I won't even care to describe, although if you are interested you can Google it. It works like a charm though, if you use enough product; it's the only way to curl your hair so close to the scalp. A heat tool you would burn yourself pretty easily. It also stays put through 5 hours of dancing. I'm surprised that someone actually came up with this; I wouldn't recommend it for the average day, it's way too much work for results that are a frizzy disaster waiting to happen if you don't put it up.

So, this particular bun is not my finest moment, but I WAS CONCENTRATING ON THE FRONT PEOPLE.

I pinned the back and undersections into a bun, curled the rest, pulled them into a ponytail over the bun, then gently arranged the curls over the base. Pin, and done. That part is super easy. Finish off with ribbon or trim. The overall effect is simple, yet stunning. If you leave the curls as-is, it looks more sleek, although maybe a little too perfect. I like to gently pull the larger curls in half; it adds a tiny bit of frizz, which gives it the "I woke up like this and carelessly threw it up yet it still looks perfect" look. Because anyone with naturally curly hair will tell you that no frizz is really hard.

Since I've brought up the whole, throw-away-an-almost-finished-mock up mistake, what is YOUR most embarrassing costuming mistake?


  1. I have the right to remain silent as to the last question you posed here (though I could tell a LOT of stories of sleeves set in backwards, sewn across the hand opening... ahem... and cut identically instead of opposite... heh...) but I would just like to extend some sympathy on the mockup screw-up! Sounds EXACTLY like something I would do.

    On a brighter note, you look perfectly lovely, and I adore the teal/Tiffany blue and white combination. (On my screen it's coming across as a sort of mix between seafoam and Tiffany blue.) I also like the way you did your hair! As a naturally curly girl, I'm curious to try it myself now.

    1. Thanks!

      If you ever try it, I want to know how it goes!