The 1898 Ensemble – From the Ground Up and Inside Out

One of the last costume-related things I did last night was to research the bustle pad. I found a fabulous, free tutorial that is straightforward and easy to understand and I have enough spare fabric laying around to put one together. But I’m not sure I should. As the undergarments are now layered, the skirt’s hemline is parallel with the floor. This tells me that if I add a bustle pad to get a more correct shape at the back waist, it will lift the hemline at the back of the skirt – something I find particularly annoying. I never have liked sloppy hemlines (mom was a librarian and dad was an engineer – I was doomed), and historical fashion hemlines are no exception. I may go ahead and put one together later today, but as of now it’s low a priority. Really low.

The festivities start tomorrow morning, so this is a good, if somewhat belated, time to take stock of what I’ll be wearing, the finishing touches, and determine what I still need.

I have a modest collection of antique clothing and accessories. A few of these are in pretty dodgy condition and I bought them as study items only. The remainder I purchased with the intent of gently wearing. Not when the weather is bad. Not for strenuous activity. I do treat them with care and respect. But there is something about wearing these old garments or using these old accessories that sets the tone for my demeanor and imagination. I understand that this is close to heresy for some people, and I respect their reserve. If I ruined an antique garment by wearing it I’d be nearly apoplectic. That’s why I tend to go with antique undergarments and not outerwear.

OK,enough of the disclaimers: it’s time to get (hypothetically) dressed!

First Round: antique drawers, antique chemise, stockings, antique shoes/boots, antique gaiters if it’s really cold. Shoes before corset – always. I’ll be on my feet a lot more than usual, so I’m going to wear my support knee-highs. They are a blah flesh tone, but they are warm and will fit in my boots. In the future I’ll get a pair in black and in white.

A review of the footwear options yields some choices. I have a few pair of antique boots that are in reasonably good shape and that fit. A pair of gel insoles will make them comfortable to wear for a few hours. I have tickets for two walking tours on Sunday, so I’ll be wearing the low-heeled, black Edwardian boots that will be pretty much hidden under the skirt. But tomorrow is more about fashion, so I think I’ll go a bit more up-scale with a pair of two-tone, spool-heeled boots. I’ve seen photos of a similar pair dated to 1899, so I don’t think I’ll be too far off as far as historical accuracy goes.

Second Round: new corset, antique flannel petticoat #1, antique cotton petticoat #2, antique cotton petticoat #3, new cotton petticoat #4, antique corset cover. The corset is an underbust model, but it was what I could get in a long-line style from a respecter seller at a price I could afford. The flannel petticoat is Edwardian and I’m adding it for warmth against the cold wind. The two antique cotton petticoats are nicely decorated with tucks and lace. All three petticoats are ones I mended for the first Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge of the year – Made Do and Mend. The fourth petticoat is the one I made in haste and just finished yesterday,but it gives the skirt the shape it needed. The antique corset cover will show through the shirt, but that’s the way it goes (and went).

Third Round: new blouse, new skirt, new belt, new jacket. This is the basic suit set I purchased from the Ladies’ Emporium two years ago. The jacket is fully lined and the skirt has an adjustable button back arrangement that is period correct. The shirt is a tad bit snug but easily wearable – and much more comfortable with the neck let out a bit. The black cotton belt is one I made from scrap material. It has a center front seam and will fasten in the back.

Round Four – the finishing touches: antique bar pin (2 to choose from), pearl drop earrings, vintage leather gloves, antique purse, antique hankie, the hat I made last year, antique hat pin(s), antique parasol, a pocketbook edition of Shakespeare. These are all the little things that finish off the look. I have two antique Victorian bar pins i can wear at the neck of the shirt and a simple pair of genuine pearl drop earrings. That’s it for the jewellery. My vintage leather gloves are too long, but they are the only pair I have and so I’ll just have to make do. The antique hankie has a little tatted lace edging. I made the hat last year; truthfully, I had a basic black hat that I tore down and rebuilt using vintage millinery trim. The antique parasol is long – tall enough for me to walk with comfortably if unfurled. I’ll be surprised if sunshine is a problem, but this time of year one never knows what to expect. The antique purse is just big enough to hold the essentials and a small antique edition of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (no publication date, but it was inscribed with a message in 1902) – indispensable for any self-respecting town librarian.

As insane as this laundry list is of what it will take to get out the door tomorrow, there are a couple of essentials that I still don’t have.

What I still need:

Shoelaces! I spent hours and hours rehydrating leather, waxing and polishing the boots, but I forgot to get laces! It’s not that they have old laces – they have no laces. So it’s off to the store and hope I can find a cheap pair that are long enough.

Hair goop! I need some kind of spray, spackle or pomade to keep my hair up in the wind and manage the little wispy bits so it doesn’t slowly peel down like a hairy onion (ick – sorry for the nasty visual).

Curling iron! I also need some way to curl my bangs and the wisps from my up-do at the temples and base of the neck. Unless I find my ancient model I’m going to be stuck with rolling it in rags tonight. How vintage is that?!

The Community Photograph

One of the neatest thing my town does is to take a community photograph at least once a year. Tomorrow they are having a community portrait taken downtown at 9:30 am and Victorian dress is encouraged. Without a lady’s maid or any other help it’s going to take me forever to get ready. I’m not yet skilled at getting into the corset, this is a huge understatement, so it takes a ridiculous amount of time. Hair takes forever plus 30 minutes. And something always seems to happen that takes another half an hour to resolve. I am giving myself three full hours to get ready tomorrow morning and that might very well be cutting it close.

Now it’s off to hunt for hair goop and boot laces. Fingers crossed!

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4 thoughts on “The 1898 Ensemble – From the Ground Up and Inside Out

  1. I am glad you like my tutorial, and I think I may have a solution to your bustle woes! If you have any extra fabric that exactly matches your skirt or gown, I would suggest creating a false bustle. If you make a tiny poof with a few frills or foofs of fabric on it, and tack it at the waist band, just over the butt of your skirt, it will create the impression of a full, lofted bustle without actually being beneath the skirt. This is a similar premise to my other tutorial about creating an easy bustle that can be detached and worn with any gown. Just go through my website, and find all the entries on the Victorian Steam Punk Costume, and it should kind of give you an idea. In your case though, making it smaller and all integral to the bustle pad, then tacking it over your outer skirt could appear seemless, as if your dress had been swept back and tacked up at hip height. Just hide the edges of fabric, making them seem like fold or pleats, and it will give the feel of a bustle without lifting that hemline. Think of it like a hairpiece you clip in and then conceal with your own hair to give the impression that you have long hair or bangs etc. That’s what I would do! Hope that helps, and love the costume!

    • I’m planning a bustle dress and wanted to do something a little different from the usual backside treatment. This technique sounds great! Love the hairpiece analogy, too. Thanks!

  2. Glad you like my tutorial on the bustle pad, and here is my advice for your hemline. If you want a more “accurate” back end but don’t want the hemline to tilt or rise, you could create a secondary piece. If you have any spare fabric of the type from which your skirt/gown is made, make a small poofy foof that can be tacked on atop the skirt, creating the impression that it is a full bustle without actually being one. A small puffy pad with some scrunched up fabric ought to do the trick, tacked at about hip height, with its edges hidden as folds or fluffs. Does that make sense? Think of it kind of like a hair piece or extension, only it’s fabric on top of your skirt. This might be the solution to your problem!

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