Thursday, August 9, 2012

Doc' what ya got!

When it comes time to make something new for your 18th century wardrobe, we strongly encourage you to use primary sources for your inspiration. But what about what you've already have? How do you "doc what ya got"?

First, let's start with what year this garment is appropriate for.  The next frontier for this hobby is to dress for the year - generic 18th century is so yesterday (so to speak).  Take a look at the details, does my gown have robings and a stomacher or is does it close in the center front? Does it have a completely separate bodice and skirt? How large are the cuffs on my coat? What does the collar look like?  How long is my waistcoat?  These details will certainly help date your look. But why do I need to know that?  Well, you wouldn't wear 1812 clothing to Battle Road, so why would you wear 1780's high fashion to a French and Indian event, for example? So start by determining your timeline.  Look at portraiture, genre art, museum collections. But beware of the latter, unless a piece has a specific provenance or is consistent with other accurately dated examples, museum pieces are often misdated or dated to a very wide range or are remodeled pieces that are difficult to date accurately.

So you've found your clothing pictured in genre art or in a museum collection.  Good start. Now you need to look at your fabric.  Can you find a description of that fabric in period ads or inventories? Runaway ads, for example, are full of detailed descriptions, though sometimes things aren't always what they seem. Words like "calico" don't mean the same as they do today.  You can double check the meanings of these terms in the OED or Florence Montgomery's "Textiles in America"

CT Journal 1/11/1781
So far, so good, now don't forget the details. You may want to get your feet wet by documenting your accessories. How am I wearing my handkerchief? How long are my shift sleeves? How is my hat shaped?  What kind of basket am I carrying? Artwork is teeming with details! Find an example and print off the picture. If someone asks you about that market basket you are carrying, you can whip out your documentation to show them -- it sure beats saying, "I don't know,  I saw it in the XYZ sutler catalog."

Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress
Market Basket - notice the one in the Hogarth print (lower right)

So start somewhere, but most importantly - start! Before you know it you'll be an old pro at this.

1 comment:

  1. Great Basket. There is also one in a print entitled "Youth and Age" c. 1780