Little Things That Can Mean A lot

As we observe our cohorts at events or in photographs, there are those little things that can make or break what we see. These are those visual ques that make us think “yes” or “eaguha”. While we are observing others, others are observing us as well. So, lets honestly ask ourselves, what are those little things that stand out as not so little things? And in the case of those break it things that make us squirm, what can we do to fix them?

Make It

Fit – Fit, corset and skirt support go hand-in hand as they each compliment the other. Even with great silhouette support, a dress can still hit or miss when it comes to fit. Each of us has different body types with different proportions. Some of us are curvy, some slim, some short waisted, some wide shouldered. Combine this endless variety of body shapes with the fashion characteristics of the 1850s and 60s (or really almost any era) and there are bound to be some dresses that just do not go with some body variations. While we are looking for a dropped shoulder seam and armscye, these attention points will fall differently on women of the same size if one woman is narrow shouldered and the other wide shouldered. The same comparison can be said of women who have variations in torso length such as being long vs short waisted or long vs short shouldered. If the same dress is tried on by a woman who is long waisted and by a woman who is short waisted we will see a difference in where the waist falls. Ideally, the waist would fall just above the natural waist. But, on the short waisted woman it may fall at or below the natural waist, while on the long waisted woman it may fall well above the natural waist. There are some instances of impression where variation of fit is necessary. Suggested Reading:

Corset – A properly fitting corset not only effects the entire silhouette of a dress, it also effects how a woman carries herself and her comfortablity. The reality is we can all tell who is or isn’t wearing a corset. The position and shape of our chest is different. I’ll admit my bust height is easily a difference of 4 inches with vs with out a corset. That make a drastic difference in the silhouette of a dress. Beyond the look of the dress is how we stand and sit while wearing a corset. Most of us are much more aware of our posture while wearing a corset. In this modern world where we spend hours working at a desk and computer we tend to slump and roll our shoulders. In the 19th century, women worked at kitchen tables preparing food, in gardens or fields and in chairs sewing. Their corsets helped relieve some of the back strain they experienced while working. This is only part of the comfortablity. A corset helps support the weigh of our skirts and skirt supports. The corset holds the waistbands rather than our skin. Suggested Reading:

Skirt Support – Good skirt support creates a beautiful skirt silhouette. This is a combination of volume, poof off of the waist, curve of the skirts and drop to the ground. The only way to decide if you have good skirt support is to compare your look with the look of women from the years you are portraying. Take photos of yourself in full dress from the front, back and sides. Compare them side by side to CDV images. Suggested Reading:

Collar – A collar is an essential item for keeping the collar of your dress clean. It also finishes the look of a dress nicely. A nice, simple white cotton collar can say allot. The great thing is, personal linens such as a collar and cuffs, cost very little to make. Keep in mind, they should be an inch to an inch and a half wide made of light weight cotton. Some variation in width and angle of the front does exist from year to year. If you are wearing a wash dress, consider a kerchief of other personal linen for the neck of that dress.  Suggested Reading:

Cuffs or Undersleeves – Just like a collar, cuffs or undersleeves protect your dress and finishes the look. These can each be very simple or very elaborate depending on the over-all look of your dress. Suggested Reading:

Hair – We all struggle with our hair in both centuries from time-to time, or all the time. But, we all know when someone really “got it”. Their hair looks not only great but just like they stepped out of a CDV. Suggested Reading: “False Hair” by Elizabeth Topping, May 2010 CC

Jewelry – I’ll admit I am not a jewelry follower. But, I know when a woman’s jewelry completes a look. Well chosen jewelry not only encompasses research and taste, it shows completeness in thought. It shows just how much a woman has thought about who she is portraying and what she would have worn. Suggested Reading: “Hands, Hearts and Hair: Motifs and Symbolism of Victorian Jewelry” May 2010 CC

Break It

The “S” word – Nothing can ruin a look like a saggy, baggy, nylon snood. Whether it hangs there like a laundry sack holding piles of loose hair or droops off of what might actually be a nicely fixed chignon, it just screams. This item did not exist in this heavy form in the mid-19th century. This is one area where there is very good news… If you must have a net, the simplest way to go is also a very cost effect way to go. Yes, cheaper then that snood. I know, in this expensive hobby, cheaper can always be appreciated.  A simple faux hair net can be purchase at beauty supply stores. This can be worn plain. Or, you can add a simple silk ribbon. Suggested Reading: “To Net or Not To Net”

Pony-tail cameo – This is one of those little things we notice when we are having a conversation with someone. After all, we do have to stand fairly close to see the detail of a cameo. But, for some reason, that long dangly pony-tail on the silhouetted woman just stands out. These cameos from the second quarter of the 20th century are everywhere and easy to pick up. It is even possible that a woman is wearing a well-loved keepsake from a grandmother. The fix for this is simply self-control while shopping. No matter how pretty or how great the price, if the woman in the cameo has a pony-tail save her for someone else or for modern wear. Suggested Reading: “Victorian Cameos” (I’m trying to find the title of this amazing time-line cameo book I had from the library once. It amazed me.)

Flop – This goes along with the skirt support suggestion above. An absolutely beautiful dress can lose all it self-esteem when left drooping over poor skirt supports. Flopping and drooping just kills a look. This goes for any dress worn day or evening, for work or visiting. Skirts were not meant to fall from the waist in the mid-century. They want life and body. The answer is properly full and starched petticoats.

Bones – Along with the above flop comes bones, when we can see the bones of a cage showing through a skirt. This happens when a skirt lays directly over a cage rather then being softened and shaped by layers of petticoats. The solution is the same as above, properly full and starched petticoats.  

Leather belts – Many of us have a heightened awareness of our waist and want to wear a belt. While women did wear belts, it was infrequent and far from fashionable to wear a leather belt. Depending on the dress, a self fabric or silk ribbon belt is preferable.

I’ll admit, I faded as I put this together tonight. There will likely be additions, expansions and more reading suggestions. If you have a suggestion for one of those “little things” please let us know in the comment section.

Published in: on May 24, 2010 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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