Wednesday, March 23, 2011


One of my jobs is to take school groups around at night to different shops in the historic area and give a ten minute explanation of the trade.  It always helps me to remember how much knowledge I just assume people know.  So, even though it seems a very simple and obvious thing to some of us, there are tricks to getting dressed that most people don't know.  I was getting ready to go to work last night, so I took pictures of the process that I go through.  Keep in mind I'm dressing to work outside for 3 hours at night, the temperature being around 50 f.

Shift and stockings.  I generally leave the shift neckline open.  You don't want to see it above your outer garment, it is underwear after all.  If you want modesty, wear a kerchief instead (I always do!).  Using tapes to keep your stockings up is a must.  These are just yard long pieces of wool tape, not the fancy loom woven tapes (that I really want).  I double knot mine, if you want to use a bow cut the tape longer. I've actually got two layers of stockings on for warmth; a light cotton and a light wool pair.  Tie them while sitting or with your knee bent or they'll be too loose.  Always below the knee, they'll just slip down to the point otherwise.

Stays.  Mine are back lacing only.  I lace them up in front of me, loosely, and turn them to the back to be tightened.  I'm currently using 1/4" linen tape for lacing, although it really doesn't hold up very well.  I would prefer a braided silk cord (without a core), but that isn't really found easily.  A bodkin (large blunt needle) makes lacing quick.

I lace and tighten from the bottom up.  I know many people that prefer the other direction, usually because reaching the top to tie off can be difficult.  For some reason though, I just can't do the other way, it hurts my back.  Side note that I do have Spondylolisthesis, so that may be part of it, but interestingly stays prevent me from having major back pain when standing or walking for long periods of time (it's a condition where a lower vertebrae slips out of position, mine is due to dancing and over stretching the muscles).  To tie off the top I pull a loop up behind the top horizontal lacing, make another loop below and tie a bow around that last lacing.  All I have to do is pull on the tail end and it comes undone.

I place the underpetticoat over my stays, although you can put in on before.  I find it uncomfortable that way, but it's just personal preference.  Under does help reduce bulk of ties, however.  For that reason as well, I tie the petticoat on the sides rather than around the waist.  If I tied every part of my garment center front and back I'd have huge lumps!  It's fine to have it sit a little low because of looser tying method since it's covered up completely.

Pockets can be placed in between a number of layers.  I prefer them under my petticoat so there's no chance of them being accidentally seen, but there's no reason to have to fish through the underpetticoat slits as well!  I tie these on the side with a bow (usually I pull one loop through so there's less bulk in the knot).  Granted, I might pull the pocket out to show off occasionally, even if it's not appropriate behavior!  And if you're going to specific events take a look at the guidelines.  When we do Under the Redcoat in the summer here at CW, costumed women are asked to place modern items on the right side.  Why?  Because if you harass the British troops, they will detain and search you!  And they know to not go into that pocket and start pulling out your keys and cell phone.

Outer petticoat.  This I do tie around the waist.  The back comes up first with the tie on the side.

Then the front comes up and ties center back.  If you're wearing a jacket or have long strings you'll want to tuck the bow inside the waist.

I usually place my kerchief under my gown, so that goes on next.  There are many other ways to wear one, some of which happen after the gown has been fastened.  I'm currently looking for a small silver brooch to keep the neckline pinned together (like what we call trade silver today).  Men often used them to fasten the slit of their shirt closed as well.

The gown is pinned closed, allowing for adjustments in size.  I insert the pins horizontally weaving between layers and finishing the end towards or even in the stays.  Usually I place them ever 2" or less, about eight for a gown bodice of this length.  Some of my gowns and jackets fasten left over right, others the opposite.  It doesn't signify anything at this point in time.  I prefer left over right for ease of pinning, but usually it comes down to which way I cut the bodice when I wasn't thinking.

Aprons can go on over or under a gown or jacket depending on style and preference.  Leave a little slack in front for a dip.  And try tying in front.  I've often seen portraits where the bow is visible in front, others where the ties are clearly doubled around to the front, and ones where no bow is visible.  I've only seen a couple of caricatures where they are tied in back, and even one image that was tied on the side.  I think it looks prettier too.

Accessories.  One cannot forget those.  Loose the modern jewelry (I replace my 1930s wedding ring with a plainer engraved silver band).  A good cap can go a long way since your face is where most people focus their attention.  This one is a fairly heavy linen.  A nice pair of mitts or gloves, I like mine long enough to reach the gown sleeve.  And shoes, of course.  It might be easier to put the shoes on earlier if you have trouble reaching your feet to buckle or tie after the stays and layers of petticoats.

Last is the wool cloak.  It amazes me how warm this garment can keep you, and how dry!  I almost never use an umbrella unless it deluges because the water tends to bead and roll off.  I have a full length cloak for colder weather as well, but this length is much easier to deal with going in and out of buildings and sitting on the floor occasionally.  I've found that hooks don't stay properly closed, so I have two sets of wool tape ties to keep the front shut against the wind.

My photographer (my husband) got bored and decided to harass the sleeping puppy.  Your moment of aww for the day.


Allison Hicks said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! I love seeing your step by step presentation.

ZipZip said...

So very helpful! I've seen a few demonstrations on getting dressed; yours is one of the clearest ones.

About pinning the bodice shut: do you lap the bodice seams? Do the pinheads show? I ask because I have a mid-1790s silk open robe (designed after several in Nancy Bradfield's book) that I attempt to pin shut...but edge to edge and pinning vertically, which I heard was one way to do it. Every time I've tried it, it has failed abysmally.

Any advice appreciated; one almost never hears of these important details.

jennylafleur said...

A great post! I don't know why I never thought of putting my pockets on top of my under petticoat for easier access - this tip is going to make costume events so much easier from now on! Thanks! :>

Andrew Schroeder said...

So you don't wear a bumroll?

ColeV said...

ZipZip: I lap the bodice 1/2" to 1" to get a good fit. I insert the pin at the very edge between the fashion and lining, then weave in, out, in. I try not to catch the very exterior layer, but catching all of the seam allowance can be good. I use fairly short, small pins usually called "Satin pins". Doing edge to edge would be easier with hooks and eyes or even adding lacing strips behind the front. I used to pin vertically with lapping, but they all bent from the stress. This way is much sturdier.

Andrew: Nope! I have a bumroll and panniers, but they're only for special garments. The only gown draped for the bumroll is my cut-away gown. It's more of a formal, fashionable thing. And really difficult to sit or drive with it on!!

American Duchess said...

Great post! Very elucidating, especially about when to put on the neckerchief, as I thought it was one of the last things to go on, but it makes much more sense to do it as one of the first steps. Thank you!

Unknown said...


The Dreamstress said...

Ooooh, thanks for the great post! The tips about stockings and kerchiefs and pinning are particularly helpful.

Your husband did a great job with the pictures too - very clear and easy to follow (and I love the puppy at the end!)

Time Traveling in Costume said...

This is a great instructional, and I've shared it with my friend who is new to this period. Also helpful to me too. :)

Hallie Larkin said...

Nice Job.. I always put shoes on before stays, a well fitting pair of stays makes bending down to clasp the buckles a little difficult.

ZipZip said...

Thank you so much for the tip about pinning! I've never had it that clearly explained before.

Many thanks again,


lahbluebonnet said...

Thank you for this! I have made my stays. Now I'm worried about how to drive down for the day with my kids, from NoVA, in PA costume...while wearing stays!

Anonymous said...

Hi there I purchased your riding habit nov 2009. I nned your help with the " shirt" .... Pattern or ... Can you email me kelliwattsworth@ Your stuff is amazing btw

ColeV said...

Hi Kelli, you probably have me mixed up with another company. My business name is Golden Hind Millinery, not related to the blog. Sorry!