Sunday, March 20, 2011

Inspiration Sources

I had an amazing week listening to people discuss their research and processes at the Accessories Symposium, which has quite inspired me to follow my process much more closely.  I recently finished a muslin 1812 gown and I'm just about to start on a silk taffeta one as well.  Their design came from two different sources, so I'm going to try to do a quick run-down of the muslin gown (and the problems I encountered!) and really follow all the steps of the taffeta.
To start with I wanted to talk about where to get ideas from.  I use a huge assortment of resources, some more reliable than others.  Generally their broken down between Primary and Secondary, but even Primaries have their issues.  Most of my clothing items begin with fabric, which is a whole different post, and then I begin to look at what I can do with it.

Extant Garments:
There really isn't a better source, but hands-on just isn't an option for most of us.  Museums have extensive galleries online, providing a visual for fabric weight and texture, as do antique sellers.  Most don't get detailed enough to see construction techniques unfortunately.  As discussed this week, the garments are almost always shown alone, without context to the whole outfit, fit, who wore it when or why.  Try using different terms when searching, ex. some museums use the term "dress" rather than "gown".  Demode Couture has an amazing list of museums sources.  I generally start out with these five:
The Metropolitan Museum
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
Victoria & Albert Museum
Vintage Textiles

Fashion Plates:
Or magazines and catalogues in the later time periods.  Just keep in mind it is high fashion and an artists rendition.  And they never turn around!
Maciet's Prints (through Lisotchka's LJ for instructions)
Ackermann's Repository of Arts

Written Word:
This could be novels, letters, informational books, advertisements, runaway ads, etc.  The difficulty here is often the limited info provided and deciphering the terms used.  Especially in the case of fabric terms.  I often use it to understand what sort of garments a more average person owned, such as the propensity towards gowns instead of jackets in the 18th century no matter what the class.  Check out your local area to see if they have newspapers available online if you re-enact a specific region.  In my historic area the VA Gazette is available and easily searched.  If you have an ebook reader, take a look at just how many novels can be found for free.  This is an area I'm just beginning to delve into, so hopefully I'll be able to come across some more specific examples in the future.

Anything from a formal portrait to sketches of the street.  Formal portraits tend to provide the best detail, but judging their usefulness in accuracy is difficult.  The sitters often wore their best clothes, or possibly even a costume.  The artist also interprets and possibly adjusts the image as well.  Informal sketches are a rare source for what people have worn day to day, but even those have their faults.  If the artist really wanted to portray the person as poor, they may have included a few "hints" of what always triggers that assumption (today we think of patches as an ex.).  Caricatures and satire do well if you can isolate what the artist is making fun of and keep that out, such as the tall hair of the 1770s.

Modern Books:
Despite the fact that books like Janet Arnold's and Nancy Bradfield's provide so much more detail and information than most primary sources, it's still their interpretation and something is going to be left out.  But I can't imagine trying to do historical fashion without them.  On my main bookshelf (there are dozens not listed, or just on my wish list):
Patterns of Fashion; Arnold, Janet
Regency Era Fashion Plates 1800-1819; Timely Tresses
Costume Close-up; Baumgarten, Linda
Historical Fashion in Detail; V&A
Underwear Fashion in Deatil; V&A
The Dress of the People; Styles, John
Fashion; Kyoto
Costume in Detail; Bradfield, Nancy
Corsets & Crinolines; Waugh, Norah
The Cut of Women's Clothes; Waugh, Norah

Films and television.  No matter how high I put the goal of accuracy, I'll still have Pride & Prejudice playing in the background.  I'm not going to copy anything from them, but it is an inspiration and can give a beginner a sense of the time.  Even if you find a piece in a movie you absolutely love, simply use it as a challenge to find a primary source to support it!

Other costumers:
We all do it, ogle the latest gorgeous frock from a blog, LJ, or even in person at an event.  Once again, it's a spring board.  Despite the fact that I could well support anything I wear in a discussion, I still don't think I'm at the point where I should be "copied".  Every time it goes down the line, it ends up like telephone.  I will try to provide sources for most of what I do, but sadly that is not the case with everyone.  If you see something you love or don't understand, ask about it!  Hopefully the owner will be able to give you some great new resources and ideas.

And just so this isn't all words, here's a small preview of the muslin gown up next.  I challenge you to find the extant garment it's based on. *Hint: this is the shoulder.


American Duchess said...

Excellent post! Also, congratulations on your award for best stays. Very much deserved.


Kendra said...

I love that you posted this. I think one of the big problems with the online costuming community is we all -- myself included -- need to be better about citing our sources. We tend to say, "It was done X way," but where are you getting that from? Janet Arnold? Another blogger? Studying extant garments? I'm trying to be better about it myself.