February 8, 2017

Victorian Interlude : Some Long Overdue Costuming Plans

Once upon a time I made historical costumes, ah yes, it seems so long ago somehow. It is only if you have been reading this blog for rather a long while that you will remember ages ago I made a Victorian chemise, corset, and bustle support with the full intentions of making a bustle gown to go over them. Well dear reader, that definitely never happened!

Why? Well many reasons, but mostly because I just can't afford to buy that much silk, and every other choice (finding a wool on sale magically, using poly fabric...) seemed to pale in comparison to my dreams of lush jewel toned taffeta. I still can't afford to buy bolts worth of silk, but I have finally found a solution I can settle for, and simply enough it is white cotton. Yes white cotton my friends, lots and lots of white cotton, trimmed with black ribbons and accents like the gowns above in Tissots 1974 The Ball on a Shipboard. Silky dreams will have to wait, but I have always wanted to make a bustle gown, so finally now is the time!

Seeing as I have the corset and other underthings mostly sorted (I made them back in 2015! eek), the first thing I need to make will be a white petticoat and a white corset cover. I helpfully made the corset in black silk and the bustle support in dark paisley so they will show right through any lovely white gown without some additional layers of under clothes. No matter though, as this just forces me to be more historically accurate and make these pieces I may have been tempted to skip. Plus all I will need is.....you guessed it, more white cotton! I'll be drowning in it ;)

As for the gown itself I thought today I would show you some of the other images that have been inspiring me for the design...

Another James Tissot painting, but I do think it is the same gown as the one from the first painting above. Tissot seems to have re-used gowns often so it is more than likely to be the same dress. I just love the sharp black accents against the white and plan to use many of the same features for my gown like the sharp sleeve cuffs and black "vest" portion of the center front bodice. 

I quite like the more open neckline of this dress however, as I don't have the most elegant neck and I can use all the lengthening allusion I can get. I also like the two tones pleats on the skirt and apron of this gown.

 This gown from LACMA is sort of my "proof of concept dress" in allowing myself to make an entirely cotton gown. It isn't exactly easy to find examples of cotton bustle gowns. I imagine this is the case for several reasons:1) Gowns made of cotton would have been considered less precious than silk gowns and were not saved/preserved, 2) Gowns made of cotton were more practical and were worn out from use, 3) Cotton wasn't a popular dress material. I'm not sure it these reasons I have concocted are true, but they make sense to me. Still gowns like the 1885 survivor above prove at least that white cotton dresses (with loads of lace in this case) were a "thing". So there is that at least!

How super cute is this gal? This photo is marked as coming from the Florida State Archives (though without a link to such, sigh, Pinterest). One can imagine cotton gowns were much more practical in humid climates like Florida and hot ones like California back in the era, so I suppose my cotton gown will make sense for my wild west home of Denver Colorado. 

Of course there is this gown too, because dammnn that's one gorgeous dress! This gown is a modern recreation (from the 1997 version of Anna Karenina) but has the same mostly-white-with-a-bit-of-black scheme I am going for. 

Those who are familiar with late Victorian clothing will have noticed that these inspiration images jump from one bustle period to the next (there were three you see). I tend to prefer the late bustle period myself (1884-ish to 1889-ish), but as the Tissot gowns I am basing most of my costume after are from 1874 I will be sticking to the first bustle period (1868-ish to1876-ish) with all of it's feminine frills and ruffles. 

I will show you all the petticoat soon (as I plan on making it up within the next few weeks) but since I don't want to end up giving up on another bustle project like the last time, I am not setting myself any deadlines for this costume! I have so much retro/vintage sewing I want to do so the work on this costume will be a bit spaced out. Hopefully I can complete the gown by early summer, but again...no deadlines! Casual costuming yeah? Yep.

Do any of you have some long term projects planned for 2017? Tell me all about them so I don't feel bad about taking my sweet time on this gown! ;)


  1. This sounds like a challenge!! Best of luck with it x

  2. Good luck with your bustle gown! I love the white gowns with accents of black, they look very elegant and summery. :)

  3. This sounds like an absolutely lovely project! I love the dress in the first two pictures- the black and white is so elegant.
    I don't do any historical costuming, as I never seem to find the time. because all of my sewing projects- even the "basic" ones, seem to turn into long term projects :)
    Good luck with your project! I'm looking forward to seeing the finished dress once it is done- whenever that is!
    The Artyologist

    1. Thank you Nicole! I havn't done much costuming the past few years as I have been focusing on making vintage style clothing for my wardrobe instead, but I'd like to make more time for it as it's such fun!

  4. I like all the inspiration pictures and look forward to seeing what you come up with? Do you have a location or event in mind to wear it to?

    1. Thanks Kate-Em! Unfortunately I don't think there are many costume events here in Colorado, but I don't mind merely prancing around the local gardens like the goof I am so that will do :)

    2. Sounds good to me! I would wear it anywhere and everywhere if I had made something so super!


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