Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: An Agreeable Tyrant

I ordered "An Agreeable Tyrant": Fashion after the Revolution the moment that Alden O'Brien posted about its availability on Facebook.

Full disclosure: I borrowed this picture of the cover from 2NHG but did not hotlink it
The eponymous exhibition opened this month at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C. and will run until April 2017: it focuses on American men's and women's dress from the end of the Revolutionary War to 1830. And you really want its catalogue! Not only does it have beautiful photography of the exhibition, it features a number of well-cited essays on the period that are great reading.

The book opens with "After the Revolution: Aspirations and Ambivalence," by the DAR Museum's curator of costume and textiles, Alden O'Brien, on the subject of Federal-period Americans' difficult feelings for fashion as they attempted to balance a desire for luxury with moral concerns (and also dealing with the myth of homespun). Then there is "An Elegant Assortment of Goods: Apparel Textiles of Federal-Era America," by Madelyn Shaw, which contains a lot of great information about period textiles and their manufacture. Then Ann Wass's "Regulating the Dresses of the Ladies: American Women's Fashion, 1780-1825" and Mark Hutter's "Coat Tales: Changes in the Fashion, Cut, and Construction of Men's Clothing, 1775-1830," about the transitions in fashion during this time. The essay section of the catalogue ends with "Economy with Elegance: Practices of Thrift in Fashion," by Carolyn Dowdell.

The photography of the garments in the exhibition is really stunning, and it's supplemented with patterns taken by Mackenzie Anderson Sholtz (of Fig Leaf Patterns), Carolyn Dowdell, Mark Hutter, Mike McCarty, and Ike Cech of both men's and women's garments, with a nice sampling through the earlier part of the period to demonstrate the variety of fashion at the time.

You can buy the catalogue in the DAR Museum's store. If you're in Canada, you should contact them directly to order it, as the automated shipping to Canada is higher than it needs to be.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Miner Street, Canton, in 1900

I can't believe I've been working on this exhibition since the spring. Well, technically, I spent quite a few months in between researching a walking tour of Main Street - originally my brother agreed to make an ambitious app for it, which was then scaled back into a page on our website, and then recently I found that The Clio Foundation is developing something to allow exactly the kind of tours I want to create, so that isn't available yet.

The exhibition itself went up very smoothly. As you can see, it's not large - just one short stretch of wall next to and running up the side of our narrow ramp. To the right is the intro text:
Imagine yourself back in Canton in the year 1900. Walking down the north side of Main Street from the Silas Wright House (at this time being used as a parsonage for the newly-rebuilt Universalist Church), you pass most of the same buildings that you know today with different occupants – the Remington Corner Clothing Store, Conkey’s Drug Store, Cleland Austin, Dezell’s – and see the American House and Jack & Kirkland’s bakery on the south side. Once you pass the Neo-Gothic splendor of the town hall, turn left onto calm, residential Miner Street.
The design is pretty simple. In the center (... the thematic center; it's actually off to the left) is a copy of the 1905 Sanborn Fire Map showing Miner Street

A narrow cotton tape connects each relevant house to its label, often accompanied by a photo of the house or one of its residents. As you can see from the photo at the top, most of the photos are on the right/east side of the street - the people who lived there were more affluent than those on the west side next to the river and had more opportunities for having their pictures taken, and/or had more photogenic houses. The two pictures on the left are of Nelson Brown, who worked in the fairly well-documented J. H. Rushton boat factory, and J. Stanley Ellsworth, a local retailer whose family was the one exception to the rule about affluence and street side.

When I first got started with this project, I hoped that it would be something easily replicable for other museums like us (focused on local history, no money for fancy exhibition installations, etc.). Unfortunately, I'm not sure whether it is. A number of things came together to make this work for me:

  • The block where the Remingtons and Sackriders (relatives from both sides of Frederic Remington's family) lived was at the top of the street, and it was clear that the census-taker had been working Main Street and then dipped down into Miner. It's not as clear which direction he was going in on some of the side streets.
  • A Sanford Fire Map existed that showed the street, and I had access to it, so I could figure out where the houses were around 1900, since they're all gone now.
  • The New York State Historic Newspapers digitization project began in the North Country, so our newspapers were very well represented and I was able to find a lot of information about these people. (Compare to my home county, where the only scanned paper is the Fort Edward Ledger, 1857-1865.)
There are other situations where this project could still work. If you have a street with homes mostly built before the time period of the census you're using - that will help. If you have a street that the census-taker clearly turned into from one end, or know a couple of the historic residents, that will also help.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Book Review: The Long Weekend, by Adrian Tinniswood

I picked out The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918-1939 from NetGalley to review here as the country house has such a prominent place in classic and historical fiction - think of how many mysteries wouldn't exist without characters being cooped up together for a country weekend!

The book is exhaustive - Tinniswood goes through all the aspects of the country house itself, from architecture to interior decoration to sale to (royal, aristocratic, and common) owners, with detailed descriptions of how these went down at various specific estates. The social aspects, unfortunately, don't seem to get as much time as the others (or perhaps the architecture and interior design chapters simply seemed very, very long?). Country house parties are dealt with at the very beginning, and then at the end there's discussion of gay country house owners, hunting and fishing, the servants, politics, and the collapse of this culture during WWII.

Ultimately, I'm not sure how much it enriches the period-drama-fan's view of country house society beyond what you've absorbed from period novels and shows like Brideshead Revisited and Downton Abbey and the like - it confirms rather than enlightens, and gives specific context to generalizations you already knew. But if the reader is researching the period, all of this specific information is extremely helpful.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

HSM #8 - Pattern: A Victorian Quilt

Well, it was intended to be a Victorian quilt, but I'm not sure about the overall effect.

Photographed on my bed for scale, but the quilt is now in Ohio with Julie.
I've always meant to do some quilting, but it's never come up. In 2015, I went so far as to buy the fabric to make this one as a wedding present, but the actual Hallowedding bridesmaid dress was more pressing, so I backburnered this and ... forgot about it, pretty much. Then, earlier this year, when I was thinking about the "pattern" challenge, it occurred to me that patchwork quilting is definitely all about patterns.

For inspiration and an idea of what I could sew that wouldn't take me too many months, I visited Warmth, Remembrance, and Art: 200 Years of Quilts and Comforters in Northern New York at TAUNY, to which the St. Lawrence County Historical Association had loaned a couple of antiques. I was a little overwhelmed, but this brick pattern struck me as a good one for a first quilt.

This quilt was made by Olive Clark Wood, who married in 1874 and was widowed in 1877. The curator speculated (reasonably) on the label that these were all samples of material from the fancy goods store she ran to support herself. I made mine much more matchy, but it's still the same basic pattern.

When I bought the fabric, I didn't know exactly what I'd make, but I knew it would be an historical pattern so I made sure to aim for plausibly mid-19th century prints and solids (and Julie's favored dark purple colorway). I really wish I had more of this pink print in particular to use for an 1830s day dress, but unfortunately it was going out when I bought this fabric almost two years ago and it's nowhere to be found.

I was doing hand-piecing for the short seams at first, but with some advice from Mom I got into the rhythm of doing it all by machine. The quilting, though, is all by hand - straight diagonal lines, an inch apart. This is something I've seen on a number of period quilts and seemed nice and simple, but one thing you should know if you try to do this is that the lines increase in length very, VERY quickly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fashion in 1867

Because of the upcoming Dragonrose pattern for an 1867 evening dress, I wanted to explore the fashion of that year. The American Civil War period is very well-explored, and I've done a certain amount of research into the early bustle period, but in between those two, my impression has been comparatively vague.

Godey's Lady's Book, May 1867; NYPL 803309

The most common style of bodice for daywear was, as in the previous period, a front-closing one with a jewel neckline and dropped armscye. White collars were still worn: a standing collar inside the neckline, a ruffled collar also inside the neckline, and a turn-down collar with points. Cuffs were made in similar styles, and worn on two-piece coat sleeves of a moderate width; a decorative hanging oversleeve was a fashionable addition for any situation where a long sleeve was appropriate. In evening dress a broad or squared neckline was prevalent, worn with very short sleeves. Images labeled dinner dress often show a squared neckline filled in with a chemisette.

At the beginning of the year, the waistline tended to be on the high side of natural; by the end of it, it was a little higher.

Godey's Lady's Book, spring 1867; NYPL 803342

The most distinctive aspect of fashion in 1867 is the shape of the crinoline. From 1861 through 1866, the fashionable hoop skirt had a large diameter, projecting out in the back and forming something of a straight-sided cone. In 1867, the cone narrowed to a more modest circumference that ran close to the hips, sometimes flaring out into a train.

"Empress's Trail" crinoline, 1867-1869; LACMA FIC.7758.523
While there were still walking costumes with skirts held off the ground evenly, the fashionable skirt was of roughly the same cut as before - and therefore ended up trailing on the ground when worn over the new crinoline, similar to what would happen in 1876 with the collapse of the bustle.

Vertically-striped fabric and vertically-applied trim were fashionably used to accentuate the new narrowness of the skirt. The cut was usually heavily gored, the front and sides attached with minimal pleating and the center back tightly gauged. I originally dated this day gown at the Chapman Museum to 1865-1868, but in retrospect, based on the cut of the skirt and the trim, I would tighten the dates to 1866-1867.
Godey's Lady's Book, 1867; NYPL 803413
Overskirts were beginning to appear but were not very common at this point, and tended to be long.

Hats and Hairstyles

Compared to the Civil War-era styles, hair was worn somewhat high on the back of the head, without coming down onto the neck. Generally, during the day the hair was worn up in a mass with false braids and switches to increase the size; for evening dress, a few long curls might spill down onto the shoulders.

Godey's Lady's Book, 1867; NYPL 825129
Fashionable bonnets and caps likewise were higher up on the head - essentially being flat and resting atop the hairstyle.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Eating One's Words

This is so awkward.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece on the blogger at This Victorian Life. She had recently been profiled by Vox or Vice or Vulture - one of those online magazine-like sites - and the profile itself didn't seem very fair. In addition, a lot of the resulting internet chatter about the whole situation of a couple deciding to live "like Victorians" (kind of) came off to me as wrong-headed, assuming that nostalgia for history and a desire to experience the past automatically meant thinking that all aspects of the past are better than the present, including historic racism, sexism, etc., and my contrariness and defensiveness kicked in, pushing me to post a rebuttal.

Recently, the blogger and her husband took a trip to Vancouver where they attempted to visit a famous private garden, the rules of which disallow costumes and wedding dress. In a blog post, the employees who turned them away were described as cruel, rude brutes who looked down on the couple, the horrible nakedness of other patrons in modern summer clothing was highlighted, and she asked readers to write to the garden and review them poorly online. This is something I look askance at no matter what the situation, but it later turned out that the situation may have been extremely exaggerated and that the rules were posted on the internet and known ahead of time.

I would really rather be posting something interesting related to the Dragonrose Historical Pattern Kickstarter right now, and normally I would just let this pass by without bothering to write a post about it. But because I did write those earlier, praising posts and because this episode is going around the costuming world online, I feel like I need to address this issue or it may be assumed that I endorse it.

Look, I think it's important to show people that Victorian and Edwardian clothing doesn't smother you and prevent you from moving. And if you want to live without most aspects of modern technology, that's really cool. But it is not okay to look down on other people because they aren't in historical clothing, it is not okay to try to force yourself in historical clothing into a space that doesn't allow it, it is not okay to emotionally misrepresent how you were handled by a business, and it is especially not okay to sic one's fandom on a business's online reviews or customer support. It's an ugly way to behave.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Kickstarter - Fully Funded!

Hooray! After just a few days, Dragonrose Historical Patterns has been fully funded and then some. I must give a great big thank-you to everyone who supported us, either for a preordered pattern or without reward, and another big thank-you to Lauren of American Duchess for sharing a link for us on Facebook.

Look, it really is a Pingat!
Our total is still climbing. Julie and I discussed it, and decided to add a few stretch goals.

$3,400 - We're already almost to this one (and may hit it while I'm typing). When we hit it, we can purchase a module to allow us to create standard-sized, preprinted patterns, in addition to our custom-sized patterns for individuals.

$13,500 - I know, it sounds like a lot! It is a lot! But the extra $11,000 would allow us to buy a 72" Ioline Flex-Jet E commercial printer, which would let us print Dragonrose patterns much more cheaply and therefore sell them to you more cheaply. We would also be able to sell them to distributors wholesale, allowing you to buy them from any of your preferred dealers.

In addition, this stretch goal will allow us to give every donor a second pattern at no charge. If you ordered the bodice pattern? You will be able to choose another bodice pattern at any time down the line, from any time period. If you buy the pattern for the whole gown? You will be able to get a free gown pattern when we have more offerings.

We've also added another reward tier. For $100, you can reserve a copy of any other full-gown pattern that we should produce. This is perfect for those of you who do want a pattern of a provenanced garment in a museum, but just don't have much use for the 1860s. And as with the other rewards, if we hit our second stretch goal, you will get a second voucher for a full pattern of your choice.

The beautiful bow
So please consider contributing if you haven't yet! We need your help to become the company we know we can be, and to bring patterns of more beautiful and/or unusual garments from museum collections to your sewing rooms. If you can't contribute, we would really appreciate it if you could share the Kickstarter with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or any other social media site - or even word of mouth!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kickstarter - Dragonrose Historical Patterns

This is finally happening!

Julie (or should I link here?) and I have been tossing around these plans for starting a line of historical patterns for a long time. I'm not quite sure how long. I've been merrily taking pattern after pattern for a couple of years so that once the infrastructure is in place, we can start putting them into the computer program and working on the grading, making test samples, etc. But first we need the computer program and associated modules, hence the Kickstarter.

Our first pattern, which we're making available for pre-order as the basis for the Kickstarter, is for the 1867 pink evening gown by Emile Pingat in the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art.

Evening dress, Pingat, ca. 1867; AIHA 1972.95.2
Julie actually made the first version of the pattern and took it to the Costume Society of America conference in Cleveland this year, where it won the CSA Designer Showcase. (I'm going to be making my own soon as well.)

Dragonrose Historical Patterns will produce patterns that are custom-sized to your measurements, rather than only standard sizes made to fit idealized bodies. (It's the program module for this function that the Kickstarter is funding.) This will be a huge time-, energy-, and frustration-saver for those sewing at home.

So far, we are only working on this specific pattern. However! I will cautiously make no promises about which specific patterns will come later, but I can tell you that I have in my binder:
  • an early 1910s shirtwaist
  • a simple white linen dress of the same period
  • the gown I wore to Julie's Hallowedding (ca. 1872)
  • a slightly later bustle gown with a cuirass bodice, ca. 1875
  • an envelope chemise from the 1910s or 1920s
  • an unboned Double Vee corset waist, 1890s
  • a mid-1840s fan-front silk dress
  • and that's not including the many interesting garments I know of in various museums but haven't had the time to pattern yet!
I am really looking forward to creating patterns that are as authentic as possible - based on specific historical garments, or maybe two combined for variety in such a way that which parts belong to which are clearly marked - and, just as importantly, are tested and double-checked so that you don't end up with instructions that can't be parsed or seam allowances that don't match up.

So if you're interested in this venture, please consider supporting Dragonrose Patterns! And please let us know your thoughts on this particular pattern, the line as a whole, or what you'd like to see in the future.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Running the Show

This past weekend was the first reenactment that I've actually been in charge of. (Some of you may pause to chuckle.)

At last year's Civil War Weekend at Robert Moses State Park in Massena, I attended with the director of the museum as a kind of deputy - running errands that needed to be run, taking pictures so we would have something new to use in publicity next year, and so on. This year, it was all on my shoulders - the preparation leading up to the day, and the on-site work during the reenactment.

This is a picture taken of me last year - I wore the same secondhand dress this time, but with all the new underthings I've made for the HSM, so you do not actually see each rung in the hoop, even when the wind blows. I also have a new bonnet: a straw Flora Francine form from Timely Tresses, trimmed with ribbon from Bulldog and Baum. New pictures ... someday, if someone else took a picture of me and I find it!

It was definitely an experience. You really don't realize how much goes on in the months leading up to an event until you live through it: permits, sending the insurance information a half-dozen times and having to keep getting other people to tweak the wording, arranging for hay and firewood, getting numbers so you know how many people to expect, writing press releases, arranging for new catering for the dinner when the original provider takes ill two days before ... There is so much wrangling to do over email and over the phone. And then on the day(s), there are waivers to get signed, speakers to hurry along, and events to emcee because you forgot that nobody else was booked in to do it. And all along the way, you notice or are told about the things you forgot to address or addressed incorrectly, which can't be fixed for this event.

Closing Ceremonies
While working on this completely exhausted me - I'm an introvert, and over a long enough period of time simple socialization becomes heavy emotional labor - it has left me with a lot more confidence in my abilities. Now I will never forget who I should contact first if the caterer drops out, what order dinner and camps closing should be in, which speakers cannot go first because they run long, and so on. Next year I will make different mistakes, but I certainly won't make these (and I'll never print a folded single-sheet program on a long-edge bind ever again). And I actually feel like I could run any kind of reenactment now!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

HSM 2016 Challenge #5: Holes

Sorry, I've pretty much given up on trying to get a good background in a photo in this apartment.
The Challenge: #5, Holes - how would a corset function without the eyelets to lace it together?

Fabric/Materials: Off-white cotton twill from my corset stash and heavy white twill tape. Originally I was going to cover it with satin, but in the end I'm glad I decided to make this a wearable mockup, as the pattern needs a little tweaking.

Pattern: Based on this corset patent applied for by Mina Sebille, with some alterations and boning arrangement based on this corset at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I've been using one of your standard ungored, shaped-pieces corsets for a few years, and while it's been working well, it doesn't have enough hip spring to give me waist reduction. I figured a corset that had a separate hip piece would help me get the flare I needed. Which it does, to some extent! At least, I'm not getting much more reduction, but I am also not getting that lower back pain from the corset being too tight.

Year: The patent is dated 1863! Very specific.

Notions: A busk, of course, two-piece metal eyelets, and German plastic whalebone. And a corset lace.

How historically accurate is it? Quite. The boning is the least accurate thing about it, as it's plastic - but when in the channels, it does give a feel quite like actual baleen (and you can cut it down when you accidentally sew the channels too thin, which is excellent). I'm not quite sure about the fit - I worry I'm getting too much outward projection and uplift at the bust, but then, as long as I'm not getting that horizontal crease out from the armpit it probably does fit well enough there. I'll just have to remember to pad any bodices I make to wear with this to smooth out that area.

First to be worn: Civil War Weekend, July 30-31

Total cost: Unknown at this point, I've had some of these parts around for a long time.

It's interesting to wear a corset without side boning, and it definitely makes me see how the engineering is really about the cut of the fabric rather than the strength of the boning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Liebster Blog Award!

I was nominated for the Liebster Blog Award back in January by Nessa of Sewing Empire, but I completely forgot about it! However, I've found it again just in time for CoBloWriMo, or Costume Blog Writing Month, which I'm attempting to participate in to at least some degree.

The rules, as you may know, are to answer the interview questions set to you, list eleven bloggers with fewer than 200 followers* to receive the award (and notify them of their nomination), and come up with eleven questions for them to answer. It's interesting, though, how memes change - when I went back in my blog to get the URL from when I uploaded the graphic years ago, I found that the interview aspect wasn't a part of it then, apparently.

* I'm treating this as a guideline, because hardly anybody seems to have follower counts anymore

Nessa's questions:

What is your favourite fabric color / pattern you enjoy working with the most?

Blue. It's my favorite color and I gravitate toward it for my regular clothing (right now I'm wearing a blue t-shirt and blue sweater, not as part of a coordinated outfit but simply because of the laws of probability), so I also tend to gravitate to it for historical sewing. Blue linen is a good bet for many eras, and if you make most of your things in the blue family they all go together, see?

What is your most favorite place / space (be it a room, building, holiday destination etc.)?

Edinburgh might be my favorite city. I did my junior spring semester there in undergrad, and it really clicked with me - the city center is very historical and very walkable, the climate is temperate, and it's humid all the time which makes my hair curly. When the air is cool and damp, the sky is overcast and low, and it feels like it's absolutely capable of raining and yet it doesn't, I call it an "Edinburgh day" and get sort of homesick for it.

Do you have a favorite TV show or movie? If yes, which?

I don't know if I have a favorite ... I really love Scandal and Game of Thrones, though. Maya & Marty has only just started, but it's wonderful.

Is there something you like to collect (fabric, ribbons, buttons, cups etc.)?

As a legitimate collection, no - I don't have the space. But there are a handful of things that I unintentionally collect:
  • antique clothing: I've mostly bought these pieces because they happened to stroll by at a very reasonable price, or I was given them. Natalie Ferguson very generously gave me her collection not long ago, and I hope to write about some of the wonderful pieces in it this month as well.
  • academic texts on the eighteenth century/colonial period/early Industrial Revolution.
  • small potted plants that can survive in my north-facing windows.
If you could travel to one of your sewing era(s), which one would you like to visit most? Is there a specific date/place you would go?

I would really like to visit the 1890s/1900s. As you know, I have a kind of nostalgia/anemoia/mono no aware feeling that currently is focusing on the turn of the century. When you read period texts, it's clear that they felt a lot like us about their world: that it was fast-paced and modern, with social customs changing and technology adding both opportunity and complexity.

(George M! uses actual turn-of-the-century George M. Cohan songs.)

At the same time, I have a fascination with the late Middle Ages/early Tudor period that I can't really explain. I'd like to visit a totally pre-industrial time as well.

What is your favorite novel / author?

My go-to comfort reads are the Pagan Chronicles, by Catherine Jinks. They follow Pagan Kidrouk, a Christian Arab in the 12th-13th century, as he becomes a squire to make some quick money, then follows his knight back to France and then into a monastery (and then one last book is centered on his daughter). I'm sure their historical accuracy is iffy - from what I've read elsewhere, the idea of a united, widespread Cathar heresy is now generally considered by historians to have been exaggerated/fabricated for political purposes - but they're tremendously entertaining stories with a well-drawn protagonist.

Do you have a favorite museum you would like to visit or go to visit time and again?

I would really like to visit the Victoria & Albert Museum. I've been to London twice in my life and never knew it was there!

Which is the absolute dream fabric or notion you would really like to work with, cost notwithstanding?

I would really love to have a bolt of good silk satin in a period-accurate weight/hand to make a replica of a particular pink satin gown and petticoat held by the New York State Historical Association. And I guess I would need another length of contrasting satin to make the trim.

Is there a new sewing or crafting skill you would like to learn this year?

It's unlikely to happen, but I would really like to improve my bobbin lace skills. I understand how it's done, but I haven't done it anywhere near enough to be able to make lace that could be used in sewing. A couple of years ago I bought an antique roller pillow at an auction in order to get better and be able to make lengths of lace, but it hasn't happened yet.

Which sewing / dressmaking task do you enjoy / eschew the most?

My least favorite sewing job is setting in zippers. It's never really that bad, but I hate doing it and always put it off for days. I might enjoy hemming the most? Because once you take out the last pin and tie off your thread, you can shake out the dress and put it on!

Where is your favorite place to sew or craft?

Although I prefer hand-sewing, I love to work at my machine.

My nominees: (If you've done it before, you can always do it again! What is this but a chance to interview each other?)

- Rowenna of Hyaline Prosaic
- L. R. Stern of Plaid Petticoats
- Bianca of Closet Historian
- Gina of Beauty from Ashes
- Amanda of A Dedicated Follower of Fashion
- Emily of Emily's Vintage Visions
- Avante Garbe
- Nora of A Baronet's Daughter Designs
- Kitty Calash
- The Pragmatic Costumer
- Gabriela of Pour la Victoire

My questions:

- What is the history mystery (including but not limited to historical fashion) that you would most like to solve?
- What is the period or area of historical dress that you first began to concentrate on?
- Do you belong to a costuming or reenacting group?
- What is an area that you fancy studying or sewing that you do not currently do?
- Is there a particular technique that you'd like to learn, but haven't had the time or a project to do it in?
- What would you make if time and budget (and event) were of no concern?
- Is there a particular museum exhibition you'd like to go back in time or travel across the world to see?
- What's your favorite reference book or fashion history text?
- If you could design your perfect historical reenactment event, what would it be like and where?
- What motivates you in your historical recreation and/or public education?
- Do you like reading historical and/or classic fiction? (For the latter, I include any old books, whether or not they're critically esteemed.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Swirl Housedress, 1950s

The housedress as we know it - a very informal garment to wear at home while lounging or working, loosely-fitted and easy to wash - seems to date to the early twentieth century. Previously, the term could be used to refer to more elaborate and structured clothing, essentially what I'd label "day dress", made of less expensive fabric for the morning and more expensive fabric for the afternoon; around 1910 a shift in usage occurred where people started to label much less formal wrappers, kimonos, and tea gowns as house dresses - although it most commonly seems to have been applied to plain wash dresses (ie, dresses that could be fully laundered). Basically, the nineteenth century housedress was something you were considered "dressed" in, and the twentieth century housedress was coming to be something that was more suitable for doing the morning housework, or just sitting around in.
From the Dry Goods Reporter, July 1915
I forget how I first found out about Swirl dresses, but I realized fairly quickly that that was exactly what I needed for throwing on after work in the summer. (This was last year. I'm a slow mover.) The clothing company L. Nachman & Son went into business in the early 20th century, and started making the "Neat'n'Tidy" pinafore apron before 1940; in 1944 they created the "Swirl" wraparound apron, which soon developed into a dress, somewhere between a housedress and an ordinary day dress in formality. You can see a number of extant Swirl dresses and advertisements from the 1940s through 1960s at FuzzieLizzie Vintage Clothing and The Vintage Traveler.

As I'm not really a fan of wearing actual vintage or antique clothing, and the point is pretty moot as my dimensions are just large enough to make finding vintage clothes in my size difficult anyway, I decided to buy a Swirl dress, pattern it, and make one of my own. (I then went out and bought a very similar wrap dress pattern in the Simplicity sale at JoAnn on Memorial Day weekend. You know, so I have it.) As the tag says "Swirl / Sanforized" it should date to the early 1950s, according to the sites linked above.

scale is 1 box = 1", as usual
(Note that the front bodice piece is the only one drawn on the cross-grain here

The construction is fairly simple. The neckline is cut to the dashed lines and folded down on the solid line to create the facing; the darts are made in the bodice pieces, and the pieces and facings are sewn together at the front and sides, leaving a small gap at the bottom of the left side seam where shown. The skirt pieces are also sewn together, also leaving a small gap on the left side, and with the pocket on the right.

The skirt is gathered where shown in four rows of ruching, then sewn to the bodice. The waistline seam allowance is pressed up toward the bodice and the seam allowances at the gap on the left side are folded back, and the bodice and seam allowances are top-stitched. (Then the folded-back edges of the side slit are top-stitched down.) The back facings are added to the backs and the front facing is folded in; the shoulders are put together right side to right side and the back facings are folded around the fronts, so when you sew the seam and turn it right side out, it envelops the seam allowances. The armscye facings are sewn into circles and then sewn to the dress. There's a self-fabric rouleau, knotted at each end, sewn in the middle to the underside of the shoulder; this ties on top of the shoulder, gathering it in.

The hem at the bottom is just turned twice and sewn with a regular straight stitch. The ties are made as tubes to the dimensions described, then turned inside out. They're sewn to the back edges below the mark: placed first along the waist seam so the raw edge is pointing out, sewn, then folded back over that seam and sewn down again. The tie on the right will come through the gap in the left side - the left side of the back is on top, and the dress ties in front. The button is on the right back and the buttonhole on the left, where shown.

For my version, I used a length of quilting cotton that I'd bought for curtains last year. I did make a token effort at pattern matching, but as you can see ... once again, total chaos. The pattern had to be sized up, as the original was for a 36" bust and 27" waist; later I took the shoulders up by about an inch. I forgot to add the neckline facing to the pattern and had to cut one out and apply it; I also did away with the armscye facings altogether and just hemmed them. Didn't bother with the shoulder ties, either, and as my sewing machine doesn't handle the changes in tension you need for gathering very well, I just did hand-gathering on the skirt, with no visible ruching. Right now there's no button, as I want to go to the store and get one that matches the stereotypical Swirl spiral style, and I have to say that the button is definitely necessary to the engineering of the dress - it tends to slide off your shoulders if you don't have it.

I'm really enjoying it so far! It's not terribly flattering on me (in part because I graded it up a bit too much), but it's very comfortable.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Vintage Lingerie (2011) by Jill Salen

As I've gotten into vintage sewing alongside my regular historical work, I decided to buy Jill Salen's book on vintage lingerie - Corsets is very good, so I was fairly sure Vintage Lingerie would be as well.

And it is! This book is an excellent resource for both vintage enthusiasts and fashion historians/collections managers who have anything to do with 20th century dress. Where Corsets overlapped with Waugh's Corsets & Crinolines (just as Patterns of Fashion and Cut of Women's Clothes overlap), Vintage Lingerie really stands alone - no other books that I'm aware of give patterns for so many pieces of lingerie, especially going so far into the 20th century.

The value of the book is in the patterns. The text itself has a tendency to editorialize about corsetry - which, as you're probably aware, is one of my big pet peeves - eg, "inconvenient, unsightly, even tormenting control," "finally achieved freedom from restrictive garments," "at a time when waist suppression was still extreme," etc. but the text is not at all the point, so it's easy to overlook. While I would have liked more detail in the descriptions, there is nothing at all lacking in the patterns themselves, which I have to admit put mine to shame. Salen even draws the garter clips!

The book includes:

Pantaloons, 1850 (I would say "Drawers, ca. 1885")
"Khiva" nursing brassiere, 1890
Corset cover, 1897-1905
Combinations, 1900
Tango knickers, 1920s
Lace and chiffon brassiere and knickers, 1920s
Patent brassiere, 1920s
Bandeau brassiere, 1920-1930
Strapless brassiere, 1930-1937
Blue silk slip, 1930s
Girdle, 1932
Maternity girdle, 1940s
Linen knickers, 1940s
Satin suspender knickers, 1969
White satin girdle, 1930s
Tea-rose suspender belt, 1940s
Satin bra, 1937, and utility brassiere, 1940s
Strapless brassiere, 1940s
Strapless brassiere and waist cincher, 1950s
Beige silk slip, 1930-1950
Dior-style brassiere, 1950s
Spirella fitting corset, 1960s
Lady Marlene long-line brassiere, 1970s
Gossard long-line brassiere, 1970s
Black brassiere, 1930s
Waist slip (petticoat), 1905

The dates are sketchier than I'd like - I'm not a fan of decade-dating, because it's rare that something appears to be appropriate from one end of a decade all the way to the other - but again, they're not really the point. What makes the book such a phenomenal resource is that you have the construction of the garment laid out in front of you, and you can do with that what you will. The historian can compare fully-finished clothing in a collection to the deconstructed patterns; the vintage enthusiast can, with patience and skill, enlarge the patterns to wearable size and make period-accurate underclothes.

Some may find it odd that Salen patterned atypical undergarments like the Spirella fitting corset and linen drawers alongside pieces that are completely stereotypical for their era. (I say "may" - in a few reviews it's clear that some people don't understand their inclusion at all.) To my mind, however, variety is really what makes a pattern book useful to a broader audience than just "the average home seamstress". While someone who just wants a few pairs of lacy knickers has no use for the Spirella corset, someone who intends to make multiple corsets for different women might appreciate it as guidance for making her own fitting garment in her business. (And the collections manager who comes across something like that in their collection would have a clue as to what it was!)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Disturbing Tale

I was searching for information in old newspapers to document the layout and tone of Canton's Miner Street when I came across this story:

From the Potsdam Commercial Advertiser, April 24, 1895
In case you can't read the scanned text, I'll excerpt the important bits.
Parents Should Do as Tom Did, and Nip Wantonness in the Bud. 
Tom Helmer, of Stovepipe avenue, does not believe in sparing the rod and spoiling the child: only, he uses his hand instead of a rod. 
On a recent evening his thirteen-year-old daughter Mabel asked permission to go to a show at the Town Hall, saying that she would accompany her aunt. To this the father assented. Along in the evening, however, he found the child on the street accompanied by the notorious Net Cameron. He ordered his girl to go home, and it appears slapped her quite soundly when she failed to comply with his commands. 
This little scene took place on Miner street and was witnessed by Mrs. Charles Bliss. She repaired to the office of Squire C. Y, Fullington and swore out a warrant against Helmer for assault in the third degree. [...] The case was ably prosecuted, but the jury evidently felt that it was better a young girl should suffer severe punishment than to come up on the streets in the company of such persons as the Cameron woman. They found Helmer not guilty.

(The Town Hall in Canton, at the corner of Main and Miner Streets, was also the post office and opera house. Fourth photo on the top row.)

The story illustrates some troubling realities of life - a young teenager possibly being tempted into prostitution, parental outrage and abuse, a legal system that condones hitting your daughter in the street - but it contains some mysteries as well, so I decided to look deeper.

Stovepipe Avenue

"Stovepipe Avenue" doesn't exist on any modern maps, although there are a lot of references to it in contemporary newspapers. These references are all negative - even when it's just given as someone's address, that someone was usually involved in public drunkenness or shooting at the rent collector.

My first thought was that it had been renamed something nicer since then, but then I noticed that other towns also had a Stovepipe Avenue mentioned in the papers, the name sometimes appears in quotation marks, and the surnames associated with Stovepipe Avenue in the 1890s and 1900s can be found on the census on a few streets clustered together at the south end of the village, by the railroad tracks. And suddenly I remembered Emily of New Moon - Perry Miller, the local boy who made good, came from "Stovepipe Town", the poorest neighborhood. It's very probable that Stovepipe Avenue was Canton's shantytown, located around Buck and Dies Streets, next to the railroad bridge over the river and literally on the wrong side of the tracks.

(In the 1900 census, Mabel Helmer was listed as still living at home with her parents on Dies St., working as a servant in the hotel. She married William H. Green of Oswegatchie in 1905.)

Disorderly Women

Prostitution was in no way a problem confined to cities - charges brought against "disorderly women" were reported in St. Lawrence County newspapers over and over.

A similar story played out with the Graham family, also of Stovepipe Avenue. In 1894, Gilbert "Weary Gib" Graham was sentenced to jail for public drunkenness, and while he was confined there his wife ran away to Syracuse with George Cameron, probably a relative of Net's. They brought young Rosa Graham with them, but she came back sometime later on her own and started "running around the streets with one of the notorious Cameron sisters" until she was arrested for being a "disorderly character". A year later, her father entered a complaint against her and had her arrested for the same reason. The charge was dropped when she married Charlie Cameron a couple of days later, who was probably related to George and Net. That's a little hair-raising itself, implying that her father didn't care about her being a prostitute as long as she was a married one. (On the same page as the second part of the story, Gib was also mentioned in connection with a street brawl. From later papers we know he lived in the county almshouse for a time and eventually drowned in the river. Here's his gravestone.)

Nettie Cameron's base of operations was apparently a lodging house on Water Street (now Riverside) run by William Henry Daniels, opposite a legitimate and reputable hotel - interestingly, he seems to have been or become a prominent member of society, as a member of the state Dairymen's Association, president of the county fair, and a player in local politics. Two other girls working there were Gertie Ward and Minnie Bush.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

HSM 2016 Challenge #4: Gender Bender

The Challenge: #4, Gender Bender. I know what you're thinking, but if we go back a few decades drawers were really controversial for women - they simply didn't wear bifurcated garments. So even though I'm not aware of the attitude that drawers were inherently gender-bending still existing in the middle of the nineteenth century, I'm counting it because I really need drawers for my presentation.

Fabric/Materials: White Pimatex cotton from Dharma Trading Co. at $6.79/yd. I'm not sure of exactly how many yards I ended up using - after making my chemise, there was only enough left for one leg, so I bought two more yards and didn't use all of that. I think it's probably about two yards in total?

Pattern: From the drafting instructions by Liz Clark on the Sewing Academy Compendium. I was going to get out a pair in the collection and pattern them and base mine off that, but then I realized that that made no sense. The instructions are very clear and simple and I recommend them.

Year: These could work for a good portion of the century, stylistically, from the 1840s (at least? I don't know much about 1820s-1830s drawers) through the 1880s and into the beginning of the 1890s, until sheerer cottons and lace and ribbons started to become a big part of lingerie. Although there are certain decorative trends you see changing through the years - cutwork in the 1850s, handmachine whitework in the 1870s, etc. - they can basically work for a broad swath of time.

Notions: They will have a button at the center front, but I really need to move on and get cracking on the corset for the current challenge.

How historically accurate is it? As usual, I'm aiming for high accuracy! The end result looks exactly like extant drawers I've handled in museum collections, although my tucks are maybe a little bigger. Next time I do any tucked underthings, I'm going to aim for 3/8" instead of 1/2", and I should have done the gathers by hand instead of by machine (both for accuracy and, because I have a Tension Problem, the fabric was really hard to gather after doing the two lines of stitching). But if I didn't have confidence that this long-legged diaper was historically accurate, would I show you how completely unflattering it is?

Hours to complete: I should just stop keeping this line in my posts, because I will never remember to keep track of my time. I think I worked on it on about five non-consecutive days.

First worn: July 30-31, 2016 - Civil War Weekend

Total cost: Roughly $13.58.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Nostalgia for the Ordinary

This past month, my director was out on medical leave and I was technically acting director, if only in my mind. (To people walking through the door, I was still "probably the receptionist".) This led to my having to write down notes to remember to ask the director about when she came back, and the writing led to more ideas. Like ideas for exhibitions!

Last month we also had a children's program on one-room schools, with a guest speaker who actually put the kids through their paces in writing and arithmetic. It was so popular! Making the past personal helps everyone connect to it. So what about an exhibition looking into the inhabitants of an ordinary street in a St. Lawrence County village?

In order to tie this to Remington for the Remington Arts Festival, the street I chose in 1900 housed both a paternal uncle's family and a maternal uncle's family. The census doesn't list street numbers, though! So I've been on a quest to both research about ten households on Miner St. and to figure out how these families were configured geographically. Using a spreadsheet, all the censuses available from 1880 to 1930, deed grantor/grantee indexes, and some fire insurance maps from 1898 and 1905, I have a pretty good idea. At least roughly.

Miner Street in 1864
What this has really brought home to me - as so many things do, working in a museum - is how many ordinary things have been lost to history. "Daily life" in a general way gets a lot of press, but specific aspects of daily life aren't usually of broad interest. I don't just want to know how people shopped in the late 19th century, I want to know where people in Canton bought groceries in 1890, and who worked the counter. I want to know how the Ellsworth shoe store was laid out. I want to know what it was like to walk along that particular main street between the American House and Hodskin House, the two hotels in town (now the site of the American Theater and the post office, and an H&R Block and a Family Dollar, respectively). And I can't! I mean, I could find out where Cantonites bought groceries, but it's impossible to understand what it was like to experience life in the past. You can do an immersion reenactment with no spectators at a contained site, but even if you could fill a larger site with progressive reenactors and close it off for a week, you'd still be a modern person, without the mindset, prejudices, and background knowledge that a person of the past would have had.

(A good example of this kind of lost background knowledge - lost to Americans, anyway - is highlighted in C.S. Lewis’ Greatest Fiction: Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight. There's also the pop culture references in the original lyrics of songs like "Anything Goes," and so much about the Galerie des Modes plates.)

Most people disparage nostalgia for a time that you don't actually remember. They say it can only come from romanticizing away the boring or dirty parts of the past and imagining yourself as a rich person. Midnight in Paris says that people have always had this nostalgia, even when they lived in the time you feel it for, so what's the point? And to be fair, the word "nostalgia" does imply a rosy view, as it's meant to be applied to the things you miss from home - anemoia is a neologism created to express never-been-there nostalgia - so maybe I shouldn't use it for this, but I think a lot of people would apply it to the feeling I'm struggling to describe that I had when I finally put together a workable map of Miner Street and short biographies of the families who lived on it.

Miner Street in 1900 ... probably
The people who lived on the east side of the street generally owned their homes, and lived there for decades - the Sackriders, the Champlins, the Gaineses. Their occupations and ancestors were fairly well documented by their obituaries, even if their personalities tended to be described only in clichés. (Men were upstanding, responsible citizens; women were good neighbors and gracious hostesses.) People on the west side along the river rented, and almost all were transient. They did blue collar work, and their death notices were short or non-existent. Ada Merriman rented no. 27 for a short period of time around 1900 while her daughter Lelia taught school and her son Leslie attended St. Lawrence University, but before and after that she drops from the record. She wasn't a local - she apparently came from and went back to Pennsylvania. She wasn't from one of the earliest families to settle Canton, and she didn't sit on the board of the bank. By many standards, she - and Nelson Brown the boatmaker, and Celestia Squires the servant, and Clara Bragdon the dressmaker - was not important.

But like the Doctor, I've never met anyone who wasn't important before. So I hope that with this exhibition I can bring all of these people back to life in a small way.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Magasin des Modes, 2e Cahier, Plate II

November 30, 1786
We said in the twenty-fifth Book of the first Year that the caps à la Turque could bring back the great mounted caps, which went so well with women's faces that they removed and ruined straw hats and chapeau-bonnettes, which most often uglified them, for the reasons we recorded, but which still broke them. One may judge between the two Busts shown in this Plate, if even the baigneuses, which are like the great mounted caps, do not perfectly suit.

The baigneuse that the Woman dressed in a dawn-colored satin gown wears has large pleats and is made of striped white gauze. It is trimmed with a dawn ribbon with white stripes, which forms a large bow on the front.

This Woman wears on her neck a full gauze kerchief en chemise, with three collars, held together with an arrow pin.

In her ears hang gold rings à la Plaquette.

Her hair is frizzed all over her head. Two curls which descend to the chest are allowed to escape on the side, and behind curls float à la Conseillère, fastened in the middle with a pin à la Cagliostro.

The baigneuse worn by the Woman dressed in a puce satin gown is made in the shape of gauzes positioned on the head. The lappets hang behind with handkerchief ends. It is belted with a wide pink ribbon with black stripes, edged with black, which forms a very large bow on the left side, where it embraces a bouquet of artificial roses.

This Woman's hair is frizzed like the other's. Like the other, she wears a gauze kerchief en chemise, fastened with an arrow pin. Also like the other, she wears gold earrings à la Plaquette, in the middle of which hangs a gold drop.

The baigneuses are worn in half-dress. Formerly they only served for the morning, to go out without being dressed, but today our Ladies hardly go out in the morning in night caps, trimmed with blonde or other lace, and in hair in rolls underneath, with two or three unrolled curls allowed to escape on each side.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Book Review: Our Crowd, by Stephen Birmingham

A little while ago, I came across NetGalley - a site where ARCs and recently published books are made available (generally upon request). There's a good sampling of history books: not fashion history, which I didn't expect to find, but I find social history in general almost as interesting. Clothes are one facet of understanding a time and place, but there are so many other factors. And I find the clothing more meaningful when I have more context to place them in.

The first book I went for was Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York, by Stephen Birmingham, originally published 1967 and republished by Open Road in 2015. One reason I picked it is that I'm always fascinated by my own heritage (typical American); another is that there's something about New York. It's not just the city itself, but where it stands in popular culture - especially early twentieth century pop culture, which I consume frequently and which contains a lot of references that I just don't get without study. But it's also the city! How it grew, who lived where, etc. We just sort of take it for granted as a booming, river-spanning metropolis. Apart from knowing that it was originally just a small community at the tip of Manhattan and at some point spread out in all directions, my knowledge of the city's history is sketchy.

Portrait of Frieda Schiff (one of the people featured in Our Crowd), by Anders Zorn, 1894; MMA 1988.72 (OASC)
Our Crowd is quite well-written and informative. Before I realized that this is an old book and changed my expectations, I was a bit uncomfortable with the lack of citations and the apparent heavy use of memoirs as a source (as they're usually written so long after the fact, their level of accuracy is very dubious) - but you can't expect a book like this from the 1960s to adhere to modern scholastic standards. Once I dialed back accordingly, I really started to enjoy the many anecdotes. After all, using anecdotal history is the only way you end up getting to print sick burns:
After meeting Adolph Lewisohn, a New York businessman once commented, "I guess his brother Leonard must be the smart one." A few weeks later, he met Leonard Lewisohn. Following this meeting he said, "No, I guess Adolph is the smart one."
The book isn't structured exactly the way I'd like. It follows a few of the biggest names - Auguste Belmont, the Seligmans, the Schiffs, the Loebs - individually through a couple of generations, which sometimes meant skipping backwards a few decades when going from one family to the next. There's also a lot of attention to fact and detail put into the descriptions of what the Seligmans and Schiffs et al. did in business, which is admirable on the one hand, but not really what I was reading for on the other. That did help, however, in understanding exactly how this or that panic that I'd heard of before happened.

All in all, it's an enjoyable read, better if you start to skim a little through the businessy parts. While it focuses on specific figures, it also shows how the society as a whole was held together, what their relationships were with other Jewish groups (specifically the older Sephardic families and the newer Russian immigrants) and with their religion. I would have liked more attention paid to the customs of the society in general, rather than the habits of individual and sometimes eccentric people, but as I said at the beginning - you have to expect different things from history books of this vintage than of new ones. I strongly recommend Our Crowd to anyone with an interest in "Edith Wharton's New York" and a desire to look beyond Mrs. Astor's Four Hundred.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Regency Corsets (or Stays if you will)

My very first post to this blog was a kind of a summary of corset construction and style in the period 1790-1810. It's awkwardly written, because I was excerpting from a paper and summarizing and wasn't used to blogging like this! It seems like a good time to revisit the topic, now that I've spent even more time analyzing the period.

The stays of the early 1790s were essentially those of the 1780s, cut with a higher waist - conical, and heavily or half boned. Very quickly, though, the silhouette changed. Artistic portraits had shown women dressed in flowing draperies, belted high, without stays, and at the same time that those high-waisted flowing draperies entered mainstream fashion, so did softly rounded breasts. While some women achieved this look by not wearing any stays at all, for most, the idea that a boned and laced undergarment was essential to respectability held strong. Non-satirical sources refer to corsets' and stays' existence through this time - for example, a young South Carolinan woman named Constance is described in a travelogue of America (1798-1802) as just developing breasts, but still wearing a "petit corset".
"Corset elastique" from Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1802-1803
A brief period followed in which everyone worked out how to achieve this look with the current stay technology - generally, this was a foundation shaped like ordinary stays made shorter, perhaps a lighter fabric, partially boned or unboned, with some provision for the breasts. This could be a few gussets, or gathered cups. As fashion celebrated an "unbound" body, these didn't extend down to the fleshier posts of the body and exerted minimal control (if any) over the figure.

We can't pinpoint when exactly the stereotypical long Regency corset came into popular use. The earliest reference I have found to it specifically is in 1807, in La Belle Assemblée:
Do not be displeased that I fulfil not your commission for the long stay. Believe, Julia, your slender form, gently and simply rounded by nature, needs not this unnatural compression; they can only be requisite for such females as exceed the embonpoint, to others they give a most ungraceful stiffness; and, I should think, must be as uneasy as they are inelegant and unnatural. Besides, dear Julia, if we consult the painter and the sculpturist, we shall find that the natural beauty of a form consists in a moderate roundness, not in contracted flatness. I positively will not allow of your destroying the symmetry of nature, by the distortions of art. We are justified, my fair friend, in obviating her defects, but not in abusing her gifts. Continue, therefore, your simple corset; and do not, with your plump cheek, and round arms, exhibit the body of a caged skeleton. Thus much, dear Julia, on the subject; but not a letter too much, if it prevents your thinking more of an article never designed for you.
(A note: I have seen this passage interpreted as evidence that the old style of stays were still being worn. In my opinion, this is a mistake based on assuming that the people of the early nineteenth century consistently reserved the word "stays" for the eighteenth century foundation garment - they didn't, and you can find what we would call "corsets" referred to as "stays" for decades.)

(The earliest reference to a long corset that smoothed the stomach and hips in French is in the Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1808; it was there called a corset à la Medicis.)

This long corset had a wooden busk in front, bust shaping achieved through gussets on either side of the busk, and hips shaped with curved pieces or more gussets. It's tempting to put them in a sequence based on how much of an hourglass figure they have, but one thing I've learned from my sewing is that it's more comfortable for a corset that's tight enough to hold the busk in place to dip in at the waist and flare over the hips, if you have a curvier shape. Even when fashion disregarded a narrow waistline, many individual wearers would have needed their stays to fit one. Additionally, as the stiffening in a corset simply makes the fabric less likely to buckle, rather than making it more restrictive, the presence of cording does not necessarily mean more pressure: my last trial corset was not sufficiently stiffened, and had a tendency to ride up on my hips. It all depends on the needs of the body.
"Corset à la Ninon", Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1810

Something else that tempts is taking contemporary polemics against tight-lacing at face value. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, apart from the short blip in which a more rounded torso was fashionable, moralists and doctors were fixated on condemning women for the vanity of tight-lacing; going by those sources, people often say that women were "freed" during the Regency period and then "re-imprisoned" after it. This or that new invention - metal and bone eyelets, the split busk, etc. - helped women lace tighter. This has developed into a commonly accepted narrative (which must be constantly questioned and refuted by fashion historians) that women faced a greater and greater physical restriction as the nineteenth century drew on, until it at last became too much for women and they rose up en masse to throw their corsets off.

Corset, post-1828; MMA C.I.38.23.291
What's important here is the way that this is applied to the first few decades of the 19th century. Simple corsets with no or few bones are assumed to be very early, with more complex cording and more flared gussets appearing over time in order to manipulate the body more forcefully. This is an assumption, though, not fully borne out by the evidence. This corset, for example, is boned only at the center back and in the busk, but as it has metal eyelets, it must date after 1828. It doesn't have cording focused on the waist, or a pronounced hourglass figure. And unfortunately, we can't go backwards - a corset can have sewn eyelets no matter when it's made, like this example also likely from the 1830s or 1840s. (Even worse, the common set-in bone eyelets are poorly documented and not much help in dating. They continued to be in use for several decades, and nobody apparently knows when they were invented. Hopefully about ten years before the metal eyelet, or most of the extant corsets of this era need to be redated.)

When it comes to dresses, we can use fashion plates and wedding ensembles to get securely dated examples to base our sequences on, but detailed images and "wedding corsets" don't exist in great numbers in the early 19th century. The only wedding corset I'm aware of is this one, held at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It is illuminating! For one thing, it shows how misleading a dress form can be when it doesn't fit the corset - the bustline would be much higher if this corset were worn by a person. It does bear out the idea that many parallel lines of cording are a hallmark of later dates, but also doesn't seem to be built for any kind of extreme lacing, though it does have cording focused on the waist. And when it comes to illustrations, corsets all the way through the 1830s show no extra cording or boning and have short gussets that lift the bust high.

Detail of La Marchande des Corsets, 1829-1833; Rijksmuseum RP-P-2009-4133
So unfortunately, I cannot do what I set out to do - provide a sequence of construction details that allow you to date extant corsets more precisely - beyond showing that long corsets existed by at least 1807. However, if you give me a few weeks, I will be able to share some more thoughts on corset construction!