Let the research begin

I’ve spent some time this week knuckling down and doing some costume research. having had no internet access for most of the week, I thought I’d venture into the real world to do some fact finding. My first port of call was the library and its costume section. I picked out two books that looked as though they went into some detail and then set off to the art gallery next door. Much as I love Birmingham Museum, it yielded little in the way of 18th century portraits. There were a couple of nice ones, but what I really wanted to see were the backs of some dresses. I have a fair idea of 18th century silhouettes, and I know the front of a robe d’anglaise has no princess-seam (unlike ours) and loads of seams at the back, but I want details, like how many! You see, I’ve done a bit of digging on the internet, and there seems to be lots of conflicting information. I figured that there would be no arguing with a contemporary source. I think I’ll focus on 1760′s-1780′s and see what turns up. One of my books proved particularly useful, “Costume in detail” by Nancy Bradfield. It’s full of sketches and annotations from actual dresses. What really strikes me about the information here is the variety of styles of dress that were about in this period. And, I suppose that then, as now, people had their own idea of what styles they liked regardless of fashion. There also seems to be a lot of variation in the amount of seams/pleats in the back. I guess different dressmakers had their own ways of doing things. To my horror, many of the mid 18th century dresses seem to have the back bodice and skirt cut in one piece. I say horror when I think of the tiny amount of space that I have to work in! As I work toward the 1780s, I see with some satisfaction that our faithful Butterick pattern actually isnt too bad. The book shows that bodices were cut separately to the skirt and boned, like ours. The biggest inaccuracy seems to be the princess seam at the front. So why does the pattern call for that when it would be so easy to make it more accurate? Then it hits me… stays.