What would a comely wench do without her cleavage-enhancing gown? We do get asked about our costumes quite a lot, so here’s the info.
Our most recent costumes (the ones that you see at the top of this page) were made with reproduction costume patterns available from the United States over the internet. Although the general look of them is fairly authentic from a mid-18th century point of veiw, we had to make compromises in terms of fabrics and construction methods, due to the practicalities of time, budget and the demands of performing. We wear stays underneath these costumes to give them the right shape. Historically, these were not laced too tightly (to Allegra’s relief) and were there to give support and reshape the torso into a more conical silhouette. We wear a chemise-type top underneath to stop chafing.
The skirts are made wide by wearing pocket hoops underneath. We like these, they collapse for easy storage and are very handy for carrying around personal effects. Every layer of our skirts and dresses contains a slit to allow access to these pocket hoops.
Over the pocket hoops, we wear a padded underskirt to stop the ridges of the hoops showing, these are made in the same way as our main skirt, or petticoat. Over this goes the robe, the main dress. This is held together with the stomacher (the central, decorated panel) by pins. We did experiment with different methods of fastening, but found the historical method to be the easiest. The decorations and embellishments were added by hand. What with so many layers, the sewing machine couldn’t get through them, necessitating many hours spent stitching with a DVD for company!
Our previous costumes, which we still use when it is teh most practical option, are very deliberately not authentic historical representations of 18th century clothing. While we wanted to reproduce the glamour and drama of 18th century dress, we also didn’t want to tie ourselves down to a particular decade, as fashions in this era changed relatively rapidly. we simply wanted to reflect the general style of the mid-late 18th century.
We also wanted the costumes to coordinate with each other in terms of colours and fabrics. We also had to consider the practical aspects of moving and performing whilst wearing them, so they were made out of very lightweight fabric.
Should you wish to have an 18th century costume of your very own, there are specialist dressmakers eg Rosetti who make them.
Should funds not permit, and if you are feeling creative, you could make your own! We used Butterick3640 for the dresses and Butterick4484 for underpinnings. But there are others about. Simplicity do a sacque-back pattern, for instance and there are companies that produce authentic 18th century patterns. There are some instuctions for a contouche here.
If you do decide to make your own, let us know how you get on!