Friday, July 22, 2011

Night Blooming Peony:Shaheen-inspired Tiki glamour


So I should be working on my 16th century linen jacket for the Nor Cal Ren Faire. Am I? Of course not!

Next weekend is Costume College (hurray!) and the theme for the Gala this year is Creatures of Night. Suggestions were things like an Elizabethan bat, a late Victorian owl, that kind of thing. Do I already have anything that I could wear, since I really didn't want to make anything for CoCo this year? Well, sort of. I have a black 1920s dress that I probably could have done something with. But, eh...

But then I fell in love with Alfred Shaheen, or more precisely, with his Hawaiian sundresses from the 1950s. I luuuuuuuuuuuurrrves them! And I had to have one. And thus began my agony. You can find them on ebay and etsy, but they cost an arm and a leg and are almost universally made for very small women. I am not a very small woman.

Whirling Turban makes recreations of some of Shaheen's most popular styles and they'll make them in my size, but there we are back to the arm and leg factor. Sigh.

On ebay I found this gown being sold by Bombshell Betty.

If I was still the size I was in high school and had a spare $350 laying around, I would have been on this like ants on something sweet and sticky. The drape, the color, the circle skirt. Oh.My.God.

So, I'm making one. Of course I am. Because what else would I do? I'm working on a pattern to do the style like this

with the built in bullet bra, but that's going to take too long to perfect for this event.

So I'm using Vogue 1176. Easy to scale up and modify to include the shirred side panel, easy to fit, easy to change the skirt out for a circle. Hurray!

Here is the fabric I have to make it--a gorgeous cotton from the Alfred Shaheen line. Hard to tell, but it's accented with gold. Very glamorous! The fuschia is cotton sateen for the lining.

I'm gonna bone the hell out of the bodice (heh), add fun straps like on my inspiration dress, and TA DA! Night-blooming Peony! All in less than a week.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Some Thoughts on Historical Costuming: Renaissance Faire Edition

I think there is a tendency among those of us who care deeply about improving the historical accuracy of Renaissance faire costuming to be frustrated with the slow pace at which we are able to encourage the change we wish to see. What do we do at established events with established communities, where historicalness within the theatrical framework is not discouraged, but where the minimum standard is more theatrical than historical, or where there simply are not standards at all?

I think it is important to remember that it has taken us 50 years to reach where we are. I was looking at pictures from the very first Renaissance faire started by the Pattersons. If you've never seen them, or if you haven't looked at them for a while, go check them out. The costuming is about what I expect from patrons of our current faires. In the 50 years since that first faire, some faires have gotten better, some have gotten worse, some look about the same. My point is this: it has taken us 50 years to get here.

To terribly misuse the words of two brilliant individuals, Mahatma Ghandi and Max Weber, I think the best way to improve the historicalness of faire costuming is to be the change we want to see, and to realize that, like politics, it will be the slow boring of hard boards and that if we seek to do it we must risk our own souls. Faire fashion, like all fashion, follows trends. When actors are replacing their costumes, of course they'll make or buy what they admire on their friends. Not everyone is going to be as committed to research as we are, as much as we may wish it were so. But if we look good, then at least some of those people will be imitating us, and when they express interest in what we're wearing, we can share our research with them. I wouldn't mind seeing a faire populated entirely by cast members who imitated someone else and did no research of their own as long as that someone else had done the research.

Another brilliant, if slightly less well known person, Elizabeth Stewart Clark of the Civil War reenacting community, describes her view on historical accuracy in reenactment as "progressive". She says, "A person with a progressive mindset endeavors to recreate, as closely as possible, the lives and circumstances of the past. This applies to material culture, as well as to internal knowledge, and it’s a process, not an 'arrival.'"

You'll never get everyone on board, and you'll certainly lose scores of people if you try to force it all at once at an established event. But you can help make historical accuracy (or at least improvement) less threatening and more appealing. Check out her piece The Missionary Position: Proselytizing for Progressives or a Brief Guide to Polite Progression. It's aimed at mid-19th century impressions, but the lessons are applicable to any time period.

The slow boring of hard boards. Hey, I'm willing to risk my soul. How 'bout you?