An old proverb that no Native American person probably ever said goes something like, “You can’t judge another man unless you walk a mile in his moccasins.” That may be true in life … but for me, it’s certainly true when I’m writing. Because I’m a costumer.
Several years ago I was researching a Regency novel (set between 1801 and 1825 or thereabouts). Along with researching Prinny and the rules of the peerage, I made the clothes—a day dress, a spencer jacket, an evening gown. I went to the Bay Area English Regency Society dances and learned English country dance. And I wore those clothes to dance in so that I could feel how my heroine might have felt.
Trust me, she felt better in her lightweight cotton Empire frock than my steampunk heroines must in their day dresses. Recently I went to the Clockwork Alchemy convention as a speaker, and here’s what went on: stockings, chemise, corset, petticoat, bustle pad, bodice, underskirt, overskirt, jewelry, hat. And then I had to drive to the convention hotel! I can see why Victorian ladies had to have maids. It is simply impossible to lace a corset up the back yourself. Next time, I’m getting the kind that hooks in the front.
Provenance of this costume—
- 1860 “Julia” Corset from Period Corsets
- Skirt is Truly Victorian TV261-R (1885 four gore underskirt)
- Overskirt is Truly Victorian TV368 (1887 waterfall overskirt)
- Bustle pad was—wait for it—a Baggalini purse stuffed with washcloths! (I just couldn’t face working a whole day in a whalebone bustle.)
- Bodice was an Austrian evening blouse bought in Bad Isschl, Austria. It even has ribbons under the peplum you can tighten or loosen to fit over your skirts. No way was I leaving that behind.