18th century clothes, 18th century clothing, authenticity, Clothing, fitting, interpretation, living history, Making Things, sewing
You’ve washed, mended, ironed, darned, and sorted.
Now what? Now, my friend, the hard truths: the assessments and upgrades.
The hard stuff. Winter is a good time to frankly assess what you have, what you need, and what you already have needs. Could that sleeve be re-set? Stroke gathers re-done on an apron waistband? When you’re finally not planning and packing every few weeks, you have the time to really think about what you have and what you want.
There are two primary areas to assess, fit and appropriateness.
How well do your clothes fit you? Are your skirts long enough? Short enough? Are your breeches tight enough? Cut correctly? Waistcoats long enough? Getting dressed and taking a good look at your clothes can be enlightening. I find that photographs help me figure out issues with fit. As Drunk Tailor and I work, we take photos (especially of backs) so that whoever is being fitted can see what the fitter sees. This has proven more useful than attempting to turn around to see one’s own back like a cat chasing its tail. I’ve also used mirrors and selfies to achieve similar results, but even a non-sewing friend can take a picture of your back.
Period-correct clothes fit differently than modern off-the-rack clothes (you know this), so looking at period images will help you figure out what you need to change. Typically, I find that sleeves are too loose, backs too wide, or bodices too long. Making the changes you need to make can be intimidating, but even 20th-century guides can help you get where you need to go. (The Bishop Method book is super useful if you want to sew vintage clothes, or just get better at sewing clothes in general.) More online sources for 18th-century techniques include the Early Modern Dress & Textiles Research Network , and Burnley and Trowbridge’s videos.
Do you have the right gear for your impression? Are the fabrics correct? Do you have the accessories you need? You know I’m not going to tell you what you need: that’s for you to figure out, but there are some good methods for figuring how what to wear and carry. (Soldiers have it easier: the sergeant tells them, and there are manuals.) For the rest of us in the 18th century, runaway ads are helpful and can be a good source of inspiration for ensembles.
For other centuries, fashion plates and portraits can provide guidance and inspiration, and eventually, there are even pattern books and sewing guides. Small upgrades can make a big difference: in the course of a year, I improved my shoes, upgraded the scarf, and made both a cap a new and better bonnet. It took two more years, but eventually, I really upgraded everything. Sometimes it takes a while to get things right, and that’s okay.
It takes research, and there are some pitfalls (like confirmation bias) but Drunk Tailor lays out some avenues to pursue. What you choose depends on who you are, so that’s always the place to start: who are you, where do you live, and what do you do? With those questions in mind, you can embark on making the changes to perfect your impressions.