Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 25) marks the release of my newest historical romance, When the Duchess Said Yes. This is the second book in my Wylder Sisters series, all set in Georgian London, and this week I'm going to be sharing a few posts connected to the story.
As anyone who reads this blog and my books knows, I have an endless love affair with 18th century clothing. Incorporating historical clothes into a story isn't easy, which may be why many writers avoid it altogether. But Loretta and I both believe that how a character dresses reveals a great deal about them. The trick is not only to incorporate descriptions of the clothing of the past as seen through the characters' eyes, but to share the experience of those clothes with modern readers - all without stopping the story. Nope, not easy at all.
So while I've done my best to describe how my heroines dress (and undress, which may be even more important in a romance), I had Abby Cox, one of our good friends from Colonial Williamsburg, show us the layers that an 18th c. woman would wear each day. As always, please click on the pictures to enlarge them for details.
In the first row of photos, left, Abby is shown wearing the basic garment of all 18th c. women, whether the queen or a milkmaid: a loose-fitting, knee-length white linen shift with short sleeves. In this era, women did not ordinarily wear under-drawers beneath their shift, as satiric cartoonists are always quick to show. She's also wearing white cotton stockings that reach over her knees, and are held in place with garters that are tied over the stockings.
Next come the stays (the 18th c. term for a corset), which Abby has also demonstrated lacing here. Then she ties her pocket around her waist, settling it on one hip. A pocket served as a kind of purse and carry-all, keeping the day's essentials at hand; there are openings in the sides of every skirt to reach it. Next to be tied around the waist are hoops (they're sitting on the chair in the second picture). Abby's hoops here are of a modest size, and are made of shaped cane covered in red cotton.
In the second row of pictures, right, Abby adds a petticoat with the hem embroidered in wool threads. The first petticoat would have added warmth and volume, as well as adding a fashionable note of color. The second petticoat is silk, a complimentary color to her gown since it will be visible beneath.
In the third row, Abby has put on her gown (we'd probably call it a dress), an open-front garment with a bodice, sleeves, and full skirts. The front of the gown is fastened together not with buttons or hooks, but with straight pins: the two halves overlap and are pinned together, with the points safely buried against the layers of her stays. See here and here for more about pins and pinning.
In the final picture, Abby has looped up the back of her skirts with long cords, secured by buttons at the back of her waist. This is a stylish touch that increases the volume of the skirts, and displays both the gleaming crispness of the silk fabric and the petticoat beneath.
To modern women accustomed to the ease of Lycra, this may all seem like a tremendous amount of work, tying, lacing, and pinning the day's clothes together. It would, too, be much easier to accomplish with a lady's maid. But repetition makes everything easier, and because Abby wears these clothes every day for work, she dressed herself with astonishing (to me) speed and ease – just as a young woman would have done 250 years ago.
Many thanks to Abby Cox! All photographs by Susan Holloway Scott
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.