Today was my second thesis research visit, this time to the Historic Cherry Hill Collection in Albany. I found some exciting things!
- A pink taffeta anglaise with petticoat, late 1770s. It was fairly plain, with some applied scalloped self-fabric trim down the fronts of the skirt and smaller trim at the ends of the sleeves, but what interested me were the en fourreau back. Instead of the pleats pointing out to the sides, they're aimed at the center back. I'm not sure I've ever seen that before. Intriguing!
- An 1820s-1830s corded corset with an interesting construction. Each side is one piece, with gussets at the bust, and the lower edge ... I'm having a hard time putting it into words. The corset doesn't come over the hips, but the front is as long as any other corset. It's rather like a late 16th century-early 17th century pair of bodies. Singular!
- Best of all, a set of front and back lacing strapless mid-18th century stays. Sounds ordinary, yes? But they're made from two layers of unbleached linen with no visible seam allowances. The pieces in both layers are were put together, and then the seam allowances were turned in and sandwiched between the layers; the pieces were then butted together and overcast, leaving a flat, clean seam. The front and back pieces were cut with the lacing edges on the fold. AMAZING! (They're also not fully-boned - the channels are in groups of two to five.)
There's a constant, ongoing debate over methods of re-enacting: some prefer people to dress their own way, as long as the methods/items are period (downside: if too many people separately use a documented but uncommon piece of clothing, method of fitting, etc., they can give the impression that it was the norm); others prefer people to "portray the common" and consider the number of other re-enactors who dress a particular way, eg. knowing that gowns were more commonly worn than jackets, so not making a jacket if too many of the other women in one's group wear them (downside: if everyone uses the same patterns and goes for the same look, it can feel a bit "cookie-cutter," and then the anomalies are effectively scrubbed out even though they would have existed; also, if the uncommon is being too commonly portrayed, one may never get the chance to try out one's own uncommon garment). My feelings are somewhere in between. I think portraying the common is a good thing, and one should keep the common in mind, but the common can be personalized and made one's own without compromising that. (Unless some particular personalization becomes popular, I guess.) I wouldn't claim that the features I noticed on the garments I looked at today ought to revolutionize costuming - they're not really the normal way corsets, stays, or anglaises were made. But they, or variations on them, could be used on occasion to personalize an otherwise common impression.