Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Historical Clothing and Book Cover Pet Peeve Part Deux

Last year I ran a post where I kvetched about the inaccuracy of art on historical fiction book covers. A year has passed and another crop of "what were they thinking" has arrived.

As I mentioned in the first post, this is not at all meant to bash the writers--who often have little to no say over the choice of art selected for their covers. Which may be half the problem--an educated reader *ought* to be able to tell from the cover if the book is well-researched, but (dare I say uneducated?) art departments make that difficult. It's a disservice to the writers who spend tons of time researching when poor art choices make the first impression of the book a sorely inaccurate one.

All images are from Please note--I have not read any of these books (yet) so all comments are purely on the cover art.

First up, a book that looks like an interesting read about a well-known name but little-discussed historical figure, Mme. Tussaud. And to be honest, I like the concept of the cover--it's not a decapitated head, which is nice (ever notice *how many* book covers feature headless women?). But yet again, we have a costume that lacks understanding of eighteenth century underpinnings.

Please, artists, if you learn nothing else about historical clothing, learn this--women did not wear bras in the 18th century. Or the 19th. Stop putting fascimiles of historical clothing on top of modern underwear. It does not work.

A warning--I am going to briefly discuss female anatomy. If you don't like to read about that, please skip down.

OK, here's the thing--Mme Tussaud's breasts should not be protruding into the center front of her gown. They should be riding high, supported by a pair of stays that, well, lift and compress. This makes the front of the gown bodice flat.

Anatomy discussion complete, there's one other irking issue with the lack of stays--she's got something akin to an hourglass, rather than a cone figure going on. Wrongsies, folks. And don't get me started on the weird faux-stomacher thing with the goshdarn ubiquitious bows. Why bows? Why ALWAYS bows?

And finally. Her neckline is Urkeling. That's what I call the annoying thing that happens when an 18th century neckline is too high. It looks as absurd as Urkel's pants. Did I do that? Yes, yes, you did.

Ok, moving on.

Another book I really want to like, even though I don't read much Christian fiction--because it's loosely based on George Rogers Clark (GRC is my Rev War hero), and the author says she got her inspiration after visiting The Happiest Place on Earth (ok, it's only the happiest place on earth to me--historic Locust Grove).

And the dress is actually quite lovely.

I just never would have guessed it's 18th century. The shape is, as above, not properly stayed, and moreover, the construction reminds me more of a 1950s cockatil dress than an 18th century gown. Tacking engageantes on three-quarter sleeves does not an 18th century ensemble make.

There seems to be a general trend of nondescript but pretty clothes on historical fiction covers, especially in young adult works. This makes me particularly sad, because it a) assumes young adult readers aren't savvy enough to notice or care and b) does a disservice to the YA writers who I'm sure are researching just as much as their adult histfic counterparts.

I had no idea that the following two books were historicals until I read reviews of them.

The first, now that I *know* it's set in the 1920s, I kind of get.

I mean, that's kind of like a bob, even though it's clear the artist didn't feel inclined to go 100% 1920s on it (I mean, that would, like, make the girl look less attractive, right?). The dress has some flapper vibes--the slip-like cut, perhaps--but it should be cut with a boyish figure, not a gown that follows her slim waistline and shows off her figure (which, honestly, gives it a sort of 930s vibe).

What I think threw me entirely was the makeup--1920s makeup looks pretty different from this, and speaks to a deeper issue: What was considered aesthetically pleasing 100 years ago is different from today. The hair would be a less natural, less "sexy" wave, and more structured. Lillian Gish (1920s actress and absolute beauty) once said that you weren't considered photogenic in "her day" unless one of your eyes looked larger than your lips--an homage, perhaps to silent film where facial expression, not digalogue, carried the scene--and makeup helped to create that illusion. I'd like to see more art of today intended to look historical take the aesthetics of the time into account instead of time-warping modern sensibilities into (somewhat) historical clothing.

Props on the Art Deco-ish lettering, though.

Unlike our previous example, this next one has absolutely no excuses.

Let's have a few guesses when this historical young adult novel might be set, shall we?

Did you guess 19th century? You'd be right! But you're also a genius, because I had no idea. I guess it's supposed to be a bustle gown. Yeeeaaah. Also--is she smuggling Snuffleupagus in that skirt?

One last one--again, this book looks like one I'd read. It's about campfollowers in the American Revolution, a subject I much enjoy.

I do not enjoy that...umm...what is she wearing? Ok, props on the cloak, it looks reasonable. But what the HECK is that dress supposed to be? Laura Ingalls circa the 1970s television program? The print? It looks like 1960s upholstery fabric--seriously, I have a friend with a vintage set that pretty much matches this. And though you might find something similar somewhere in the 18th century textile canon, it's hardly representative. The cut? Wrong. It's just a dress, and therein, again, lies the problem--it takes no account for the undergarments of the period. See above for stays discussion, and add in an addendum on needing proper petticoat-age. It also doesn't consider the construction of gowns at the time, doing that super-annoying thing where the bodice is just tacked on the skirt--not an open gown or a round gown, but, umm, a prairie dress?

It's shame, too, because Blevins discusses her research at length and makes note of the fact that it's a misnomer to assume that all campfollowers were prostitutes. Unfortunately, with her unstayed figure and hair blowing--capless--in the wind, her heroine looks like a loose woman.

Now that I've been negative for about ten paragraphs--read any good books lately?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Green Linen Stays--Nearly Finished Photos

The green linen stays have taken me a while. Excuse #1: I had to hold off on quite a bit of work until after a late January fitting. Excuse #2: I was working on other stuff at the same time. Excuse #3: Too many movies I wanted to watch.

Enough excuses. We're nearly done:

And I'm quite pleased! I'm especially pleased about the binding, which I managed to pull of reasonably well, and my bound and topstitched method of joining the sections together.

Still to do: There are a couple spots of binding that I need to do by hand, as they're so little and fussy. Also, eyelets. (Unless we want to sew my friend into these...hmmm....) And these pics don't show the straps attached.

Fussy little bit of binding:

Sophie Biscuit examining my work. She's gone from kitten to half a cat in the time it's taken to finish these!

And, the ugly innard--egad!

I still need to stitch in the lining, clearly.

No sooner am I done with one pair than another friend asks what I'd charge to do a set for her! With each pair getting easier and easier, I suppose it's only fair!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I don't care how many more times it may snow, sleet, or freeze. The crocuses have come up, their sweet, unassuming pale purple carpetting more than a few yards in my neighborhood, and so it is therefore spring.
How do you mark the beginning of spring--a certain flower, change in the air, or greeting from a robin? Or are you a stickler for the date?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Liebster Blog Award

Man, all I have to do is pop on my newsfeed to remember why I love my fellow bloggers! The lovely and talented Clare at Magpie Makes has bestowed me with the Liebster Blog award, which I understand from her post means favourite or dearest to showcase bloggers
with fewer than 200 followers

Well, shucks! Thanks for the shout-out, Clare--and if you all haven't popped by Magpie Makes, be sure to do so! Tons of great historical, vintage, and modern sewing inspiration over there!

And, ye terms and conditions of this award are simple:

1 - Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
2 - Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you.
3 - Copy/paste the blog award on your blog.
4 - Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 blogs with 200 followers or
5 - Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment.

Five blogs I think you should read, currently with less than 200 followers (or unlisted follower tallies, so I'm guessing), in no particular order:

#1 VR Christensen: If you like thoughtful writing and historical fiction, check out Val's blog. She has a real touch for the past, and asks really thought-provoking questions.

#2 Haley Whitehall: Another historical fiction writer, blogging in the publication trenches. Haley posts great indie book reviews and other topics of interest to the histfic fan.

#3 La Chatelaine Chocolat: Historical costuming with a lovely touch. I always look forward to Angela's project posts!

#4 Isis' Wardrobe: One of my favorite historical costuming blogs, Isis also posts gorgeous inspiration and informational posts.

#5 All the rest of you, contributing to the blogosphere! Look, I know it's cheating. But though I did a few shout-outs here, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say I didn't love reading all your posts. If you've got under 200 followers, post a comment below about what you love to blog about!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ordinary Eighteenth Century People

In researching the past, whether we're writing, costuming, or just curious, it seems much easier to find information about the elite than it does about "common folk." This is especially true for pictoral evidence--court portraits are lovely, but they don't do much to tell us what ordinary folks wore day in and day out.
Which is why I love the various versions of the Cries of London prints. I've shared some before (the Strawberry Seller and the Ballad Seller), but a friend recently pointed me to this collection, which includes even older Cries prints and a variety of other pieces associated with trades:

What I love about pieces like these are how they help us identify details of lower-class dress as well as, often, blow perceptions and assumptions about what "everyone" did out of the water. For instance--we might expect an artichoke seller to have crappy shoes or even men's castoffs, based on what many interpreters of lower-class women choose to wear. Instead, she wears sturdy, heeled shoes with relatively fashionable pointed toes--clearly women's shoes. Unanswered question: Holy moley, those are giant artichokes! Are they for real?!?

I love our "Russia or Scotch" seller, as well--he's not selling countries (ha!) but cloth (per the caption, "cloath") of the Russia (coarse linen) or Scotch (finer, lawn-like fabric) varieties. Plus, he looks so cranky. I don't know why, but his "buy my darn fabric" expression makes me laugh.

The collection includes more prints, and, perhaps even more interesting, tons of "business cards" for tradesmen and tradeswomen. Enjoy browsing!

Friday, February 10, 2012

No Shoes, No Internet Service

Well, I have shoes. But in the midst of doing some repairs on my Rather Old House, a crew cut my internet cable. So all the lovely blog updates (and, um, Netflix viewing) I had planned for this weekend shall not, I am afraid, happen.

Which leads me to another question--what do you do when you go technology-free? I'm planning:

*Finishing the Green Linen Stays, and potentially planning/starting another pair
*Baking things to fatten people up before Valentine's Day
*Card-making fun--it's been forever since I made my own Valentine cards!
*Rent a movie or two--how strange to actually go to a loction and select a film, eh?
*Writing Date!

Any other ideas? I'm looking forward to the freedom from distraction, to be honest (oooh, shiny thing....*wanders away*)

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Where Was I?

Ah, yes. I had several sewing projects going at once, and was busy writing, and quite a few other things, too. Got terribly off track there for a couple weeks, and I promise there was good reason, but I shan't bore you with that now. Instead--am pleased to be back!

I did have a chance to think about some topics I'd like to talk about in the next few months--though I do love my sewing, the posts have been a bit handcraft-heavy recently and I love sharing other historical tidbits with you, too. One spot I have quite a bit of random accumlated knowledge of the 18th century is medicine ("physick and surgery"), so I plan a "Medical Misconceptions" series--if there are topics or questions you're curious about or "facts" from the period you think have been misused, feel free to let me know in the comments! I'm still collecting ideas.

Also--several of my writing friends have put out delightful books recently or have books forthcoming, many historical, and I'd love to show them off here. I hope to hook a few interviews or guest posts down the line to freshen things up around here (don't you get terribly tired of listening to me?).

And...what else? We shall see--and I'm of course more than pleased to hear from you what you'd like to see more of!

Do you ever get distracted from blogging for a while? What gets you back on track?