Late 1780s Robe en Chemise Costume

1780s Chemise a la reine

When I tell people I like making historical costumes they always ask me, “Where are you going to wear that?” Well, guess what? I finally wore a costume to an event! I went to Dallas for the DFW Costumer’s Guild‘s annual Georgian Picnic. It’s a gathering of costuming enthusiasts where we dress up in 18th-century through Regency era clothes, eat, play games, socialize, and generally have a fun time.

22918496420_25d49b55c0_k(from Festive Attyre’s Flickr album)

Here’s everyone at the picnic arranged in a general timeline – earlier styles on the left, later on the right. I’m right in the middle.

Normally autumn weather in Texas is mild but this year the day turned out to be quite chilly. Unfortunately the costume I chose to make and wear was more of a summer dress: the soft, breezy, classic white Robe en Chemise (or chemise dress or chemise a la reine).

marie-antoinette-vigee-le-brun1

A quick history lesson: when the French public first saw this portrait of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun in the early 1780s it caused quite a scandal. People thought she was in her underwear because the fluffy white dress resembled a chemise (hence the name “the queen’s chemise”).

But the style caught on — with variations of course. The earliest incarnations consisted of long rectangles of cotton muslin gathered on drawstrings and tied with a sash or ribbon belt. Later they often had fixed gathers into a waistband, long slim sleeves, a structured back bodice, and sometimes they were made in other fabrics like silk or stripes.

P133-2T

The chemise dress was transitional style between the time of the extreme rococo dresses earlier in the century and the sleek, columnar dresses post-French revolution.

If you’d like to see some examples check out my Pinterest board.

My Dress:

1780s Chemise a la reine

I used the Robe en Chemise pattern from Laughing Moon Mercantile.

The fabric is some cheap cotton I bought from Fabric Wholesale Direct. It’s certainly not the best quality but it is light, loosely woven, and semi-sheer.

I made the version with the full gathers in front and back, low neckline, long sleeves, and no train. I added double ruffles at the neckline for maximum floofiness.

It is mostly machine sewn with the exception of hand blind hems on the sleeves and skirt, and rolled hems on the ruffles.

I bought some taffeta from Pure Silks that I ripped it into 6in wide strips and sewed a sash that’s about 5 yards long.

Under layers:

Underneath the dress I’m wearing two 18th century style white muslin petticoats (like the middle one I’m wearing here).

1780s Chemise a la reine

Below that are my 18th-century strapless stays and my regency era chemise.

Accessories:

I made a short, coral bead necklace — a popular accessory in the late 18th/early 19th century.

1780s Chemise a la reine

I also have on ivory silk stockings and these American Duchess shoes with buckles.

1780s Chemise a la reine

I had decorated a cheap straw hat to go with the outfit, but I don’t love it. It’s too heavy and limp to keep its shape and because of the windy weather, the feathers kept falling out even though I had stitched down both them and the matching blue sash. I ditched it for most of the picnic.

Hair and make-up:

1780s Chemise a la reine

I bought a wonderful cosmetic “starter set” from Litttle Bits on Etsy. They recreate actual cosmetic recipes from the era.

For hair, I attempted to do a “hedgehog” style which is basically an 18th-century white girl afro. I slept in foam rollers to curl my hair, then teased the hell out of it. I used the Litttle Bits pomatum and powder to add texture and lighten the color, pinned my hair up in back a bit, and doused my whole head in enough hairspray to light a house on fire.

1780s Chemise a la reine

It’s not as big as I would like. For once my hair is actually a little too long to do a historical hairstyle properly.

Well, this post is long enough so I’ll wrap it up. Thanks to all the DFWCG people who were so nice and welcoming to me. I had a great time and I’m already looking forward to future events.

Mid-Victorian underthings

Early Victorian Undies

Warning: this post is long. I’m sharing six (!!!) pieces I’ve made. All for costumes.

I’m working on several historical costumes right now but this group of garments is for my 1840s costume.

Early Victorian Undies

Some of these items are more 1860s/Civil War era, others much earlier, but they can still be used for the 1840s.

Early Victorian Undies

Let’s start from the innermost layer and work our way out…

Chemise:
Victorian Chemise and Corset

Made of white muslin, the chemise was like a big oversized 18th century t-shirt. It keeps sweat from getting on your corset (which cannot be as easily washed). Women would have had a bunch of these in their wardrobes, way more than dresses themselves.

I used Simplicity 2890. Had to remind myself that Big 4 costume patterns like to double down on the ease factor. Originally it was way too big at the shoulders so I cut a size smaller yoke pieces and re-sewed it.

In this era women would also wear “drawers” which are like big, poofy , open crotched bloomers, however I haven’t made any yet.

Corset:
Victorian Chemise and Corset

Made with plain white coutil and steel boning. The Silverado version of Laughing Moon Merchantile’s #100 pattern, which is the longer style with the bust gussets. Only, not knowing how to properly pick size, the bust ended up too big and I had to hand sew the gussets smaller. If only I had seen this adjusted size chart earlier.

Victorian Chemise and Corset

It’s not the best, but it’ll do for now. It’s still decorated for my Elizabeth Comstock cosplay.

Bum Roll:

Victorian Roll

I used random cotton stash fabric and 1″ wide cotton twill tape. Originally from Simplicity 3727 but it ended up HUGE. Like, obnoxiously big, so I made it about half the size by cutting out the whole back seam and sewing it up again.

Victorian Roll

Much better. With all the petticoats and the final dress weighing it down it does actually look pretty nice.

Corded petticoat:

Corded Petticoat

White muslin and yards and yards of 1/6″ cotton cording. This was a common item in the days before metal cage hoop skirts. Rows of cording plus lots of starch helped the skirt stand away from the body, accentuating the bell shape that was popular at the time.

I based the petticoat on a bunch of extant examples found online and modern versions made by costumers. Originally I used the width of two lengths of fabric (90″) but that made the skirt so wide that it would fold in on itself. I lopped off about 10″ of width to compensate.

Corded Petticoat

I sewed a total of 40 rows of cording in 5 row groups spaced about 2″ apart. I would have done more but frankly I was sick of it and gave up. I then pleated the fabric into a waistband made of twill tape with a side opening.

Middle Petticoat:

Hand sewn petticoat

White muslin, 1″ wide cotton twill tape, all hand sewn! Yep, that’s right. I sewed this entire petticoat by hand! So accurate! BASK IN MY ACCURACY!!!1!

This is technically an 18th century style petticoat which is fine, because it works well in several eras.

I followed this basic tutorial. It’s 36″ long because I used 36″ wide fabric and put it lengthwise around me.

It’s basically two pieces, seamed partially up the sides, hemmed at the bottom, and pleated to two separate lengths of twill tape ties. The twill tape folds over the raw edge, encasing it like a binding. You end up tying it on kind of like an apron.

Hand sewn petticoat

The box pleat in front keeps it nice and flat at the waist and the knife pleats go all away around to the back.

Outer petticoat:

Early Victorian Undies

And the final petticoat! White muslin, two hooks and eyes. This petticoat is huge! It’s from Butterick 5831 but the original pattern called for an 8″ wide eyelet trim. Ha! Like I could find 8″ wide trim, and even if I did those things are like $20 a yard.

Early Victorian Undies

So instead I went with a long gathered strip of fabric. But I had a hard time getting the gathers spaced evenly on such a long line (this skirt is like, 5 yards wide) that eventually I thought “You know, maybe pleats would be easier?”

They were not. But at that point I was committed. Committed to 15 freaking yards of pleated fabric. Yet it is complete so I am happy now.

Early Victorian Undies

All together it forms the basis of the early Victorian era silhouette – slopes shoulders, nipped in waist, and big wide bell-shaped skirts with some emphasis in the back.

I even tried to do my hair in the standard – middle part, pressed down over the ears style but my hair isn’t long enough to stay in place.

And after all this work to look “accurate” for these pics, I completely forgot about my bright blue toenails. Oh, well, can’t fix it now.

All I need at this point is to finish my bonnet and hem my dress and I’ll be ready to show off my full outfit.

Full Regency Era Costume

Regency Costume

At last I have taken proper pictures of this costume!

Regency Costume

I’m wearing my Regency underthings along with a bodiced petticoat (which is exactly what it sounds like – a petticoat with a sleeveless bodice attached to it).

Regency Costume

The Dress first: Some soft blue cotton I bought locally at a store that no longer exists 🙁

If you’ve read my previous post on sewing Regency you’ll know that I’ve had such a hard time with Big 4 company costume designs. For this go around I went with Laughing Moon #126. I knew I wanted to be able to dress myself so I chose the “apron front” or “bib front” gown design.

Regency Costume

The way it works is pretty neat – the dress has two long slits down the front sides and this is attached to the gathered rectangle portion of the bodice. You put the dress on, then pull up the front of the dress, tie it around in the back (like you would an apron) and pin (yes pin, with little straight pins) the gathered bodice to the shoulder area of the dress (kind of like you would with a pin on apron.

No, you don’t get stabbed by the pins. You’ve got lots of extra layers underneath the dress. And you can barely see the pins once they’re attached.

Regency Costume

This style was only popular from around the late 1790s to 1810 but I like it much better than the back buttoning dresses (those are difficult for me to put on alone).

Regency Costume

Some cool features of this pattern which I liked and felt were more authentic than the Big 4 patterns I used – extra long sleeves that cover half your hands, a back bodice seam that raises up higher than the front, sleeve caps that extend far in on the back shoulders, a ton of back pleats, and a nicely curved and wide front neckline. All of these details are accurate to the time period.

I made a straight size 12 and it fit perfectly right out of the envelope (I seriously love this company, they’re now my go-to for all historical patterns).

Regency Costume

Prior patterns I’ve used ended up looking too frumpy or too juvenile but this pattern looks elegant even though it’s only a day dress and nothing fancy.

The only thing I changed was making the neckline lower by about 2 inches.

Unfortunately my bodiced petticoat’s neckline isn’t as wide as the dress’ but that’s ok because the open neck area was usually covered by a chemisette/tucker (like a 19th century dickie) or a fichu (a square of fabric wrapped around and tucked into the dress, kind of a fashion leftover from the late 18th century) which is was this is. It’s just an unhemmed piece of chiffon.

Regency Costume

The bonnet I’m quite proud of. It’s the Lucia pattern and kit from Timely Tresses. I chose this “jockey” style because I’d never made a hat before and wanted to start simple. The big gold feather came from them, too.

The ribbon is just some satin poly. I bought it and the fancy velvet trim at Joann.

The fabric is some silk crepe de chine which I’m not entirely sure is accurate to the time but I liked the color and it made for a nice, lightweight bonnet. The lining is handkerchief weight linen.

For my first try at a bonnet it went pretty well. The only thing I didn’t like was that it seemed that the last section of “poof” in the back of the bonnet was way poofier than other areas. Maybe I messed something up, I don’t know. So in the end I tacked some portions down in back to reel in the poof.

I also got a tiny 1/2″ barrel curling iron to curl my bangs and hair around my face. However the humidity made my curls all go flat after only about 5 minutes. Oh, well.

The curly style was quite popular at the time. Here’s a good Pinterest board with tons of portrait examples.

Regency Costume

And finally, I bought some ivory flocked silk stockings from this site and some ballet flats that I decorated with ribbon (inspired by this extant pair) to complete the look.

Regency CostumeI have these and a bunch of extra photos in my flickr costumes album if you want to see more or see anything up close.

 

Venturing into the 18th Century

18th Century Basics

I know I haven’t been posting often lately but I feel I have a good excuse. Costumes. All the costumes.

I’ve been dabbling in costuming work for the past year or so. If you haven’t been following along you can check out my previous Regency undies and dress and my recent cosplay.

I’m working on garments from several eras right now but today I’m showing off my new 18th century undies. I’m going for a target date of around the 1770s.

18th Century Basics

So far I’ve made a shift (The undermost garment you would wear to keep your sweat from soaking into your stays and nice dresses which can’t be easily washed, always white, most often made of linen), stays (The older name for a corset. This isn’t the curvy style corset from Victorian times. This shape is straight in front and curved in back, entirely boned so it’s pretty stiff), and a cap (Married women would have always covered their hair with either a cap or a hat or both. Although at night and on fancy occasions they could get away with smaller head coverings. Usually made of linen, sometimes with lace or ribbon or decoration.).

18th Century Basics

The Shift: Self drafted mostly using the info from this great site. I used a handkerchief weight linen from a store that is no longer in business so when I realized I didn’t have enough to make the shift the “correct” way I had to do some improvising on the sides seams. This shift also probably isn’t as wide as it ought to be.

18th Century Basics

The sleeves are gathered into little cuffs. For the neckline I put the shift on with just a slit for my head then put on the stays and used that as a guide to cut the neck hole. Then I machine stay stitched the new cut neckline so it wouldn’t stretch out and made a tiny pick-stitched hem by hand.

The Stays: I used the JP Ryan strapless stays pattern rather than their pattern with straps because they’re more comfortable. My Regency era stays have straps and I find them annoying and restrictive.

The pattern description says this design makes more of a cylindrical shape than the popular cone shape and I think that’s true. I was annoyed when I realized the stays made by waist bigger and my bust smaller. Not what I needed but whatever. They still look good.

18th Century Basics

I like that I can put the stays on and tighten the laces myself but it takes a few minutes.

They are fully boned with straight steels in the back to support the eyelets, spiral steel in specific places, and the rest is boned with reed. Reed is a flexible wood cut in strips. It’s an historically accurate alternative to the most popular support at the time: baleen (whale bone). Sure, I want to be accurate but I ain’t about to go killing a whale for it!

18th Century Basics

Since this was my first pair I used leftover strong cotton for the body and some linen for the binding. The bone channels were all stitched by machine but I had to do the binding by hand – it’s so curvy!

All the eyelets in back were done by hand as well and I think I’ve finally found a good method of making them so they don’t look uneven and wonky.

18th Century Basics

The Cap: No pattern. I just winged it by measuring my head for the band, tracing a big plate for the crown and adding lace and ribbon.

I pieced together the cap from scraps from my shift fabric.

It’s supposed to be a dormeuse cap, or a “French night cap,” popular in the 1770s. I liked this style because it’s more frilly than other plain caps.

18th Century Basics

But why wear a cap at all? Well, see, I don’t have long hair. And I have bangs. This doesn’t make for a great 18th century hair style so a cap (or a hat, which I might make later) hides my lack of hair.

For these photos I tried to fake the high up-dos of the era by piling my hair onto the top of my head over one of those hair rat donut things with a ton of pins and hairspray. It’s so tall that I don’t have any hair left to fill out the cap so the cap just floats on my head. I’ll need to work on my hairstyles next time…

18th Century Basics

But I did try to do the “look” by powdering my hair (which you really can’t see in these pics, I think it all got absorbed into the hairspray, oh well) and face. I also darkened my eyebrows and put on some pink blush and lip color. Fancy 18th century ladies liked their make up.

Next I’m working on petticoats and an outer skirt, maybe even a bum pad. I’m currently sewing up a jacket as well. Going for a dressy day look, I think.