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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: 500 Years of Correcting “Historical” Halloween Costumes

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- Hallowe'en is nigh, friends, which means,

at least in America,

we are graced with such intellectual brilliance and

sumptuous craftsmanship as

the quintessential Party City costume,

some of which endeavor to represent historical dress.

What's that?

Blatantly unresearched mass market attempts at

the very thing I spend my entire life obsessing about?

Reluctantly ignoring the great ethical elephant in the room

regarding cheap mass production of synthetic based garments

made to be worn for a single night and then thrown away.

As that is not the point of this video.

These costumes, well in terms of historical accuracy,

it seems like some of them don't even try.

And I know that's not the point.

The point, as I understand, is to impress

your fellow party goers with a copious display of

Legs or something.

But lest we let an innocent population be mistakenly

led to believe that these are an accurate representation

of how our ancestors would have dressed,

I'm going to briefly take you through five centuries of

historical dress with Spirit Halloween Adventure Emporium

to guide the way.

Quick note that I have done my best to source public domain

primary images and portraits that accurately reflect

what I am describing.

So, those will pop up on the screen at opportune moments,

but in many cases, images required are held under copyright

and as the commercial licensing fees would literally

five times exceed the amount that this video would earn

in actual commercial revenue.

Links to these images are provided in the description box

below according to the numbered footnotes that will appear

onscreen, if you care to have a look at them.

Annoying, I know, but this is life.

So, this first one. Obviously, there is a very deliberate

deviation from the history here,

but let's see what we can do.

First of all, I will pedantically point out that they've

titled it "Renaissance Guinevere Costume",

which if indeed they mean to imply that this to resemble

the Guinevere from Arthurian legend, which is supposedly

said to have taken place some time around

the sixth century AD, is as far from the dawn of

the "Renaissance" period in the fifteenth century

as we millennial folk are from Shakespeare.

in Þonne stunde Engliscgereord

swiðe elÞeodiglice wæs gespræcon.

That is English even as the Renaissance would have known

it was spoken very differently back in

ye olde Arthurian times. But I digress.

Considering that although very little remains to tell us

exactly what was worn in sixth century Anglo Saxon Britain,

the style vaguely hinted at on the model seems to

be more fifteenth century early "Renaissance",

so let's go with that.

Reluctantly, swallowing my snark on the heavy make up

and electric iron curled hair, women of

the fifteenth century, do I really need to say this?

Wore long dresses. In fact, if you were of the nobility

or in royalty class, you'd probably be wearing

a dress so long, you basically couldn't walk anywhere.

Hence why we see women frequently depicted in paintings

and illuminated manuscripts holding a literal armful

of skirt all the time.

Structured garments aren't really a thing quite yet.

That's right, friends, no corsets here and not

until the sixteenth century. As her under most layer,

our fifteenth century lady would be wearing a smock.

Probably white and made from fine, strong linen.

Next, she'd be wearing a kirtle, or underdress,

which would be of a contrasting color to the over gown,

so that at least you get to have some fun when you

inevitably have to keep picking up your endless skirt.

So the costume vaguely got this right, although

the split front skirts wouldn't become a thing until

around the sixteenth century, along with

the deep square neck line.

Square neck lines are starting to become a thing in the

mid-fifteenth century, but necklines at this point

prevalently tend to be quite wide. Almost off the shoulder.

So, close but not quite.

The kirtle, however, could potentially be seen through

a front gap if the over gown is laced at center front.

Oh, and the lacing. How to Spot Poor Research in Period

Costume 101. Look for the lacing.

Cross lacing, such as this, doesn't become

a widespread thing until the nineteenth century.

There is of course, rare exception, but for the most part,

garments are closed either with spiral lacing,

one thread of lace spiraling through off set holes,

or more specifically to the medieval and Renaissance eras,

ladder lacing, which appears as

a series of perfectly horizontal rows.

The over gown is close fitting enough, presumably to provide

a bit of bust support, but is not yet affected by

heavily structured support garments.

These close fitting gowns are a mark of high status,

as they involve an incredible amount of fabric wastage

when cut out, and fabric, especially silk, was

handwoven and extremely costly.

Lower classes would have worn looser gowns, but our lady

seems to have opted for the bougie form fitting look here,

so we'll go with that.

Although whatever's going on with that waist seam,

which isn't actually sitting at her natural waist at all,

is not a thing. Gowns of the fifteenth century tend

to either to be cut in long shaped panels without

a waist seam, or do have a waist seam but in the

style of the gown called a houppelande, but the

waist line on that is raised to under the bust and

the front of the gown is densely pleated.

Close fitting tended to be the trend amongst

the fashionable, we have just discovered form fitting

cutting techniques, after all.

So most of the sleeves we see depicted

are very tight fitting, closing with rows of small

buttons along the forearm.

Unless the goal is to have Exceedingly Extra sleeves,

in which case, they are in fact as Exceedingly Extra

as the skirts, not those floaty

little 1970s bell sleeves.

These garments could be made from the natural fibers

available: wool for colder weather, linen for warmer

weather, or silk if you're really posh.

Alas, the bright synthetic fuchsia color is a shade

that won't come into existence until the invention

of aniline dyes in 1856, so we'll adapt that to a slightly

redder shade that could have been achieved with madder root.

Finally, sorry Sexy Renaissance Guinevere,

but the hair has got to go.

Again, although with occasional exception,

women are mostly depicted wearing hoods or veils.

These were worn over a cap? cloth fillet? we don't

really know because we don't really get to see them

beyond the occasional tantalizing peek from under her hood.

But the hair would likely have been worn

plaited and looped up at either side then the hood or veil

pinned securely to the cap-thing tied underneath.

These do not necessarily need to coordinate with the rest

of your outfit, so go ahead and rock that woad blue hood

with your red gown.

And thus we have our new and improved medieval lady.

Yes, ok a bit more involved and a lot more expensive

than that $58 price tag, but what happens in

the sixteenth century?

It's got to be Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I,

of course. And we have a bit of

contrasting decades happening here.

She seems to maybe have a very small conical hoop

under the skirt, which would have been more popular

in the middle to early latter part of the century.

Although, of a much more substantial cone shape, of course.

However, the large upright collar is most definitely

a style of the very end of the sixteenth century,

from the 1590s up until the Queen's death in 1603.

And the skirt shapes are very different by then.

Let's go ahead and assume the skirt shape is a mistake,

while the collar is intentional, and aim for around 1595.

The defining silhouette of the late Elizabethan period

is the extremely elongated conical upper body,

with the wide circular skirt shape created by

the French farthingale, or essentially a wide ring-shaped

skirt support worn at the waist.

The underskirts and skirts fall over this support

to create a distinct drum shape.

The second part of the sixteenth century is

the first point at which at least currently in 2019

we have found evidence of a separate stiffened upper body

support garment. Known in the period as a "pair of bodies".

In fact, one of the two pairs that survived from

the Elizabethan period are attributed to Queen Elizabeth

herself, having been installed on her funeral effigy.

So the pair of bodies, yes the precursor to

the nineteenth century corset, did exist and were worn

at this time, although evidence or lack thereof, suggest

that they were not common amongst all classes of people.

And that the upper nobility classes and the Queen herself

were primarily the ones wearing them.

The ruff, which previously sat round the neck, could now

be worn open, framing the edge of the bodice.

And unlike our weird, slim, little fantasy Princess

shoulder puff sleeves on the costume.

OG Elizabethans required ultimate puff.

The entire sleeve just one massive puff.

The ruff would have been worn in addition to

the second floaty collar thing which was not a regular

feature of dress amongst normal non-royal Elizabethans

and in terms of hair, well, the style on the model

looks like it's trying to be Ancient Greek.

Elizabethans tended to sculpt a sort of heart-shaped

hairdo, and as Elizabeth was very fond of pearls,

like *very* fond of pearls, she is often seen in portraiture

having large pearls stuck into her hair,

so, I'm not quite sure why the model's got a necklace

on her head and an Ancient Greek fillet or something.

The deep red color on the costume is something that could

have been achieved with natural dyes, but the over dress

would not have been made from polyester crushed velvet.

The gown would have been made from elaborately woven damask

silk and probably embellished with precious beads and yep,

more pearls. And because whoever needed subtlety anyway?

The kirtle underlayer which could have been seen

through a split front skirt, now acceptable, would have also

been made from a patterned silk

and probably also embellished.

So yes, once again, copious embellishment and expensive

handwoven silks, probably are not the most cost effective

plan for mass manufacture but, at least the silhouette

could have been given probably a little bit more effort.

Which brings us to the pilgrims of the seventeenth century.

First of all, they are not even trying to make

these fabrics not look like actual plastic in the picture

but that is entirely beside the point.

In terms of silhouette, this one isn't bad.

I attribute this to the fact that the pilgrim figure is

the first we're seeing that isn't intended to reflect

the high-fashions of Royalty or nobility.

You can get away with quite a bit when distinct skirt

shapes aren't involved.

Assuming this costume is supposed to reflect that of

those pilgrims present on that particular Mayflower voyage,

we're probably looking at some not-

quite high fashionable sixteen twenties.

Once again, like her predecessors, she'd still be wearing

a white linen smock under everything which we'd see

the upper bit from under the bodice.

Not sure what that plain circle round

the neck on the model is but I suspect it's meant to

represent the large falling ruffs or wide flat collars,

generally worn by the upper class in

seventeenth century portraiture.

The costume does get the presence of the white cap correct,

but according to history, it should be shaped less like a

mid nineteenth century bonnet, concealing the peripheral

vision, and should be set further back on the head.

While there is evidence again of pairs of bodies

existing by this period, it's still not very likely that

those beyond the upper classes would have worn them.

Particularly as the bodies and stays we see during the

seventeenth century are really heavily boned with

approximately 1.5 million slim little bones

which I can confirm takes approximately

one whole eternity to stitch by hand.

The bodices, kirtles, or doublets themselves would have been

stiffened and laced or pinned together tightly but likely

we're not corsetted as we may say today, and would close

down center-front again with laces or pins.

The skirts would have been long and

full with lots of gathering at the waist.

And she may have worn a bum-roll for some additional fluff,

however, at least amongst pilgrim classes,

we now have done away with large skirt supports.

The presence of the white linen apron is indeed correct,

but with a slimmer waistband to be perfectly pedantic,

and that tealy-blue shade is a perfectly achievable

color with the natural woad dyes on the linen or wool

that would have been used to make up the original garments.

Our eighteenth century lady is actually a vampire.

The historical accuracy, let alone

existence of which is debatable, but here we are.

We are back to the upper classes here, with what appears

to be emulating the court fashions

of the mid-eighteenth century.

The loose ruffled cuffs and the skirt shape suggest

the middle of the century when skirts reached their

widest width amongst fashionable society,

but the sleeve cuffs

had not yet developed into the small close fitting ones

of the latter part of the century.

The shape of the skirt is achieved with a wide panier,

made of cane, baleen, iron, or wire,

and was wide high on the hips,

not inexplicably in the middle of the leg

like on the costume.

And was otherwise flat across front and back.

The gown, probably a robe à la française, which would have

had a pleated cape-thing at the back,

would have been open at the center front, pinning in place

at either side of the separate stomacher,

which would in turn have pinned to her stays.

Yes, by this time we are now seeing the near ubiquitous

wearing of stays, the immediate precursor to the corset,

by all classes of women. And although they tended to be

worn underneath the gown by the fashionable lady,

they weren't necessarily strictly underwear.

And working women are often seen depicted in portraiture

and illustrations wearing just their stays over their

shifts, petticoats and skirts.

But anyway, stomachers could indeed be

decorated with lots of bows. Lots of bows.

And the dress itself, particularly these long front

robing panels, would have had no skimping on the ruffles.

So, good try twenty-first century, but we're going to need

a much stronger ruffle game than that.

Even the petticoat, which would have been seen through

the front split of the gown, could have been heavily

ruffled with tiered flounces of the hem,

scalloped edges, and more, more ruffles.

Meanwhile, this collar thing isn't accurate at all,

and I assume the aim was more #vampireaesthetic

than historical accuracy with this one.

I could make a distinct connection if this were the

Elizabethan period as we previously saw, but I'm afraid

I haven't seen anything vaguely resembling Gothic

Vampiretrash collarthings in the eighteenth century.

So, we'll go ahead and replace that with

a little neck ruffle, which is a thing seen in

contemporary portraiture.

I can't really tell if the sleeves on the costume

have a puffed shoulder or if the fabric's just been

bunched up with the pose.

If they are princess-puffed, that is false.

Sleeves of the mid-eighteenth century

were not terribly full, with a few small pleats

taken at the shoulder for a small peak,

but we're not puffed à la the Tudors.

And the sleeve flounce is acceptable here and would

indeed have been made from lace, or ruffled silk.

But in the logic of the eighteenth century lady,

why just have one when you can have three, with bows,

for maximum floofage?

Finally the hair, although, not even trying

to be eighteenth century, I'll at least forgive them

for not putting her in a white beehive wig.

I have a whole separate video on a talk given by the

ladies of American Duchess, in which they demonstrate

live how to achieve those eighteenth century

powdered hairstyles. But basically the hair should be

very vertical, not set back on the head.

With a few little buckles, or rolls, on the sides

and possibly the back of the head.

It would have been powdered into a much paler color,

but not perfectly white, and in all likelihood this would

have been her natural hair, not a wig.

So the first thing to note about the fabrics is that

in the eighteenth century, black is extremely rare,

and I'm actually not sure I've ever seen a silk black

eighteenth century gown.

Still, black dyes were available

and so it was possible at least

so I will let our vampire lady keep her black silk gown.

The red, for the contrasting petticoat and the stomacher

is a bit more believable.

And while the petticoat could have been a bit more

understated in plain silk, the gown silk would

commonly have been woven with a pattern.

Finally, we come to the nineteenth century.

Mass production Hallowe'en costumes simply wouldn't be

mass production Hallowe'en costumes without a bit of

unconsidered, problematic undertones, am I right?

So, let's say we're looking at once again

an upper class woman of the 1860s.

First and foremost, there is a discrepancy

between the occasion on the costume, as the parasol

and wide chin strapped hat, which is completely not

even trying to be period, so let's just ignore that

completely, implies day wear and outdoor activity.

However, in the middle of the nineteenth century,

there was a distinction between day and evening wear

in the exposure of the arms and shoulders.

Long sleeves and high necklines for day wear,

and low, wide necklines with short sleeves for evening.

We are already banishing that hat to the deepest

pits of hell, so let's be rid of the parasol as well

and call this evening dress.

The costume does reflect the fashion

for the wide neckline, although historically,

the wide neckline would have been bordered by

the bertha collar, a wide pleated ruffled or lacey

strip of collar to decorate the neckline.

And although the collar is wide,

nothing actually slips off the shoulder

like the costume shows.

The fashionable silhouette of this period involves

making the upper body look as small as possible.

Yes, corsetry is by now a thing, and this is

arguably the period of most dramatic waist

reduction in history.

But the combination of the large crinoline skirts

with fullness starting at the waist and spreading

all the way round, not just at the sides or in the back,

the waistline sitting absolutely no lower than

the natural waist, the long slim peak at the fronts

of the bodice and to the wide bertha collar

serve to optically diminish the size of the torso.

So, the low waistline, shallow peak, and the skirt

with slight fullness only at the hem, not at the waist,

serve to get the original costume a

distinctly non-1860s silhouette.

We already know that the shape of the skirt is all wrong,

but at least the decoration is playing a bit of accuracy.

Tiers, flounces, swagging, and large bows were common ways

to decorate large evening skirts.

But no side ponytails, I'm afraid.

The 1860s lady would have worn her hair

for an evening event, flat at the top

with a few ringlet curls at the sides of the face,

and perhaps some foliage in her hair.

And at long last, by ye olde 1860s, aniline dyes are a thing

so bright vibrant shades of fuchsia are possible.

The costume is a bit more purple but for the sake of

celebrating vibrant color possibilities, as was very

much the mentality of the mid-nineteenth century.

I've gone ahead and made her a bit more pink.

And so there we have our very brief overview of fashion

history. Maybe you can sally forth fully armed into your

Hallowe'en party this year readily equipped to expound

the importance of waistline placement to the first

unsuspecting muggle you happen to upon.

Maybe, don't do that.

Anyway, happy Hallowe'en, whether you are

doing historical things or not.

By the way, I have no use for the little drawings now,

so I have decided to go ahead and put those up for auction

on eBay, and since I have absolutely no idea what my

doodles are worth, all of the listings are going to

start at $1, so, link in the description if that is

something that is of interest to you and if not, cool.


The Description of 500 Years of Correcting “Historical” Halloween Costumes