- 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.
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
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.