By Gail Frazer, Sue Jenkins, Faith Rice, Angela Trowbridge Burnley, Nancy Watt, Connie Wilson and Ingrid Schaaphok
* Hems of all kinds should be very narrow (or rolled). Fabric was costly to purchase and time-consuming to make. Deep hems would have been a waste of valuable, useable fabric. Finish all seams, inside and out (no raw edges except for on tightly woven wool). Modern washing will cause any unfinished seams to fray. Ironically, some of the sloppiest interior finishing on original pieces was on the fanciest gowns. "Everyday" garments seem to have been more carefully finished--presumably because they had to stand up to repeated wearing and washing. High-style gowns were worn less frequently, and most of the effort and labor was put into the intricate and elaborate trimmings that could be seen.
* Fine, neat Top stitching was practically ubiquitous, especially on outer garments. If you've used nice, flat-felled seams on a petticoat, you can turn it inside-out when one side starts to get worn or dirty.
* Piecing or joining of fabric to make usable pieces of fabric was common. Similar, but not necessarily matching fabrics might be used in unnoticeable places. * Mends and Patches should match the fabric of what you are mending/patching as closely as possible (unless your character is so poor you can't match the fabric or don't even have patches).
* When putting together "outfits", especially for camp wear, don't necessarily try to be color coordinated. Mix and match--even stripes with checks!
* REMEMBER: Plain, solid-colored, pure linen or wool were probably the most commonly used fabrics in 18th-century America. Don't feel compelled to go for the unusual! * Avoid lace (it is very hard to get accurate stuff).
* For cap and shift ruffles and "Englageantes" (the elbow frills at the cuff of your sleeve) use very fine white linen --handkerchief or lawn--instead of lace (NOT for camp wear).
* If you are fortunate enough to find fine linen with smooth selvages, save that 1" to 2-1/2" of fabric along the selvedges for the ruffles on your finer caps, shifts, or your husband's shirts.
* NO (discernible) makeup and NO jewelry (unless 18th-century style and appropriate to your character) No nail polish!
* Hair covered, unless it is dressed in a period style appropriate to your character. NO BANGS (there are a few exceptions;contact Ingrid if you are interested).
* Wear hats tilted forward. This was the fashion of the 1770s. Of course, if you are portraying someone unconcerned with fashion, the flat hat-style of earlier periods is fine--just make sure it is consistent with your character, i.e. an older woman or "frontier" type.
* The crown of your straw hat should be very small, no more than 2-3 inches at MOST. * Don't make your shift too full or too skimpy. A fixed neckline was the most common, but in a rare concession to 20th-century reality, we recommend using the less common drawstring in the neckline. It's useful for adjusting the necklines of different outer garments, you then won't need a different shift for each of your gowns or jackets.
* When cutting your shift sleeves, careful placing of the hem edge along the smooth selvage can save stitching that tiny hem.
* Wear your pockets just underneath your outermost garment. They are much easier to get at this way than if they're buried under five layers!
* Save crisp white aprons for fancy dress or "Sunday best", NOT CAMP. Remember that aprons are one of the few items for which checked is appropriate! * Apron strings should tie in front. Most prints that show enough detail to indicate this method. It's also practical; easier to tie and untie, and when you're carrying stuff in your apron it bears the weight better.
* Low-cut necklines (on gowns, bodices, etc.) 1-3 inches above where your nipple is in stays (use a modesty piece if you're shy). NO garments neckline should fall below the breast!
* Wide necklines (on gowns, bodices, stays, etc.) They should fall OUTSIDE of where your bra straps usually are.
* For camp wear, petticoats' length should be on the SHORT side; above ankles & out of the wet grass. Women of German decent wore them amazingly short -- above mid-calf (but still below the knee).
* As with shifts, the drawstring casing at the waistline of the petticoat was not as common as the fixed, finely-pleated waist. However, it is often a more practical 20th-century choice that's within the bounds of authenticity. A compromise would be to sew fixed pleats into a narrow waistband yet leave a casing through which you can draw a cord or tape.
* Full, FULL, FULL PETTICOATS! At least THREE TIMES your waist measurement! Even MORE if you're wearing hip enhancements!
* Big hips are beautiful! (We'll bet you don't hear THAT phrase too often)! Simulate them with multiple (FULL) petticoats--two petticoats is the minimum. Or--Wear hip enhancements (but only if you are wearing STAYS, and it's appropriate to your character). As a rule of thumb, side hips tend to be more "old fashioned," while bumrolls, which emphasize the back, are more fashionable for the mid-1770s. As always, remember who you are portraying!
* Re-read the BAR's "Basic Non-Military Clothing Guide." It contains lots of great stuff that we should all keep in mind! (Contact Ed Moderacki, BAR Adjutant, 531 Westwood Avenue, River Vale, NJ 07675-5526 if you need a copy).
QUESTIONS, COMMENTS? Please let me know:
Ingrid Schaaphok, BAR Women's Clothing Advisor,
296 Potter Hill Road,
Petersburg, NY 12138, 518-658-2963
[Or, send comments and questions to the editor and I will publish them and/or pass them along to Ingrid]