Monday, September 22, 2014

In Defense of Outlander - Claire's Wedding Gown

This past Saturday's episode of "Outlander," the 18th century Highland-time-travel-romance-1940s-hot-Scottish-men drama on Starz no doubt caused many a breathless sighs in women across the world, as Jaime and Claire stood up for their shotgun wedding.

The Outlander wedding gown, in all its glory - via
But many of us in the historical costuming community were also inspecting every possible detail of Claire's wedding gown (when we weren't ogling the groom, and who the hell cares what HE was wearing), a spectacular display of...well, a lot of things were on display.

Since that night, there has been a lot of discussion about the gown, and its historical accuracy. Statements from the show's costumer, Terry Dresbach, have justified some things and raised more questions about others.

But I'm going to come right out and say that I personally thought the dress was outstanding, and was surprisingly accurate, if you know what the reference was. So what was that reference?

This:

Robe de Cour - 1766 - via
Simply put, the gown is a robe de cour, a very specific kind of formal gown worn mostly in the first half of the 18th century, exclusively at court. Of course, that brings up questions about why there would be this type of gown floating around in rural Scotland, but an earlier dialogue between characters justifies its existence enough for me.

Sofia Magdalena's wedding gown, 1766 - its missing the fluffy lace sleeves - via
Unlike other 18th century gowns, both formal and undress, the robe de cour laced in the back. The bodice consisted of an incredibly stiff, fully-boned, structure with a very low, wide, off-the-shoulder neckline, not unlike 17th century bodices.

Showing the back of a robe de cour - very long train, and also, the skirt and bodice are separate pieces - via

Extant robes de cour were worn over very wide panniers, and had trained overskirts, separate from the bodice. The overskirts fell over the back of the pannier, and the petticoat acted as an enormous display of all things shiny and expensive, right on the front of the ensemble. Not all robes de cour had the enormous rectangular shape, though, as Isis shows us in this image:

Wedding breakfast of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, by Francis of Lorraine, c. 1736 - via

So to compare the Outlander wedding gown:

  • Extremely low, wide, off-the-shoulder neckline
  • Back-lacing, heavily-boned bodice
  • "Stomacher" is all-in-one with the bodice
  • Metallic fabrics and decoration
  • Fluffy, lacy sleeves reminiscent of the "stacked" construction seen on originals
  • Worn over a wide pannier (pocket hoops are shown later on in the episode)

Detail of the embroidery on the Outlander gown - via Terry's blog
What was not accurate?

  • The fluffy, lacy sleeve construction was almost-kindof-there but not quite
  • The embroidery design and placement on the skirt (I was quite happy about the bodice's design)
  • The quality of the fabric
  • The bodice and top skirt are sewn together instead of separate.

Outlander gown's sleeve construction, using smocking. Via Terry's blog
An original robe de cour's sleeves, using pleating. The raw edges are there, though. Via Isis' Wardrobe
And these are things I'm being really picky about.

So I'm going to stand up and say I absolutely loved the Outlander wedding gown. I thought Terry Dresbach did an outstanding job with combining historical accuracy, modern audience expectation and understanding, and the needs of the production. A show's costuming must speak for the characters, settings, and events in the story, as well as the time period, which is a lot to juggle, and I think Terry did and great job with it.

You can read more about the costumes here
or follow Terry's blog (which construction pictures of the wedding gown), where she specifically notes her inspiration (you'll see many of the same photos).

Friday, September 19, 2014

F/W Shoes: Re-Pre-Orders Now Open


It's that time of year, when we here at ADHQ are already getting ready for the big holiday rush.

No, I'm not playing Christmas music or slurping down eggnog lattes quite yet, but we *have* already put the order in for holiday inventory, which is one part new and exciting historical styles, and one part re-stocking our older, most-popular Fall/Winter styles. This year, the styles we've re-ordered are:



Some of these have been out for an age, like black Pompadours, so we've opened all of these up for Re-Pre-Orders (backorders) from today until delivery in mid-to-late November.

If your size is currently in stock, it will ship right away. If your size is out of stock, it will ship in mid-to-late November.

Please Note: We can not offer discounts on Re-Pre items, only new styles, but follow American Duchess on Facebook, or sign up for our newsletter, to be notified of upcoming sales, coupons, and special offers. We also offer EasyPay Layaway on all Re-Pre Items, which you can learn more about here

Place Re-Pre Orders at

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New Project! Russian-Inspired Late Edwardian Suit

It feels like it's been ages since I embarked on a complex historical project, but with Winter coming, and photo shoots needing shooting, it's time to start (yes, already!) on a project that's been in my mind for awhile.

I need to come up with a clever name for it, because there are just too many descriptors - Late Edwardian/early 1920s-red-wool-Russian-inspired-winter-soutache-military-themed-furry-jacket-suit-thing just won't do. What should I call it?

Here's the inspo:

Louis Vallet - 1916
1915 - via
1913
1915 - via
For the soutache embroidery, I'm studying these, along with many more you can see on my Pinterest board for this project:

Alexandra;s tunic from her uniform as commander-in-chief of the 5th Aleksonariya Hussars - via
Jacket and skirt, c. 1890-1900 - via
The Met, c. 1899 - via
A few sketches I did for soutache ideas:


I went shopping for materials yesterday and found them quite easily, all in one place - wool, soutache braid, lining, buttons - which I'm going to believe means this project wants to be put together. :-)


For the jacket pattern, I am using Wearing History R109 - 1910s Jacket Pattern. This is one of the Resto-Vival ePatterns I printed out and taped together. It took a little time, but I didn't have to wait for it in the snail-mail. I do have to test it out thoroughly with a muslin, though, to make sure all the pieces line up nicely, as there's quite a lot of room for error when taping the pieces together.

Wearing History ePattern - click here to see the listing for it
For the jacket, I will be attempting to alter the collar so it can be turned up and buttoned around the neck - it will be faux fur, along with the cuffs and hem of the jacket.

For the skirt, I will be using Butterick 4092, which is an earlier, thinner skirt silhouette, more 1912, but I also found surprisingly narrow skirts in the 1919 section of Everyday Fashions of the Twenties: As Pictured in Sears and Other Catalogs (see in the photo above with the materials).

Butterick 4092 - I'll use View B with alterations.
I suppose now it's time to get started! Bring on the tailoring, the soutache embroidery, and the fur-sewing. These are all things I have very little or no experience with, so it'll be a good challenge, and hopefully will turn out to be something I'm proud of. :-)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hard Lessons in Victorian Corset Making - My "Duh" Moments...

Left side - boning, strength additions, and padding. I still have wrinkling, but it's better than it was.
Right side - no boning, no strength layers, no padding.
I can make a mean pair of 18th century stays, but when it comes to Victorian corset making, I'm useless.

I don't even know how I ever made any of my previous Victorian corsets. I can only think that I just followed the directions, wore them with pain, and was happy with that. However, now I know about hip spring, bust gussets, and comfort needs...and now I can't seem to make a Victorian corset to save my life.

Which of course means practice, practice, practice.

First up, this coffee n' chocolate, Steampunk-intended, gusseted corset, made from one layer of pretty heavy twill, and a layer of muslin for lining, with bias tape as the boning channels, and a twill waist tape (the first time I've used a waist tape).

It's starting to look like a decent corset. I still have buckling on the waist, though. This sheds new light on the seaming used on Edwardian corsets with large hip gussets, and also on the corset "belt" you see on some originals.
Easy, right? I've made corsets and stays out of random materials before, with no problem.

Except this twill has some stretch, turns out, and that just messes everything up in a tightly-laced foundation garment.

The side without boning, padding, or the extra hip gusset added in yet. A wrinkled mess, and way worse on an actual body.
Trying the corset on last night I had some serious fit issues, and huge wrinkling problems. My solution to the fit issue was to cut another gusset in the hips, which were being restricted, inhibiting any further reduction to the waist, and skewing the back lacing.

My solution to the wrinkling problem was to add some strength to the waist and one of the side panels, by fusing two pieces of non-stretch twill in a "T" shape. This is an after-the-fact stab at the strength layer I didn't put in. It ain't pretty, but it's working. Next time...strength layer!

Left side - the "T" shaped strength additions, fused to the interior. The right side, just the stay tape.
Lessons learned:

  • Don't use a stretch fabric for any part of the corset unless it's mounted to a non-stretch fabric
  • Don't skip the strength layer
  • Spiral steel is your friend (learned this in an earlier battle with corsetry)
  • Gussets. No really (also learned in an earlier battle, but still need to make them bigger than I think)
  • Try Try Again
  • Keep trying
  • Try more