This is a page on which I will give you information on specific things somebody might want to know concerning costuming.
A big source of such things for me is the search engine you use on my website and its results I periodically get. Many terms you search for I still don’t have explained but, while my website is slowly expanding, the alternative help to you might be this page.
In any case, you shouldn’t miss to visit my webiste every now and then and check the changes. If you check this page in particular, maybe you even find your own query being answered or explained. Search term results Beside the more or less “common” things visitors usually search for on costume sites, some of them have really surprised me. Either be their vagueness (“hamlet”, “ierland”, “revolutionary war”, “scandinavian dress”, “english princess”, “patriotic costumes”, “king aurther”, “republic romans”) or exoticity (“kabuki costume”, “beefeater costume”, “hongrelines”, “mesopotamian clothes”).
Just to mention, somebody was also searching for rentals. I don’t have costumes to let, but I accept orders. I have already made some costumes by order and those are mostly medieval garb for historical markets.
I have recently found out that somebody was searching for Nell Gwynne. I was very positively surprised, although I can hardly tell what the connection between her and the costuming would be. Well, she is a historical personality and she used to be an actress, as far as I could make connections. For those who don’t know about her, Nell Gwynne (or Gwynn) was an English actress born in England in 1650.
Actually, acting occupied but five years of her short life and what she was actually most famous for was her affair with the king Charles II. You will probably find somewhere that she was a prostitute which is not quite right. Until 20th century, the fact is, being an actress and being a prostitute was quite the same, in a sense that both of the occupations were at about the same level of indecency.
But Gwynne, having affairs with three influential men called Charles managed to get herself as much comfort and dignity as it was possible for a common woman of that time. A king would have hardly had anything to do with real prostitutes.
As far as it is known, Gwynne was a very charming and brainy lady who managed to seduce men by her personality before looks. She was the favourite mistress to the king (yeah, he had them several), but she was also beloved among the common people because, knowing quite well what their position was (being a low-class bred herself), she used her influence on the king to open hospitals and such institutions. Famous is the king Charles’ quote at the deathbed: “Let not poor Nelly starve!” Thanks to the nice pension, she didn’t, but she also didn’t have much chance to enjoy it. She died but two years after the king, aged 36. As soon as I find a satisfying picture of her, I will put it here.
Saloon girls’ costumes
I know that everybody has in mind Marilyn Monroe in lace ‘n’ chiffon skirt in bright colours revealing her stockings and suspenders, sitting beside the piano and dozens of drunken cowboys in a saloon. That’s the stereotype without which there is no real Western movie.
It’s hard to say now what those girls, who were not much more than prostitutes advertising themselves in saloons (which weren’t much more than brothels with music and a bar) wore. However, as I found out about this profession in Wild Wild West during 1850s and 1860s, these women didn’t really wear such a provocative clothes.
It could be only an artistic aim to depict the prostitutes as those with loads of make-up and distasteful clothes, the way most of you know them today, and transferring that to 19th century. But the fact is that even the prostitutes that worked in other parts of the world and outside of the saloons wore rather normal clothes, nothing much different from what they would wear to the market.
The “streetwalkers” were women of the lowest social class and the worst financial state, so they couldn’t afford themselves too much dresses, especially not extravagant ones. If they had only one dress, they could hardly sacrify it to their job by cutting it to knee-lenght. Over the day, not even prostitutes were up to be publicily ridiculed. 19th century was marked by the so-called Victorian morality.
I suppose you know some of the restrictions that it brought. This also applied to the prostitutes. Although prostitution was unimaginably immoral profession, “the ladies of the night” still kept some Victorian dignity. They didn’t reveal their underwear in public, not even in saloons, so the Marilyn-Monroe-scenes were out of question. Imagine those girls rather as normally dressed women who appreciated talking to the strangers. They didn’t need to wear minimalistic bright coloured clothes to be recognised as prostitutes. It was enough to be a woman in a saloon and it was quite likely you were a prostitute (if you weren’t the owner).
Respectable women had nothing to do in such places and even if they wanted to get their drunken husband back home, they’d send their son or other trustworthy male person. Prostitutes and actresses were, the truth is, those who were recognized by tons of make-up. Before the chemical industry flourished in 20th century, all the make-up was used in tons since: it’s purpose was to be obvious; there were only a few basic colours and those were mostly bright and thick; its usage was clumsy and complicated.
For instance, the first form of a mascara was actually a charred wax which was applied in drops onto each lash separately. After a longlasting procedure the results were more than obvious. Powder was also used for bleaching the face, then the inevitable lipstick (which wasn’t really in a stick until the beginning of 20th century) and a rouge for cheeks. Although “no respectable woman would ever use make-up” respectable women did use it, especially the older ones, and everybody else had to act as if they didn’t see it because she was a respectable woman.
However, this was in considerably smaller amounts than it was common with prostitutes. Both actresses and prostitutes used heavy make-up for one reason: to be obvious. Actresses needed to emphasize the contours of their face so that they could be seen from the stage all the way to the last row in a theatre. And prostitutes had to be seen all the way from their corner to the other side of the street. And this is basically the way I would depict a saloon girl: dressed in contemporary clothes and maybe made-up. But no knee-leght skirts. That could also be the cause of having the can-can girls in mind, but that’s another story.
This good old man deserves all the praise from costumers and re-enactors. Unfortunately, I don’t know the date of his birth, but he died in 1950 and most of his books on the history of fashion were published between 1920-1940.
By profession he was a costume architect and archaeologist and worked as a theater and TV costume designer. His best-known work is a series of books called Costumes and Fashion which followed the changes in Western fashion from the earliest days until nineteenth century.
The series consists of these volumes:
The Evolution of European Dress through the Early Ages
Senlac to Bosworth, 1066-1485
The Tudors, 1485-1603
Unfinished volume supposed to cover the Stuart period
Unfinished volume supposed to cover the Hannoverian period
The Nineteenth Century
In my opinion, these books are very valuable because Norris, as an archaeologist, described not only the clothing of a certain era, but also mentioned the historical events that influenced the fashion, the habits and the etiquette of each period.
Unfortunately, the publishers don’t find this series too interesting so some of the volumes are completely unavailable in newer prints, while the others are published by colleges and universities. However, a bit more effort in finding these books will certainly pay off.