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Research questions

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--- Quote from: operafantomet on May 18, 2008, 02:20:24 PM ---I have some questions to people who make pre-1700 costumes. Now, I love Victorian dresses and Rococo fashion, don't misunderstand, but my questions are about research when there aren't too many preserved garbs and/or tailor patterns available. So anything of pre-1700 is of interest.

Reason why I ask is partually that I'm curious about how other people do their research and what they emphasize, and partually because I want to write my Master degree in Art History about this subject. What can portraits tell us about fashion, how allegorical/stylizied are they, do they correspond with surviving gabrs etc. So it's interesting to hear other peoples thoughts on the matter. In advance, thanks a lot!  :)
--- End quote ---
Thanks for all the excellent replies, people! It is really useful. I promised to make an entry myself, so to respond to my own questions.... (be warned: this is a long entry)

1. Where do you find the basic research material when you're making a (fairly) historical correct garb? Is it:
I'm a visual person, so I seek out visual sources first and foremost. Renaissance portraits are my "guiding star", but various frescoes, wood cuts, tomb statues and illuminations are also helpful. Of course, the few surviving garbs rocks, but none are from the period I fancy the most (Florence ca. 1500-1550). However, pictures alone can only reveal tidbits of the info I'm seeking.

Written sources are also helpful. I've read a couple of books that I found highly interesting. "Dressing Renaissance Florence" concentrates on inventory lists and sumptuary laws. "Moda a Firenze" describes Eleonora di Toledo's influence on Tuscan fashion through pictures and written sources. Vecellio's woodcuts (which soon will come in a delightful English translation) are also interesting, though some of the earlier styles were documented ca. 50 years after they went out of fashion. "Fashion and Fiction" is about Stuart fashion, and deals with the allegorical elements of Baroque portraits (like another dealt with above). And last, but not least: Janet Arnold. She was a pionéer, and I love her POFs to death.

And of course, I study what other people have made and what ideas they've had in their research and construction. There are so many brilliant minds out there!

2. If using paintings/portraits as a basis, how do you decide whether it is/they are not allegorical or idealized, or suitable for your project? As Gem wrote above, the early Renaissance was all about realism and faithful depiction of nature/reality. There are two main types of clothes in Renaissance paintings: the period ones, and the "all' antica" ones. The latter mostly consists of flowing white garbs (females) or heroic "Roman" fantasy armour (males), and are easy to tell apart from the "real" clothes. There are a few exceptions. Some portraits depicts abstract stuff like "Flora" or "Beauty", and they can be dressed in partly period clothes and partly fantasy stuff. Tizian and Botticelli comes to mind. Others depict religios scenes, and they usually show the holy persons in garbs "all' antica", while the donors are shown in period clothes.

I mostly come to this conclution because I study art history, and I compare everything I learn about art to everything I know about historical clothes. When the other admire the brush strokes or the palette, I'm looking at the garbs.... hahaha! ;D I guess that when one has seen enough portraits and pictures, one develope an eye for separating allegorical and "real" garbs?

Most features have a practical reason, even if it's way back in time and the practicality is long forgotten (like the developement of a partlet, which I wrote about in another topic). I try to understand the origin of a garb/style/element.

When I am to make a Renaissance dress, authenticy matters to me. I like to study various depictions of a style to understand the basic fashion, and to see the variations of that particularly style. I also try to stick to period construction and materials. I do most seams by hand, and I try to choose natural fibres. However, there are compromises. I don't use whalebone for boning. I don't use silk velvet or Irish linen when there are cheaper substitutes that looks and behaves just as well, even though they aren't period. I'm with Cilean on this one! And sometimes I'm guilty of immitating a look rather than understand the practicality of a look.

3. How do you decide what fabrics, materials and colours are plausible?
Again, I'm a visual person, and I often copy what I see in a painting (from colour scale to materials), or I "shop" from different portraits. Studying surviving textiles also gives a clue of what was produced. It's mostly the finest and most exclusive stuff that survives, so they can give a false idea of the fashion. But they give an idea of the general methods and ideals.

One thing I've learned from period portrait garbs is that the garbs looks more authentic if stuff doesn't match. Todays conception of matching is quite another than in historical fashion. The book "Blue - the history of a color" was quite an eye opener on the perception of colours and colour combinations in pre-1800 fashion. Yucky colour combinations can look very good together. And combining different nuances rather than perfect colour match can create the most interesting effects. Although not period at all, the most vibrant costume I've ever made consists of various red and green shades, none which are matching per se, combined with gold (this one: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v31/operafantomet/elissa/elissa073.jpg - none of the green shades are identical here).

4. How do you get an idea of what kind of undergarbs and supports to use?
Eeeh... again paintings. But also surviving examples (since undergarbs are less likely to be depicted), period tailor books/descriptions and inventory lists. Still, I'll be the first to admit underpinnings doesn't interest me. I recently made a new chemise. My last (and only) chemise was 10 years old and falling apart, and although I used a very good pattern for the new one and it turned out well, it BOOORED me. The only fun thing was to attach the lace in the neckline, and to braid the strings for the sleeves. So underpinnings aren't really my forte...

5. Last, but not least: What era do you usually make garbs from?
I'm a Renaissance gal, and my maind focus is Italian Renaissance. Aaaah, the beauty. I agree with the person who wrote about the simplicity of lines and details of the early Florentine fashion. It makes my soul happy! I also dig later Venetian fashion. Other than that, I've made clothes from various epoques. A Regency dress, a Rococo dress, and lots of "Phantom of the Opera" costumes...  8)

Queen Maggie:
May I suggest you correspond with Kass McGann, of Reconstructing History?
She's been working on Historically Accurate costuming for years and years, and has finally gone full time at her business. She does the research in as many ways as possible (always going to the original sources if possible) and has a lively way of writing about it.
Another resource is Margo Anderson, who has published a series of wonderful accurate patterns for all styles of dress for men and women in the renaissance.
And of course, the original researcher who made a big name for herself is the recently passed Janet Arnold who published "Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe, Unlock'd" as well as several books about patterns she drew and researched from original extant garments in "Men's and women's Clothing from  1530 through 1620" and several more through later periods.

Many excellent suggestions - but what I really want, is the opinion of fellow non-professional garb makers. I want to see how other people use historical sources (whether written or visual), and why they use it as they do.

But thanks a lot!

Realm-of-Venus just posted that the fourth "Patterns of Fashion" is out! Or... not out, I think it is to be presented at the Costume colloquvium in Florence in November first... But it's on Amazon.co.uk, for pre-orders.  :D

ETA: Janet Arnold on linen shirts, smocks and headgears

Queen Maggie:
LOL, I just went and preordered the linens book!

I was an Art History major as an undergrad. It changes the way you look at things. I prefer always to be as H/A as possible, but when I'm working (I'm an actor and director) I also know that I have to make concessions; to ease of change, to theatrical impressions, and to conventions at each particular faire.

(For instance, I know that metal grommets or eyelets weren't used: each was sewn by hand. Not enough time for that, in a show. similarly, I ought to wear a biggins under any hat: we let some of our hair show round the edges- just looks better to modern eyes. Or the color purple, as referred to in the sumptuary laws, is actually a reddish magenta. We use modern purple violet, when trying to show people that "this is a royal character")

I prefer not to copy directly from art, but I do know a lot of the portraits out there, and I know most of the techniques used. I go to the professionals for research into how I make any garment I decide on, and use the books, vetted websites and all sorts of references when I'm designing my own garb.

I mostly make Renaissance garb, since that's where I perform, but I also have made fantasy costumes, Greek costumes, pioneer, regency, and French revolution costumes. Occasionally, I've made something science-fictiony, but only for Hallowe'en.

1. Where do you find the basic research material when you're making a (fairly) historical correct garb? Is it:
I use a combo person.  I use the portraits to get ideas, books like Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold to get actual research and cutting techniques, and also look at any possible extant garments or archeological remains.   I also try and find translations of books written during a specific era given the about of Habitus de Mundus running around about during the late 16th c.  Watercolors and sketches made during the time are also helpful.
2. If using paintings/portraits as a basis, how do you decide whether it is/they are not allegorical or idealized, or suitable for your project?
After looking at portraits for a very long time, you just learn what is allegorical and what isn't. My most basic rule is, if you can find it 3 times, it's probably not allegorical.  This doesn't always work but it's a pretty good rule of thumb.

3. How do you decide what fabrics, materials and colours are plausible?
I look at the portraits and extant garments for fabrics as well as colors.   Pretty much any earthy tone color is okay for most periods.  Pastles of earth tones are also okay.  There are a lot of great websites, such as www.elizabethancostuming.com that have beautiful descirptions on period dyes and colors.

4. How do you get an idea of what kind of undergarbs and supports to use?
Patterns of Fashion is my go to guide as well as the History of Underwear.  There are also some great websites like http://cadieux.mediumaevum.com/burgundian-reference.html for using portrait evidence for what was worn.

5. Last, but not least: What era do you usually make garbs from?
I tend to stick with 1480-1530 Italian or English but do venture out from that time period from time to time.  I'm currently working on a 1540's Florentine and finished a lavendar 1380's Gothic Fitted Gown.


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