Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wardrobes for the Historic Hero and Heroine

By Celia Yeary

Take a step back in time. Imagine the heroine of a romance novel set somewhere in the past. If she were a woman of means, she wore sweeping dresses of velvet, satin, and faille, trimmed in ribbons, braid, and lace. She adorned herself with clothing of elegance and great variety, and topped her elaborate coiffure with bonnets and hats, decorated with flowers, ribbons, lace, and feathers. To complete her outfit, she added parasols, gloves, handkerchiefs, and jewelry.
The gentleman in the novel, the hero, matched his lady in correct clothing for the era. He donned striped pants, shirt with detachable collar, silk tie, suspenders, a wool frock coat, and a derby or top hat. Of course, the hero might turn out to be a pirate, a captain of a ship, or a renegade. In such an occurrence, the author must still dress him in an authentic costume.
The author of Old West or pioneer romance novels faces the same dilemma. What did a prairie bride wear? A calico dress with a muslin bib apron, or a coarse cotton dress and lace-up shoes? Did she cover her hair and shade her face with a scarf, slat bonnet, or a poke bonnet? Her hero probably wore canvas pants, suspenders, perhaps a vest, banded-neck shirt, and cowboy hat.
The historical romance novel, either Western, Regency, Edwardian, or Victorian, speaks a language all its own. Rich mental images allow the reader personally to experience a story. A chain of events carries the plot, yes, but the characters affect the reader’s perceptions through the senses, especially tactile and visual.
Coupled with the character’s physical attributes is the clothing he or she wore. If the author succeeds with correct description, she allows the reader to become intimate with the characters. Modern clothing rarely illicit such fascination or involvements as historical wardrobes do.
The description of apparel helps move the story. The wise author uses the technique subtly so that it becomes a part of the tale, and not a technique. The reader does not want to stop the action for a description of a character’s mode of dress. This will only bog down the story, and the reader may skip portions, or simply close the book and choose another.
Research can be difficult for the busy author with a goal or deadline. The usual sources are the library, personal books, and the internet. Any one of these may be either restrictive or time-consuming. Listed below are ten excellent companies for quick references. Whether the need is for men’s, ladies’, or children’s clothing, these websites will help describe the exact piece of clothing for the author.
GENTLE WARNING: These websites are beautiful, colorful, and even fascinating. Do not become so involved in the offerings that you forget the purpose of the visit!
The sites were selected for their appearance, ease of navigation, inventory, and graciousness of the owners. Each proprietor granted permission to use the website in this article. The companies are listed in random order.
“Maggie May’s Historic Clothing for Ladies’ and Children”
Specializes in the art of reproductive attire from 1750-1950.
Historic Education Service provided.
On the “Costume Page,” choose a time period you wish to research.
Visit the “Dressing Room.”
Based in Tennessee.

“Classic Designs of Historic Clothing”
Specializes in Victorian and Edwardian for Women and Victorian to the 1920’s for men.
Includes maid’s uniform.
Based in Ohio.

“Makers of period custom clothing for Historical Reenactors, Buckskinners, and Rendezvouser for the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Specializes in French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, English and French Colonial, War of 1812, Mountain Men, Civil War, Cowboy.
Clothing for the Entire Family.
Based in Minnesota.

“Romantic Clothing for Ladies and Gentlemen”
Features Historical clothing from Renaissance, Pirates, Victoria, Old West, and Civil War.
Includes Accessories, Weapons, Jewelry, Victorian Masks, Wall Decorations, and Dance Videos.

“Creates historic clothing and costumes for adults and children.
Specializes in pioneer dresses, Victorian clothing, Medieval clothes, and Renaissance dresses.
“Dreams Sewn to Order”
Based in Texas.

“Historical Resources and Historical Reproduction”
Offers 19th Century Wardrobe-Mexican War, Civil War (cs, us.), Indian Wars, Span-Am War for Ladies, Men, and Children’s Victorian Clothing.
Includes props, weapons, home and office d├ęcor, and saddles and tack.
Pair-O-Dice Mercantile based in California.

“Specializes in Victorian, Edwardian, Civil War, and Old West Styling for Women”
Romantic feminine clothing reminiscent of centuries past.
Also offers Children’s Clothing, Jewelry, and Accessories.
Based in Michigan.

“Includes a Men’s Store and Ladies’ Store, complete with accessories for each”
Old West Clothes and Victorian Clothing.
Authentic Historical clothing and Calligraphy supplies.
Based in California.

“Historically correct clothing for museums, re-enactors, or anyone needing clothing representative of the 1600’s-1890’s”
Custom garments for any time period.
Special Section: 1880-1890. Clothing for men, ladies, and children.
Based in Colorado.

Celia Yeary-Author for THE WILD ROSE PRESS.
Available in print-Amazon: ALL MY HOPES AND DREAMS, a Cactus Rose novel.
Contracted: TEXAS BLUE, a Cactus Rose novel.
Contracted: SHOWDOWN IN SOUTHFORK—A Wayback, Texas series novel

Photo: Ranks Mercantile


Cindy K. Green said...

Great stuff here Celia. I've bookmarked some of them. Thanks!

Mary Ricksen said...

I have had difficulty in the past getting information on what people wore in the time period of my books.
This should help me. Thanks.

Susan Macatee said...

Thanks for this great list of resources for historic clothing, Celia! Since all of my stories thus far have been set during the Civil War and I'm a reenactor, I had no trouble describing the correct clothing, but I'm starting work on a sequel to be set in 1870, so I need to know what my characters will be wearing.

Cheryl said...

Wow, Celia!
Very interesting! You have done some great research. I'm saving this for a reference. Thanks for posting this!

Kathy Otten said...

Hey, thanks for sharing all the research links. I'm one of those people who start wandering around and forget what I was originally looking for. These links will be very helpful

Chiron said...

Wonderful, wonderful info! Thanks so much!!

Thanks so much, Celia!!

Chiron O'Keefe

Emma Lai said...

Great links, Celia! I've visited Gentleman's Emporium myself. Very helpful. I'll have to check out the others.

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Celia, fabulous post! I did a personal blog on period shoes and boots, and dang, my foot hurt just looking at them.

I can't imagine wearing a corset. One reason I love the movie Titanic so much is the clothes...I can't believe how much stuff they had to wear to be fasihonable.

I'll sure be checking these links out. Thanks.

Celia Yeary said...

Thank you, kind ladies, every one.I think we're all alike--we become lost in our research. I particularly like Maggie May's Fashion site, and the Gentleman's
Emporium. Also, the Victorian one.
I also have a saved site concerning 19th Century weapons. You know in Westerns, the author must have her man using the correct gun. Celia

Judy said...

Some wonderful sites, Celia. Thanks for sharing! I was actually needing some info on Edwardian styles.

Phyllis Campbell said...

Awesome links! I write historicals too, and I love adding links like this to my collection. I can research clothing all day. lol


Linda LaRoque said...

Great post, Celia. Thanks for the list of resources. One can never have too many. I love period costume. Some years ago I saw a wonderful book at the book store in the Smithsonian and have regreted not buying it. Can't remember the name or I'd find it online.

Paty Jager said...

Thanks for all the sites,Celia.

Lauri said...

Great info, and thanks for all the links!

Eve said...

Beautiful job!

Carol Burge said...

I have that very book (80 Godey's) and love it! I can't wait to visit all the links you posted. :)

Thanks for sharing!

Deborah Schneider said...

Not only is this great research, but some wonderful sites for shopping, um... stimulating the economy. I can't wait to spend some time, and money on the links.
Thanks for sharing.

Deb Schneider