I’ve been in the costuming business for a very long time. My husband and I owned a shop at one of the largest mid-western Renaissance festivals for 10 years. I have seen a lot of wonderful work by some very talented tailors, weavers, and leather workers – from them, I had the privilege of adding a great deal to my knowledge of garment construction, and in turn used these skills to build a very reputable tailoring business.
I have also seen very shoddy work – I’ve witnessed good customers pay big bucks for crappy-made clothing, especially garments bought at seasonal history festivals or fairs (and if anyone has ever purchased a garment at one of these, you know how very expensive it can be – it often takes many years for a person to build their Renaissance/Civil War wardrobe if they are not active sewers). But, of all the examples of bad tailoring that has stood out over the years, nothing has grabbed my attention more than the hoop and its accompanying skirt. It doesn’t matter the era – Renaissance, Federal/Colonial, Antebellum/Civil War, Victorian/Edwardian – it’s a rare pleasure to see a reenactor wear her hoop (panniers, bustle, or bum roll) and skirt at the proper length!
The ladies in both examples A and B (taken by my dear sister Tonia at the city’s 2010 Memorial Day Parade) are good examples of how not to wear your historically inspired regalia. The skirts are simply too short, and the “weightless” movement of the gowns are lost when these ladies walk and their hoops begin to rock back and forth like a bell. There is not enough skirt length or weight to hold the hoop in its proper position, which can be clearly seen in example A (her hoop is not balanced and lifts in the back). Yes, there is much to be said about owning a well-made hoop, but even a lesser quality hoop can give the desired effect if the outer garments fit properly and are well-constructed.
Examples C and D (historical and modern) give a good picture of the proper way to wear a hoop and skirt. Why is it such a big deal? Well, aside from looking awkward and cheap, there is the issue of hard earned $ being shelled out for goods of shoddy quality – about half of all reenactors purchase their clothing for one reason or another, rather than sew it themselves. The problem is that ready-made historically inspired garments are often ill fitting (especially women’s clothing) no matter how durably they are constructed or how nice the fabric used. Keep in mind that ready made clothing (meant to fit the “average person”) is a modern convenience and not a luxury our foremothers would have experienced – they made their clothing (or their clothing was expertly tailored for them), and here we can see the precision of cut and fit that we would expect. The sad truth is, ready-made gowns, skirts, and their accompanying hoops are almost always ill fitting. Custom made clothing can be the better option (and it’s not that much more expensive).
In the case of the home tailor, that being the person who makes her own historically inspired garments, the problem is usually that the gown is not constructed around the frame of the hoop, pannier, bustle, or bum roll. When constructing a garment that uses a frame to shape the female silhouette, the architecture of the gown being built will be very different from a gown that does not use a frame at all. If you are sewing your own gown and the shape of the gown requires a frame, in order to achieve a proper fit and balance to the gown, the gown must be built completely around the frame – no exceptions! To illustrate this, the length of the average Antebellum skirt built around a hoop is nearly 20″ longer than the waist to floor measurement of the wearer – and of course this extended skirt length is completely relative to the width of the hoop! The wider the hoop, the longer the skirt…
...so, make note: the key to a beautifully tailored historical silhouette hinges on the undergarments we do not see – especially the hoop - :)
(This article was originally published by Angela Thornhill on The Emerald Parlor, June 2, 2010)