History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 October 2006

Extant Garments

Long before I ever thought of writing a romance novel I was an avid costume historian. And while secondary sources, like Janet Arnold’s wonderful books, are great, there’s nothing like being able to study an extant garment yourself. There’s nothing like recreating such a garment as accurately as possible and then wearing it.

This is how I know that corsets don’t pinch, that you can breathe in them. This is how I know that hoops, the deck of a ship, and a high wind are not a good combination. This firsthand experience colours my writing, allows me to know how my character’s clothing reacts in real world situations. I think (hope!) it gives added depth to my writing. Regardless, it’s a consuming hobby of mine.

I was lucky enough to be invited to give my underclothes workshop next month at the Northeast Ohio Romance Writers of America's Conference. While I’m there one of their members is going to take me on a side trip to Kent State’s fabulous museum.

The museum has two wonderful exhibits up right now that I’m dying to see: The Age of Nudity (1780-1825) and Sleuthing at the Seams (a study of a 1750s gown). I’m especially excited about The Age of Nudity as they have a chemise gown on display and I’ve never seen one in person. This garment also happens to be the Item of the Month on my website right now.

I’m a little sad that the curator won’t be there, so I won’t be able to do any hands-on studying, but I think the trip will be worth it all the same.

Do any of you have areas of study where you go a little overboard? Or am I the only one?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm developing a similar level of geekery over military matters, though so far I haven't had the money or the time to take up reenacting so I can get the hands-on experience I want. Hopefully in a few years my life will settle down enough that I can start collecting and playing with flintlocks! (And maybe by then my husband will be used to the fact that his wife is interested in guns.)

10:08 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

my craziness is historical dates. THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION followed the chronology of a real historical Home Office agent as accurately as I could (and it was an amazing chronology; he got from town to town faster on the mail coaches than my husband and I did on the Derbyshire bus system in May 2005 when we visited the area).

And in THE BOOKSELLER'S DAUGHTER, I went slightly nuts trying to fit my story in with the real pub dates of ROUSSEAU'S CONFESSIONS and the public opening of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO -- which was particularly difficult when my heroine had to be realistically pregnant during this period.

Did any reader count on her fingers to see if I got it right? I doubt it. But I'll probably do it again sometime.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Yep, I find myself going out of my way to see a collection of antique riding gear, costumres, horse tack, bits, sidesaddles, veterinary tools, and supplies. I leave my card at antique book stores where ever I can and ask them to call me if they ever get books on veterinary science that predate 1850!

One on my wish list . . . to make it to the Hermes Museum in Paris to see their collection of 17th century sidesaddles. Maybe some day....

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Architecture and art are the areas where I do far more research than is necessary. My enabler is a friend who has access to all kinds of wonderful 19th century books on architects and their work. If it wasn't for those pesky deadlines I would spend a lot more time studying them.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Glad to know we're all slightly nuts. *GRIN*

My big jones right now is the dog collar museum at Leeds Castle. How bizarre is that?

8:08 AM  
Blogger Monica McCarty said...

How funny, Tonda. I just went there last year. Leeds castle is beautiful. The dog collar museaum is cool, but I enjoyed the aviary, the falcon show and the peacocks roaming about even more. My kids loved it.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Angie said...

Maps and floorplans. I am obsessively anal about the exact locations of places, the surrounding neighborhoods, how to travel to and around the cities and areas, and where exactly everything is if you enter a building or a house. Which is why I've spent over four hundred dollars(not all at once!) on historical guidebooks...*G*

10:29 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ooooooooo, Monica. I really want to go to Leeds Castle. Now I can justify it on more grounds than just my bizarre desire to see a bunch of old dog collars. LOL!

And Camilla, I'm right there with you. I printed out a period map of Mayfair that's about 8'x12' and put it up in my bedroom. I coloured all the "real" places in pink (and labeled those that weren't already labeled) and then chose my character’s domiciles so that I would always know where they were. And I’ve walked all over Mayfair, trying to get an understanding of the real distances involved. I wish I’d taken better notes and more pictures.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, doesn't eveyone have a map of Regency London posted somewhere convenient? Mine is on the back of my office door. I use it almost daily....though I have to admit I need a magnifying glass for some of it.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

We've got one of 1818 London that's about 3.5 feet wide and 2 feet high (San Francisco Victorians have those long hallways, you know). My husband printed it out from the net in about 30 pieces and I pieced them together. It's a little wobbly some places, but gorgeous. The url is http://http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow.html

2:59 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

ahem, lets try that again: http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow.html

3:00 PM  

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