I think that one of the most important things to remember when historical costuming (and life in general) is to be true to yourself. No matter what century or decade you are dressing in if you are not dressing in something that you feel comfortable in then it’s not going to be fun for you, and who wants to spend an entire event feeling (therefore looking) uncomfortable and awkward?
It can be tempting to do what everyone else is doing – whether it’s the same time period, or colour scheme, a similar style, or something else so that you can fit in with them. But if you have spent hours and hours creating a new dress to wear, pouring your precious time, energy, and money into it, only to end up with an outfit that looks gorgeous but isn’t you at all then what happens? If you’re not confident wearing it because you feel ridiculous in that particular colour, or you feel naked without all the trimmings you usually love, then you’re not going to wear that dress to its best advantage or to yours.
When you’re not feeling confident in your dress then you don’t act like yourself, you might be quieter, might spend more time fussing with your outfit, or you might just want to slip away home as soon as possible. Plus, your body language might be such that your I’m-not-super-confident-right-now posture affects how the dress sits on your body and that won’t help either.
I know what it’s like to want to get the same number of compliments as your friends and others at an event – to be told your dress is pretty and can they please take a photo of you? This often seems to happen when that pretty dress is a pretty colour and it is loaded with trims. The general public tends to be drawn towards all the froth and frills but that’s not really my style.
The dresses of the past that I am drawn to the most aren’t these frothy, fluffed up fashions. I prefer a simpler design, not a lot of trims, easier to produce, and more (perhaps upper) middle than upper class. This definitely has translated across from my normal, no fuss, everyday clothing style and ‘uniform’ of a dress, tights, and a cardigan (I shock people when I wear jeans). I tend to gravitate towards simple, solid colours, stripes, the occasional print, and anything nautical inspired. I guess that my style is more bold than feminine.
I don’t follow trends and tend to stick with what I like. And, like my everyday style, I focus more on what I like and want to wear instead of what everybody else is wearing. I don’t stick out like a sore thumb, but sometimes I feel like I stand out because what I’m wearing is a little bit different. But, if you’re not going to fit in… (isn’t that a famous quote?)
Have I ever contemplated adding extra trims and such, or making a dress in a ‘pretty colour’ to try and get more admiration and attention? Yes, I have, but I haven’t given in to the temptation because I don’t think that I would feel as comfortable in a frothy dress. I would rather wear my dress instead, rather than risking the possibility that the dress might wear me.
If I make something I like then I’m happy and if someone else likes it too that’s a bonus. I’m not going to spend my time creating something that others will like if it’s not something I want to wear. There’s no point. It would just be a waste of my time and energy (not to mention money) to make an outfit that I wouldn’t feel comfortable in.
We all have different styles of dress in our everyday clothes so, of course, we’re going to have our different styles when we’re historically costuming. And thank God for that – how utterly boring it would be if we all looked like everybody else? Like Stepford Wives of the Nineteenth Century or something…
It’s not like women in the past all dressed alike anyway. There would have been the trend-devoted ladies who would have pounced on every new style they saw in their magazines whether it suited them or not; the ladies who chose the trends that they liked and that flattered them; the ladies who would have been reasonably influenced but still retained their own personal style; and the ladies that wouldn’t have paid a great deal of attention at all and just did what they wanted. That’s a lot like today.
Because of our different likes and dislikes, we’re all going to create something different, something that we want to wear. Not everyone will be attracted to what we make. But just because someone has made an outfit that we might not choose to wear ourselves that’s not a reason to find fault with them. And if people aren’t drawn to ours, wishing they had something similar in their dress-up box, then that’s no reason to take offence. No matter what we make we can’t please everyone.
So, if you love to wear orange, or teal, or the wildest shade of purple imaginable, then go right ahead. If you really want to trim your dress with yards and yards of lace or braid or fringe, please don’t hold back. If you love to wear prints then don’t let the chance that you’re going to stand out against the solid coloured dresses stop you. Go forth and wear what you like and what you want to, what makes you happy, what makes you feel like a million dollars.
Because, when you are being You, that’s when the magic happens. If you are feeling confident and happy on the inside while you’re wearing what you want to, then that shows on the outside. Your posture will improve and your dress will be shown off to its best advantage. People will see your eyes sparkle, and they will see the joy on your face because you love what you have made and what you are wearing. They will see you and the dress, not just the dress.