or, How to be Broke in 2013 and Look Broke c. 1760
About a year ago, after reading about the secondhand clothing trade in the 18th century, I decided to make an outfit from recycled clothes.
That, and I’m a broke ex-college student, and it was easier to do this than buy yard goods.
I decided on portraying the 1760s-70s, but I dated my clothing between 1730-50, with remakes around 1760-70. I did this because I have read about so many clothes being remade and reworked decades after their original creation, and I extrapolated that secondhand clothing may have had a high percentage of older stuff that was then reworked. I mean, look at thrift shops – it’s all 1980s-1990s stuff, here in 2013. That’s already 2-3 decades, and we don’t usually rework the stuff like people did in the 18th century!
I’m still not sure how prevalent the secondhand clothing trade was in America. Apparently it was huge in England, but I haven’t found much information about it on my side of the puddle. At the least, I can assume that clothes were handed down through families.
I also decided that, just as thrift shop or hand-me-down clothing often doesn’t match or coordinate, that my outfit would not coordinate at all. So I have linen, silk, cotton and wool; floral, cross-barred and striped clothes, and over 11 different colors. Yay. The pieces are also tailored a little ‘off’, so they don’t fit me perfectly – as if they were originally designed for somebody else.
It’s made out of light brown wool that I salvaged from a moth-eaten wool skirt I found in a thrift shop. The lining is three different types of linen – all different weights and colors (all natural or white, though). It’s all hand sewn with linen thread. The whole thing is pieced and tight in the shoulders because I had to really ration the fabric. The green robing and cuffs cover where I ran out of brown wool.
For the most part, I took the color scheme from early English gowns, and the front design from some later English clothes. My story is that the front was updated. It also explains the short skirts, which are actually short because I didn’t have that much wool.
I did have to stick with England on the jacket, and not America, simply because I found more information from England.
The front is made of three strips of wool, sewn on one end and closing with hooks and eyes on the other. I don’t know how accurate this is, but the end result looks like the caraco I based it on. I went with three straps because it distributed the strain a little more evenly. In the above pictures, the top strap needs to be angled a little more.
I copied the rust-and-green color scheme from a handful of 1720s-40s jackets and gowns.
This is an apron my mom made probably 20 years ago. It’s been remade once, darned & patched. As a sutler I dust & polish our products at events with this apron, so it gets pretty dirty.
I go back and forth on how accurate this cross-barred skirt is. It’s a very thick cotton. It’s old, probably 20+ years. I remade the waist and I re-hemmed it, but I’m thinking of replacing it with a wool skirt.
You can’t see them in the above pictures, but I’m wearing corded jumps. I made them based on Beth Gilgun’s pattern in Tidings from the 18th Century. She dated it to c. 1740-ish, as I recall. They’re made from two layers of canvas with jute cording in the channels instead of boning.
The inspiration for these came from a newspaper advertisement from mid-century America. The owner of a shop was selling corded stays for women. Almost ten years ago, when I made these, I hadn’t learned about good research practices yet, and I forgot to note where I had found this pertinent bit of information. I don’t know where it came from anymore.
They were very supportive when new, but that was almost ten years ago now. Now they bulge and fold in awkward places and make weird horizontal creases. I’d love to replace them with leather jumps someday (there’s a pair in Colonial Williamsburg‘s DeWitt Wallace Collection).
I made these mules from a few layers of leather, a block of wood, and a little wool and linen. They don’t exist anymore because they didn’t come out so great – I decided I could make them better by taking them apart, but never got around to putting them back together.
For the one event I wore them at, however, they worked fine because they were better than nothing: my old shoes had betrayed me and fallen apart after 13 years of wear (how dare they), and my new shoes had not arrived yet.
STOCKINGS, CAP AND KERCHIEF
I wear an old pair of striped stockings with patched heels with this outfit.
My cap is based on a few paintings from mid-18th century America, and the patterns in Fitting and Proper by Sharon Ann Burnston. It came out pretty well – starching and ironing makes a world of difference. I decorated it with a little silk ribbon from Burnley & Trowbridge.
The kerchief was bought from Burnley & Trowbridge. Can’t say much about it other than I really like it.
It’s probably 20+ years old, cotton, full of holes, worn to tissue, and has been remade about twice. I like it because it’s thin and comfy, but the cut and construction are not accurate. I had to retire it recently when a day at the Maryland Renaissance Fair caused it to turn blue (I wore it underneath a freshly dyed gown, and got caught in a monsoon).
So … it’s now New Chemise Time. I began with Sharon Ann Burnston’s online shift how-to (check it out!).
I’m still in the process of finishing the chemise, hence the ‘part one’ of the title of this post.
The total price of this whole thing is less than $50.00, but that’s because I had a lot of the materials already, and I own a lot of hand-me-down costume pieces.
Small bits of wool and linen can be bought for cheap at thrift shops, but linen thread is more difficult to come by and usually costs $7.00 a spool. Hypothetically you could sew interior seams with any type of thread, and just do the topstitching with linen – the point is to hand sew; it makes a huge difference.
Cotton is easier to come by; it’s often cheap enough as yard goods. I’ve even used sheets as long as they’re 100% cotton. Often the weave is not perfect, and very few prints work.
Dyeing fabric can freshen it up, and will give you some more color options. Block printing, if you can get it to work, is an awesome way to make your outfit stand out – I’ve tried this before, to some degree of success.
There have been some great blogs on remaking modern shoes by covering them with 18th-century type cloth (link below brings you to Wear When Why’s post about this process). I’ve got a pair of heels that I’ll be trying this with soon.