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It's not a big deal - but it matters

I do have a habit of promising pictures and then not following up, don't I?  It's a good thing you're all patient.

Speaking of all of you, I've seen a bunch of brilliant, smart, and discerning readers sign up recently - welcome to all of you, and I'm happy you're here.  Please excuse me not friending you back automatically, but my friends' list is out of control as it is, and I'm falling behind on my reading (i.e., it's blocked at work, and when I'm home I'm doing other stuff) and feel terribly guilty that I don't respond to even the friends I already have that often.

On the plus side, 99.9% of my posts are public, and the ones that aren't are just personal whines, so you're not missing anything.  Anyway  - I'm super-glad you're here, and I'll try to keep things interesting.  Today, I'm talking about costuming.

On the drive back from Princeton on Sunday, we got to talking about relationships - a fairly comfortable subject, since the three of us in the car are in good, stable ones, and not inclined to bitch about our significant others (I worry about that, btw - when I hear someone really dissing their S.O., I feel weirdly like I shouldn't be hearing about this stuff.  It's so personal).  We were discussing the little things that they do and we do to show our affection, and I said (in my master-of-the-OBVIOUS! kind of way) that it is the little things, not the big things, that make or break a relationship. 

Sure, the big things have an effect too, but it's more immediate - it's the little irritations that slowly erode affection until there's nothing left, just as it's the little nudges of care and tenderness that keep people going at a steady burn for each other for a lifetime.  For example, Bob and I thank each other for doing household chores - yes, we're supposed to do them, but appreciation for taking care of the boring stuff goes a long way towards making both of us feel loved.  In contrast, if all someone ever notices is the stuff you didn't do (or didn't do "right"), the effect is of sandpaper on tender skin - you can handle it every now and then, but a steady abrasion leaves you raw, bleeding, and quite happy to kick the sandpaper-wielder to the curb.

On thinking more about this, it seems like the power of little things applies to most aspects of life.

(See?  I told you.  Master of the Obvious.)

In historical costuming, the big mistakes may make people giggle (though there's a certain awesomeness to the really spectacularly bad stuff on a different level), and it's easy to pick out, but it's the little things that really make or break an outfit.  I'm not talking the obvious, like sunglasses (and let's not get into that debate again, please), but smaller stuff that throws off an outfit.  I've seen a bunch of stuff in my time that almost, but not quite, manages to be good, and one of the things that gets said to me a lot is "It doesn't look right, but I don't know why".  Now, the levels of not-right are infinite, and I can't cover all the things that happen, but I thought I'd indulge myself and give a short overview of the most glaring things I see all the time. 

Keep in mind, I've been guilty of most of these myself, at one time or another - we all have a learning curve, and there's no shame in it.  Getting something wrong isn't a big deal - it takes time to educate your eyes to see what's in front of you, and not what you think you're seeing through a modern/wishful filter.  But it's worth it, and it's the little things that really make an outfit stand out.

1.  Mixing time and place - this is something that is more common for SCA people (because of the wide-ranging period of history we cover), but it happens in all historical groups to a greater or lesser extent.  It doesn't usually happen with the clothes (though it can), but with the accessories - the hat is 100 years earlier than the doublet, or someone is wearing a purse with some weird Celtic-stamped decoration/horn button with an Italian-based dress.  Even forgiving some of the subtler place issues (such as Northern vs. Southern Italy), I've seen some weird combinations of German and English fashion.  SCA people are most guilty of mixing times, though - and I have worn an Elizabethan-style outfit with a stamped D-ring belt.  And Minnetonka Moccasins don't go with anything, even if you cut the fringe off.

I'm just saying.

2.  Keeping modern hairstyles/makeup  - this is more for women than men, since the range of hair/cosmetic options are much wider for us chicks.  What I see most often is women who don't change their make-up style for the event, and wear their normal face, even if that face has blue eyeshadow and bright red lipstick.  Now, I like wearing makeup, too - and it's possible to adjust a bit, especially for later personas.  Ditch the lipstick (or wear a nude colour), ease up on the eyeliner, wear a paler foundation, skip the rouge, and wear less mascara.  Avoid eyeshadow.  Most women look just fine with minimal makeup (or none at all, but that's harder for women who habitually wear makeup to deal with, and I totally get that), and in a pinch, a light dusting of powder (not bronzer!) to take off the shine and a coat of mascara does wonders to give that "I'm not wearing makeup, I just naturally have long luscious lashes" look.

(A note about nails - Yes, I keep my artificial nails on at events.  I have a French manicure, and it looks like what it is.  I have also worn bright red nail polish in the distant past.  I am condoning neither, but manicures are often complicated enough that it's not worth removing one for a single-day event.  However, if your manicure is looking patchy, do consider removing it before the event, and re-doing it after.  Purple nails are jarring.  I freely admit, though, that I do not always follow this advice, and I accept that the effect of my outfit might suffer as a result.  I do try to stay away from elaborate manicures with designs or odd colours, though.)

Like makeup, hairstyles are part of wanting to look attractive.  I want to look pretty, too - I rarely wear a coif without either doing my hair in front or wearing a hat, because I think I look awfully severe and pin-headed with just my coif on.  However, when you put massive amounts of work into an outfit, it seems silly to insist on wearing your hair in a modern style - nothing destroys the effect of an outfit faster than modern hair.  And there are lots of attractive period-appropriate options - braids, rats, false hair, hats - there's something flattering out there, I promise.  I have to deal with this, too - I have short bangs in a very modern style in front (see default icon), and I like the look, but it has to be covered/curled up if I'm wearing Elizabethan.  It's not the end of the world, and it looks better, even to people who are not authenticity mavens - I've had non-costuming people look at my photos of people in costume with period and modern hair, and pretty much all of them say the period hairstyles/hats look better, even if they can't always articulate why.

At least give it a try.  It's not permanent, and you'll live to wear your hair however you want another time. 

3.  Inappropriate trim/beading - this is an odd one, and depends a lot on the maker of the ourfit developing a sense of what decoration in that period really looked like.  The commonest mistake I see in beading is "medallion"-style beading - a small section of a sleeve or bodice has been beaded, but not the rest of the outfit.  I've been looking at clothes (and pictures of clothes) for a long time, and I just can't find outfits where a majority of the outfit is not decorated.  The design aesthetic of beading (especially in later clothing) seems to really trend towards covering the entire damn outfit.  If you can't stand the idea, skip the beading and do something else - there's lots of stuff that isn't beaded.

Trim is a tricky thing - there is a lot of woven trim out there that looks awesome to the beginner, and people have a tendency to slap all sorts of stuff on all sorts of outfits.  All I'd say is that be careful - take a good long look at any sources you can, and see what does and doesn't belong.  Certainly for 16th century clothing, there's somewhat of a tendency to want to slap gold woven trim all over a doublet and call it a day, but there's a lot more evidence for plain trims applied in detailed and creative ways, or lace trim, or embroidery.  Of course, all of these are more time-consuming than buying a woven trim, but if you do go that route, be careful.  And stay away from plastic gold and silver - it always looks cheap.  In the case of braided trims, stay away from the cheap curtain trims.  They look bad, and they deteriorate quickly (and the red stuff I got years ago bled all over my nice white fabric).

Yes, taking more time and money makes it harder, but you end up with something you'll wear a lot longer.

4.  Badly fitted/poorly sewn outfits - Okay, perfect fit is a little hard.  But wearing something that either swims on you or pulls in funny directions isn't going to make you look good, no matter how pretty the fabric.  Plus, it's miserable having to adjust your clothes constantly - you will feel (and look) like you're wearing a stage costume, not clothes.  This also applies to taking short cuts on fastenings - five huge grommets might save you time, but your dress will never lace up properly, and will bunch unmercifully.  Taking time at the beginning means better fit later.  And there's no excuse for not hemming something that needs hemming - if it ravels so bad you're afraid to put it in the wash, it needs to be hemmed. 

Ditto for clipping curves, cutting off stray threads, and fixing drooping linings.  Not bothering is just sloppy sewing.

Some aspects of sewing have a bit of a learning curve - necklines and armholes, for instance.  Most people start out making their necklines too big, and their armholes too small.  Taking the time to put together a small collection of fitted patterns that you can use as a base for other patterns is worth it - and there are lots of instruction books out there.  Being lazy and cutting corners results in a sloppy outfit that all the expensive fabric in the world can't fix.  Conversely, a good fit means that no matter how humble the fabric, you'll look like a million dollars.

5.  "Cute" or "joke" accessories/fabrics - The overuse of this sort of thing is a big peeve of mine.  I assure you, I like a good joke as much as the next person, but a joke is most effective if it is used sparingly.  Your muppet-fur cloak is a scream, but only if you use it at absolutely the right moment, not all the freaking time.  A joke is most effective when it catches people by surprise - too often, and it's just dumb.  Keep the tie-dye kilt for very special occasions.  Otherwise, you're just one of those people that gives the SCA a bad name amongst historical societies.  Honestly - about once every twenty years or so is probably often enough for the inflatable throne.

(Yes, we have an inflatable Coleman armchair, and yes, we used it once in court.  Once. Ten years from now might be the right time to use it again, but we might wait longer - it will be funnier that way.)

(No, you can't steal that joke.  It won't be funny when you do it - trust me.)

That's just some major stuff that I see over and over again - there are a million other little things, but they're best addressed on a case-by-case basis.  The biggest things I see are a lack of headwear/modern hairstyles, modern design sensibilities applied to period clothing, and massive mixing of time/place, especially with accessories. 

Little enough, but they make a big impact when viewed as part of the whole.



( 71 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
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Mar. 18th, 2009 01:48 pm (UTC)
One thing I have tried to do to help people with these little details is to have a small informal class at Pennsic. All we do is sit in the food court for a few minutes and people watch. We discuss amongst ourselves what people are doing right and what they could do to take an outfit from good to "WOW". That easily leads us into talking amongst ourselves about what each of us could do to get to the next level.
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)
Now that would be a neat official class to do- I'd certainly attend it (perhaps more in a general sense, rather than picking out specific people to examine). :) We had a now-laurel do a similar class a few years ago on period head coverings in an attempt to get people interested in doing so; apparently the class was very well attended.
Mar. 18th, 2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
One of my girlfriends was arguing with me about the metallic trims and she's right, they did have trims (or embroidery or fabrics) woven with metallic threads... real gold, but I still agree that it -looks- cheap and I know that it's modern fake gold, not the real stuff. So I avoid it. Maybe if I ever get some real gold thread I'll think of using it... but damn, that'd be expensive and I couldn't wash it. ;)

One thing I like to point out to people in regards to the period style hair is looking at old SCA photos... the folks in period-style hairdos look timeless, the people with modern hairdos look like silly people from the 70s or 80s (depending on how old the photo is!) so if you're really vain... the period 'do is the way to go!
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
Omigosh! Gwacie wrote "damn"!
Amazed at that, but am in complete agreement.
(no subject) - evil_fionn - Mar. 18th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thatpotteryguy - Mar. 18th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - evil_fionn - Mar. 18th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 18th, 2009 02:03 pm (UTC)
One indispensable accessory that I have found is one yard of white linen hemmed on the edges. I carry it with me to every event. I've used it as a veil, wrapped it into a turban, and worn in other configurations as a head covering. It has also served as a napkin, a potholder, tied up to carry food, been pinned on as an apron, covered something on a table, and more.

Edited at 2009-03-18 02:03 pm (UTC)
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
This is genius. I should totally do this. I loose at pinning veils though.
(no subject) - morrghan92 - Mar. 18th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blaze2242 - Mar. 18th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - not_justagirl - Mar. 18th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 18th, 2009 02:12 pm (UTC)
i agree... often the small things make or break it in a relationship, an outfit, or whatever.

that said. one of my biggest "sad story" stuff is watching someone take crp fabric and put hours of painstaking detail and love and attention into the sewing....
it was truly a wonderful job..
but it looked like crp

there are a handful of people in the world who can take nylon and polyester and cheap prom gown fabric and make wonderful things from it.... and its a talent.
i dont have that talent
its rare
its a heck of a lot easier to start with decent fabric and get decent results. you dont need 300 dollar a yard silk embroidered stuff.......
but solid quality, good material... is going to hold up better and be better looking.

oh, and the number one "little thing" i see that ruins people's sewing?
not changing their needles.
sewing machine needles have a finite life (especially for some fabrics) and when they are not in top condition, they pull, snag, and start puckering your fabric....

Mar. 18th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
There's a very nice lady from a shire in the area who is so very proud of a dress she made. The style of dress is fitted well to her body type, and it would be a very nice mid-to-late period English outfit... if it wasn't made out of crushed poly velvet and poly silk brocade.

Every time she asks me to tell her what I think about it, I bite my tongue because if I said what I *really* thought of it, she might quit and never come back. :-/ I've started telling her it's nice, but she should come on over to my place sometime and we'll work on something a little earlier period for her with nice linens and wools and such.

I, of course, can't be too critical because I've *just* finally gotten my hands on something appropriate to make a veil out of. I've been running around with my head uncovered for way too long.
(no subject) - albreda - Mar. 20th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 18th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
"I do try to stay away from elaborate manicures with designs or odd colours, though"

Pedicures, on the other hand...
Mar. 18th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
Hey - I wear socks! :) I do love my pedicures.
(no subject) - stringmonkey - Mar. 18th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - not_justagirl - Mar. 18th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
I agree- I can't wear the proper Irish hat to go with my Shinrone due to the migraines it induces within 20 minutes, but I've at least put on a headwrap to help conceal my somewhat short hair. Now that my coif is finally wearable (I'm still working on the detailing, and yes, it's one of your designs), I'll be wearing that instead along with a spiffy new hat that I got at the last event I was at. My laurel took one look with it and the coif on and said the combo really helps pull together the outfit (which was perfectly fine before), which I'm extremely pleased about.

I think I also made someone's day at that event by raving over a French hood that was apparently her first attempt at real headwear. The dress just looked so complete and right with it, and she did quite a good job of it as well. :)
Mar. 18th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
But would an "English" coif be worn with an Irish dress? Assuming the coif is English, if based on attack_laurel's designs.

I really don't know, so I'm asking.
(no subject) - _medb_ - Mar. 18th, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nicolaa5 - Mar. 18th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
I thought red painted nails were appropriate for Elizabethan. I remember a passage about the woman still painting her lips and nails red even though she was supposed to be in mourning or some such.

I've been so focused on Italian recently that the Elizabethan stuff is a bit blurry.
Mar. 18th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
It's possible that they're henna'd red in some cases ("her rosy lips and fingertips" - I can't remember the poet), or stained, but it would not be the bright cherry red (or brown) I tend to see. And not shiny. :)
(no subject) - victoriapringle - Mar. 18th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 18th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
One thing I have noticed about the trim thing is when people feel they need to put trim on something even if the style does not require it. It drives me crazy.

I am still working on the hair thing because I hate having stuff on my head. I have noticed how many more comments I get when my hair is covered I just need to find one that I am most comfortable with.

I also go through the I want it done now thing every time I start something and then Jeanmaire's words come back to me "it is better to have it right then right now".
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah!
..."modern design sensibilities applied to period clothing"

Gods yes! One of the saddest things I ever saw was someone who spent big bucks on material (lovely cream and gold brocade), and made it into an Elizabethan outfit with the bodice ALL WRONG! Most of her breasts were displayed hanging over the top of the bodice with nothing covering them. I've heard a laurel at a Pennsic class refer to this as the "tits on a shelf" look. And it was supposed to be a noble outfit--it was truly awful. No noble lady would have walked around like that. I don't even think prostitutes paraded around that way.
Mar. 18th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh yeah!
Unless you were in Venice, then you could "hang out" like that.
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
Of course, one rather over-arching beef is that so many women go about with their hair uncovered. Coifs, veils, wimples, and so forth go a long way towards beautifying and historicizing an ensemble.
Mar. 18th, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC)
Men, too. If period artwork is to be beleived, then in the 12th-15th Centuries, most men most of the time covered their heads - be it coif, hat, hood, or turban-style wrap.

There is a guy locally who does very creditable Anglo-Saxon - the cut of the clothes is good, his build lets him get away with it, and he styles his hair and beard (both long) exactly like those portrayed in pre-conquest artwork.

But most of the guys I see need a head-cvering just as desperately as most women.
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
I worry a lot about my hair. I chose to have purple hair mundanely, and without wigging myself every event, I can't change that. It is a very subtle purple, so when it's pulled back into a hair pin, it's not terribly noticeable, so that is what I usually do, but what other styles are appropriate? I sometimes play Tudor, I sometimes play more early 15th century. I have a simple coif and one hat, but the hat doesn't match many of my outfits (it's pink velvet) and I have the same feelings about coifs that you seem to.
Mar. 18th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
15th century has some fabulous hats that entirely hide your hair :) Just sayin'

15th century rocks!
(no subject) - blaze2242 - Mar. 18th, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gwacie - Mar. 18th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blaze2242 - Mar. 18th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 18th, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)
I have a pretty nice Tudor outfit (my first real attempt at noble) but I don't have a French hood done up yet (I'm trying to motivate myself to make one, but I has the millinery fears), so most events I'm usually begging my friend's 14-year old daughter to french braid it for me, because I'm pants at it, and having my hair down (even a normal color, long, and bangless) just. feels. wrong. Someday I'll have my french hood, or enough pearls to do those awesome dripping with jewelry hairstyles, so I can give my outfit the look it deserves.
Mar. 18th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)
There's going to be a CA coming out before too long on period hairstyling, mostly 13th-14th century, with good how-to pix. I sincerely hope it helps make some positive difference.
Mar. 18th, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC)
I think we definately need to have a field trip to the costco of hair, and then have a day of getting everyone hooked up with easy to do hair falls. :)
Mar. 18th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
I fully admit my lipstick is usually wrong for most periods I costume, but I'm a goth & an addict! I just can't resist. I strive for period hair & the rest of the makeup (I do love the crazy makeup in some era's portraits!). I have a fetish for historic purses & tsk-tsk modern or inaccurate bags. I'm still learning about fit, that's a lifelong process, methinks, & it goes better when I have ppl to help fit *on* me.

And when I do a joke outfit, it has a whole purpose. I have a reputation for them, but I don't do them very often either. Sushi Victorian was in 2003 & Cosi Fan Tutte was 2006, for example. It's been long enough that I'm contemplating another one, but the inspiration has to be really good.

So yeah, I get ya!
Mar. 18th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
headgear is my big problem, but I'm working on it. It's not that I don't like having something on my head -- I despite having my ears covered up. I have sensitive hearing, and the sea-shell effect drives me *NUTS*

But yeah, I'm making a coif. I was gonna buy one of your patterns this week, but I'm not there! *wah* The pictures on the website are too small for me to get a good feel for the designs (and I do so understand why that's the way it is too!). But yeah.

And I want to make a pair of shoes to go with my Viking.

This striving to be more authentic is Really Hard Work! *giggle*
Mar. 18th, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC)
I also don't like having my ears covered, I have enough trouble hearing without them covered. I find that as long as the fabric that covers my ears isn't tight against my ears, I'm OK. Which means veils are OK, but wimples are right out. Some coifs work and others are very poor choices for me.

I've seen a lot of very interesting hairstyles that can be work without any headcovering (Italian hair taping) or which have a veil pinned to the hair (those horn-like styles). My hair is too short to pull those off even with fake hair, but maybe you can look into that. 14th century seems to have a lot of naked ears in the portraiture.
(no subject) - florentinescot - Mar. 18th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
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