Putting it all on and taking it all offOur guest blogger isn't able to make it today, so I'm stepping into her revered and knowledgeable shoes to share with you what I know of costume research.
arrasene ... balzarine ... bombazine ... cassimere ... dupion ... éolienne ... farandine ... linsey ... marquisette ... paduasoy ... sarsenet ... taffeta ... zibeline
Even the names are beautiful. They're the names of different sorts of fabric; what differentiates them is the way the raw materials--wool, cotton, linen, silk--are spun and woven. You can see a whole list of historical fabric names with short definitions here.
So how do you make sure your hero or heroine is dressed correctly and how do you know what these fabrics feel like, or sound like? Will her gown float gently to the floor whenit is removed, or will it slide with voluptuous grace? Will the fabric puddle in folds or settle into peaks like whipped egg whites? And what are the common errors that writers have innocently, or lazily, copied from each other?
I'm going to give you a few of my favorite resources online. One is to look at portraits--fortunately for us, the subjects of historical portraits liked to appear in their best clothing. For the Regency period, I like portraits by Ingres (like this one). There's a wonderful collection of portraits by Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, whose subjects ranged from Marie Antoinette to Byron at batguano.com. For an overall source of paintings of all kinds and periods, visit Carol Gerten's site.
Here are some great costume sites--for a jumping-off place for all sorts of fashions and periods, try the Costumer's Manifesto and for the Regency, Cathy Decker's Regency Fashion Page. Visit museum sites such as the V&A Museum or the Kyoto Costume Institute.
And one of the best things you can do is search out a historical reenactor, or someone who sews historically correct clothes for a local museum and pick their brain. Ask to touch fabrics and see--or even take home--samples. Imagine how the fabric would look by candlelight or moonlight or lamplight.
Now, as for the common errors:
Getting naked. People didn't. Well, eventually they might, but if your characters are having a passionate, unplanned encounter, who is going to get her back into her stays????? I blogged about historical definitions of nakedness and states of undress at the Spiced Tea Party a couple of months ago.
Slowly he unfastened the tiny buttons down the back of her gown ... No he didn't. Until about 1820, when buttons took over, gowns had an open placket at the back that closed with two drawstring ties, one a few inches above the waistline and one at the neckline. All he'd have to do is untie them and her gown would fall off. When the placket acquired buttons, it would only be a few.
Drawers. Even if she had them, they'd be crotchless until about the first decade of the twentieth century, when they buttoned up. Essentially they were to decorate/cover the legs. Earlier, in Elizabethan times, they were worn only by prostitutes. They would not act as any sort of barrier.
Red silk nightgowns etc. Sorry, no sexy lingerie until much later than the Regency, because for a long time underwear and nightwear functioned purely to protect outer clothes and bedclothes.
Lord Wotsit gazed at her sexy bottom and legs that went on forever... well, I guess they might, but think about the cut and drape of historical gown, particularly Regency ones where the waist wasn't at its natural level and bottoms were obscured by folds of fabric. Lord Wotsit might well get all steamed up about her bare shoulders --think how the cut of Regency gowns drew attention to the shoulders and nape of the neck. And her ankles, of course.
She never wore stays ... oh yes she would (unless she was Lady Caroline Lamb). Because otherwise nothing would fit. Someone would have to get her in or out of them (see above) unless she wore side or frontlacing stays, which were fairly rare, or at least few have survived. And she would not be able to reach above her head or put a car into first gear.