I did some Pinterest searching to find out what shape hats would be worn with the kind of streamlined afternoon dress I already had– there were a lot of different styles, but it looked like they were often reasonably wide, with some decent volume in the crown to give them some height and drama.
When writing this post, I initially started writing about how a problem facing many historical costumers is carrying all of our bits and bobs when many dresses come without pockets, and how finding appropriately period purses can be difficult. And I was going to talk about how that’s what prompted me to want a chatelaine, which was basically a multi-tool for 19th century women… but then I had to admit to myself that my desire for a chatelaine really had nothing to do with needing to carry stuff with me, and everything to do with it just looking really cool.
So what is a chatelaine? Basically it’s a hook or pin that women would attach to their belt/waistband. It would have several chains hanging from it, and dangling from the chains would be an assortment of useful items– pencils, watches, perfume vials, buttonhooks, needle cases, notebooks, coin purses… basically anything a woman might want to have handy.
Of course, these items weren’t strictly utilitarian– many chatelaines were made of silver, gorgeously embellished, and just generally decorative. Here are some of my favorites, mostly from the 1880s-1890s:
So, with all of this beautiful inspiration, is it any wonder I wanted one for myself?
The problem, of course, is that antique chatelaines with any attachments at all tend to sell for no less than $200, and easily reaching $2,000 depending on condition and complexity. I wasn’t about to spend that much, so I had to improvise.
Okay, this isn’t an “I made this” post so much as an “I found this” post. It’s about eyeglasses. That is, reasonably historical-looking eyeglasses for those of us who are visually challenged but don’t want to wear contacts all the time. If you’re looking for an inexpensive source for glasses that look pretty decent for dates after 1800 or so, try these:
I found them at Zenni Optical, and after a lot of comparison shopping at similar discount-glasses sites I determined that they were the best-priced pair I could find. The basic prescription glasses, with standard coatings and thickness, cost me under $12 (plus another $5 in shipping). They come in gold and silver, as well as a few less historical-looking colors.
I also picked up this pair (which I don’t like as much on my face because they’re kind of big, but which would still work). They were only $3 more and also come in other colors.
(I will note that both of these pairs have plastic nosepads, which are not historically accurate, but in general this is about as close as you’re going to get without actually seeking out reproduction frames.)
Get some the next time you feel the urge to stare disapprovingly over your spectacles at someone!
The final touch for this costume was the crown, which Lady Macbeth is shown raising above her head in the Sargent painting.
That being said, the internet assures me that 1) this was supposed to be King Duncan’s crown, not hers, and 2) she never actually struck this pose in any of her performances of the play. But it’s still the most recognizable pose, so I had to make a crown to carry– and also to wear, since I wasn’t about to just carry it around all night.
Since I am not experienced in metalwork, I had three options: First, have a metal crown custom-made for me. That seemed awfully expensive for a prop. Second, make a fake metal crown out of craft foam and gold paint. That was definitely something I considered, but ultimately I wanted it to look really shiny and polished both inside and out, and I wasn’t confident I could do that in the time allotted. So I went with my last option, which was to find a reasonably decent-looking crown online and go with it.
Once the dress was done, I turned my attention to the wig I’d need. I don’t know if Ellen Terry really had almost floor-length hair when she played Lady Macbeth or if she wore a wig, but it’s a prominent feature of her costume in the photos and in the painting, so I had to follow suit.
There were plenty of long (like, knee-length) cosplay red wigs available, but they were all perfectly straight and didn’t look particularly full– when divided into two plaits they were definitely not going to be sufficient for the look I was going for. Rather than try to figure out how to plump them up, I decided to go with a textured wig– or rather, two textured wigs that I’d cobble together.
I ended up with this one— it’s designed to be a Lady Melisandre wig from Game of Thrones and it’s a dark red color with lots of texture, so it definitely had the volume I was looking for. It also has a nice braiding detail at the top. I bought two.
Once they arrived, I took apart one wig by cutting the wig cap into strips to make wefts. I cut the cap in sets of three wefts right up to the point where it started curving around the head, then cut that curved skullcap-ish section right up the center, for a total of four weft strips (two shorter, two longer) and two denser sections. Here’s a diagram of the cuts:
Then I divided my wearable wig into two sides (following this very useful tutorial to avoid showing the wig cap at the part) and divided each of those sides into an upper and lower section. The upper sections were clipped aside, while I worked on one lower section at a time.
I spread the hair on the lower section over the floor (which was covered in parchment paper to avoid glue getting on the hardwood). I glued the longer weft across the hair about 8″ up from the ends, then glued the dense skullcap section on top of that a few inches down. Finally, I glued the shorter weft section over the top of that, at the same level as the first one.
Once I let down the upper section of hair and gathered the whole thing into a ponytail, the glued sections weren’t really visible except as a slightly thicker section of hair. I tied the long ponytail into segments using cut-up hair elastics (since trying to use them the normal way was next to impossible on such long hair), then wrapped the whole tied-up ponytail with gold ribbon. I stitched the ribbon in place using light brown thread to keep it from slipping out of position.
I’m actually really happy with how this turned out, and how easy it was, relatively speaking. Yes, it’s pretty heavy, and no, I don’t think it’ll stand up to much abuse, but it looks decent and it took me about an hour to style, so I’m counting it as a win!
Once the dress was structurally complete I got started on the belt (which had to sit a certain way over the dress to look right). The original belt for the gown appears to have been made of metal links with a raised design on them– the belt wraps twice around the waist and ties in front with a length of twisted fabric.
Initially I thought I’d repurpose some belly-dancing belts with similar metal links to make my own belt, but they were pretty expensive and didn’t have the right overall look– too much filigree, not quite the right shape. I decided to make my own, because deciding to spend ridiculous amounts of time and effort to closely replicate a costume element that I’d intended to shortcut is apparently what I do.
Since I didn’t have the time, knowledge, or supplies to make my own stamped metal links (yet), I opted to use thick black cardstock– it’s called “museum board” and it’s pretty stiff while still being cuttable. I figured that once painted with metallic paint, the links would be close enough to pass for a stage costume.
So above the rounded neckline of the dress there’s a high ivory collar. It appears to be made of net, gathered for texture and sewn with lines of gold thread.
I actually had a bunch of ivory net in my stash, so I started off by cutting two layers. First, there’s a curved piece to serve as the base, then a top layer that’s cut larger and gathered down. It’s possible that the top layer was also a proportionally-cut curve that’s gathered to fit, but to make the process easier I just cut a big rectangle and relied on varied gathering to shape it into a curve.
I cut a base layer to fit around my actual neck rather than to match the curve of the dress neckline, which as you recall had a bit of a gap due to a previous error. I left plenty of room at the bottom, though, to ensure that I’d be able to stitch it to the dress with no pulling.
For the top layer, I made my piece about twice as long as the base to allow plenty of room for gathers. After pinning a hem in the top edge (so it would be caught by later seams) I ran six parallel lines of gathering stitches (machine-sewn for the tiniest gathers) along the length of the top layer and pulled up the threads until it fit the base. I know it should’ve been five layers, but I miscounted and figured it wouldn’t matter anyway.
To make a clean back closure I stitched the base and top layers together at the short ends, right sides together, then flipped them over and topstitched over the top gathering line to keep the two layers aligned.
Next up was the hat. The original hat (or a least one of the original hats shown in photos– there appear to be a few) was an almost lampshade-shaped straw hat:
Tough to find, particularly in winter, and hats can be expensive in vintage shops. Luckily, I found something very similar in the costume section on Ebay! It’s called a “coolie” hat (which I find kind of racist, for what it’s worth) and the photo was pretty close in terms of shape.
Of course, when it arrived it was a lot flimsier than the original hat looked to be, plus being more conical with a less defined crown. I decided to add some wire around the brim to stiffen it up– I unpicked the stitches holding the straw edge binding, then cut off about 3/4″ all around the edge (it was just a bit too big for my taste) before stitching some thick brass wire around the underside and reattaching the binding with hot glue.
To go with the “Bar” suit, I needed some bar-themed accessories that were in keeping with the overall look (so no shot-glass necklaces or coaster epaulettes).
I started with the handbag, which began life as an acrylic purse shaped like a perfume bottle.
It’s also shaped almost exactly like a bottle of Disaronno liqueur, so I decided to replace the “Paris” label with a faux Disaronno label to keep with the “bar” theme.
I took an image of the label and tweaked it to the proper dimensions (2.5″ wide x 2″ tall, in case you wanted to know), then printed it out onto ivory cardstock before filling in a few bits of color with a red pen.
As part of my Regency wardrobe, I wanted to make a white chemisette to fill in the necklines of some of my gowns– most notably the pashmina gown, which I specifically made for daywear.
Taking my cue from several other bloggers, I started off with the chemisette pattern A from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I. It has a mostly-plain front with some tiny tucks at the shoulder line (not pictured in the illustration but they’re there in the instructions), and a triple-layered mushroom-pleated collar.
I did end up making a few structural edits– I widened the base width of the back, which otherwise would’ve been oddly pointy (and would not have matched the illustration at all), and did only two ruffles at the collar since my fabric was a bit heavier than what would’ve been used back then. And I didn’t bother cutting the neck band on the bias because it seemed wasteful and other chemisettes in the book had their neck bands cut on-grain, so it didn’t appear to be crucial.
Anyway, not having any graph paper on hand and not feeling inclined to figure out how to print out different sections of the original scanned pattern on different sheets of paper, I used a good old ruler and my knowledge of geometry to draw out the pattern for the chemisette. Honestly, I wouldn’t have done it if the pattern weren’t so simple, but at least on this occasion it worked out well.
The main body went together easily– I did a narrow double hem on the open sides and made my drawstring channels on the bottom with no problems. Then I had to figure out how to handle the neck ruffles.