This post will start off with an admission of guilt. When Pinterest was first introduced many of us, myself included, thought of the site only as a great bulletin board where we could save wicked cool photos of fabulous…insert your favorite thing here. In my case, it was historic clothing. I went mad in all my spare time, and sometimes when I really should have been doing something else, pinning and repinning things I found online. I couldn’t forget that incredibly fabulous pink 18th-century gown or that fancy men’s waistcoat, now could I? Unfortunately, what I neglected to do more often than not, was to find the original source of the image and link to that site. By simply hastily re-pinning someone else’s pin that appeared on my home page, I perpetuated what so many were already doing– creating bulletin boards with pretty pictures and no citation of the original source material. Many people, in turn, kept my error alive by re-pinning my re-pinned pins (say that 5 times fast). Once I realized my error, I stopped pinning intending to fix things and, in fact, have not used the site in quite some time. Unfortunately, my boards are out there and while I would love to go fix them all, I’m afraid it is quite a daunting task. I might get to it, and I might not. In the meantime, people are still looking at my boards and continuing to re-pin. The very sad part of all this is the fact that, because so many of us did this, most things that come up in an image search online now are from Pinterest, have no links to the original museum website or image source, and thus are much less valuable for research and documentation. Why am I admitting the error of my ways, you ask? Precisely because by sharing, others might avoid making the same mistake.
That said, you may well ask, how do I go about documenting my historic clothing? I still use internet searches of course, but now I try to locate the original source prior to using it. Just because it is a photo of an 18th-century gown online doesn’t mean its context applies to my particular situation. For example, many calico and chintz fabrics were imported into the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations during the course of the 18th-century. However, these fabrics were not necessarily brought in similar quantities into the port of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony just 70 miles north of Newport. Therefore, when attending an event in RI, Mistress Molly is more likely to wear a chintz gown than she is when attending an event in Boston (though there are exceptions, one of which might show up in a later post). Similarly, when attending an event in one of the New England colonies, I’m less likely to wear a jacket than I am when portraying a Loyalist refugee from New York, where the Dutch influence was much more apparent with the wearing of jackets and chintz prints. Therefore, my search also includes context and if I can’t find something online, I may locate the reference I seek in either a local library, my own library, or if I’m lucky, in a primary source document written in the period (such as a ship’s manifest, a letter, a portrait or period illustration, etc.), or an actual museum garment with provenance. I generally make collages of photos to document fabric, color, and style once I find the appropriate references.
Here is the first example: The primary source for my gown below is an original gown from the Snowshill Collection that now resides in the National Trust Collection in Gloucestershire, UK. The secondary source is Bradfield, Nancy Sayer Costume in Detail 1730-1930 (pp. 33-34). Bradfield’s book describes the gown and two stomachers as being made from “bright mustard-yellow fine woolen cloth”, and dates the gown broadly as made/worn sometime between 1755-75. The National Trust Collection’s website further describes the gown content as linen, silk, wool. The lining is made from white linen and the fashion fabric is a silk/wool blend. This type of material was more common in the 18th-century than we can find today, so my copy with the second stomacher made by accomplished seamstress Wendy Strawn (sometimes I make my own clothing and sometimes I don’t) is made from a darker mustard yellow wool broadcloth. At the time that Wendy and I were consulting on the gown, the original photos were not yet available on the National Trust website and we didn’t know for certain what color the gown actually was, nor did we know the exact fabric content.
The second example is almost cheating…I found my documentation on the Duran Textiles website. The original fabric is from a Swedish “short gown” or jacket and Duran Textiles copied the fabric and reproduced it in several colorways. Since red is my color, I chose the red rather than the original brown colorway. This was an expensive fabric, so at the time the budget only allowed for me to get a discounted remnant (or gremlin as my Grandmum’s friend used to call it) that was just enough for a jacket. I can wear this one when I portray a Loyalist refugee fleeing from NY to Canada. The jacket style (sorry I didn’t include a photo of that in my collage) was taken from Arnold, Janet Patterns of Fashion 1, Englishwomen’s Dresses and their Construction, c. 1660-1860, (p. 26, view C). The book states that the original jacket, again from the Snowshill Collection, was dated 1760-70 though the original cuffs are the larger ones, fashionable earlier in the century. Therefore, I chose to make my cuffs smaller and I don’t even think they were attached yet in the photo below. I made the jacket using the “lapped seam” technique found in Baumgarten, Linda & Watson, John, Costume Close-Up, Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790 (pp. 39-42), even though the actual jacket in that publication is a different one. I also made a copy of that jacket in a lightweight blue and green on white India block-print fabric (not shown).
Another reference to this original jacket can be found on A Fashionable Frolick ‘s website.
I could go on and on with these little collages…but I’ll spare you. Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments. Also, check out my Pinterest if you dare (you’ve been warned!). Who knows, some day I might be motivated to fix it!