The Ladies' Tea Guild

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dickens Fair costuming for women: Part 4 -- the collar and neckline.

young woman from San Francisco in the 1860s. Sense & Sensibility.
Again, when looking for a blouse to make into a bodice, choose one that has a high jewel neckline, fold-down or Peter Pan type collar or the stand-up mandarin type. These were, by far, the most common necklines on day dress bodices during Dickens' career. If your blouse bodice has a stand-up Mandarin collar, pointed, turn-down collar or rounded, Peter Pan collar, you can leave it as is, and just pin a brooch or ribbon bow at the top button when you wear it.

If you have a white button-down shirt that has a collar, however, you can cut the collar off of the business shirt, cut the collar off of the blouse bodice, and replace it with the white collar from the business shirt. That will give you the look of wearing a white linen collar, which was much more common than wearing colored collars. You have to sew it on, though, as glue and safety pins would not only be very visible so close to your face, but also be uncomfortable. Tuck all raw fabric edges (cut edge of fabric where it frays) to the inside of the neckline and make sure they're fastened down and hidden.

If you can't find a suitable thrift store blouse with a collar, to make into a bodice, then you can use certain collar-less blouse styles. If the blouse bodice has a high jewel neckline with no collar, you can use that same collar from a white thrift-store business shirt, sewing or safety-pinning it inside the neckline so that only the fold-down part of the collar, and not the band that buttons around the neck, is visible. If you like, you can also try a narrow lace collar, especially white crochet or delicate white lace, rather than ecru or other colors, or Battenburg lace; Michael's craft stores sometimes carry them, but also try to find one that is only 1 or 2 inches wide, since that was the fashionable collar size in the mid-Victorian era. The huge sailor collars, or large Battenburg lace collars should be saved for a different project, since they came around -- for adult women's clothing -- much later than the 1860s, and they're one of the things that really shout "modern" when on a Victorian costume!

If the blouse bodice has a turned back (with revers, like a camp shirt), V or squared neckline, it needs what was called a "guimpe" or "habit shirt" underneath. Visible decolletage on the street is not an appropriate look for a "decent" woman! To get this look, you should wear a modern white “dickie” with a Peter Pan style collar underneath, or cut off the upper part of a collared white shirt, including the shoulders, upper chest and collar, and wear it underneath your blouse bodice as a "dicky". Pin it inside the neckline of the blouse (make sure the pins don’t show!) so that it doesn't shift around as you wear it, and make sure all skin is covered. Accessorize with a simple, delicate brooch or grosgrain ribbon bow safety-pinned in place, and you're on your way!

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)