This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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Past President & member of the San Diego Costume Guild, and Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of it.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle. And I've dabbled in some 1930s & 40s. I also cater English tea parties.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Two Fashion Shows and a Costume Parade

Since I last posted, I’ve been in two fashion shows and a costume parade, which technically could be called a fashion show too. My costumes are mostly repeats and I’m happy to get more use out of them. And there’s soooo many people out there to show them off to. In the meantime I’m learning more about being in fashion shows and also running them. Stayed tuned because I have plans of writing a little more extensive post on doing all that and hopefully others can use the same information for theirs.

On March 22 I was in my 4th fashion show in Port Townsend, WA during the Victorian Festival. The Festival is an annual fund raiser for their historical society, and the money raised from the fashion show goes to a student scholarship. They mostly have a series of events inside buildings but there are some tours around town too. It’s not a street fair-type event. I always enjoy working with these ladies and we’ve been pulling in new models each year from the various costume groups and I think it’s getting better each time.

The Festival theme was historical/military and all I could come up with was my 1896 Seaside gown for that. Due to still getting over the flu, & having a death in the family shortly before I was flying up there, I would have been happy with only having to deal with one costume. But the director begged me to wear a second gown so I threw in my 1875 Green Tartan bustle gown at the last minute. I decided this would give me an option of having something warm to wear if the cotton gown would send chills through me.
I always enjoy taking photos backstage while we’re getting ready, and this year was no exception.


*NOTE TO SELF: You know how to take “selfie” photos and you never get in these, so start taking selfies.*
My friend Marilyn sat in the front row with my Mom and took some really nice photos of everyone but it was hard because many didn’t stand still long enough for a good photo.
I had a major foopah just before the show. While I was out and about in town shopping in my green Tartan gown, my train got caught on a door hinge as I went out the door of one shop and it ripped the side seam out and pulled all the ties loose that were holding up my bustle and train. *sob* So while I was getting ready in the dressing room, everyone came to the rescue with safety pins, and Julie even had a sewing kit. So we got me pinned back together just in time and no one knew the difference. I was planning on taking my hat off to show how I made it, so while the narrator was speaking I pulled out my hat pin ahead of time so I could be ready. Except when I looked down, my hat slid forward off my head. That dress was just not having a good day.

My next outfit, the 1896 Seaside dress, went off without a hitch, and it’s by far my favorite. I ended up wearing it the next day too while doing the tour of the historic buildings with my friends, Linda and Joanie. Linda, who used to be a member of our San Diego Costume Guild, and now lives in Colorado, had come up here with her hubby and they were both in the fashion show too.             

 We did something new this year and everyone came out at the end to have some group photos on the stage. That’s not as easy as it sounds getting everyone settled down and not moving.

Back home in California, next up was the fashion show at the Chula Vista Women’s Club on April 5. This was a smaller venue and was all members of our SD Costume Guild who were in it. I can’t find any photos of the building but it’s an old Spanish style building. I was the backstage manager for this show, along with being a model. And being crazy once again, 6 of us were wearing two costumes.  
We were served a nice lunch with all the guests prior to the show, and then we headed backstage to change. And of course I took “in-progress” photos.


Now here’s a funny part, and I actually caught it in a mirror shot of one of the photos I took and cropped out. As Backstage Manager I was making sure everyone was dressed and ready to go, and was walking around taking photos. Then Cindy said “where is your hat? Where’s your wig?”  :O  I was so busy with everyone else; I’d gotten dressed but forgotten that. 

You can also see my Line Up list posted on the mirror of each person so they can see what position they are and what they’re supposed to be wearing. I also drew a quick map of our route on the stage and onto the main floor and exit.
I wore my 1896 Seaside gown first, then Cindy and I both wore our “matching” 1875 Tartan gowns as the finale and did “twinsey” stuff on stage. That was a lot of fun, and a different way to end the show.
We saw lots of people taking our photos and handed our cards out in hopes of getting some but so far all we’ve gotten are these two of our final line-up after the show.

Edited to add: Just got a couple more photos of me, and Cindy and I from the show. And you get a good view of the interior of the room.  


And finally, April 13 was our English Authors & Characters Parade at Balboa Park in San Diego.
This was kind of a repeat of what we did last year during their House of England Day at the International Cottages when we “crashed” their event dressed as English authors or characters from their books. We had our picnic prior to it and then paraded around their central lawn area, and then were asked to also walk across the stage during another event going on at the Organ Pavilion. This year we were actually invited to be part of it and to have a costume parade onstage at the lawn party.
We each wrote a short description of our character for them to read to the audience. Some of them were groups of characters from one book, others were just individuals.  My character was Jane Eyre and I wrote:  “Author Charlotte Bronte introduced us to her heroine, Jane Eyre, in her book by the same name. The book is part fairytale, part Gothic horror, and part love story.  Jane was an orphan and was sent to a strict boarding school by her uncaring relatives. There she grew up with strong moral values and intelligent learning, although she lived in poverty. She brought herself up to be a governess in a great house, and later a teacher. In Bronte’s book, Jane also fell in love with her employer, Edward Rochester, but soon realizes that both he and his dark shadowy mansion hide a terrible secret. But you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened. “ My original plans were to make a new 1840s dress for this but what with everything that was going on, I had to fall back on my 1830s dress I'd worn at Dickens. 
This photo was funny because Jerry Abuan caught us right after I had rubbed the White Rabbit’s fluffy white tail in front of me and he felt it.

I’d bought an oversized paperback copy of Jane Eyre to carry and identify myself with. My intent was to find a young lady around age 13-15 who maybe showed some interest in my character and give the book to her. I also inscribed the front page of it about this event.   
After our parade onstage we were all wandering back to the House of England building and I was looking around for a young girl. I spotted one walking down the walkway with her father and went over to them. I asked her father if his daughter liked to read. She was nodding and he said she loves to read, we were just heading over to the library. I then noticed that she was a Down’s child. I told her I wanted to give her my book of Jane Eyre and hoped she would enjoy reading it. I opened the book up and showed her the inscription. “Given to you at the House of England Day and our English Authors & Characters Parade by Miss Jane Eyre (portrayed by Val LaBore of the San Diego Costume Guild) in hopes that you enjoy reading it.” 
Her father read it to her and she smiled at me. He then asked if he could take our photo, and I said yes please, and could you send it to me?   Today I received that photo and finally am able to finish this entry.

  Now I have a two week rest before the next two fashion shows in May.       ~~Val~~

  See more of Jerry’s photos of the event 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do You Participate in Historical Fashion Shows?

I don't claim to be an expert on fashion shows but have been in quite a few, averaging about 6-8 a year, and have produced a couple. So I have some experience and decided to share that since I get asked questions about it.
First, from the writer/producer/director's standpoint: it's time consuming, sometimes tedious, and like pulling teeth to get the information you need to carry on. My favorite term to describe this is like “herding cats”. Besides being the sheep herder, I've been one of those “cats”.
Once you've picked a theme, with the easiest being a time line of historical costume, you need to gather the ladies that want to be in your show, or can be coerced to be in it. Then comes the hard part; getting descriptions of their costumes, and hopefully you might have some that know how to write their descriptions into a narrative that can be read and be entertaining to the audience. Most of the time you will be the writer. Its your show and you have the controls but I'm sure it helps immensely to have another writer. You first need to know what their gowns and accessories are. Because I've worn some of my gowns multiple times, I keep a file with the descriptions so I can just use those again.

I'm currently organizing a fashion show for next month for a womens club, with a fashion time line, and asked for dress descriptions of the models. Blue Victorian gown with gloves and jewelry doesn't take you very far. So I wrote up a questionnaire for them to fill out. Until now I was only sharing this with my friends who run fashion shows or are in them but decided it wasn't a state secret and many of my costume readers have themselves been in them and would benefit from it. Its not copyrighted so feel free to share this and add to it to fit your needs.
  1. Year of dress (approximate if not know but with a time span like 1900-1908)
  2. Pattern used (if known)
  3. Fabrics used & color/colors (if known)
  4. Trims on dress (types and show where)
  5. Style of dress (type of bodice/ skirt/ overskirt/ bustle/ neckline & sleeve shape/ men's jacket and pants.
  6. Underpinnings worn with skirt (hoop skirt/ corded petticoat/ multi-petticoats/ bustle/ pannier)
  7. What or when would it be worn for? (day time/ dinner or evening/ ball gown/ promenade/recreation)
  8. Bonnet/ hat/ or head cover (style, shape, materials, color, trims used)
  9. Accessories worn (parasol, gloves, jewelry, watch-- describe them)
  10. Anything you'd like the audience to know about your dress- did you make it, your first attempt, favorite pattern, for a specific event)
  11. If possible, include a photo of your dress or you in it, so the narrator has a visual reminder of what you're wearing. 
At the end tell a little bit about yourself- are you in a guild or costume group? How long have you been doing this? Are you a docent? But make it short unless your narrator needs to lengthen it. The entire description shouldn't be longer than one minute.    
 For the narrative portion of the show, if you have a theme that tells a story, the description can fit into that, such as women's activities. For the one I'm in this coming weekend, in Port Townsend, WA, I decided to write my description for my Seaside gown that would include a name of a recognizable street in the area. So my narrative ran something like “you might see this lady walking down Water Street in her Seaside gown”. But it was pointed out to me that a “lady” wouldn't have been walking on Water Street unless she was looking for business. Ooops. So that portion is going to be corrected for the show. But I thought that might be fun to include street names like that, especially in an historical area. There are many ideas you can use for the narrative instead of just a dress description. Little vignettes are fun too. A group of ladies sitting around a table, gossiping, playing cards, or drinking tea, and each takes a turn on the stage as her description is read. We've been lucky sometimes to be on a stage that plays have been put on and are able to use their props. Other times we've provided a couple props but this only works if you have someone in charge of them and can set them up. That's too much to ask of your producer and models.

Our guild doesn't charge for providing fashion shows but we do usually ask that we be fed with something light. It doesn't have to be fancy, and most of us prefer to have it set in back as a buffet where we are so we can eat at will when we have a moment.

It helps the director/narrator to have a backstage manager to keep everything moving in a timely manner. Have a couple copies printed out of the lineup, in LARGE PRINT as some of us won't have our glasses on, and post it near the area where you line up to go out. The manager should also keep the director/narrator up to date if there are any last minute changes to the line up so you don't describe any ghosts onstage, or the wrong person. An idea that came up at the last show I was in was the director/narrator had the description of the model along with a photo of the dress on it so she could immediately see she had the right one.
 Along with your manager, it REALLY helps if you have someone that can volunteer to be a dresser and help the models get dressed, or with last minute emergencies. Hopefully they're familiar with wearing corsets and other historical garments so she has experience with the unusual clothes we wear. She should be prepared with a sewing kit with lots of safety pins.

If food is not something that's available then the organizer of our group will bring water and something for nibbling on. We don't want to have anyone fainting on us. Believe it or not, its hard work getting in and out of these dresses. At one show a couple of us volunteered to bring some fruit, meat slices, little finger sandwiches, and deviled eggs for our buffet.

BE READY AND DRESSED ON TIME. While you're dressing, keep your voices down. Guaranteed those in the audience will most likely be able to hear everything from backstage.
Here's my favorite tip for the models: carry a prop. Having something in your hand to do something with, rather than just walking around. This especially helps the Nervous Nellies or first timers. I feel like I have gorilla arms with them just hanging there. I've used a parasol, and even opened it up onstage, and once carried a hankie and bouquet of flowers when I was the weeping Miss Havisham of Great Expectations. But remember you may be removing your bonnet or shawl, lifting your skirt to show off petticoats, etc, or any number of things to point out parts of your gown, so don't overextend yourself.
BE READY AND DRESSED ON TIME. Nothing screws up a show more than when someone is late or not ready. Some of us are crazy enough to wear two or even three outfits in a show, so they have a bit of an excuse.
It really helps if you can have a gentleman “dressed to the nines” that can help you up stairs onto the stage or down the stairs if you have them, or even walk you out onto the stage to be different. His job is to listen to the narrator and when its time for you to step out, he takes your hand. If you don't have one, then your backstage manager is in charge of making sure you are ready to go out on time.
I don't wear my glasses when I'm wearing my costumes, so I'm almost entirely dependent on the manager or our gentleman to let me know the narrator is nodding at me to come out. If you are lined up with the other models, you can always ask the one behind you to prod you on, but make sure they're paying attention.  
When you walk out on stage be careful of your skirts if you're walking up steps, head to the center and stop. Let them get a good look at you. SMILE! Then SLOWLY walk from end to end of the front of the stage and stop at each end so they can take photos of you. Try and stay near the front. The lighting may not be good near the back, and you want some good photos of yourself too. Go back to center stage and slowly turn so they can see all of you. LISTEN TO THE NARRATOR. If she's describing a part of your dress or hat, move your hand to indicate that portion. If its a large stage you may still want to walk to each end so they can see you there. Its your job to check out what the stage and seating looks like and be prepared to work it, girl. It doesn't hurt to flirt with the audience. Turn the back of your dress to them and look over your shoulder saucily at them when its being described.
Remember if you move too quickly they can't take a photo of you.
When the narration is over, and the narrator thanks you, (which is your cue to step down) I often dip a short curtsy to the audience. If the Queen is seated in the front row, that's a requirement.


Monday, March 17, 2014

You Can Learn a Lot from Old Photos. And What are Those Bar Pins?

Right now I'm visiting my Mom up in WA and am making the rounds of the local thrift shops and antique malls. I'm in the Northwest Peninsula so not too many around here but I have my regular stops.
One of my favorite things to look for are old cabinet card photos that show a lot of detail on women's dresses and the accessories they carry. This helps me add to the “realness” of my own costumes.

I have a personal collection of photos saved in my Pinterest album, and save many more that I find online for research.  
Today I wanted to share a “eureka” moment I had this morning. I don't know if I'm right in my conclusions on this particular photo but to me it seems logical. If anyone has any more knowledge on the subject, and can tell me my conclusions are right or wrong, please tell me.
This is the cabinet card I bought today. What attracted me to it at first was the clarity of details on it. The puffy sleeves and hairstyle tell me it's 1890s.
I liked the open lapel on her bodice and the very large buttons. It fits snugly at her neck being closed by a narrow brooch. At first I thought the little pointy thing in her bun was some kind of decorative stick, but after looking at it with a large magnifying glass I realized it was a hair comb, quite fashionable in this time period, but I was seeing it from a side view. You can still see a little bit of the flat front though. The white shaded area over her top button appeared to possibly be a scratch but could also be something hanging. Again the magnifying glass showed two chains, one possibly being a watch chain, hanging from a pin just above the top button. Closer inspection with the magnifying glass also showed the bar pin at her neck is what was keeping the collar closed. Hmmmm.... this got me thinking. Putting little button holes in those things is hard. Could this possibly be what all those little bar pins I see in antique shops what they used to close their collars instead of a button and buttonhole? I know there are some that do have them but maybe for a time this is what they used? I have little to no knowledge of bar pins. And now inquiring minds want to know.
These are a couple bar pins I found online. They can be plain bars, with some filigree, with little pearls, with fancy stones, or expensive stones. I looked at a few today in the antique mall and they were sterling silver and some gold ones, and they ran from $120-$150. I know I've seen them less expensive, and for costuming, they don't have to be real. I've seen them measuring from one inch to three inches across, and from very narrow to larger and more elaborate. 

I've often come across mourning bar pins. I saw a set of four 1 inch long plain black ones that were probably for a family, and the tiny pearl often denotes the loss of a child.
Seeing as I didn't find any in my “costumer's budget” today I went shopping online on etsy and ebay, mostly for photos for this blog, but also to check prices. Oh, and I bought myself a birthday present. Yes, my birthday was on Friday so I'm entitled. Its identified as 1880s gold filled filigree with a rose cut garnet. It's two and a half inches long. It was $26, well within my costumer's budget.
I remember having a bar pin that I wore in high school that had a row of pearls on it that was made by the jewelry company, 1928 Jewelry, who are currently making the reproduction Downton Abbey jewelry. I loved my bar pin and probably only paid $5 for it. I'm hoping I still have it but I won't know until I get home and dig around in my jewelry box. *Keeping my fingers crossed*
And now that we've all been sidetracked, let's get back to those cabinet cards. This is my favorite one so far, also found in the antique mall up here a couple years ago. Its around 1910 and she has LOTS of accessories. Her hat may look strange, but its mostly that big curved feather on top. She has a rather simple dress but she's added the lacy guimpe (under blouse) to it, gloves, parasol, purse, brooch, and to top it off, the magnificent hat. The first time I saw her purse I thought, oh, it doesn't have to be a drawstring purse.
This one has 1906 written on the back and I liked it for the button decorations she has on her bodice, and contrasting color on her lapels. And she's wearing glasses. I wear glasses so this is helpful too. 
I like to find ones that gives me ideas for different trims and this one's sleeve cuffs caught my eye. They have a couple rows of ruching, and there's a lot of it on the front of her bodice, along with a ruffly neckline and under sleeves. I can't tell the exact date because I can't see most of the skirt so I'm placing it around the late 1870s into the 80s with the bustling in the back.
These were two more I picked up today, both only $4-$5. This young girl is so obviously from the 1890s with the big ole humongous watermelon-sized sleeves. They're almost as whacko as the ones in the early 1830s. I prefer the smaller poofs with the straight sleeves in the early 90s. Also distinctive was the bow at the back of her neck. I haven't done much costuming in the 90s so I'm just starting to notice these. And I've been noticing how buttons were often used as trims, and not just for closures.
This group of young ladies, probably from the early 1900s, who look so much like a group of students, are the epitome of how I first started dressing when my interest in costuming started. White lacy blouse, long skirt, and pretty jewelry. And here you can see the different kinds of lace trim. Also the Costumer's Guild West (CGW) that I'm a member of in Los Angeles just this past weekend had a Gibson Girl and Boy Golf Event and I thought of them when I saw this. The little colored bows at the necks are precious.
If you have a chance to go check out my collection on Pinterest, I've detailed those in writing of what I could see with my magnifying glass too. Also books such as Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa, and Victorian & Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey by Alison Gernsheim, are great visual helps too.
Happy Hunting!                          ~~Val~~