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, most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015


That’s a play on words as I haven’t actually left for Williamsburg, VA, yet but it’s only 21 more days till I leave and 5 days after that I’ll be presenting my program on bloomer gowns at the ALHFAM conference at the William & Mary College.  
 A few things have changed since this first came up last November when I was asked to co-present a class with a contact I had at John Hopkins University, who had originally helped me with information on Amelia Bloomer, and introduced me around on the internet to various historical societies in search of the elusive bloomer gowns. We spent months emailing back and forth planning our class and sending the proposal to the conference committee. It wasn’t until the end of February that we heard it was accepted, and then I had to scramble to apply for a Fellowship or pay a large amount of money to attend it. That was a surprise to me, since I thought I was just coming to do the class. Although in retrospect now, I found out I could have actually done that, but the process of applying for the Fellowship, and writing a resume for myself, and then asking around for any recommendations from my contacts, was a surprising, humbling, and uplifting experience. Even better, it was accepted and I was awarded the Fellowship. So now it was really real.
Last month we began in earnest to pull together our information and bounce ideas around of what order to speak, and what to speak about or not. It seemed to be getting confusing to me, and it was hard, being as she was on the East coast, and phone calls with her had no continuity in her ideas. I was starting to wonder if I wasn’t as educated as she was, and was doubting how this was going to work. During one email we were “arguing” over the center point of our talk, where she wanted Amelia Bloomer as the focus, whereas I wanted the bloomer gowns to be. In our last email I had sent her my resume, and the two recommendations I’d received to send in for my Fellowship, since I hadn’t done that before. Shortly after that I picked up my mail and had the Fellowship check in my hand, a goodly amount. Yes!! Not more than 15 minutes later, I received an email from her saying, “I’m sorry, something has come up. I’m unable to present, nor attend the conference. You’ll be fine on your own.”  No explanation, and nothing further. What?? What just happened?? No!!
In the following hours, I was panicked. After all this work, and nothing? I was embarrassed. It was already announced on the ALHFAM conference website. I couldn’t let them down. How would that make me look? I wailed on Facebook with my friends, and got so much support and encouragement that yes, I COULD still do this on my own. I contacted the Program Director, who had also received a terse email from my co-presenter without any explanation, and told her I could still do this but needed some changes made to the class description. When I had seen the measly two sentence class description in the online program my former co-presenter had written, I was again embarrassed comparing it to the wonderful ones others had written for theirs.  And sadly we wouldn’t have the extant bloomer gown from New York that my co-presenter was going to bring down with her. The Director was very helpful and said it could be done but had to be done quickly. So I sent this in, and am proud of it, although it was too late to change the title that was originally given to them.


Valarie LaBore, San Diego Costume Guild & San Diego History Center
There are only two known extant examples of mid-19th century bloomer dresses in the U.S. This session will explore their history and function, and the story behind the interesting women who wore them and made history. Beginning as a dress reform and symbol of women’s rights in the 1850s, bloomers influenced future dress styles and gave freedom to women in the following decades. Styles included fashionable dresses to those worn working in the home and in the fields. A surprising number of real photographs showing women dressed in them will be shared.  Come and hear the story of the one recreated from the San Diego History Center’s collection, and get a hands-on look at the dress. *An extant bloomer gown may be on exhibit if available*

In the original description, she had only said “two known extant examples of mid-19th c. bloomers”. And we all know people are already saying, “Wait! There’s lots of bloomer examples out there!” I came across that problem a lot while doing my search. She didn’t clarify that we were talking about bloomer DRESSES, not underwear, as that term came in later referring to them. I’m also proud of the fact that I fit in them being worn working in the home and fields, as this group is comprised of living history museums, and many are homes and farms.
So I began to re-group and re-do the slideshow I’d been working on, trying to figure out how to extend it another 45 minutes on my own. A few days later, the Calvary arrived in the form of Jody Luce from Peterboro, NY, a well-known person who portrays Elizabeth Smith Miller, the original “bloomer lady”. Jody and I had spent a lot of time conversing back and forth a few years ago when I first began researching the bloomer gowns and had a lot of information that she shared with me. She said she would be able to bring the extant bloomer gown down from the Cortland Historical Society, and would bring one of her ladies, Melanie Martin, from her “Bloomer Brigade” to help support me. I was able to get permission from the Program Director for that.
 As we talked, we began to realize that she would be a great replacement for my missing partner, and in my opinion now, an even better one. So I sent in an all new description that would include Jody and the extant gown.     *Jody’s Bloomer Brigade in Peterboro, NY*
I was also asked to represent our San Diego History Center and can include that and their logo in my title and business cards that I’ll be handing out. I also received flyers from the Center to bring with me. Heck, this was getting better all the time!
Jody and I had to wait a few weeks to hear back from the Program Director on all these changes, as she had to bring it before the entire board. But we were successful, and things are on track again. Jody and one of her “Bloomer Brigade” ladies are driving down from NY, and will be staying with us a couple days at our timeshare in Williamsburg, but will only be there for the one class that day.
We began reworking what we would be speaking on, and as confusing as the first time was, this time it seems perfectly clear to me. She knows more about ES Miller, and Amelia, and the dress reform movement than I do. Then we move into the historical slideshow of real photos showing women wearing them; then my story behind the bloomer pattern and the extant gown in San Diego. At the end we’ll be inviting the class attendees up to view the extant gown and my re-creation of the San Diego bloomer. Sooooo much easier this time.

I decided I need to include these two photos of Jody and I. They were taken at different times when we did our bloomer presentations on opposite coasts but the chances of us both wearing a walking boot on our left leg was just hilarious! 
Next up is doing some repairs on my original bloomer gown that had some errors in construction, since at the time I didn’t have a complete pattern to work off of, or directions. I didn’t know how to do dog-leg closures with the bodice and skirt attached to each other, and since I didn’t want to sew individual hooks and eyes all the way down the front of the bodice, I did a cheat and used hook & eye tape. Except I didn’t know how to do that either. I hand-sewed it to the underside of the front flaps and not in the seams like you’re supposed to. I thought I could repair that but realized there was no way I could open up the seams now with all the trim sewn on. So I took the tape off and am now sewing those period correct hooks & eyes on. And I “solved” the problem I had of the watch pocket that was too far back on the side-seam to be functional. Now that I had a complete pattern with directions I discovered I had it on the wrong side-seam. There is another seam closer to the front, and I had sewn the regular pocket there. So I took them out and reversed their positon.
I thought I would have to make new bloomer pants for my brown cotton outfit that I’m going to be wearing since the legs were too short but after trying them on and doing a bit of finagling on the cuffs, they are now wide enough to go over my boot tops as they should. I’ll get to wear my new Robert Land black boots, and I found a straw hat I like better to wear but it needs some trim put on it. 
On top of all this, Costume College is looming ahead, and I had at least three things I wanted to make for it. I have one just barely started, and definitely need to finish that for our Polka Dot Parade theme some of us are doing. I may end up wearing my 1914 purple plaid cotton dress that’s almost done, and I have another 1905 outfit that was close to being done, so maybe that should be yelling for some conclusion and be worn too. I doubt there will be anything fancy made for Gala night. I’m losing the two weeks I’ll be in Williamsburg and am just too slow to do much else. So I’ll be digging in my closet for something.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

FASHION SHOW: A Day in the Life of Queen Victoria; 1837-1900

This past weekend I put on another fashion show for the Alpine Women’s Club fundraising tea after being asked last year if we would do it again. Well of course we would! But I wanted to come up with another theme rather than just the usual timeline. I have a folder that I write ideas down for future themes, and one of them was life during Queen Victoria’s time. It would somehow have to relate to the changing dress styles but also include what was going on with the ladies during that time. And it would be during Queen V’s reign of 1837-1900, so the dress styles would be in that time period.
I’m a big fan of Downton Abbey so that came into play also. In my mind I pictured the manor house with visitors, parties, and of course the butler. The first “educational” bit I wanted to put in was about the use of calling cards, and having the butler announce each visitor/model as they arrived with their calling card. The various activities the upper class ladies would do in the home besides visiting or receiving friends, were included too, like afternoon tea, needlework, reading, and painting. And later there would be a scene in the dressing room where new styles of dress and millinery would be shown using fashion plates, and of course live models. Since my plan this time was to have “scenes” and have the ladies stay onstage and seated each time after their presentation, I could only put five of us at the most on the small stage at a time.

I looked through Pinterest for photos of Victorian parlours to give me an idea of how I wanted the stage decorated. Even though Victorian is usually busy with lots of niknaks, I needed to keep it a little more sparse so as not to distract from the models. This was my idea I went off of; a small round table that would hold teapot and teacups, and a large poster I purchased of Queen Victoria and mounted on poster board. And I pulled out some Boston ferns and containers I had stored away for some greenery. For the dressing room scene, we would replace the tea items with a bonnet and a couple fashion plates.

While setting everything up the day before the show, I walked to the back of the room to see how it looked and if everything was visible from there, and then took multiple photos, moving things around until I was satisfied. Except I didn’t like how plain the table was looking. Originally I was offered a Tiffany lamp to put there, but I was afraid we would knock it over moving around with our big skirts, or stepping on a tablecloth, so I declined it. I ended up putting a vase together with peacock feathers to place there. If I’d had more time I would have looked for a cheap Chinese vase but at a distance this would suffice. I thought this was very Victorian.

We all remembered last year at this time, it had been 105d during our set-up, and the next day “cooled” down to 95d. So we were not at all unhappy that this year it was raining, and would only be 63d the day of the show.
I spent about a month writing drafts of the narration for this show, including all the ladies dress descriptions. Since we only have a half hour I have to keep the descriptions to 1- 1 1/2 mins each, and I time myself reading each one to make sure I can get it all into the time limit. It also has to flow into each transition.
We have a wonderful gentleman we’re able to use during the show, our Narrator Nancy’s husband, Russell, who helps us off and on the stage, and this year I wanted him to be included even more. For the beginning of the first scene, Nancy, began with her husband, Russell, arriving in his butler ensemble she had made for him. Russell brought out the teapot and placed it on the table, then Nancy described a butler’s duties and his outfit. Since I was the only one available with an 1830s dress, I came out as the lady of the house.  I wore my 1834 Persimmon dress. After doing my twirl, I sat at my table and poured myself tea. Then my first “visitor” arrived, -“Mrs. Lakin, Madame”.  Robin was wearing her red and brown 1850s dress. After her twirl, she sat at my table and I poured her tea. Afternoon tea history was explained by Nancy. From there, after each lady’s dress was described, they were to sit on a chair and pick up the “activity” that Nancy would describe. The next visitor was Karen, in her red & black late 1850s dress, whose activity of reading in the home was described as she read from a small book after she sat in her chair. Next was Sarah in her 1860s cream and black gown. She brought her own needlework she was working on, and sat doing it as it was described. My final “visitor” was Birda, in her cream and pink 1870s dress, and she demonstrated painting and sketching.
At this point five of us were seated onstage at once, and I think it gave the audience much longer to see and admire all the gowns. We then exited as Nancy announced we would now enter the dressing room. Cindy arrived in the latest Paris fashion of 1870s in her blue and white Seaside dress. At the table she began looking at fashion plates, as Nancy described how the latest fashions were shown to women using magazines and ads. The next “fashion plate”, Trudy, arrived wearing her 1870s white and pink flower Tissot dress. Now looking at a millinery fashion plate, as the next model April arrived in her green and pink 1880s bustle, and wearing her new bonnet. To segue into women outside the home, our model, Terri, arrived wearing her navy blue 1890s bicycling outfit. And finally I was able to work Nancy into the fashion show theme, wearing her 1890s claret walking suit.
With it being hectic as usual, I forgot to hand my camera to someone in the audience and ask them to take photos of us onstage. I still hope that some photos show up at some point, but we did get one of all of us standing onstage afterwards. Then we stepped off the stage and wandered among the tables so the ladies could get a close look at our dresses. Everyone looked so beautiful. 

Afterwards we were served our own tea at a couple of the tables, and then waited backstage for an hour until the next show. Notice I didn’t hand my camera to anyone for photos of me? Goes with the territory of being a busy manager.  

After that show, we all walked outside to the back area and took photos of each other. And, nope, none of me here either but I know Trudy took some of me. 

And look, photos have been popping up that I'm in! These are from Trudy, who was also one of the models. Proof that I was dressed and in the show! 

And these are a couple beautiful group photos she took of us. *Thank you, Trudy!*

Now I have four weeks until I leave for Williamsburg, and do my presentation on bloomer gowns at the ALHFAM conference. I had a major snafoo when my co-presenter, who had originally proposed doing it with me, and was bringing an extant bloomer gown down from New York, suddenly and with no explanation, dropped out. Just like that. After a few days of panic, I regrouped, and contacted the Programming Director and told them I would still do this but needed to change a few things. One of course was the description of the class, which the two sentence one my former presenter had written embarrassed me after seeing the other ones being presented. I wrote a much more descriptive one and then got a new co-presenter!  Jody Luce, who portrays the original bloomer lady, Elizabeth Smith Miller, in Peterboro, NY, said she would do it with me, and she could bring the extant bloomer gown with her. *BIG SMILE!*
All of this was approved by the Programming Committee, and they're currently changing the program book. So now Jody and I are going to start working to put our presentation together. And the topper to this: I’ve been asked to represent the San Diego History Center and use their logo on my slide and my business card while there.