Thursday, 9 April 2009

Next research project: operation Do You Understand Muslins, Sir?

Forty-two essays, one book review, and seven days from today, I'm going to a Jane Austen shindig in our nation's capital. (My exquisite husband will be accompanying me: he's going to pretend he's read those novels, he says.) The shindig is extensive and elaborate and mainly, indeed, entirely appears to revolve around getting dressed up and pretending you are Lizzy. I don't know how much of four days' worth of dancing, embroidering, card playing, swordfighting etc I'll be able to cope with. But as long as I can manage a couple of days that's probably enough: the main purpose of the visit is to meet and get to know some Austen / costume enthusiasts, and to invite them to be interviewed about how they see the relationship between the re-enactor suite of activities, and the novel-reader set of experiences. Stephanie's work on medievalism and Gothic in Australian culture amply demonstrates that there's a great deal more to this kind of reworking than the eccentricities that meet the eye.

In the spirit of disposing of the last few lingering shreds in my soul of cool and scholarly disdain for the reading practices of the hoi polloi, I am going to do two things quite frightening to me: dress up in Jane Austen clothes, and attempt to dance. In other words, I'm joining in, and I hope this will cure me once and for all of using words like freaks in my conversation to describe Regency re-enactors. (I managed not to call them freaks or weirdos on the ethics application, though, so I'm getting better.) I'm uncertain which to be more scared about, the dancing or the gowning, and that's good thing because it means I can alternately fixate on whichever is temporarily less anxiety-inducing.

Dancing is particularly hard for me because I have severe left-right confusion and can't follow spoken directions; nor can I imitate the movements of somebody who is facing me. Yes, I AM aware that this makes me Mr Collins. And thanks to Lost In Austen, this means that whenever I go the wrong way or tread on somebody's feet I'll be picturing Mr C. sniffing his fingers.

Not much can be done about that now, but, ladies (and gentlemen if you are interested in these things) you could help me decide what to do about the gown. Here's the pattern I've got:

I need to decide whether to do the long sleeves or the short, and the high neck or the low.

For an evening dress it should really be short sleeves / low neck. But vanity whispers in my ear that this is the combo that makes you look more like 'the fat girls with short noses that so disturbed [Austen] at the 1st. Ball' than is strictly necessary. There is also the 'expensively & nakedly dress'd' judgment Austen intimidatingly passed on some poor woman of her acquaintance. But neither do I specially want to dress up as a Mormon wife. I also wonder how much trimming and of what kind to put on the dress. Too much is Mrs Elton angling most awfully for compliments. Not enough is, well, Anne De Bourgh. If only Trinny and Susannah were here to decide for me. The fabric I've got is the most plausible Regency-esque stuff I could find for $5/m. It's a sort of Wedgwood blue silk with matt/satin stripes. (I intended to do white - 'a woman can never be too fine while she is all in white', [Edmund Bertram, whose ideas about clothes are certainly not as impeccable as Henry Tilney's] - but I couldn't find any white material that looked sufficiently unmodern). I got a bit of soft old gold rumpled silk that could be a sash and some teal ribbons that could go around the hem. Both would be overkill, so it's one or the other. Opinions sought, especially with links to pictures.


Zoe said...

Oooh, I say teal and short sleeves/low neck. These people will be judging your authenticity, not your arms.

It may also be possible to divert attention in uncomfortable moments by seeking opinions on mens' trousers. Pointing optional.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

I too would go short/low, but I favour the gold, unless the blue looks truly fab with the teal.

Anything here that you can use?

librarygirl said...

Well, your wedding dress was short/low and judging from your blog photos that is a style that really suits you.

I could do the gowning but the idea of the dancing makes me feel all hot and nervous.

Anonymous said...

Short and low would still be less nekkid than your (very lovely) wedding dress, so I say go for it.

I've never liked teal, so I'd run with the gold.

Zoe said...

Well, the teal wedding sash and shoes were a winner and pick up her complexion lovely. Gold would be very pretty, but I think a stronger colour would bring you out more.

db: frinessi

Anonymous said...

Now that you mention it Zoe, my teal prejudice is based pretty much totally on it not looking good on me.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Heh -- I like teal a lot and it's one of my best colours. Oh dear, aren't we shallow. Where is Mrs Elton when you need her?

DB: versol, which sounds like a cross between a poem, a truth serum and a cake of horrible grey soap.

Mel said...

Teal/short sleeves/low neck. The gold will make it too fussy, I think, although I have no idea which would be more 'historically accurate'.

Could you perhaps play the piano and caterwaul à la Mary Bennet?

ThirdCat said...

If it were me, which I realise it is not, but if it were, I'd go the short sleeves and low neckline, but I would be careful when doing the sleeves to try the garment on more than once to make sure the sleeve length was just right. There is, just below the shoulder, a fine line between unbecoming and perfectly fine. This is one of the few things I know about wearing clothes well.

Also, teal rocks. Hardcore fans would disagree, but I think it is the teal that makes Port's guernsey the best guernsey of the best team in the side.

Also, of late, I have joined in many things for which I used to have cool disdain (such as football), and I have found that joining is much more fun. Though the dancing would be me freaking out.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

go short sleeve and low neck, based on your wedding photos you can rock it. and *must* have long gloves. it's the gloves that put the short sleeves into proportion. make sure you get the shoulder width just right, and make the sleeves the right length to leave that sexy gap between sleeve and glove. grrrrowl!

find flat shoes that aren't too slippery, aren't too stiffly-soled and don't go *clack* on a polished floor. real ballet flats are quite nice.

you'll feel dowdy and wrong in the other one once you see what some of the Regency folk get up to. you really don't want a high neck at a ball. not even ol' Mary does that does she? also, I strongly suspect that pattern doesn't put enough material in the skirt, and the dowdy version will just hang like a nightie.

make sure your trim isn't too chunky or flashy. if you're not much into authentic garment recreation (pretty sure that pattern doesn't have instructions for decent undergarments either) then keep it simple but pretty, you'll look lovely. it's the people who go OTT without really knowing what they're doing that look iffy.

at least... that's what I think :-)

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

ps, teal with white would look delicious. what do you have for your petticoats?

livebird said...

Oh goodness, really, there's a choice? Surely you are just taunting us?

The long sleeves and high neck are impossible. You will be choked and you will be straitjacketed.

The short sleeves and low neck are sassy.

Nuff said.

(Oh, and if your silk came from the Darn Cheap $5 bin - SNAP.)

lucy tartan said...

OK, short sleeves and low neck it is, and I'll make up the dress and see what I've got time to do in terms of trims etc.

Speedy - thank you for that excellent advice. You are absolutely right about the gloves. They seem indispensible. Where can I get long gloves without it turning into a multi-hour shopping odyssey, any ideas? The pattern doesn't have underthings instructions, that's right as well. I've got some plain white batiste that I'll make a long plain slip from (hem it shorter later so it's wearable under other dresses.) That will have to do - I haven't got time for the full short stays extravaganza.

Livebird - SNAP is correct! That $5 bin is my friend, surpassed in friendyness only by the $2 table.

lucy tartan said...

Meant to add, Speedy, that I've got a pair of flat silk chinese mary janes with rubber soles. You sound like you have experience with Regency costumers. Interesting. If I can't find enough interview participants at this festival I might call on you to point me towards a few more.

You're right Thirdcat about how good it is to find out you enjoy things that once one would have seemed too daggy or whatever. It's a good way to know you're not dead. I don't know how the dancing is going to go but.

Mags said...

Having done both the dressing-up and the dancing thing, it's really quite fun. And at least here in the U.S. there aren't Regency police going around pointing out that your shoes aren't quite period, so relax and enjoy yourself. And if they offer pre-ball dance classes, TAKE THEM! Otherwise most likely the caller will walk you through the dance, and I dare say you won't be the only inexperienced dancer present.

I always laugh at myself when I see myself all dressed up, gowned, gloved, reticuled, with that all-important Regency accessory, the digital camera, hanging from my wrist. LOL!

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

oh, not in with the Regency crowd, just know the sort from a distance ;-) I hang with some costume types who have pretty sound knowledge in a few areas.

in general you just want to get the basic 'look' without looking out of place, and you will with what you're doing.

gloves: if eBay is your friend, go there, if not, fancy dress/party shops, theatrical supply wholesalers. they'd definitely be in a bridal shop but you'll pay through the nose. Melbourne gets most of the material/accessory imports so you usually get a much nicer range of stuff, and cheaper, than we do. just got to source it.

also: jewellery, often it's better to wear something real and simple, or nothing at all, as opposed to fake, which can look really, really fake. less is more. I don't know how many dresses I've seen (of different time periods) which use beautiful, expensive, appropriate fabric, then go and plonk plastic pearls or an enormous plated crucifix on top.

happy shoes sound good. presumably they'll have a wooden floor... I find dancing is more fun when you know what your shoes are going to do - which is why you don't want them to go CLACK! or fall off, or be slippery - cos that way lies discomfort or embarrassment ;-)

also, making eye contact, smiling, and moving in the general direction hides a multitude of sins!

totally agree with Mags about classes, do go, you learn so much and are often lots of fun.

it sounds a bit like I'm being a fashion nazi, but I'm not. the point is, it's really very easy to blend in and get the basics right once you start using a judicious eye with the shape/profile/accessories etc. we have such a modern eye that we see other eras in a very modern perspective. lots of people (myself included) go OTT when they first attempt playing at grown up dress-ups ;-)

Unknown said...

I'm with the majority, but clearly a bit late. I think you'll look lovely in the short/low/real combo.

Do you need somewhere to stay next weekend? We may have an empty house (and have a spare room regardless). Hotels are expensive in Canberra.

Hil said...

Brave. Very brave. I wonder if there will be too many ladies?

Just Like A Woman said...

Congrats on your wedding, you look radiant and happy...just like a bride should look.
I bought a pair of long gloves at David Jones recently, no doubt Myer would also have them. It sounds like a lot of fun, dancing and all.....just remember you'll not be the only one lacking confidence on the dance floor, no doubt there'll be better dancers, but also much worse I'm sure ;) Look forward to reading all about it soon.....

Penthe said...

Oh, it does sound like fun (of a particular kind). Scally & Trombone in Fitzroy used to sell very nice long gloves. Do they still exist?

Do you think you'll be able to forget your critical self while you are dancing? Self-consciousness is, after all, the worst accessory of all at a ball.

dogpossum said...

If you're going to be dancing and hanging out in crowded rooms, the low neckline/short sleeve option will save your (sweaty) life. BYO fan (of COURSE) because it'll a) cool you down and b) rock. BYO shawl if you suddenly decide you don't want to show so much boob/arm. BYO hankies for sweat blotting/etc: these are essential.

If you are dancing (and you KNOW I WANT you to - I am aching to get all Austenaut-dancey), you have to test-drive your dress/shoes/bra/undies in action. Necklines especially - it'll move about and change shape/drape as you get hot and it warms up (even if you don't sweat much). I find that I need to fit dresses for dancing a little more closely than usual - when it gets hot it gets bigger. So get all hot and sweaty in it first.

Also: safety pins. Bring a million. Bandaids: bring elastaplast you can cut to size for your heels/toes/etc.

And test drive your hair. Do it all recreationist and then test drive it with lots of hot and sweaty dancing. Hair spray is the only safe option, but it's not 'authentic'.
Hair tip: for dancing in recreationist hair dos, make sure you do NOT WASH YOUR HAIR before you do the doo: clean hair is infuriating. Dirty hair is easier to handle. Hair spray or product will cover the smell of dirty hair getting hot.

Oo, this is all too exciting for words! I'm dying of envy!

dogpossum said...

Oh, missed some stuff:
You can get cheap long gloves from spotlight. They're lycra and ok for an emergency, but not for 'good'.

Definitely do any free classes before the ball. They're great for meeting people, getting some skills, test-driving your outfit before you go hardcore, and they warm you up so you're relaxed and ready to have lots more fun. Even if you don't dance again that night, they'll get you feeling jiggy and ready to party.