Costume Museum Of Canada

As you may recall, in an earlier post I wrote about Lady A and I getting into the Museum of Man and Nature for our photo shoot with two free passes.  How I got those passes is a bit of a story.  In my city we have the now defunct Costume Museum of Canada.  The museum closed to the public and all the clothing was put into storage. A big regret is this all happened before I rediscovered my love old cloths and I never saw the museum when it was open.  I did contact them and let them know I’d be willing to do any volunteer work that was needed if they were willing to train me.  (I figured as a volunteer I’d be able to see the cloths up close over time.)

Right now the stock pile of clothes are in storage with the odd few pieces coming out for small portable showings.  The Museum of Man and Nature was doing an evening event last October called Nuit Blanche and they wanted a display of 1960’s outfits and they contacted the Costume Museum of Canada.  The 1960s is certainly not my era but I was only to willing to have my first (and at this point, only) volunteer experience with this museum.  In exchange for setting up the display, the Museum of Man and Nature unexpectedly gave free passes.

Here are some of the outfits we put out.

"Rachel and the lounge lizard Bruce"

 The fun thing about the ladies I was working with is they like to give the “people” personalities and then dress and accessorize them accordingly.  Fits my personality to a tee!  It is hard to see but I had the museum staff running around for a wine glass and cigarette that I felt Bruce just had to have.

Lily...she is sneaking out after a stocking on and one off.

 The standing mannequins are attached to their base by one foot.  You can’t get shoes on them without drilling a hole in the one shoe (which are artifacts).  The trick was to either ignore it like I did with Bruce or to hide it.  But, sometimes…like with Lil, I was able to make it work for the character and she carried her stocking and shoes.

Edith…my crowning glory.

I love Edith.  I saw the stuff the ladies had chosen for her to wear and I instantly saw my husbands grandmother.  She would sit like that with her purse clutched in her little hands at family gatherings!  Funny thing is all kinds of people saw her and said…”That’s my aunt so and so.” “She looks just like my mother!”

I had fun doing that.  And I felt I was good at it.  One of the ladies asked me how I seemed to be able to get them to sit or stand straight and look natural.  I thought about it and I think it is from my rehab background.  I have a basic understanding of how the muscles and bones work to achieve balance.  If the dummies were sitting funny or falling over I knew exactly where and how far they needed to bend or straighten to look normal. 
I really hope they call me back for some 1800’s outfits.  Actually, what I’d really like them to do is to create an on-line archive like the Met has.  I’d be only to happy to help dress and photograph the outfits.  FOR FREE!
* You can find the Canadian Costume Museum on Facebook.

The Chicken Costume

I wish I could say that I have plenty of opportunities to wear period costumes.  Alas, I do not.  But, I have plenty of opportunities to wear costumes in my job.  In fact, the folks in my seniors home are disappointed when I fail to show up in one!

I find wearing a costume quite freeing.  People look at you and know you are not dressed normally so they don’t expect you to behave normally.  If I walk up to someone I barely know and give them a big hug they will be calling to cops.  But if I dress like this….

Myself on the left and my coworker on the right.

Ok…likely they’d still call a cop but at work I can get away with this.  How did I achieve this glorious look?  I found a white skirt and hoodie at a second-hand store.  I bought the white face paint, chicken beak, stockings and feather boa at a store that specializes in costumes and party supplies.  I also bought angel wings at the same store.  I pinned the feather boa to the front of the hoodie.  I choose pinning over sewing as it would make it easy for me to use the hoodie later for mucking about the house.  I used a big red glittery plastic leaf on the hood to represent the comb (that was also pinned on).  The crowning glory was the feet.  I took the yellow plastic dish scrubbing gloves that I found at a garage sale and I stuffed the fingers with toilet paper.  I then slid the gloves over a pair of shoes.  Ta Da…chicken feet!





Historical Accuracy meets my costuming philosophy

When I first considered getting back into this hobby I promptly dismissed the idea.  My thinking was if I couldn’t do it in a historically accurate manner I wasn’t going to do it.  I got hung up on the idea that I couldn’t afford 12 meters of pure silk taffeta so there was no point.  I just was not too interested in what the poor ladies were wearing.  I was looking at Worth dresses and the like and drooling over them.  I didn’t want to be making cotton shifts that the maid would wear. 

1877 dress worth dinner dress The Met

Then I started to think in details. 

I would have to use modern materials if the original material is illegal to own.  An example of that is ivory.

1868 ivory parasol The Met

If I was replicating something with fur on it, I would likely use fake fur as I’m not in favor of an animal dying for my hobby, it is too expensive to buy and I’m not skilled enough to not ruin the fur and make that animal’s death an even bigger waste. 

1916 cape The Met

 And real jet and diamonds is simply not an option.  What if one fell off!

I had no moral or ethical issues over using modern substitutes for these items.  Once I agreed with myself that these substitutes would be OK I asked myself why a synthetic fiber would be considered wrong.  True, polyester would not be an accurate fiber but if I can’t afford the real stuff polyester would be an affordable option.  Also, synthetic fibers wash better.  I would be wearing these outfits as a costume, not as a museum piece and not as a contest entry (at least not at this point).  As costumes, they would get dirty and  I’d have to be able to wash them without worrying that I ruined 3 days worth of pay in the wash tub!  This started me into thinking of perspective.  I wanted to look like a lady from the 1800’s but I don’t have her money or her maids.  IT IS A COSTUME!  If I’m a fake lady I can have fake fabric. 

Don’t get me wrong!  If by some miracle I find 12 meters of silk at $2 a meter I’m snapping that up and making me a dress.  But, I’m not going to sit around waiting for that to happen!

So what will be accurate?  I want to match styles to the era.  If I’m wearing an 1880s dress I will wear lace up boots (granted they are pleather and not real leather) and not strappy stilettos.  The correct sleeve style will go with the correct skirt style.  If I make a dress that would be dated pre sewing machine then I’d like to think I’d hand sew that puppy.  (No plans for pre machine dresses.  I’m chronically lazy.)  I’d also try to use colors that were available.  No hot pink 1840s numbers unless I can find proof that there was such a creature.

How do the rest of you balance authenticity, expense, skills and availability of materials?

My first photo shoot with Lady A

People seem to be liking the work of the warm and wonderful Lady A and I now have permission to use her likeness here so I thought I would do a post of our first photo shoot.

We had gone to Maple Grove Tea House which is in a house that was built on the river in 1866 for a Captain Kennedy.  It is quite small with a few rooms made up to look like the home may have looked in its day.  It’s real draw is having tea on the veranda and walking in the gardens surrounding it.

Lady A in her lovely purple ensemble…in the interior of Kennedy House

I love the beading on her dress! And I simply must make a bustle dress one day!

Lady A looking all lovely and put together and I look like my maid either drinks or hates me.

We must do that shoot again.  Next time I will do it with the aid of an iron and a mirror!

Back view of Lady A’s dress

The white gown is also Lady A’s work.  It is a regency style dress.  It is worn by a co-worker who is totally not into sewing or even looking at this stuff but she is a trooper and went along with us-into public no less!  This mystery lady is a bit shy.  Coming out with us was pushing her comfort levels some.  I will spare her dignity and not post pictures of her from the front but I thought she looked gorgeous.  You will just have to take my word for it!