Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Taking the Dress for a Walk by Mary Wine

Yes, it’s a bit of an odd blog title but the resent Oscars have me thinking about the lengths we often go to when dressing for public events. As a historical writer, I often describe the gowns worn at various royal courts. These dresses were ornate, cumbersome and very often, the key to being noticed. Career courtiers often went into financial crisis just to outfit themselves. Walter Raleigh, one of Elizabeth Tudors favorites was rumored to never be seen in the same outfit twice. Considering there were no sewing machines, this entailed a huge amount of expense. So much so, he was adopted as a full grown man so that someone else might pay his tailor bills.

But being noticed was the most important thing. I adore my historical gowns but there is an art to wearing them. To the left is a picture of me dancing in one styled after a painting from 1560. You might notice my hand position. Girls were schooled from very early age on how to appear in public. The dress weights about thirty five pounds and must be kept balanced. Not an easy task when you are dancing or trying to go up stairs. I’ve ended up grateful that I wore knickers a time or two. You can also see the gentleman in blue holding onto his sword pommel. Since we were dancing, men had to pay close attention to their weapons or they would whip around.
This fascination with extreme fashion continued on through the Victorian era. The bustle at one time, was large enough to support an entire tea service. Ensuring you didn’t look like a dog wagging its tail took a great deal of practice. The idea was to appear like a peacock, graceful and confident. Little ladies-to-be were laced into training corsets which taught them proper posture by age three. Often, a wood slat was attached to the corset and a tie went around the girls head to teach her proper placement of the neck and chin. This is where ‘looking down your nose’ comes from. Girls schooled in this way did not lower their chins. They looked down with their eyes only.

I still enjoy the red carpet walk. Those celebrities put in a lot of work to look that good. I love the sparkle and shine of the Oscars. Next time you want to read a book with a little of that glamor, pick up one of my historical romances!

Mary Wine


  1. And here we thought fashionistas were a recent invention! Are there more photos of your creations on a website or blog, Mary?

  2. Oh, my! You are quite the designer and seamstress...never thought of having to walk in one of those dresses! Now I'm does one sit?

  3. Mary, your gowns are absolutely beautiful. What is the average time it takes you to make one?

  4. Gorgeous! I love finding out where
    "looking down your nose" comes from.

  5. Carolyn: Historically, ladies chairs were made without arms during periods when women had those exaggerated skirts.Some of the hoops and bustles had ribbons that could be used to collapse the shape for sitting,but you still had to gather your skifts to keep the support structures above one's derriere, so they wouldn't flip up wheny you sat. So, the basic answer is: VERY carefully.

    Grace, it's really only been about the last two hundred years that Men's formal wear was expected to be subtle and sedate. Before that, they could be worse then the ladies.

  6. Those gowns are so beautiful.. And you actually make them WOW.. I am impressed.

  7. I have to ask, how does it feel to sit down on that dress? Looks very uncomfortable, but the fabric looks so rich and luxurious! I loved it. And you look fabulous in it.

  8. Mary, your gowns are beautiful! such talent! I just love the one in the goldish color and blue! Magnifique! The fabric looks so rich with this color!

  9. Beautiful dresses, but I cannot imagine wearing something that weighs 35 pounds. It's bad enough carrying around my own weight!

  10. I loved seeing you in your historical dress at RT, Mary. When i learned you made it yourself, I was doubly impressed! Incredible!

  11. Hello Everyone! I had no internet yesterday!

    Grace Burrowes- I post a lot of my pictures on FaceBook. Often, I post pictures of the 'progress' of a new suit, from fabric to finish.

    Carolyn Brown- It's a matter of sitting and supporting yourself. One does not lean back.

    Victoria Roberts- Undergarments along take a good forty hours.

    Shana Galen- Thanks.

    Kathleen O- Thanks.

    Amelia- I'm used to it. It is different but the most important thang is to make sure it fits.

    Nicole Laverduure-Thanks!
    Cheryl- Thanks!

    Ashlyn- Thanks. i'm in the begining of making a new bustle dress for this years RT.

  12. I LOVE these gowns!! I want some too!!