Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When I complain about hot weather events ...

... this is why.

I thought I'd take advantage of the full-length mirror in my hotel room this weekend to show you the minimum of what I wear to 18th century events.

First layer, the one against the skin is the shift. Made of linen, it hangs down to about mid shin. Underneath the shift are stockings, garters and shoes. On top of the shift are the stays. The term "corset" isn't used until later. My stays are only partially boned, lace up the front and the back, and haven't been finished -- there isn't any binding around the edges yet. Which is good as I seem to have to keep taking them in. I've also put my hair up, and have covered it with a white linen cap.
Here, I've added my under-petticoat (you'd just call it a skirt), a pair of pockets, and a neck handkerchief to fill in the neckline and protect my skin from the sun. For a formal event, my clothes would be nicer, the neckline a tad lower and much more exposed if indoors. The pockets are a separate item, and are not sewn into each petticoat.

Here is my second petticoat and my bum roll. Technically, the bum roll should be under this petticoat, but if I did that, the petticoat hem would ride up in back. When I'm fully dressed, this won't show, so shhhh, don't tell, okay?

Now I've added my work gown with the back looped up a la polonaise, and a work apron that is tucked up behind. The ideal figure at this time was a cone, topped by an inverted cone. Or to look at it another way -- the bigger I make my hips look, the smaller my waist looks. I then take what looks like a giant 14" long tongue depressor called a busk, and slide it down the front of my stays to give me a nice straight front line. (Remember that cone shape.) The busk is one reason you see women in 18th century portraits sitting with their knees apart. Trust me on this.
I'd then add a shallow-crowned straw hat tipped forward over my forehead a bit, or a black silk bonnet, depending on the weather.

And this is why I get a little cranky when the temperature tops 100 degrees.


  1. They say that layering is the most effective way to regulate your body temperature.

    I don't think they mean it when it gets that hot.

  2. bluesun: "They" have never worn XVIIIth Century attire.

  3. If I'm in "refugee" mode and not around a fire, the shoes and stockings can come off. If it hits 100 degrees, I've been known to drop the under-petticoat. I think I've done that twice in 17 years.

  4. Oh, layering works in hot weather, too. You just layer differently. You want a layer to keep the Sun's direct IR off your skin that doesn't transmit as much heat through, and a layer underneath that allows moisture to leave your skin and evaporate. (Heck, in the desert, you want a layer that will HOLD moisture and force it to evaporate MORE slowly, to get maximum cooling efficiency -- which is why tropical ripstop desert fatigues suck; even though they FEEL cooler, you dehydrate faster.)

    A light wool or heavy linen top layer is very good at keeping direct radiant heat heat from the Sun down.

    Regardless of temperature, it also helps when you are wearing 100% natural fibers in appropriate weights. Real wool in a hot weather weight is cooler than almost any cotton/poly blend (I'll avoid categorizing the newest "magic fiber" fabrics, I simply don't have enough experience to judge them). It's also warmer when it's cold. Conbined with linen backing and bottom layer, it is remarkeably comfortable, whether it's hot or cold.

    The reason is that real wool, linen, and cotton, breathe -- whereas "traditional" poly-blend fabrics don't. (The latest "magic fabrics" used in new snivel gear are supposed to encourage breathing and moisture transfer out, without allowing moisture or cold drafts in, and so are supposedly even better than 100% natural. . . )

    Having done the "Stand in a line in the hot sun/cold rain and wind" gig in effectively identical 18th century outfits (likewise for WWII and late Cold War kit, although those didn't involve lines so much), aside from fabric content, I can say that the 100% natural content/appropriate weight and weave route was MUCH more comfrotable than the same outfit in more modern fabrics.

    I noticed the same thing when I compared standing around in an ourdoors formation in polyester versus the issued poly-wool (high poly count) blend versus nearly all-wool wool Class-A uniforms. The poly pickle suit was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and stayed uncomfroatable year-round inside. . . the only advantage was it was easier to keep clean and pressed. The poly-blend was almost as uncomfortable as the pure poly, and as almost as hard to keep cleaned and pressed as the wool! Same thing for low-quarters and socks -- the (issue) leather shoes with purchased 100% wool socks were WAY more comfortable than the purchased Corfram shoes and issue nylon socks.

    Shorter Half

  5. Shorter Half:

    Do all that in stays, and we'll talk. Boning doesn't breathe, and the perspiration on the inside can't wick away anywhere.


  6. Love this post, Nancy.


  7. As long time reeanctors, I have too spent uncountable hours sweating at events, laced into stays, and all the layers you also wear, in many an over 90 degree day!
    I could certainly relate to your post!
    Ahhh...what we all do for love of history~