Monday, 30 March 2009

Let's Get this Over With

Before I go through snarking Arthurian movie costumes, I need to address a basic point about them and history:

King Arthur did not exist.

Blah blah blah Geoffrey Ashe blah blah Layamon blah blah Cadbury blah blah Alcock blah blah blah Glastonbury graves. I know, I know.

Hillforts and tribal/regional warlords defending them in Britain were a dime a dozen from a few hundred years BCE to about 980 CE or so. There was a military leader referred to as 'Riothamus', who had an army from Britain in the Loire area circa 470; there was an Artuir, son of Aedan of Dalriada who was killed, probably fighting Picts, circa 600; there was a Lucius Artorius Castus, praefectus of the Sixth Legion in York, who led two legions against the Armoricans in north-west Gaul circa 200. None of these fine blokes were alive around the time the Romans stopped sending legions to Britain, in case that needed spelling out.

At some point, probably circa 410, Rome stopped sending military support to Britain. The Romans in Britain, who were probably mostly of native descent, maintained the local administrative structure and continued to defend their part of the Roman Empire - at least for a while. (Maintaining the Roman Empire was a hobby until at least the late Medieval period. It took the Victorians to decide that the Roman Empire had been dead for a while.)

At some point, a number of migrations took place. Irish settled in northern and western Britain, Britons went to Armorica and to north-west Spain, and (deep breath), Jutes, Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Rugians, Danes, Huns, Bructeri, Franks, Norse, and possibly a few blokes from Sweden all came to Britain, where they (and native Britons as well, I am NOT listing the tribes) mostly eventually re-identified themselves as Angles, Saxons, or Jutes because they couldn't keep track of all that either.

At any rate, while groups of people were wandering all over the map and creating, or adopting, little mixed kingdoms all over Britain, they tended to squabble with each other a lot.
For example, around the early 600s there were some battles which may be interpreted as Irish and Angles disputing control over the British kingdom of Gododdin (the old tribal Votadini territory); the power of Dal Riata (Irish in Scotland if you're keeping track) lessened but Irish church influence increased, and actually the Britons of the kingdom of Strathclyde were the ones who killed the king of Dal Riata, Domnall Brecc. Anyway the Angles probably won control of Gododdin because the next thing you know the Picts, who may have been a confederation of different groups, were kicking Ecgfrith's butt back south of the Forth. Don't even ask who was winning here; I haven't even gotten into the intermarriages yet.

So about three or four hundred years later, some dude is writing the Historia Brittonum and it gets a bit dry, so he throws in some folktales about a guy called Arthur quite similar to legends about a guy called Finn from Ireland (didn't exist either). What with re-dating and all, this is probably the first mention of an Arthur, and it's all about how his dog Cabal left a footprint in a rock and typical folktale things like that.

And then people thought hey, there were a whole lot of warlord/kings for a while, and some of them did pretty well, maybe this folktale Arthur is based on one of them. I assume those same people are busy looking for a detective-monk named Cadfael around the time of Stephen's reign and maybe checking the airports for a real guy with a name similar to 'Borat'.

But wait! This is good news. If the story of King Arthur is fantasy in the first place, you can't go wrong! People have been making up any old thing they liked about Arthur since, well, the 800s anyway; it's now a long and proud tradition. King Arthur in a tutu, Lancelot in full Elizabethan, and Mordred in a spacesuit? It's not wrong! (And I believe the second two have been done.)

...unless you declare a place and time. If you say 'it's Arthurian. It happens once upon a time in a kingdom of Britain', have fun with your storytelling. On the other hand, if you say 'it's about King Arthur as a Roman Briton circa 500', then I would like to see costumes that make sense for a Roman Briton circa 500. Hey, I'm not the one who wanted to drag history into this in the first place.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Oh my Fug! -- The Tudors

The Tudors is a new mini-series (well, maxi-series really; they're on to season 3) that uses Henry VIII as an excuse for a soap opera. I've never seen it and I never will, but while googling 'Anne Boleyn' I chanced on pics racy enough for pornos and, you guessed it, some total crap in the garb department.

Meet Anne Boleyn and her fuddled up wardrobe. Haven't I fugged this thing before? Yes, it's the infamous 'Florentine' dress. I didn't know queens went for cheapass Halloween costumes.

Oh, dear bugger. A poodle just died on her head! Come on, people, they were using ermine corpses back then and actually tailoring them.

And why can't she put on a chemise? Those flagrantly unperiod sleeves are showing off a lot of skin. Oh, and I'm real sure they used spiderweb textures on their bodices. And honey, don't you want to impress your pretty, poncy Henry look-unlike? Don't you want to show off your wealth with a jeweled French hood instead of cheapass braid trim? I'd say your jewellery looked Victorian if it wasn't obviously plastic. And what's he got around his neck? Wow, they had Swarovski crystal beads back then!

It's not all bad. This looks pretty and would be great in the Society for Pre-Raphaelite Anachronism. It isn't Tudor, though. It's Arwen in a corset.

But I guess historical inaccuracy doesn't matter, because she spends most of her time slipping out of her dresses anyway. The little hussy traipses around in her corset. I know this is supposed to be some kind of allegorical costume scene, but that's no excuse for parading your bare arms around. And ruffs are not Tudor. Neither is your little French twist, or the fucking shiny metal heart tacked to your cheek. And Henry? Plastic crowns and patent leather don't become you. I'm surprised your little strumpet isn't laughing in your face.

Oh, and we've got some great promo stills. Behold the strapless Tudor nightie! And if they're about to do the nasty, why has he got bare arms and a doublet? Are we supposed to believe that he took the doublet off (he'd have to, to shrug out of the undershirt) and then put it back on? Half clothed royalty must be Anne's fetish and she really likes it when he wears his chains of state to bed!

Henry's doublet has as much to do with Tudor as my pasty gothic ass has to do with tan lines. I've said it before: little caps over the shoulders are Elizabethan. Mid to Late Elizabethan. Henry liked big puffy sleeves and wide fur collars, and — check his portraits — lots of red and gold and white. But I guess that's not manly enough for the BBC's new sex-crazed bad boy. Oh noes, put him in black leather! And let's slap Anne in a gaping, sleeveless bodice with ugly trim!

Does it not piss off anyone else when the guy's fully clothed and the gal is flashing her twat? The whole deal with the real Anne Boleyn is that she won him over with elegance and wit. She had to, because she wasn't really all that pretty. Which brings me to the most disturbing thing about this series. It isn't the clothes, or the 19th century carriages, or the asphalt driveways or the modern radiators. It's the way they've portrayed historical figures as naked nymphets. Fans are saying that this series is OMG soooooo much better than it would have been with a pudgy Henry and an Anne who didn't look like 15 year old jailbait. But I think pretty teenagers get boring real damn fast. And wouldn't it be nice to have a plot instead of porn?

Ahh, well. When the official DVD press release posts images like this, you know the thing is a flimsy excuse for tits and ass. And if skinny supermodels are your kink, it does not disappoint:

Oh yeah, I'm real sure Henry'd go for Anorexic Anne. This chick is way too scrawny to be fertile.

More Quibbles: Elizabeth

Cate Blanchett is a great actress, but her performance is sometimes upstaged by what they put her in...

A strapless bodice?  Bare arms?  Yes, I know they're covered in gauze, but but for period purposes, transparent counts as bare.  And is that a great big sequined bow on the skirt?  

Oh, Lizzie.  What are you wearing on your head?

Oh, I get it.  You're going for stark.  But Elizabeth without trim is like a rapper without bling.  Straight sleeves with little shoulder caps were pretty much a guy thing until the time of James I and you'd think she dealt with enough jokes about being mannish without actually dressing like one.  I really don't know what's up with that collar.  What's the weird feathery stuff on the cuffs?  And y'know, that 19th century Gothic Revival throne is really starting to annoy me.

Ugh.  The collar looks more Christian Lacroix than Queen Elizabeth, the greenish yellow is vomitworthy, and once again I am befuddled by that thing on her head.

One final question: what is it with blue in this movie?  Four of Elizabeth's gowns are powder blue.  And she's got two similar dresses (they clearly altered a single pattern) made of the exact same purple taffeta.  What sort of budget were they on?  Was Bob's Land of Upholstery giving discounts?  Couldn't they go for Elizabethan jewel tones instead of Rococo pastels?  

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh.  The clothing designer came out and said they were going for a modern couture look loosely inspired by Elizabethan styles, and in some scenes it really does work for this film.  The trouble is that there's no continuity.  If you're going for stark (which makes sense when you've got ol' Lizzie kicking ass and facing the Armada), then stay stark all the way through.  Use bold colours and stop putting feathers on her head.

Minor Quibbles: The Other Boleyn Girl

I would give a pass to some of the stuff from the Other Boleyn Girl. But nevertheless there are several errors... and, for those of us who've really learned to notice detail, some absolute howlers. Like this one:

Oh, Scarlet. Pull your sleeves up. Why can't you be civil like those Spaniards in the background? I've never heard of bare Renaissance shoulders, and you're mixing regions too. Those slashed puffs at shoulder, wrist and elbow look more German landsknecht than Tudor England. The gap at the front of the overskirt should not be nearly that wide. Also, the bodice seams look wrong to me. I combed through portraits of the era and it looks like they should be further to the sides of the gown. This picture of Mrs. Pemberton, c. 1640 is grainy, but you can clearly see the seams beneath the arms. And Jane Seymour's are at the sides of the bodice front, not so near the bust. Seams are not visible at all in most portraits, and they would be if people had placed them the way they did in this movie. I'm not seeing any examples of contrasting bodice fronts, either; these show up around the middle of Elizabeth's reign.

Oh dear. The French Hood, though portraits show many variations, was never just a headband with a little stickyuppy thing (and why is Mary wearing one? She never spent time in the court of France!) Little slashed cap sleeves are Elizabethan, not Tudor... and slashes of the type used here are once again more like German gowns than like the type seen in England. Even if that's the look they were going for, the fabric beneath the slashes ought to be white. The choice of print is strange and looks very modern compared to the stylized foliate stuff they were using back then. And are those lacings I'm seeing on the bodices? The Tudors did not use bodice front lacings!

I love your green dress, Anne, but sleeves of light satin without trim that goes all the way around the neckline look sort of odd. You should start them higher, make them out of something heavier and give them wider cuffs (like this). You might want to consider a pointed waistline, too. But then, I suppose accuracy would be less soft and flowing and omg romantic!

What's that strange layering at the shoulders? Why all the puckered seams? Is that a pleated underskirt I'm seeing? And who thought olive drab was a good idea?

Oh, and I have found no evidence for matching Tudor bathrobes.

In fact, the whole 'twin sisters' costume schtick is fucking stupid. It doesn't ring true. When Mary's winning Henry over, she should have money pouring at her from all sides. The family should be dressing her up in good brocade and loading her down with jewellery — because she's a commodity and they want to hype her just like Hollywood hypes movies. And when he turns around and porks Anne, she should become the glittery one while poor Mary's left moping. I really didn't see this happening, unless you count switching Mary from yellow satin to brown satin. And what does Anne get for her troubles? One paltry necklace? This movie makes her a manipulative bitch, so wouldn't she hold out for more than that?

I've come to expect very little from Hollywood, and (sad to say) I'm overjoyed when a period piece contains nothing fugly or totally batshit. And it's true that real Tudor gowns don't seem lyrical or romantic to modern eyes -- the skirts are stiff and the sleeves are enormous -- so I can see why they took liberties. I even have a shameful fondness for that jade green dress and would wear it to the kind of Ren Faire that doesn't check your authenticity at the gate. For SCA, though, it's right out. Unless you're in the Hawaiian chapter, which doesn't give a rat's ass if you show up in a red satin chemise and a crushed velvet surcoat.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Enough with the hoop skirts, already!

Another gem from Maeve's Unmentionables, which I have fugged before.  Oh joy, it's a bell sleeved chemise.  Take note: there was no such thing as a bell sleeved chemise!  Note also that chemises were undergarments, they were white, they were not made of satin, and no one would have paraded around wearing one with nothing but a waist cincher (modern!) to cover them.  And the cloak is crushed velvet.  And oh heavens, it's a HOOP SKIRT.

Y'know what I love about the middle ages?  No corsets.  No infrastructure.  No fucking hoop skirts.  Way to fuck up the natural fit that made them so attractive.

Elizabethan Portraits

Here's another excellent source for garb information: Tudor & Elizabethan Portraits.  It's fantastic if you hope to reproduce garb from this era of British history

Of course, the focus here is definitely the English.  Also, the information is primarily about nobles — the lower classes can be infuriating to research, because they weren't the ones getting their portraits painted.  But if you look under the 'various portraits' section, you'll find a couple examples of the merchant class along with a smattering of images from areas outside Britain: Italy, Flanders and my personal favourite, Germany.

This is definitely worth a good long look... especially if you're thinking of shelling out big money for an 'Elizabethan' gown and want it to really be authentic.

Pure Fantasy, part drei

Another gorgeous gown from romantic-threads, which mixes periods gleefully.  Again, I'd have no problem with it if it weren't for the way it was advertised.

This, apparently, can pass for Victorian, Renaissance or Marie Antoinette.  Three different periods, people, with three very different sets of characteristics.  And let's face it: there is nothing Renaissance about this dress.

The bodice is indeed inspired by the era of Marie Antoinette (or at least early Marie Antoinette), but the cuffs are a little long and black would have been a very unusual choice for the lace (if indeed they would have used it at all!).  They did have overskirts that curved to the sides back then, but they would either have been untrimmed or had ruching around the edge, as opposed to fringe, which looks decidedly Victorian.  

And nowhere, in any period (except for modern Goth gowns) would you have a contrasting panel on a skirt as opposed to a contrasting underskirt revealed by a parted overskirt.  This is a pretty cheap trick... especially for $800!

I've seen things of this type billed as Renaissance over and over.  Get it into your skulls, people: RENAISSANCE and ROCOCO are NOT THE SAME.

Pure Fantasy

Romantic-threads is an EBay seller with some absolutely gorgeous gowns... but don't for a moment think that they're historically accurate!

I covet, covet, covet this dress!  It would be perfect for playing my sidhe character from White Wolf's Changeling.  But the seller claims it "will suit a variety of styles including Renaissance, SCA, even medieval..." and the simple fact is, it won't.

The basic lines of the dress are clearly Tudor inspired, but every semblance of accuracy is destroyed by both the pattern and the fabric.  Let's start with the accessories.  The belt and bodice festoon look more Elizabethan than Tudor, and though I'd give them a pass, most bodice detailing examples I've seen have been actual necklaces, tacked to the dress front.  The necklace I'm not so sure about.  That sort of draping looks Victorian to me.

On to the bodice!  That little frilly ruffle around the neckline isn't Tudor either, and the top edge of the bodice should be straight instead of scooped.  What we have here is Victorian detailing, also evident in the seams that curve over the bust.  Tudor seams, for the 23532th time, were straight.  

Another work of fantasy: the sleeves.  Tudor sleeves were quite different and the 'bells' began much higher up the arm, with seams instead of gathering and ornate cuffs below them.  The idea of a gathered, flaring cuff is Rococo, and during that era it would have begun around the elbow and been much shorter.  Exaggerating the cuff and edging it with lace instead of adding layers of lace beneath it is a modern Gothic development.  The higher gathering around the shoulders and upper arms also owes more to Goth than to period costume.

The skirt looks gathered too (a big no for Tudor, and I believe the Elizabethans used pleating), and it comes with a hoop skirt.  Have a look at Catherine Parr.  Or is it Jane Grey?  There's some debate, but one thing's for certain.  This skirt doesn't curve like a hoop skirt.  It angles much more steeply toward the ground.  

Now for the fabric choices.  The trim and lace look very modern to me.  They aren't nearly stylized or angular enough for Tudor, though they'd probably work for Victorian.  And the dress is crushed velvet.  High end crushed velvet and not the cheap lycra stuff, but still, the Tudors would take one look at this thing and say it was lying smashed in a chest for too long.

Y'know, we really need some society that dresses up in tasteful, high quality fantasy gowns and plays at being fae nobility or something.  For that I would wear this dress in an instant.  But for Ren Faires, I would not subject the general public to my flights of gothdom... and it's too damn posh to wear in normal life.  For $1250, I'll have to give it a miss.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Vintage Fugstumes -- the Renaissance edition

Renaissance men at Vintage Costumes suffer from a variety of ills, from crushed velvet to corduroy, but the worst offense is this:

A waistcoat??  Looks Victorian to me!

For the ladies, there are five different versions of this:

It's based on a Simplicity pattern.  I've never seen a dress like this in Renaissance art and it's certainly not Tudor, as they claim.  

The above is another Simplicity pattern design, and exceptionally inaccurate.  Both the bodice and the bands around the lower arms (which look like they're part of the dress in the Vintage Costumes version and don't even lace up!) are more fantasy than Renaissance.  And no one would have worn the chemise (which should be white) without an overskirt to hide it.  In addition, Renaissance ladies did not wear padded rolls around their heads.

Here is yet another Simplicity pattern, this time based on Drew Barrymore's costumes in the Cinderella story "Ever After."  It's much closer to correct and resembles a Venetian gown depicted by Albrecht Dürer, so I do indeed give it a pass... but beware that this popular dress, with versions cropping up everywhere, is a romanticised take on the Italian Renaissance.

They've also got some stuff that's just plain bugfuck and I don't know where it came from.  Sixth from the top is a sparkly pink beaded thing that's got nothing to do with the Renaissance, but some tasteless old lady might have worn it to the opera in the 1980's.  We've got a brown 'Elizabethan' dress with a weird front panel and modern looking lace (I think it's eyelet).  There's a navy blue monstrosity that's imitating the musketeer era... badly.  This thing is decidedly Baroque and does not belong in the Renaissance section.  And among the inevitable wenchwear, right down at the bottom of the page, we've got a costume with ruffles (NOT PERIOD, PEOPLE!) and the most idiotically enormous bodice dags I've ever seen.

Vintage Fugstumes -- the Medieval edition

The 'Vikings' in the previous post were brought to you by Vintage Costumes, which also offers Medieval and Renaissance outfits featuring dubious choices in colour, fabric and pattern.  

Their Medieval section is headed up by a 'King Arthur' in a floor-length tunic... which I'd applaud if it weren't made out of crushed velvet and metallic gold.  Also, one wonders why Artie is wearing a chainmail coif when clearly he's not otherwise prepared for fighting.  We've also got a crusader with no protective gear aside from a coif, wildly inaccurate leather armour with no semblance of padding, peasant tunics paired with trousers, and a cheezy cheap satin jester outfit.

For the ladies, there's a Medieval queen to match King Arthur, with the same crushed velvet and liquid gold.  We've got the usual tavern wench costumes with front-lacing bodices, not seen anywhere in the middle ages.  We've got another jester, this time with opera gloves and no sleeves!  There's a shapeless 'Medieval Sorceress' with a cone-shaped hennin (which is indeed period but should be worn with Burgundian gowns, which are fitted). There's a sideless surcoat worn over a gathered, puff-sleeved chemise (a glaring error — the garments beneath these were close-fitting).  And there are seven, count 'em, seven duplicates of this dress:

I might give this pattern a pass if worn by an SCA newbie, but it wouldn't fly if accuracy were essential.  The sleeves would look better if they flared from the elbow, with no seam, and the curving seams over the bust are modern, modern, modern.  The biggest problem here, though, is that they've made versions with crushed velvet or shimmering lamé.  

It's nice that they supply so many plus-sized options.  Too bad they look comically cheesy.

Vikings: What NOT to do

I'm no Viking costume expert, but even I know this is wrong:

There is NO evidence for horns on Viking helms, and just imagine how impractical they'd be in battle!  I don't know quite how this myth got started, but it reminds me more of Wagnerian opera singers than of real Vikings.  I've never seen big, wide, buckly belts and arm bracers either, though I'll leave dear Selkie to supply the details.

And this is even worse: 

This is the general SCA consensus on what Viking women really wore.  Recent research suggests that perhaps they dressed more like this.  In either case, tattered suede minidresses are RIGHT OUT.

And if you rent this thing, you'd better be staging the Ring of the Nibelung:

Ladies' golden, breast-accentuating armour is Victorian.

Let's go to Hollywood! 13th Warrior

Since we're onto the Vikings already...

Let's get into the military side of things, protective clothing. Layers of padded cloth or possibly leather are likely, and some images may show them, but no archaeological evidence survives. If they were used, they'd look something like this:

There is evidence for 4-in-1 mail armour, which would have been very expensive and limited to only wealthy and noble warriors:

So here's what Vikings wear in The 13th Warrior:


Viking Men - in detail

So, you want to be a Viking. Let's dive into the details.

The trousers: I can't see enough of them to know how accurate they are, but they definitely shouldn't be black. A brown/black dye with walnut shells and iron was possible but not common. A bright colour, with red as the most popular, would be more accurate. There should also be leg-wrappings, a strip of cloth wrapped around the leg from below the knee to ankle.

The smock, or undershirt: I don't see one but I hope it's there - because it should be.

The tunic: There should be gores cut on either side to make the bottom of the tunic fuller. I can't tell whether this is the case, but if so they're rather stingy. The colour is fine, the material is good. There should either be bands of plain silk in a bright colour at all edges of the tunic, or tablet-woven bands at the neck and arms (or trim that imitates tablet weaving). Long strips of tablet weaving from shoulders to hem, or down the arms, or parallel bands sewn somewhere at the chest, are also possible. The location of the trim isn't too far off, and I can't see it well enough in this image to see whether it looks much like tablet weaving.

The jacket: The jacket should overlap rather like a bathrobe, and should be hip-length. It also seems to have shrunk in the wash - the sleeves ought to go right to the wrist. I think the colour in the photo is a dark woad/indigo blue; if so, that's fine.

The cloak: there should be one to complete the costume, even over the jacket. You go to northern Sweden in mid-winter and tell me you wouldn't like another layer.

The helmet: obviously an imitation of Sutton Hoo. Sutton Hoo is in East Anglia. Green and blue dyes were most popular in Sweden. Think harder about those bright reds. A note, I suggest wearing full armour if you're going to fight, and taking off the helmet if you aren't. A tablet-woven headband is the alternative headgear.

The belt: With an overtunic, a cloth or tablet-woven belt is much more likely. The closest historical belt to the one in the photo would be a leather belt with wide, flat metal plaques, an oval buckle, and hanging ends weighed down with metal strap-ends. Not very close.

Ornaments: To add a bit of authenticity, definitely go for a pendant - a Thor's hammer between two beads would be a common choice. Consider a large twisted torc if you're showing off your importance. There are also many finds of gold rings.

Gear: The shield is fine, although you'll want to get that painted. The little knife/sword/thingy, though, is hysterical. What's that going to be when it grows up?

Overall, if you're renting a costume for a day or getting started, this isn't bad at all and it can be improved further with the right belt, jewelry, leg-wrappings, cloak, etc. If you're making a movie, showing up to a museum, or accuracy is important, though, then also go for brighter colours, silk-strip edgings (easier than tablet weaving), a tunic with a fuller lower part, and a jacket that wraps.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Accolade

The Accolade, that famous image of Medieval chivalry, is a Pre-Raphaelite piece painted by Edmund Blair Leighton in 1901.  I understand its popularity, and I love that dress.  But the Pre-Raphaelites are not a good source for information on period costume, and Leighton's lady is wearing a confection of pure fantasy.  Nowhere in the Medieval era did people wear puffed sleeves with gathers.

Many reproductions of the Accolade dress are available online, most of them clearly citing the painting as their source.  But the work has nevertheless spawned a number of Medieval garb misconceptions.  Things like this are being sold as SCA wear:

Sleeves should be neither puffed nor gathered.  In addition, the maker advertises this as a bliaut, but it bears little resemblance to the bliauts of the 12th century.  There's no pleating across the torso.  The curving bust seams are a modern invention.  The inspiration from the Accolade is obvious and, like so many other 'Medieval' dresses on the market, this looks more like a Goth gown transposed into white.

Let's go to Hollywood! First Knight

First things first: what the hell is that on his shoulder?

Next question: why is he wearing a Star Trek uniform while she wears... uh... well, I'm not really sure how to identify that.

Moving on, whackiest armour outside of Conan?

Sadly, I could not find a good image of Lancelot's buttonless Gap cardigan.

For extra fun: attempt to identify the time and place of the movie using the costumes alone. Go ahead, I'll wait. 'What the fuck' is not a guess.

Fugging the Florentines

This gown is being offered by The Tudor Shoppe, which really ought to know better.  Though not an offense to the eye, it isn't accurate at all.  The basic lines of the dress look Tudor inspired but the skirt is lacking a bumroll (or a touch of padding to simulate a bumroll, which I would happily accept).  The dags at the base of the bodice were never, to my knowledge, used in the Italian Renaissance, and are exaggerated to a comic degree; click here for an example of Queen Elizabeth's much smaller bodice dags.  And the sleeves are of a substantially later period; lace-edged cuffs like this are Rococo, and would have begun around the elbow, not the upper arm.  

I fail to see anything Florentine about this, but it's described as such everywhere I see it.  Someone's taken a name of some random, romantic-sounding Italian city and used it to evoke a sense of luxury.  

Here is a real Florentine gown.  The differences are obvious.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Queen Elizafug

I have been seeing this horror all over the place.  If it were a cheap Halloween costume I'd leave it alone, but in fact it's retailing for as much as $330!

It would be hard to list everything that's wrong with this, but I'll give it a go.  The large, standing collar, an Elizabethan feature, should be made with white lace (as shown in late portraits of Elizabeth).  The sweetheart neckline is Regency at the earliest, the bows down the front of the bodice are Rococo, and the contrasting waistband is an error.  The floofy little cuffs are also a Rococo idea that should begin just below the elbow, be made of the same fabric as the bodice, and have a layer of lace beneath.  I've never seen little bows like this down the front of a skirt and it's certainly not Elizabethan.  They're faking the look of a split overskirt, exposing an underskirt, by tacking on a line of ruffles.  The ruffles at the hem are not period, and there should be a bumroll instead of a skirt that angles to the floor in a perfect cone.  And the glittery paisley looks like 1980's brocade.

But most importantly of all, this thing is fucking fugly.  They call this a Queen Elizabeth costume, but she never would have worn bright, screaming turquoise.

Reputable sources

Do a google search on costume history and you'll find all kinds of 'information' which is suspect or even utter tripe.  Sometimes the safest thing to do is turn to period artwork for documentation, and I'd like to recommend a little place called La Couturiere Parisienne.  

For the early middle ages, I'm afraid you're out of luck here.  Their artwork collection starts with a smattering of pieces from the 1300s.  But for fans of the Renaissance and the Elizabethans, they're superb.  Their portrait collection covers many different regions and the really industrious can go on to look up the names of particular artists from their area of choice.  This is how I was first introduced to German gowns and Lucas Cranach the Elder.  

You can also visit virtual galleries like CGFA and search artists by region and time period.  There's a wealth of costume history on sites like this.

Aliens from Planet Zort! has an identity crisis. Is it going for accuracy (it offers Sofi's Stitches) or for the JUST PLAIN CRAZY?

Wow, I didn't know Medieval monarchs and their queens were into skinning Dalmatians.  I've never seen a big, fur-trimmed front panel like what this guy's wearing, either.  And exactly what is their daughter wearing on her head?  This definitely counts as 'recreating the Middle Ages of another planet.'  I sort of like their King Arthur — he's got a stylized look that might work well in some postmodern play — but Guinevere has just stepped off the set of Star Trek:

She must come from the same planet as Princess Kriemhild.  And maybe they're chummy with Eragon.

In addition to Alien Couture, the site offers a lot of wenchwear (ranging from well made to incredibly ill-fitting) and its male counterpart, the doublet with caps over the shoulders and no sleeves.  I've dubbed this 'rougeswear' and I usually give it a pass because it's become such an SCA institution, but for 219 Euros I'd like something better than this.  Oh joy, faux leather and crushed velvet!  Of course there's also the inevitable gypsy with her ludicrous cropped bodice.  And no site would be complete without jesters.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good jester costume.  I saw a gorgeous one in Rigoletto, with Renaissance tailoring and a great colour scheme.  But this thing just looks awful.

And you know something?  This really pisses me off.  Thanks to Braveheart, everybody thinks woad is bright blue acrylic paint.  In reality it was deep navy and was painted not in blocks of colour, but in intricate patterns.  As for the costume, that 'armour' is as badly fitting as any I've seen... and what's that around his ankles?  Little plaid ruffles?  For 129, you could do much better than this.

On to Renaissance, and we've got more wenchwear, this time with jarring skirt ruffles.  They mix Medieval dagged sleeves with Baroque knee breeches.  And what's this?  The Renaissance ends around 1600.  Big crazy wigs show up in the 1770's.  This belongs on their Rococo page, along with Cubist Katherine the Great and Lamé Marie Antoinette.

Renaissance Miniskirts!

Denim & Diamonds has a great selection of burlesque costumes -- see them for all your saloon floozie needs! But oh dear, they have a very shaky grasp of the Renaissance...

I'd call this LARP wear, not Faire wear. I hope it goes without saying that the Renaissance did not feature paisley, pink satin chemises or sweetheart necklines, let alone short skirts. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Well Played, Kat's Hats!

All too often, cheap Medieval costumes come with a single padded roll to be worn around the head, incorrectly lacking a veil to go with it.  Many people have no concept of how many varieties of hats there really were.  After all, the middle ages lasted for roughly a millenium and of course hat fashions changed, varying by period and region.  Kat's Hats gives us a taste of how much diversity there really was.

She explains the history behind all her creations, which are beautifully made.  There isn't a design on this site that I haven't seen somewhere in Medieval art.  

Maeve's Unmentionables

Maeve thinks she can offer us the perfect Renaissance dress.  That her clothes have 'that flair that just seems to be missing from other garb.'  She invites us to find the dress of our dreams... but the dress of my dreams involves colours other than red, blue, black and purple.  There's a very limited colour palette, and nothing is period.

To many of us, the Jocelyn and Brigid ensembles may look inoffensive.  There's nothing ugly, let alone fugly, about them.  But let's get something straight.  Nowhere in existing art, literature or clothing from the middle ages or the Renaissance is there any proof of the existence of the 'wench wear' we're all so familiar with.  It's been so perpetuated throughout Ren Faires and the SCA that most people never question its historical sources.  By all means, wear it at casual events and LARPS... but be aware that it's not strictly period.

I've never seen strapless underbust waist cincers in period either, unless we're talking about the Victorian period.  Nor have I seen short sleeves.  Maeve claims this can pass as either Renaissance or Civil War!  But no one would have worn their corset outside their clothes in either era.  Looks more to me like modern Goth.  And I've never seen contrasting skirt panels either.

There is nothing historic about this.  I don't know what it is.  Sci-Fi fantasy, maybe.

Oh, and Delilah, darling?  Go put on some clothes.  This is neither an historic belly dance costume (Arabs didn't bare their bellies back then) nor a 'darling' dress for the Faire.  Especially not with one of my peeves, a gathered square skirt.  Seriously, who introduced this into the vocabulary of ren costumiers?  I see it constantly, usually as an overskirt for wenchwear.  It's a goth thing, and it looks great in layers of chiffon, but romantic gothic fashion is not period.  It's like the early Gothic Revival; gleefully mixing styles and inventing new ones with minimal research.

And yet, Maeve's work owes more to Goth than Renaissance.  For 'authentic' garb, go somewhere else.

Medieval Crock

Medieval Crockery has some handy, inexpensive feastgear, but they really lose it when it comes to their tabards.

Scrollwork patterns?  Satin?  Circular appliques?  A shiny little modern ladies' handbag?

Dragons & Fugicorns

Dragons & Unicorns claim to be 'costumers extrordinaire,'  though their site would indicate they're not smart enough to slap up a half decent webpage.  So, what are they offering?  The worst Roman General in the world!  And here's Hilda, who owes a lot more to Eowyn than to the middle ages.  Yes, the costumes in LotR were great.  But I the trouble is that people see it and think it'd make great garb.  The movie was creating a fantasy world and drew its inspiration from everything from the real middle ages to Gothic Revival and Art Nouveau.  This place has a fantasy section, so why isn't it there?  And are we really expected to pay 130 GBP for crushed velvet?

They pair a scoop neck with Tudor sleeves and call it Medieval.  And model it with that infamous crime of Faire goers, chainmail jewellery.  And in the actual Tudor section, we get this.  What is this thing?  A gathered skirt with an elastic band?  I've seen better costumes made by SCA newbies who've never seen medieval fashion before they joined and haven't tried stitching in their lives!  Oh, and their doublet sucks.  Cheap trim, poorly made, and lacking front fastenings and sleeves.

They also offer us the worst Elizabeth Swann costume I have ever seen, and loads of shapeless Harry Potter stuff.  Stay well away.

Crushed velvet crap

Welcome to Renaissance Fugstumes.  At first glance you'd think it's just cheap Halloween stuff and should be left alone, and indeed, I've seen some of these same offerings at SuperDiscountCostumeMegastore.  What makes this fair game, though, is that they're advertising for the reenactment crowd.  If you're talking about faires and weddings, you should offer us more than this:

Knee breeches?  In this era, people, they were wearing tights.  A high collared doublet like this would have a seam at the waist and flare below it... but oh, wait.  There would never be a doublet like this, because this is crushed velvet and shiny!  All in all, the ponciest Romeo I have ever seen!

Speaking of poncy, take a look at Robin Hood.  They were too lazy to do their research.  The Robin Hood legend has it's roots as early as 1283, and back then people did not wear doublets.  Especially crappy faux-leather doublets.  Think tunics and cowls, people!

And they've got the usual knight costumes with fake glitter chainmail.  There's not even a separate undertunic; the sleeves are sewn right to the shoulders of what ought to be a tabard, and should not be made of — you guessed it — crushed velvet.  At a real Ren Faire, people, you cannot get away with fake chainmail.  

There's more fug for the ladies.  Cheap-ass Elizabethan, anyone?  Those little puffed sleeves are wrong, wrong, wrong, and so is the straight seam around the waist.  It should come to a point.  And don't you love those random arm 'lacings' that don't lace anything?  Ahh, and the crushed velvet.  It's everywhere you look.  Even the peasants wear crushed velvet.  And the tavern wenches, with their horrible wraparound skirts.  Have these people never heard of sumptuary laws?

Once again we're mixing periods.  A 'Medieval' dress with a split-fronted skirt?  A 'Renaissance' dress with a sweetheart neckline and curving bodice seams (modern inventions, people!)?  Long open sleeves that hang from the shoulder are never, never tulle.  This place can guarantee us a mistake in every dress.

'Irish Dress'

I posted about someone's 'Celtic Dress' already. It appears to either be reselling, or a copy of, the 'Irish Dress' on the Sofi's Stitches website.

This is the closest actual, historical garment I could find from Ireland.

The differences are plain. There are attached sleeves, the skirt is one piece, the chemise neckline is visible and high, and this is a solidly middle-class garment inappropriate for the velvet of the 'Celtic Dress' version; the original surviving example was in twill.

It may help at least to know what time and place, 16th century Ireland, the dress is attempting to imitate!

Tina's world of fug

Meet Tina the Ebay vendor. Tina makes the same dress over and over again. It's simple: a big, baggy sack that's gathered at the neck, with long tulle bat sleeves that look like the work of a six year old DIY goth. Master the fine art of the chemise and you could make these dresses in your sleep.

She bills these things as 'medieval renaissance fantasy faerie style.' Well, I don't know what they're wearing in Faerie these days, but if they're buying stuff like this, they ought to be ashamed. I sure as hell don't fantasise about wearing cheap satin trash bags like these either. As for the 'medieval' and 'renaissance' labels? Not only does the pattern have no trace of historical accuracy, but the fabric's wrong as well.  Prints, when they do appear, include very modern looking scrollwork and flowers.

She also makes 'Southern Belle' dresses.  These look exactly the same as her medievissance things, but with little gathered cap sleeves in place of droopy tulle and a band of cheap lace tied around the waist in place of crochetted trim.

I don't see anybody bidding.

So close and yet so far...

This Northern Renaissance dress is gorgeous.  It fits exactly as it should, with a tight bodice and a full skirt.  It sports an ornamented panel over the bust, with black lacings over a white placket below.  The hanging, pointed cuffs are absolutely correct.  In keeping with the use of beading and velvet, which suggests nobility, the skirt has three stripes to indicate high rank.  I can't see details of the hat, but it looks accurate enough from the photo and the ostentatious plumes of feathers are perfect.  

There's just one problem: the colours.  I've looked at a lot of these gowns, and patterns emerge pretty quickly after you've poured over Cranach and Dürer.  The most popular colour was red, followed by black and by green.  Occasionally you do see a blue one, but never with a blue front panel.  It should be gold brocade, or black and patterned with beading.  I've never seen this much white used either, and it looks really bizarre.

That said, I would still give it an emphatic pass.  I myself was once lauded for a German gown in black and silver — not a period colour scheme, but it was otherwise correct and looked just so damn gothy.

All the Trimmings

One problem that comes up over, and over (and over) in costuming is the decoration. For later periods, sewing on pearl beads, making bands of brocade, or finding a braid trim can help; for earlier periods it always comes back to the bands of tablet-woven material that were so very popular then, but are so very difficult to find now.

Worse yet, a simple and plain early garment doesn't distract the eye from the details, and so the wrong choice of trimming becomes very noticeable.

First solution: tablet weaving is actually very quick and easy to learn, and doesn't require much to get started. This is one reason it was so popular! There are instruction and advice websites all over for doing your own tablet weaving, including free period patterns for it.

Second solution: if you have money but no time, there are a few places where you can commission tablet weaving.

Melanie Wilson's site has an email link to enquire about prices.
Linda Hendrickson sells supplies and commissions, but only within the USA.
Gina B 'creates trimmings, tassels, buttons and other small textile items for museums, costumiers, theatre, film, designers and private indivduals' and has some beautiful work displayed.

If you know of anywhere else that accepts tablet weaving commissions or sells tablet-woven material, please add it in the comments.

So close... and yet.

I'd like to note that Linen Garb seems to be a fairly new site with a limited selection, so they may start basic and improve.

Materials: good, it's all linen. Colours: good, except for one example of black. (Yes, black was possible, even cheap. But it was extremely unpopular for any time in which tunics were worn.) Quality: the garments look well-made in the photos.

Construction: pretty good, and the site even stops to explain it honestly: 'The tunic is a stylized smash up of sever [sic] historical styles. The tunic is long and comes to about the knees of most folks. The sleeves are long and taper to the wrist. They have gores inset under the arms to allow freedom of movement. The body is a straight tube with gores inset on the sides. Again to allow freedom of movement and it mimics the historic examples.' The only possible problem here, besides the v-neck, is the under-arm gores; otherwise this cut is accurate for 1000-1100 Scandinavian at mid-thigh length or for 800-1000 Anglo-Saxon at knee length, and may also be suitable for later periods if cut longer (it's harder to find a source for that online).

Detailing: Oops. Here is where we fall short. Tunics like these should have bands of another colour of material, of tablet weaving, or similar ornamentation. There should be a choice of neck styles - a simple boat-neck for a very early style, a round or keyhole neck for a later period. The v-neck they're using is right out. The sleeves should also be longer, and have a narrow wrist, so that they're wrinkled along the forearm. The sleeves of an undergarment should NOT show at the wrist.

There are no horrors here, but in a way that's worse: people looking at this site will take their clothing for accurate, and misconceptions will get passed along.

Yes, yes, yes!

I'd like about two dozen of these, please. Reprinted to help protect it for posterity.


Giles Hill of Sweetwater

(non habeo speculum?)
(Don't you have a mirror?)

* 1. Wearing fibers not found in nature

1.1 Spandex
1.2 Polyester
1.3 Acetate
1.4 Naugahyde

* 2. Wearing colors not found in nature

2.1 Neon shades
2.2 Electric shades
2.3 "Drafn pants"

* 3. Not wearing enough clothing for body type

3.1 hose that show leg hair
3.2 Anything that outlines fat rolls
3.3 Bunny-fur bikinis

* 4. Wearing clothing from too many periods in one outfit

4.1 Sneakers
4.2 Combat boots
4.3 blue denim jeans

* 5. Recreating the Middle Ages of another planet

5.1 Gor
5.2 Vulcan
5.3 Pern

* 6. Not wearing enough support garments

* 7. Wearing military toys as clothing

7.1 chain mail bikinis
7.2 chain mail codpieces
7.3 chain mail jewelry
7.4 wearing more than five blades simultaneously
(Dark Horde excepted)

* 8. Physical alterations

8.1 fangs
8.2 contact lenses
8.2.a snake eyes
8.2.b mirrors
8.3 Hair of shades not found in nature
8.4 Pointed ear prosthesis
8.5 Visible tattoos of an obviously modern theme
8.6 Award medallions in body piercings


A handy bit of research

And here someone has taken issue with Clothing Myths of the SCA. And they cite some kind of sources. Yay!

Realm of Fantasy Collections

Realm Collections claims to be for Re-enactors: 'Thou can find all thou needs for the upcoming SCA meeting. Find all you need from SCA armor to the perfect SCA garb.'

Oh boy. If you don't know how to use thee/thy/thou, please don't try.

Anyway, some of their stuff - for example, the stuff they're reselling from Sofi's Stitches - is fine. Other things, well. They claim 'Introduced in the late 1400's, this festive Celtic Dress may still be seen in Europe today.'

What what? Oh yeah I see these on the streets of Dublin all the time. It doesn't look accurate to anything, it's certainly not 1400, and I don't care what language the dress speaks.

Well how about the... Gypsy Princess Garb?!? I won't even start.

The men get a 'Norman Saxon Tunica'. It's a perfectly inoffensive early tunic, in case you wondered; I have no idea what the Romans or the Normans have to do with it.

There is one thing I noted with joy: this site actually has a long, ankle-length tunic for men! About time someone offered one of the most commonly worn medieval garments. It's, uh, a shame that it's black cotton, huh?

Monday, 23 March 2009

Fugstumes Galore!

At first I thought this place was just for Halloween and costume parties. But then I saw them talking about 'authentic looking' costumes and appealing to the Renaissance Faire crowd. And after a little look around, I've concluded that this stuff would get you laughed out of the SCA... or even a casual and drunken All Hallows bash.

I know it's hard to get a chainmail look from anything that isn't real chainmail. But I know you can do better than this. If I'm spending $65, plus a minimum of $11.95 for postage, I damn well want a real cross and not a big red splot on my tabard. And they have the gall to call this historical? Bleeeagh. It goes without saying that I see nothing period here, and I'm giving it an award for the fugliest armour I have EVER seen. God, they had garb less goofy in Conan the Barbarian!

And for the ladies, we have mismatched trim and ugly paisley! And the 1980's bridesmaid! Or maybe you want to express your uniqueness. What is that denim thing she's wearing? Yes, it's certainly unusual, but in this case I don't think that's a selling point.

And guys? I know jesters are supposed to wear bright colours, but couldn't you come up with something less hideous than this?

Most garb here is less fugly than these horrors but still sports cheap satin, crushed velvet and little lace ruffles. There's no interest in accuracy, with features from many different eras mixed randomly and executed so badly that even as fantasy garb, it fails. It is possible to create inexpensive costumes that are attractive and evoke the proper era, but it requires good sewing skills... which this place lacks in spades.

Alicia's Fugstumes

Alicia's rents out costumes from almost every period imaginable, and doesn't specialise in Ren Fairs or SCA. But it's offering custom made, 'professional' outfits and hopes to provide us with the 'finest quality costumes available.' It ought to be far above the level of cheap Halloween crap.

Not so. And because the clothes are so crappy, I am going to snark away. I've seen costumes sold in plastic wrap that looked better than this thing, which they're calling Medieval though it seems like a colourblind goth with no dress sense went crazy with the discount lace. And this? Nice try, but it's too Conan for the middle ages and covers up too much skin for Conan.

On to the Renaissance. Their tiny Elizabethan section is filled with crushed velvet. I'm no purist, and I don't give a shit if you make your garb with polyester as long as it looks like natural fibre. But crushed velvet does not qualify. It's got lycra in it, and it shows.

Sadly, the Elizabethan is the best of the Renaissance sections. Bravely, I venture on into 'Jesters.' Oh, dear, what have we here? It's a hoodie. A fucking hoodie. In a colour that would look good on no one, and with shredded hems that wouldn't ever, ever, ever pass as dags. As for peasants, they might patch their clothes, but they'd never sit down and make a whole skirt out of patches.

In 'Nobility,' we pair the crime of crushed velvet with the crime of gold lamé. We clothe some poor dipshit in ill-fitting white, green and orange. Nevermind the thousands of historical inaccuracies... this thing is just plain fugly. And... oh dear. A bodice front broad enough to use for target practice, a gown made of a blatantly modern, blatantly shiny floral print, cheesy satin sleeves with lace cuffs, and let's not start on the lack of a veil.

And they've got wizards. Poorly made. In powder blue. I think they stole bolts of the stuff hospitals use to make scrubs. Want more colour? No problem. But a kid with a knockoff Gandalf costume could put you to shame.

And now for the worst crime against colour schemes of all. I could say that this dress desperately needs a farthingale, and that hanging sleeves beginning at the shoulder are not tudor, and neither is the neck ruffle, or burnout velvet, or the stupid flap of wtf at the waist. But no, I won't go into that. I'll just stare, awestruck, at the GODAWFUL BLARING ORANGE.

Cheesy, ugly, poorly made. Oh yes, fine quality costumes indeed.

Good Riddance has a 'Business has closed down' notice up.

I wonder why.