So you've gone to a few events and the bug has bitten you hard. Welcome to the crazy hobby of re-enacting, where you'll spend thousands of dollars to look like a poverty stricken refugee living in a tent...
No, wait, you don't have to.
Well, you might.
So you have your basic kit. You might have bought it, or made it when you first started out, and you were learning to sew. It's now the winter, and you yearn for the smell of wood smoke and gun powder. Now is the time to dig out your kit and see what needs improving. Many times this job is done right now, in the mid spring, just before the season begins...or has already begun. ACK!
Look at your gear, try it on, what is working, what isn't? Does it 'fit', or does it really need to be taken in?
One of the biggest mistakes that new re-enactors make is wearing clothing that is miles too large. Others have chosen cotton over linen or wool because it's cheaper, some still, have used poly cotton, or straight up polyester fabrics because they didn't know any better. Did you? Here's a great article on just that very thing, common mistakes.
I'll let you go and read that one, then I might add to it so that you have better kit for this upcoming season.
Ok, so my biggest thing is fit. So many times I have seen people try really hard with fabric choices and hand stitching their garments beautifully only to fall flat in the fitting department. We are so used to wearing clothing that gives and flexes with our bodies (knitwear), that when we put on a garment made from straight woven fabrics, they feel too tight and constrictive.
We need to collectively put our big girl and boy undershorts on and suck it up...no, really, just suck it up. Your clothes are not going to feel as comfortable as your pajamas, like ever, but you will get used to the fit. You will get used to your historical clothing and it will begin to feel weird when you are at an event and aren't dressed properly.
To begin, the only thing that you'll be wearing that is loose is your shirt or shift, but even that shouldn't be swimming on you. It should be long, like to your knees. It should be relatively loose through the body, but not too big, you don't want those folds of fabric digging into your skin when you put on your more fitted over garments. The shirt sleeves should reach all the way to your wrists, maybe with a little play, your cuffs should button nicely. Your shirt collar should also button up nicely, if it doesn't then you'll have issues with tying your neck stock properly. You should be wearing a neck stock, tied over your shirt collar, nice and snug. Not all loosey goosey like on some recently released movies and TV series. If you are wearing a lady's shift, the sleeves should be elbow length and in most of the 18thC have fitted 'cuffs'. The neckline should be cut in line with the neck edge of your stays or gown and be finished nice and smoothly...if it has a ruffle, this should be small, of finer fabric and be whip gathered on to the flat edge of the neckline...not a draw string, bulky, ugly thing like on some commercially available shifts.
The only place that you want to have this garment really big is through the knees, so you can have lots of room to move your knees. Your legs will appreciate you for that.
Breeches, oh, my pet peeve, breeches. Not because I hate making them, in fact I love making them, but because so many people hate to make them and so make them badly, instead of taking the time to learn how to construct them properly, and have them fit properly. Wow, run-on sentence there, sorry. To make breeches, you need to construct the fall front first. I have also found that this job is really done best by hand. Trust me, I have tried by machine, with not the greatest results, and I've been doing this a while. Take an afternoon and do this step by hand. Make a beautiful fall. Then, don't mess with it! When you are constructing breeches, the fit is all undertaken through the inseam and the back. I make up the fronts completely, then I make the waistbands to fit the individual, then I stitch the fronts to the waistbands. Then I make the backs and sew to the side seams and waistband, gathering in the back waist as needed to fit into the waistband. Then I get the new owner to put on this crazy looking skirt and I fit the breeches snugly through the inseam. You are going to have to get over all the weird and uncomfortable feelings of being that close to his inseam. He's going to have to get over it too. You are his tailor, and these need to be tailored to fit.
Once this is fitted, then I mark where the knee bands need to be and finish off the legs. The knee bands should fit right below the kneecap, not half way down the guy's calf...that drives me right around the bend. They should be snug through the leg and over the knee, and fit nicely, cupping the knee when he bends his leg. No 'gathered' kneeband, no 'plus-fours' in this period. Sexy fitted legs are sexy, do it!
For women, it's wearing the proper number of petticoats and wearing skirt supports. Also, a pet peeve of mine. I wear three petticoats at minimum, sometimes four. I wear one under my skirt supports, it comes to mid calf. It is sometimes flannel, sometimes linen, depending on how hot it is. In Nova Scotia, I'm more likely to wear flannel because it doesn't get too warm here, except in August. But even when I went to Pennsic (a SCA war in Pennsylvania in August every year), I found I was much more comfortable wearing my wool petticoats than when I didn't. Moisture absorbing, insulating from the heat, all sorts of good things.
I will always have some form of skirt support, even in Regency period there was this little bum roll to support the back skirts. The skirt supports will take you from looking like a modern person playing 'dress-up' to looking like you've stepped out of a painting. Even when I am portraying a really lower sort, I use one of my petticoats hitched up through my pocket slits to support the skirts and make it look like the period I am portraying. If you are a bigger woman, like myself, I have found that using a bigger skirt support than your modern brain thinks is good looking, will in fact, make you look smaller through the body. So if you are big, go big with the supports. Don't bother with the itty bitty bum rolls, they just end up looking dumb.
Over my skirt supports I'll wear two more petticoats. Yes, TWO! any less, and you've got far too much blowing around trying to be Marilyn Monroe, which really isn't cool when you are doing a period where your legs are only supposed to show if you're in a Punch and Judy cartoon. I also don't skimp on the weight of the fabrics, if my top most petticoat is a fine silk, the second one will be much heavier. This is to keep the blowing around at a minimum, but also to prevent people from seeing my skirt supports through my petticoats. You're supposed to know they are there, but not ever see them.
Now, for waistcoats, frock coats, gowns, and jackets. For either man or woman, these should fit through the body nice and close to the body. The armholes should be nice and close to your actual armhole, not all big and 1980s. Even if you are a person of size, the armhole should be as snug as you can make it. This is for one reason, and one reason only. Remember that silly tug that Jean-Luc Picard had to do every time he stood up from the captain's chair? That tug was from his armhole being too big and the body garment moving around far too much. Bad tailoring. If the garment fits through the upper body and the armhole is nice and snug, then it doesn't matter how much you move, the garment will stay put. No tugging, no futzing. Period.
Another thing that bothers me is knowing where your actual waist is compared to your fashionable waist. Especially prevalent among people who wear hip hugger jeans, or their jeans down below their enormous bellies (guys, I'm looking at you, but also those muffin topped ladies...you too). Your waist line is usually around where your elbows hit your sides. Around. Mine hit exactly. Sometimes you can tie a snugly fitted piece of elastic around your waist and it will find your waistline. You really should find it. Now, in the Revolutionary period, and to some extent the Seven Years War period, the waistline for guys is below the actual waistline, to show off your proud bellies, you wealthy men you. For women, it is all about that waist, making it appear nice and small, so it behooves you to find out where it is. Fit your garments for the waist, not too long, not too big, and you'll feel much more put together.
Sleeves are another thing that should fit well, especially through the upper arm. You should also know where your shoulder point is, and the sleeve should fall from that point, or slightly higher. Feel the top of your shoulder for a bone that sticks out just a little bit, right where your arm hangs. That's your shoulder point. I set my sleeves just shy of that point, in favour of the neck, to give a nice rounding of the shoulder. Round, sloped shoulders are the key to getting this period right. There were no shoulder pads, no big 1940s, or worse 1980s shoulders here, for men or women. My husband has quite the shoulder line, nice and square, and I still manage to round them out in his period suits. The shoulder seam should be nice and snug to the body, and the sleeve should have minimal ease along this top shoulder. Scoot the ease to the back of the armhole. The shoulder seam should angle towards the back as well, not sit on top of the shoulder. This helps in getting a close fit, but also fools the eye into not seeing the shoulder at all.
So, in short, read that article I posted above, and then look at getting the proper fit for your clothing. Even stuff that you've made already can be unpicked and fitted again and re-stitched. Go do it. make your 'costumes' into 'clothes' and have a great season.
Tomorrow I might talk about dirt...yeah, I love some good heritage.