How to be a Shield Maiden

How to be a Shield Maiden | HistoricalSewing.com

Horrible underarm sweat stain due to no protection like a dress shield

You’re standing under the two foot square of shade under the tree, fanning yourself as fast as possible. The cool air you crave is elusive….

Twirling around and around, you laugh and collide with fellow dancers on the packed floor….

If you do any sort of costume events in warm weather or in a ballroom, you know how hot you get in your dress. Then the inevitable occurs – damp sweat marks start to form under your arms, spreading over the sleeve and bodice.

Don’t let this happen to you! Take up your shields!

 

Underarm Stain from No Dress Shield Protection

Underarm Stain from No Dress Shield Protection

Have you ever ruined a bodice with sweat stains? Areas that just couldn’t come clean?

The best (and period correct) solution is to put in dress shields. These half-moon, oval shaped pieces made of two or more layers help absorb perspiration and keep your dress dry. Well… they at least are a HUGE help in keeping your bodice as dry as possible.

Although I wear dress shields in nearly all my costumes, I “glow” profusely and end up with damp underarms anyway. This is ok as I assume I’m probably not the only one who’s warm and if I remember to keep my arms down for photos.

But I wouldn’t dress up without them. Even when I KNOW my armpits will rebel against my proper Victorian nature. Even with doubling up on the shields it still is no good. (Perhaps you have better luck…)

 

Dress Shields

Dress Shields

My favorite dress shield supplier Greenberg & Hammer went out of business in 2010. But lately I’ve had good luck with the basic Dritz ones I can pick up in my favorite chain fabric store.

Generally modern, pre-made dress shields are made from an ultra-absorbent or wicking fabric. I used to have a pair that had a plastic type of inside that worked really well – that is until I forgot to remove them and they got run through the dry cleaner.

(Note to self: remove dress shields before taking to the cleaners!)

 

If you don’t want to spend the few dollars for pre-made ones, do what our ancestors did – make your own!

  • Use a couple layers of strong muslin with a thin cotton flannel in-between. The flannel is more absorbent. You could even use birdseye diaper cloth in the middle.

 

  • Trace your bodice armhole seamline from a couple inches toward the back of the side seam and about 3″ (or more) towards the front. You can adjust this depending on how your bodice fits. My shields are always tilted more towards the front for better protection.

 

  • Draw a half-oval shape 3″ to 4″ or more deep and add seam allowance to the armhole edge.

 

  • You’ll want to cut 4 half ovals (= one shield). Two ovals will be together on the bodice and the other two layers inside the sleeve. Seam them together at the armhole line. Finish the seam and raw edges with pinking, zig-zag or serging.
Two Part Dress Shield

Two Part Dress Shield

 

 

To wear, I recommend using tiny safety pins at the seam corners and at least one at the bottom of each oval. You’ll want to put the shield seam along the bodice armhole seam with one oval lying flat on the bodice and the other half tucked down into the sleeve.

Dress Shield Pinned Into Bodice

Dress Shield Pinned Into Bodice

 

Pin the edges down by only picking up the underlining of the bodice. If you have sheer sleeves with no underlining or lining, pick up a tiny amount of the fabric. If you have bodice seam allowances nearby, pin to them.

Shield Pinned Over Armhole seam

Shield Pinned Over Armhole seam

 

Even with good dress shield protection I will always do a quick cool water rinse of the underarm area after wearing to remove the chemicals of my deodorant and to dilute the perspiration on the garment. (I even do this (very carefully) with my silks and haven’t had too many issues.)

 

So Remember to Arm Yourselves Maidens! And please share this article (aka Tweet, Like & Email) with other damsels who need protection.

Comments

  1. May says

    What about protecting corsets? Mine have very attractive slightly yellow patches at the underarms. At least my white wedding corset dose.

    • Jennifer Rosbrugh says

      I have the same issue on my well-worn corsets, even with always wearing a chemise. Make sure to use a vodka spray as soon as you take it off so the vodka will eat away at the perspiration and keep it clean. You could make some thin shields and pin over the underarm area of the corset too if you’re really worried.

  2. Francena says

    I have used panty shields in the past with success. The ones with the “wings” work even better.

  3. Janet says

    Jennifer,
    do you have a recipe for the vodka spray or is there somewhere we can purchase the vodka spray?

    • Jennifer Rosbrugh says

      There’s no recipe. You want to use the cheapest vodka, like bottom shelf, store brand, you can find. (Don’t even try to drink it!) The proportions vary as to what kind of fabric you’re spraying it on. You can use full strength on stronger, light-colored fabrics like linen & cotton all the way to just a tablespoon or two in a bottle for silk. I generally just pour in a small amount in a spray bottle with some water for freshening. To remove stronger odors, go for at least 2:1 water to vodka or more. I usually just wing it and haven’t had any issues (even with silk). But someone might have more definite figures.

  4. Kathlene says

    I have found a wonderful way to keep perspiration stains off of my clothing. There is a product called PUL. I find it at JoAnn’s and probably in other fabric stores as well. It is actually meant for the outside of “home made fabric diapers” and stops anything!

    If you cut your shield out of fabric (2-front and back) the sandwich a piece of the PUL inside of the fabric, it will not leak at all. I can even use terrycloth on the inside of the shield or Birdseye diaper fabric for a soft, absorbant fabric next to my body. They rinse out wonderfully and you can make them as large or small as you wish.

    • Jennifer Rosbrugh says

      I suppose you could do this and attach to the bra, but the point of dress shields is to protect the garment. Not sure if attaching to a bra will absorb the sweat enough to protect the dress. You might be disappointed.

      • K. Winter says

        So does this mean that other ladies are wearing modern bras with their historical dresses? I thought I was being a traitor to accuracy for not abandoning my padded push-ups when I go otherwise fully 19th century! A good corset can only do so much to give you an hourglass figure when there’s nothing in the top half of the hourglass. ;)

  5. Liz says

    @Hazel Yes! This is an option! I just found this video from Kleinerts (dress shield specialists since forever) that models a snap-in version. It would be really easy to make Jennifer’s shields above and just add snap tapes like the ones shown in the video. That’s what I’m planning. I love the idea of washable AND no pins or sewing for everyday wear. I don’t want to suddenly get poked in the pit by a slipped safety pin! Eek! :-) Thanks so much, Jennifer, for the easy directions!

    • Varika says

      If you don’t want to be poked–which I can fully understand–take a couple of hand tacking stitches. You can pull them out fairly easily later, and no worries about slipping! Personally, I really don’t like the idea of snaps because I feel like THOSE would rub and irritate, too, so basting or tacking with thread is really the only option I can consider. Sure, it might take me an extra thirty seconds or to so get the stitches out at the three or four attachment points, but I’ll have reliability and comfort the whole day/night beforehand. It’s a fine trade-off.

      *heads off to see if she can’t find the PUL fabric and make a couple pairs of these things for use in her good suit, much less costumes!*

  6. melody says

    Hmm, I wonder if disposable breast feeeding sheilds would work. They usually have a leak proof inner layer to protect against “leakage” they also sell washable ones premade.
    What do you do for sleeveless bodices?

  7. says

    We used to used this amazing trick all the time when I work in the theatre and the costumes couldn’t be washed until the end of the run. Each actress would be given a colour and we would tack a few stitches onto each shield so when they came out the wash we knew who’s gown to put each back onto. Each shield would be attached with the tiny sized snaps/poppers you get and the other half sewn into the seam allowance of the dress so at the end of a show we had the delightful task of dashing round and whipping out all the sodden dress shield to get them in the wash and putting them back in in the morning. Its did help a lot at keeping the dresses vaguely fresh and made the girls feel a lot better. I use them on all my gowns now.

  8. Jackie says

    Along the lines of the disposable breastfeeding pads… I used some lovely felted wool ones when I was nursing–so much more comfortable and absorbent than those icky paper and plastic things. I wonder if dress shields in the day would have been made with layers of fine wool cloth, perhaps flannel.

  9. Rene says

    I had some wonderful reusable breast shields when I was nursing; they had a layer that wouldn’t let moisture through but was breathable. They would be too small, though. However-my son had a nasty dust mite allergy when he was young, so I needed to cover his mattress to keep him from reacting. I found a mattress cover at Target that resembled the outer layer in the shields–it was breathable but waterproof(and, naturally, dust-mite-proof) and washable. Maybe a layer of that in the dress shield would keep moisture from getting through. They were very inexpensive, and you could get a WHOLE LOT of dress shields from one twin mattress cover. Or even a crib mattress cover, for that matter.

    • says

      You would have to make the dress shield for only the area of the bodice which would be half size of this full one. Or take a two-part shield and simply fold at the seam and pin in.

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