So many components go into creating clothing from the 19th Century. Going beyond the basics of line, proportion/scale, color and texture, these 5 Elements are crucial to successful historical costuming. Start with these Elements and adapt them to your specific project.
Element #1 – Design/Silhouette
The overall look of what makes your clothing or costume reflect period fashion.
The silhouette is what allows others recognize and distinguish a bustle dress, a full Civil War ball gown and a slim Regency gown.
Good design comes from a skilled eye and training. Even if you feel weak in design, you can still have a spectacular historical wardrobe by relying on others for inspiration. There is nothing new under the sun. And especially in fashion, it is acceptable practice to borrow ideas from other designers to help create your own look.
With silhouette, a 1870s dress wouldn’t look right without a full bustle support garment. Yet that same bustle support shouldn’t be worn under a “Civil War” dress and expect to be identified with 1860s fashions.
But what about similar styles in the 19th century such as the 1830s being repeated in the 1890s?
Even though to an untrained eye a dress from 1831 looks a lot like one from 1895, the silhouette – and the proper execution of that silhouette – can clearly separate the two. The two have large leg-o-mutton sleeves but the 1831 dress sleeve is off the shoulder. The 1895 bodice has the sleeve firmly sitting on the top of the shoulder. This comes from accurate cutting of the garment pieces and leads us to the #2 Element – Fit.