500 Years of Correcting “Historical” Halloween Costumes


– Hallowe’en is nigh,
friends, which means, at least in America, we are graced with such
intellectual brilliance and sumptuous craftsmanship as the quintessential Party City costume, some of which endeavor to
represent historical dress. What’s that? Blatantly unresearched
mass market attempts at the very thing I spend my
entire life obsessing about? Reluctantly ignoring the great
ethical elephant in the room regarding cheap mass production
of synthetic based garments made to be worn for a single
night and then thrown away. As that is not the point of this video. These costumes, well in
terms of historical accuracy, it seems like some of them don’t even try. And I know that’s not the point. The point, as I understand, is to impress your fellow party goers
with a copious display of Legs or something. But lest we let an innocent
population be mistakenly led to believe that these are
an accurate representation of how our ancestors would have dressed, I’m going to briefly take
you through five centuries of historical dress with Spirit
Halloween Adventure Emporium to guide the way. Quick note that I have done my
best to source public domain primary images and portraits
that accurately reflect what I am describing. So, those will pop up on the
screen at opportune moments, but in many cases, images
required are held under copyright and as the commercial
licensing fees would literally five times exceed the amount
that this video would earn in actual commercial revenue. Links to these images are
provided in the description box below according to the numbered
footnotes that will appear onscreen, if you care
to have a look at them. Annoying, I know, but this is life. So, this first one. Obviously,
there is a very deliberate deviation from the history here, but let’s see what we can do. First of all, I will pedantically
point out that they’ve titled it “Renaissance Guinevere Costume”, which if indeed they mean to
imply that this to resemble the Guinevere from Arthurian
legend, which is supposedly said to have taken place some time around the sixth century AD, is
as far from the dawn of the “Renaissance” period
in the fifteenth century as we millennial folk
are from Shakespeare. in Þonne stunde Engliscgereord swiðe elÞeodiglice wæs gespræcon. That is English even as the
Renaissance would have known it was spoken very differently back in ye olde Arthurian times. But I digress. Considering that although
very little remains to tell us exactly what was worn in sixth
century Anglo Saxon Britain, the style vaguely hinted
at on the model seems to be more fifteenth century
early “Renaissance”, so let’s go with that. Reluctantly, swallowing my
snark on the heavy make up and electric iron curled hair, women of the fifteenth century, do
I really need to say this? Wore long dresses. In fact,
if you were of the nobility or in royalty class,
you’d probably be wearing a dress so long, you basically
couldn’t walk anywhere. Hence why we see women
frequently depicted in paintings and illuminated manuscripts
holding a literal armful of skirt all the time. Structured garments aren’t
really a thing quite yet. That’s right, friends,
no corsets here and not until the sixteenth century.
As her under most layer, our fifteenth century lady
would be wearing a smock. Probably white and made
from fine, strong linen. Next, she’d be wearing
a kirtle, or underdress, which would be of a contrasting
color to the over gown, so that at least you get
to have some fun when you inevitably have to keep
picking up your endless skirt. So the costume vaguely
got this right, although the split front skirts
wouldn’t become a thing until around the sixteenth century, along with the deep square neck line. Square neck lines are starting
to become a thing in the mid-fifteenth century, but
necklines at this point prevalently tend to be quite
wide. Almost off the shoulder. So, close but not quite. The kirtle, however, could
potentially be seen through a front gap if the over gown
is laced at center front. Oh, and the lacing. How to
Spot Poor Research in Period Costume 101. Look for the lacing. Cross lacing, such as this, doesn’t become a widespread thing until
the nineteenth century. There is of course, rare
exception, but for the most part, garments are closed
either with spiral lacing, one thread of lace spiraling
through off set holes, or more specifically to the
medieval and Renaissance eras, ladder lacing, which appears as a series of perfectly horizontal rows. The over gown is close fitting
enough, presumably to provide a bit of bust support,
but is not yet affected by heavily structured support garments. These close fitting gowns
are a mark of high status, as they involve an incredible
amount of fabric wastage when cut out, and fabric,
especially silk, was handwoven and extremely costly. Lower classes would have worn
looser gowns, but our lady seems to have opted for the
bougie form fitting look here, so we’ll go with that. Although whatever’s going
on with that waist seam, which isn’t actually sitting
at her natural waist at all, is not a thing. Gowns of
the fifteenth century tend to either to be cut in
long shaped panels without a waist seam, or do have
a waist seam but in the style of the gown called
a houppelande, but the waist line on that is
raised to under the bust and the front of the gown is densely pleated. Close fitting tended
to be the trend amongst the fashionable, we have
just discovered form fitting cutting techniques, after all. So most of the sleeves we see depicted are very tight fitting,
closing with rows of small buttons along the forearm. Unless the goal is to have
Exceedingly Extra sleeves, in which case, they are in
fact as Exceedingly Extra as the skirts, not those floaty little 1970s bell sleeves. These garments could be
made from the natural fibers available: wool for colder
weather, linen for warmer weather, or silk if you’re really posh. Alas, the bright synthetic
fuchsia color is a shade that won’t come into
existence until the invention of aniline dyes in 1856, so
we’ll adapt that to a slightly redder shade that could have
been achieved with madder root. Finally, sorry Sexy Renaissance Guinevere, but the hair has got to go. Again, although with occasional exception, women are mostly depicted
wearing hoods or veils. These were worn over a
cap? cloth fillet? we don’t really know because we
don’t really get to see them beyond the occasional tantalizing
peek from under her hood. But the hair would likely have been worn plaited and looped up at either
side then the hood or veil pinned securely to the
cap-thing tied underneath. These do not necessarily need
to coordinate with the rest of your outfit, so go ahead
and rock that woad blue hood with your red gown. And thus we have our new
and improved medieval lady. Yes, ok a bit more involved
and a lot more expensive than that $58 price
tag, but what happens in the sixteenth century? It’s got to be Her
Majesty Queen Elizabeth I, of course. And we have a bit of contrasting decades happening here. She seems to maybe have
a very small conical hoop under the skirt, which
would have been more popular in the middle to early
latter part of the century. Although, of a much more
substantial cone shape, of course. However, the large upright
collar is most definitely a style of the very end
of the sixteenth century, from the 1590s up until
the Queen’s death in 1603. And the skirt shapes are
very different by then. Let’s go ahead and assume
the skirt shape is a mistake, while the collar is intentional,
and aim for around 1595. The defining silhouette of
the late Elizabethan period is the extremely elongated
conical upper body, with the wide circular
skirt shape created by the French farthingale, or
essentially a wide ring-shaped skirt support worn at the waist. The underskirts and skirts
fall over this support to create a distinct drum shape. The second part of the
sixteenth century is the first point at which
at least currently in 2019 we have found evidence of a
separate stiffened upper body support garment. Known in the
period as a “pair of bodies”. In fact, one of the two
pairs that survived from the Elizabethan period are
attributed to Queen Elizabeth herself, having been installed
on her funeral effigy. So the pair of bodies,
yes the precursor to the nineteenth century corset,
did exist and were worn at this time, although evidence
or lack thereof, suggest that they were not common
amongst all classes of people. And that the upper nobility
classes and the Queen herself were primarily the ones wearing them. The ruff, which previously
sat round the neck, could now be worn open, framing
the edge of the bodice. And unlike our weird, slim,
little fantasy Princess shoulder puff sleeves on the costume. OG Elizabethans required ultimate puff. The entire sleeve just one massive puff. The ruff would have
been worn in addition to the second floaty collar
thing which was not a regular feature of dress amongst
normal non-royal Elizabethans and in terms of hair, well,
the style on the model looks like it’s trying
to be Ancient Greek. Elizabethans tended to
sculpt a sort of heart-shaped hairdo, and as Elizabeth
was very fond of pearls, like *very* fond of pearls, she
is often seen in portraiture having large pearls stuck into her hair, so, I’m not quite sure why
the model’s got a necklace on her head and an Ancient
Greek fillet or something. The deep red color on the
costume is something that could have been achieved with natural
dyes, but the over dress would not have been made from
polyester crushed velvet. The gown would have been made
from elaborately woven damask silk and probably embellished
with precious beads and yep, more pearls. And because
whoever needed subtlety anyway? The kirtle underlayer
which could have been seen through a split front skirt,
now acceptable, would have also been made from a patterned silk and probably also embellished. So yes, once again, copious
embellishment and expensive handwoven silks, probably are
not the most cost effective plan for mass manufacture
but, at least the silhouette could have been given probably
a little bit more effort. Which brings us to the pilgrims
of the seventeenth century. First of all, they are
not even trying to make these fabrics not look like
actual plastic in the picture but that is entirely beside the point. In terms of silhouette,
this one isn’t bad. I attribute this to the fact
that the pilgrim figure is the first we’re seeing that
isn’t intended to reflect the high-fashions of Royalty or nobility. You can get away with quite
a bit when distinct skirt shapes aren’t involved. Assuming this costume is
supposed to reflect that of those pilgrims present on that
particular Mayflower voyage, we’re probably looking at some not- quite high fashionable sixteen twenties. Once again, like her predecessors,
she’d still be wearing a white linen smock under
everything which we’d see the upper bit from under the bodice. Not sure what that plain circle round the neck on the model is
but I suspect it’s meant to represent the large falling
ruffs or wide flat collars, generally worn by the upper class in seventeenth century portraiture. The costume does get the presence
of the white cap correct, but according to history, it
should be shaped less like a mid nineteenth century bonnet,
concealing the peripheral vision, and should be set
further back on the head. While there is evidence
again of pairs of bodies existing by this period, it’s
still not very likely that those beyond the upper
classes would have worn them. Particularly as the bodies
and stays we see during the seventeenth century are
really heavily boned with approximately 1.5
million slim little bones which I can confirm takes approximately one whole eternity to stitch by hand. The bodices, kirtles, or doublets
themselves would have been stiffened and laced or pinned
together tightly but likely we’re not corsetted as we may
say today, and would close down center-front again
with laces or pins. The skirts would have been long and full with lots of gathering at the waist. And she may have worn a bum-roll
for some additional fluff, however, at least amongst pilgrim classes, we now have done away
with large skirt supports. The presence of the white
linen apron is indeed correct, but with a slimmer waistband
to be perfectly pedantic, and that tealy-blue shade
is a perfectly achievable color with the natural woad
dyes on the linen or wool that would have been used to
make up the original garments. Our eighteenth century
lady is actually a vampire. The historical accuracy, let alone existence of which is
debatable, but here we are. We are back to the upper
classes here, with what appears to be emulating the court fashions of the mid-eighteenth century. The loose ruffled cuffs
and the skirt shape suggest the middle of the century
when skirts reached their widest width amongst fashionable society, but the sleeve cuffs had not yet developed into
the small close fitting ones of the latter part of the century. The shape of the skirt is
achieved with a wide panier, made of cane, baleen, iron, or wire, and was wide high on the hips, not inexplicably in the middle of the leg like on the costume. And was otherwise flat
across front and back. The gown, probably a robe à
la française, which would have had a pleated cape-thing at the back, would have been open at the
center front, pinning in place at either side of the separate stomacher, which would in turn have
pinned to her stays. Yes, by this time we are now
seeing the near ubiquitous wearing of stays, the immediate
precursor to the corset, by all classes of women. And
although they tended to be worn underneath the gown
by the fashionable lady, they weren’t necessarily
strictly underwear. And working women are often
seen depicted in portraiture and illustrations wearing
just their stays over their shifts, petticoats and skirts. But anyway, stomachers could indeed be decorated with lots of bows. Lots of bows. And the dress itself,
particularly these long front robing panels, would have had
no skimping on the ruffles. So, good try twenty-first
century, but we’re going to need a much stronger ruffle game than that. Even the petticoat, which
would have been seen through the front split of the gown,
could have been heavily ruffled with tiered flounces of the hem, scalloped edges, and more, more ruffles. Meanwhile, this collar
thing isn’t accurate at all, and I assume the aim was
more #vampireaesthetic than historical accuracy with this one. I could make a distinct
connection if this were the Elizabethan period as we
previously saw, but I’m afraid I haven’t seen anything
vaguely resembling Gothic Vampiretrash collarthings
in the eighteenth century. So, we’ll go ahead and replace that with a little neck ruffle,
which is a thing seen in contemporary portraiture. I can’t really tell if
the sleeves on the costume have a puffed shoulder or
if the fabric’s just been bunched up with the pose. If they are princess-puffed,
that is false. Sleeves of the mid-eighteenth century were not terribly full,
with a few small pleats taken at the shoulder for a small peak, but we’re not puffed à la the Tudors. And the sleeve flounce is
acceptable here and would indeed have been made from
lace, or ruffled silk. But in the logic of the
eighteenth century lady, why just have one when you
can have three, with bows, for maximum floofage? Finally the hair,
although, not even trying to be eighteenth century,
I’ll at least forgive them for not putting her in
a white beehive wig. I have a whole separate
video on a talk given by the ladies of American Duchess,
in which they demonstrate live how to achieve
those eighteenth century powdered hairstyles. But
basically the hair should be very vertical, not set back on the head. With a few little buckles,
or rolls, on the sides and possibly the back of the head. It would have been powdered
into a much paler color, but not perfectly white, and
in all likelihood this would have been her natural hair, not a wig. So the first thing to note
about the fabrics is that in the eighteenth century,
black is extremely rare, and I’m actually not sure
I’ve ever seen a silk black eighteenth century gown. Still, black dyes were available and so it was possible at least so I will let our vampire
lady keep her black silk gown. The red, for the contrasting
petticoat and the stomacher is a bit more believable. And while the petticoat
could have been a bit more understated in plain
silk, the gown silk would commonly have been woven with a pattern. Finally, we come to
the nineteenth century. Mass production Hallowe’en
costumes simply wouldn’t be mass production Hallowe’en
costumes without a bit of unconsidered, problematic
undertones, am I right? So, let’s say we’re looking at once again an upper class woman of the 1860s. First and foremost, there is a discrepancy between the occasion on
the costume, as the parasol and wide chin strapped hat,
which is completely not even trying to be period,
so let’s just ignore that completely, implies day
wear and outdoor activity. However, in the middle of
the nineteenth century, there was a distinction
between day and evening wear in the exposure of the arms and shoulders. Long sleeves and high
necklines for day wear, and low, wide necklines with
short sleeves for evening. We are already banishing
that hat to the deepest pits of hell, so let’s be
rid of the parasol as well and call this evening dress. The costume does reflect the fashion for the wide neckline,
although historically, the wide neckline would
have been bordered by the bertha collar, a wide
pleated ruffled or lacey strip of collar to decorate the neckline. And although the collar is wide, nothing actually slips off the shoulder like the costume shows. The fashionable silhouette
of this period involves making the upper body
look as small as possible. Yes, corsetry is by now
a thing, and this is arguably the period of most dramatic waist reduction in history. But the combination of
the large crinoline skirts with fullness starting at
the waist and spreading all the way round, not just
at the sides or in the back, the waistline sitting
absolutely no lower than the natural waist, the long
slim peak at the fronts of the bodice and to
the wide bertha collar serve to optically diminish
the size of the torso. So, the low waistline,
shallow peak, and the skirt with slight fullness only at
the hem, not at the waist, serve to get the original costume a distinctly non-1860s silhouette. We already know that the shape
of the skirt is all wrong, but at least the decoration
is playing a bit of accuracy. Tiers, flounces, swagging, and
large bows were common ways to decorate large evening skirts. But no side ponytails, I’m afraid. The 1860s lady would have worn her hair for an evening event, flat at the top with a few ringlet curls
at the sides of the face, and perhaps some foliage in her hair. And at long last, by ye olde
1860s, aniline dyes are a thing so bright vibrant shades
of fuchsia are possible. The costume is a bit more
purple but for the sake of celebrating vibrant color
possibilities, as was very much the mentality of the
mid-nineteenth century. I’ve gone ahead and made
her a bit more pink. And so there we have our very
brief overview of fashion history. Maybe you can sally
forth fully armed into your Hallowe’en party this year
readily equipped to expound the importance of waistline
placement to the first unsuspecting muggle you happen to upon. Maybe, don’t do that. Anyway, happy Hallowe’en, whether you are doing historical things or not. By the way, I have no use
for the little drawings now, so I have decided to go ahead
and put those up for auction on eBay, and since I have
absolutely no idea what my doodles are worth, all of
the listings are going to start at $1, so, link in
the description if that is something that is of interest
to you and if not, cool. Bye.