Last week I wrote about trying to sort out what clothes my protagonist would wear for her wedding in 1886 Vancouver and the help I got from local costume historian Ivan Sayers.
One thing I really appreciate about Ivan – one of our local historical heros – is the empathy and insight he shares about the social history of women as reflected in the fashions of the day. He not only knows the minutiae of fashion from the 1800s to the present, from clothes to accessories, but he also knows and shares his social political knowledge through the historical fashion shows he commentates.
Beauty by impairment – that’s what he calls the various practices over time that have had detrimental effects on women’s health and mobility.
Historical documents frequently tell of the pain, discomfort, and constraint that women endured from their clothes and underwear – conditions that were unhealthy in the short and long term, and especially so during special times like pregnancy and travel. There was a good reason women called them instruments of torture for the pinched, bruised, and made it hard to breathe.
In the west, the smaller a woman’s waist and the more it could be squeezed and shaped to fit the current ideal of beauty, the more attractive she was considered. It’s no different from women in traditional Chinese culture whose feet were bound, causing such pain that the girls whose feet were bound to confinement cried themselves to sleep and ultimately limiting their mobility and making them virtual cripples.
Before about 1800, corsets were made of the oft-mentioned whale bone and were called stays, but later, softer padded fabrics were used to contour the body as fashion demanded – either rigid and straight, or curved and flowing.
From about the mid 1800s, crinolines were de rigeur. These were made of steel that was heavy and unwieldy or else so wide that women couldn’t move from one room to another.
Later, collapsible versions allowed women to sit on the ground at picnics, while still maintaining their modesty by concealing (and denying?) their natural shape.
My protagonist Annie, wouldn’t have had the time or energy to be too concerned about getting all her layers of confinement down pat, what with having to bend and lift and carry in the course of her 12-14 hour workdays in the factory.
But once she came to Vancouver, even though she worked as a domestic in the home of the sawmill manager, she would have had more leisure and more opportunity to enslave herself to the dictates of fashion, exchanging one task-master for another some might say.
And her wedding, in the spring of 1886 would have given her the chance to go all out, to wear the most fashionable clothes and undergarments she could afford or find in the backwater that was Vancouver, and binding herself up to be acceptable to her husband and to society. I am going to try to show some of this in the opening scene which I have been writing and re-writing off and on for several weeks!
Women are still going to extremes to fit the current standard of beauty as witnessed by breast implants, Botox, skin and teeth whitening, bulimia, anorexia….. Sadly the list goes on and women continue to feel compelled to go along with unhealthy practices in order to fit an unrealistic standard of beauty.
If you’re interested in fashion history and women’s social history, or would like to learn more about Ivan’s projects, check out SMOC, the Society for the Museum of Original Costume which he founded in 1992 to build, preserve, and study historical textiles, fashion, and traditional costumes.
His next fashion show is entitled Beastly Habits on Sept 21 and will coincide with the Beaty museum exhibit Skin and Bones which opens Sept 15 and runs until next summer.
As I’ve been working on writing a wedding-day scene for my historical novel set in Vancouver 1885-1913 I realize I need help to get her underwear and clothes right so I can be as authentic as possible.
I’ve been reading historical novels for years, but have always glossed over these terms in my effort to get on with the story, and only ever had a vague idea about what they were.
Now I understand that part of the reason I never fully understood is because their design, purpose, and construction changed according to the whims of fashion and the social position of women over the couple of hundred years they were worn.
The study of the history of fashion is a complex and detailed discipline and one I don’t claim any proficiency. But in Vancouver, we’re fortunate to have a knowledgeable and passionate costume historian, Ivan Sayers, who not only knows the minutiae of fashion, but also the social history of women as it relates to it.
From details about the multiple layers of underwear and the way a corset was tightened. From the colour and pattern on fabric to the way a woman wore her hair. From the kind of jewelry to the style of shoe – Ivan knows these details as they went through their subtle and profound changes every few years from the 1800s to the present. As well as what was available and acceptable here in the early days of Vancouver.
I spent a fascinating couple of hours with him last week and he gave me the low-down on Vancouver fashion of the 1880s – what the women here knew about the latest fashions in Europe, how they tried to replicate it, and what they’d do to fudge it the parts they couldn’t, whether because it wasn’t available or was too expensive – specifically for my servant-girl protagonist.
Shifts, crinolines, bustles, petticoats. Here was my chance to get the low-down without having to pour through books and try to figure out which style was appropriate for the time in.
Ivan is a local historical hero in my books – and we’re lucky to have him. Next week I’ll talk about his work to create a costume museum in Vancouver and his fashion shows featuring original clothing that he commentates, bringing a feminist historical perspective to the issues, trends, and movements as they relate to clothing of the time.
In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Ivan’s projects, check out SMOC, the Society for the Museum of Original Costume which he founded in 1992 to build, preserve, and study historical textiles, fashion, and traditional costumes.
His next fashion show is entitled Beastly Habits on Sept 21 which will coincide with the Beaty museum exhibit Skin and Bones which opens Sept 15 and runs until next summer.
Copyright, strictly speaking means the right to copy. And there are restrictions – predominantly to give credit for and financial compensate to those who created a body of work.
This includes photos whether digitally available or in print format.
Just because you own a physical copy of something (a print, a photo, a book), it does not mean you can re-produce it.
Rather than go into a subject that is complex and fraught with potential liability, and for which I am not qualified I urge you to check with each website or archive from which you have gotten a photo or piece of artwork to find out about copyright restrictions and permissions of things in their collection.
A big part of the work of an archives is to be the custodians or guardians of the records they hold. Because most records are original and one-of-a kind, there are special conditions that apply when you want to do research there.
Here they are – in a nutshell.
You almost always have to register as a user, indicating the your research subject and intention. Once registered, on each subsequent visit, you’ll need to sign in, and then, for every item you want to see, fill out a document request form.
Generally you’ll only be given one document at a time at to look at.
You’ll often be asked to leave most of your belongings outside the reference room including purses, backpacks, coats. There are usually lockers for you to keep your things in – sometimes they’ll give you a token to use or sometimes you’ll need coins. Generally, you are only permitted to bring paper and pencil, or a laptop making notes, and now – usually – a cell phone.
Sometimes you are given instructions on the care and handling of the document you’re going to look at, like supporting weak bindings or fragile pages. And keeping things in their original order. Sometimes you’re given a pair of gloves to wear or a couple of beanbags to hold documents flat.
I am in the early stages of my novel. I have a first draft done, but now the work really begins to make the character and plot arcs coincide and be plausible, logical, and engaging.
However I am also keeping my eye open for future marketing options and recommendations, and beginning the journey to raise my profile as a writer and local historian.
I worked for many years at the Vancouver archives assisting researchers, but that was before I had kids and took a big detour homeschooling them and turning my energy to parenting and community activism, so a lot of people who I’ve met in the last 15 years don’t know about my work in local history.
I may self-publish, but since my story is predominantly of local interest, it might be better for me to go through a conventional local publisher and be eligible for local recognition and exposure. I’m still deciding and hope that the answer will make itself apparent when (if?) the time comes. In any case, even if one uses a conventional publisher I’ve heard there is still a huge onus on the author to publicize her works so regardless of the path you choose, it seems like a good idea to get on the marketing band-wagon early so you can set yourself up as well as possible beforehand.
I recently wrote a post about my experiences of self-publishing on the Amazon Kindle store, explaining my reasons for going through with it and why I think it’s a great idea. However for those who are planning on trying it for the first time, it can be a daunting and scary prospect. I would recommend doing as much research as possible beforehand, to know what you’re getting into. Jumping into self-publishing without adequate preparation is a huge waste of an opportunity. Here are some of my top tips for preparing to self-publish your novel:
Decide on your author brand: Are you going to use your real name, or a pseudonym? What sort of books will you write – romantic comedies or dark thrillers? How are you going to market yourself and to which type of audience? It’s a good idea to come up with a basic marketing plan before…