gibson guys & a pleasant surprise

BREAKING: Charlotte Gibson debuts her latest Gibson Guy, a plucky little fellow called Charles Dana – after the artist, of course. Available in print November 1897!

This is possibly my most esoteric Halloween costume yet, surpassing even 2012’s “partially decapitated Isadora Duncan”. Charles Dana Gibson, of course, is the creator and primary artist of the Gibson Girl pinup series. “A Gibson Girl, but alive and holding a picture of the artist himself” started as a drunken #showerthought, but it was too delightfully pretentious not to attempt.

I drafted the blouse from my trusty 59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns. Like most things I make, I finished it at the eleventh hour. There’s still some weirdness going on with the back yoke; clever eyes can spot the safety pins. Hey, if you’re not constantly screwing up, there’s nothing to make do and mend, right?

Not a bad likeness!

We take Halloween seriously in my house. My partner and I took the day off work to wander around the Shelburne Museum in costume. It was the last day for the outdoor exhibits, and a chilly one at that, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Which I was very grateful for when he hustled me aboard the beached Ticonderoga … and asked me to marry him.

Yup! A Halloween proposal – which, if I’m being honest, I knew was coming. I still enjoyed suspending disbelief and shrieking all bridezilla-like when he pulled out the ring.

And that wasn’t the only surprise: he’d bought VIP tickets to our favorite haunted attraction, Nightmare New England in Litchfield, NH. It was a six-hour round trip in a corset, but I got to spend Halloween night chased through the woods by cannibals with my brand-new fiance. In full Victorian dress, because it’s not Halloween unless you’re living dangerously.

Plus, my ring is kinda objectively To Die For.


margery the magnificent

Halloween ain’t over until I say it’s over, and I definitely do not say it’s over. I’m gonna drag this thing out until it’s pleading for mercy. Here’s costume #1: Mina “Margery” Crandon, the psychic who nearly bested Harry Houdini and almost certainly banged him.

I learned about Margery and her dalliance with the Handcuff King at the Springfield Steampunk Festival back in September. Who knew that Houdini, in his later years, became obsessed with rooting out faux mediums and even acted in such capacity for Scientific American? I didn’t! Nor did I know that Margery, his foremost nemesis, was so engaging in her own right.

Card-carrying skeptic that I am, I’m solidly on Houdini’s side. But I kinda can’t help but love Margery Crandon, the whole “exploiting people’s grief” thing be damned. I’m a fool for flappers, and Margery took the New Woman’s ethos to its most dramatic conclusion. Who says a lady can’t be anything she wants? Even an abject fraud?

In costume as Crandon, I wore the authentic 19teens dress I got for an absolute song on eBay last summer. My living room made a damn good backdrop. And this isn’t even my final form – I’ve got another, grander costume to share this weekend!

And the real thing…



off duty

This is my brain on casual. I never quite feel like myself this way, but in some ways dressing ostentatiously is like plotting a horror movie: you can’t keep building and building tension. Eventually it has to dip. Switching things up, getting a few laughs – that’ll make it all the sweeter when climactic screams start pealing.

Some outfits are a palate cleanser. Sometimes I need a break from the drama of rayons and feathered hats. Sometimes it takes a little less nonsense and a little more no. This outfit is younger and simpler than my norm, but it makes a nice change.

And, funnily enough, it’s the relatively basic ones that seems to turn the most heads. College girls stop me in the street: “oh, I love your look!” Maybe it’s more approachable? More relatable? Or maybe people just assume I’m wearing a costume when I’m dressed in the usual. The other day an older gentleman came up and asked, rather aggressively, “what are you??”

Hat: ’40s, Fancy Lucky Vintage

Skirt: ’40s or ’50s, Barge Canal Market

Everything else: thrifted

the medieval museologist

I got this rayon skirt set for my birthday back in May, and I gotta say – it’s practically magic.

True to its knight-and-princess print, this outfit makes me feel otherworldly in the best way. It’s part of my growing stable of “eccentric Deco dame” duds. I’ve said this many times before, but dressing three times mt age gives me a comfort and a confidence moving through the world. I have a high voice and a baby face, which ’50s pinup styles accentuate uncomfortably. Signaling “nutty rich grandma” may be overcompensating, but it lets me know I’m taken seriously. I did a double take the first time I got “ma’am”ed, but it’s way better than “when are you graduating from high school?”

(Yes, I got asked that. Last year. At the age of 22.)

Plus – I know it’s silly, that it’s flirting with the historical revisionism I castigate others for, but part of me loves imagining myself as a working woman in the ’30s. A lady in a smart suit was going places, literally and not. I feel just a little like Edith Crawley or Jenny Lee. I know it was harder than we acknowledge, and I know it’s often still an uphill battle – but, my god, how exciting.

And this suit in particular puts me in the working gal state of mind. As of last month, I’m officially enrolled in Northwestern University’s museum studies program. It’s three semesters of online classes plus a conference in Chicago next year, and I’m pretty over the moon about it. Working with material history, mining the stories of objects and letting them tell new ones – it’s what I live for, honestly. I can’t wait for the rest of my life to start.

My concentration is in living history and reproduction (quelle surprise), so I’ll be broadening my historical sewing repertoire over the next few months!

Suit: ’30s or ’40s, gifted

Hat: ’30s, The Vintage Hat Shop

Everything else: thrifted

me-made: the epic belle epoque

This post is, oh, six months in the making. Longer, if you count how long it’s been a pipe dream. But six months is when I started working in earnest. My partner is crazy for everything Victorian, and his enthusiasm is catching; I’ve long wanted to join him in his preferred era. This past April, I remembered that I own Kristina Harris’s splendid 59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns, and I set immediately to work.

Commentary mine.

I’ve drafted patterns before – hell, I’ve taught pattern drafting – so I was reasonably confident going into the project. This book, though, raised the bar quite a bit. I came away feeling like I’d leveled up as a seamstress. A single project has never enriched my skills quite this much, and I can’t wait to try another pattern. I expect I’ll be practically superhuman once I get to the end of the book.

You see, these patterns, like most pre-mass-production ones, don’t come with instructions. Once you’ve traced and cut the pieces, you’re on your own. This was the first challenge: I went into the drafting without any notches or other indications of what went where, so I was forced to be that much more precise in my cutting. I confess I often skimp on seams I know aren’t going to be crucial or visible. (Doesn’t everyone?) This pattern didn’t make that immediately obvious, so I treated every seam like a potentially crucial one. That’s part of why this project took as long as it did.

The other part is that I actually made a muslin – yes, another thing I usually skimp on. I’m pretty good at visualizing patterns in 3D and as such don’t usually need one, but I was taking zero chances with this. And I’m glad I did, even if posting about it now just reveals what a lazy seamstress I am!

You can see from the final product that I went considerably off book. I’ve never met a pattern I didn’t want to modify, and I made no exception here. I can’t help it; I was terrible at rules growing up, and I’m no better now. Leopard, spots, etc. I lowered and squared the neckline – can’t stand high necks – and swapped the ruffles for a slight bustle. Between the stomacher (reinforced with cardboard) and the rear panniers, the dress ended up vaguely 1780s in shape. Not as explicitly Victorian as it could have been, but it’ll make a great peasant-rate robe a’langlaise should I ever get into Revolution reenactments.

Plus, I think altering garments is truer to the spirit of authenticity anyway. It’s not like actual historical seamstresses never got creative. Maybe I’m cosplaying a Victorienne who happened to love the 1780s.

I finished the dress in time for the Springfield Steampunk Festival, where I wore it with an authentic Victorian petticoat and felt like a million bloody bucks. Looking at the photos now, I’m already seeing a million little flaws, but I still couldn’t be happier with my first-ever Victorian garment. Many more to come! The 1890s have an undeniable charm.

late summer & life lately

I got this dress for an absolute song earlier in the season, thanks to a busted zipper and a haphazard waist repair. I took half an hour to fix it up, and it’s been a staple ever since. This novelty print is perfectly suited to the last dregs of summer – and I’m hoping that by saying that I can summon its end.

The past couple of months have been packed to the gills, with yet another venture in sight: I’m leaving tonight for the Springfield Steampunk Festival, where this year I’ll be giving a panel! If you’re so inclined, join me tomorrow at 5 for “From Georgians to Gibson Girls: Fashions of the Steam Age and Beyond”. Even if that’s not your thing, you know you want to see me forget my lines in front of strangers. Everyone loves secondhand embarrassment.

Last month I ran a weeklong sewing class at the Heritage Winooski Mill Museum, of which you’ve probably seen evidence on Instagram. I taught four women to custom-draft a pattern and sew a midcentury dress. They’d all sewed before, but not from scratch. None of them had drafted. And yet – all four students came away with a brand-new custom-fit dress. A hat where there never was a hat! I don’t know whether to be prouder of them or of myself. (Them, definitely. But even so.)

As for my own sewing, I’ve traveled back still further in time. I made a Viking tunic for a battle reenactment over Labor Day weekend, and tomorrow I’ll be debuting my very first Victorian day dress. That’ll be worth a post and a half on its own, but I can’t resist teasing. I’ve also been teaching my partner to sew. We’re making him a 16th-century Spanish doublet. All the better to complete his Inigo Montoya transformation.

Dress: ’40s, Vintage Inspired Lifestyle Marketplace

Hat: ’30s-’40s, thrifted

me-made: minnie to the max

I originally made this dress for a Pokemon trainer cosplay. Keen eyes will notice the appliques on the headscarf: bug types for life. I don’t consider myself a gamer or really much of a nerd, but my God I love me some Pokemon.

The cosplay weekend ended up rained out, but my godparents’ cabin  more than made up for it. No better place for unabashed country kitsch. And it’s great to spend a whole day barefoot (and thankfully not pregnant).


a wine-dark suit for the wine-dark sea

Once again, I’m sharing photos over a month late. I wish I could claim some fashionable reason for holding onto them: affecting coquetry, perhaps, or waiting for Mercury to exit retrograde. Nope – I’m just busy as hell. And social media, as always, has two equally sharp edges. I like being able to share momentary snaps when a full blog post isn’t feasible – when things are all or nothing, it’s too easy to default to “nothing”. The middle ground is welcome.

On the other hand, with Instagram at my fingertips, it’s easy to forget why I choose “old media” in the first place. At heart, I truly don’t believe 140 characters or a single phone-size shot is enough. “Why blog when I can ‘gram?” is a fallacy of a question. They’re totally different experiences. And I agree with Nora – I’d rather experience longform.)

Anyway. On the cusp of summer’s end, I’m posting my fourth annual Ogunquit pinup shots. (Previous years’ here, here, and here.) Swimwear is the one arena where I’ll absolutely choose repro over true vintage. Not that I’d kick a ’50s maillot outta bed, but – I love to swim. I’m not a sunning type, and I respect vintage fabric too much to torture it with salt and sand. I’m also too infrequent a beachgoer to spend $100+ on a suit. My $25 “vintage-inspired” versions from the Amazon warehouse are good enough for me.

And I fully admit that I bought this particular colorway to make “wine-dark sea” puns all trip long.

me-made: i’ve been spotted

I’ve got a frankly bipolar relationship with the 1930s. The decade’s strongest stylistic notes are clearly cribbed from its two adjacent ones. Bring on your slender proto-’40s bias cuts, your flappers-all-grown-up. It’s an obviously transitional period, and those are always the most visually interesting. Unadulterated by influence, though, the 1930s fashion is basically western womenswear’s collective awkward phase. Who decided puffed sleeves and pleated yokes were a good idea? Who decided they should be worn together? No matter how otherwise elegant, anyone in a ’30s day dress looks a little – or a lot – like Minnie Mouse.

And yet I still bought this pattern. Simplicity 8248. I was determined to give Minnie another go. That, and I wanted the challenge of those bodies pleats, because oooh. Now, my first attempt at this pattern will never, ever see the light of day. It was that bad, folks. My first mistake was the use of a heavy green linen – too thick and dark for such a youthful silhouette. My second mistake was not slimming down the sleeves. Though the dress was well executed overall, the schlumpy fabric and puffy shoulders screamed “Talbot’s office dress thrifted circa 1998”. And I would never bum you guys out like that.

For the second iteration, I ditched those sleeves and drafted my own. That, plus a brighter, lighter fabric (thrifted pillowcases!) helped a lot. I’m still not sure how much I’ll wear this dress day-to-day, but it was just enough whimsy to pack for my trip to Maine. The rules are different at the beach.


me-made: of every stripe

I’m back from my annual Ogunquit gallivant. It’s taken me a solid few days to get over not drinking at three in the afternoon, but ya girl’s powered through. I’ve got so many photos to post that it feels, just a little bit, like I’m still battling the surf.

I’d meant to finish this dress for my birthday back in May. Failing that, I set my sights on Maine, and I finished just in time. Guys, matching up bias-cut stripes is hell on earth and no one can tell me otherwise. How I tortured those poor pleats! But it paid off: my goal for this look was “off-duty nurse at Coney Island”, and that’s exactly what my mom, totally unprompted, said I looked like.

It was the perfect fit for my third annual Ogunquit Memorial Library photoshoot. I vowed two years ago that someday I’d buy this place, and – well, it would behoove me to be less grabbyhands about historical buildings. But the desire is there. Somewhere deep inside, a preservationist shrieks mutely about kids and lawns.

Dress: made by me, no pattern

Hat: The Vintage Hat Shop