Historical Fashion: Balancing Quality and Accuracy with Money

Just like our foremothers, money is, as always, in short supply. With a never ending list of necessities, bills and surprises, very little seems to be left over. Trust me, I live on a fixed income and am always trying to find ways to live well, but live wisely. Over my ten years of sewing my own historical clothing, I have learned many good ways and many bad ways to save money. I would try to find the cheapest (and I mean cheapest) fabric I could find to save money…and my clothing often looked like I found the cheapest fabric. When I struggled trying to recreate an item, I would search to find it ready made for the best deal possible…sometimes I lucked out, while other times the item fell apart after one use.
I have rediscovered the old saying that you get what you pay for! Of course this is NOT a new idea, and in my regular life, I learned this little lesson early on. But when it comes to hobbies, I would feel guilty for spending a lot of money I often didn’t have on an item I really wanted. I would struggle with the reality of my financial situation with my desire to have the right item…regardless of the price. Yet, hobbies are meant to be enjoyable and allow us to forget about our reality and focus on something that truly makes us happy. For those reenacting enthusiasts out there, I present my personal and humble opinions on how to find the best historical item for the best modern price.
*please note that the following advice is aimed for women’s, premade, historical clothing*
First, it is important to be realistic with how much time and energy you actually have and want to invest into reenacting. The more you attend events, the more you will want to put into your outfit. For day events that require you to be outside and do physical activity, you want a gown that is sewn well and has a lining. This will give stability to the gown and won’t pull and tear as easily. For galas and balls, you are looking for a gown that may have boning stitched into the bodice and has ample skirt yardage. You also are looking for gowns that have historically, accurate closures: this means NO ZIPPERS!!!! The more you put into your outfit, the more you will be admired for your accuracy and attention to detail! And who doesn’t enjoy hearing “Oh, I just love your gown!”
Once you figure out how involved you wish to be and what events you decide to participate in, it is important to take a hard and critical look at the items available. Here are some features of gowns you will want to look for: handsewn buttonholes, handsewn seams, organic fabric (cotton, silk, lawn…), hook and eyes or hook and bar closures (made of metal), slightly dropped shoulder seams, natural waist line, full skirts, boning…the list could go on! But, as you may have noticed, the price for gowns and other items go up the more accurate they are and the more they feature handsewn parts. Expect to pay anywhere from $250-$500 for an accurate and well-made historical gown, and anywhere from $400-$800 for a ball gown. Freaking out a bit on the price? See if this helps: Unlike modern clothing, historical fashion DOES NOT CHANGE!! You will never be out of style, if your gown is made true to the time. Soooo theoretically your $300 gown, worn over a let’s say a period of five years, averages out to only $60 a year! And just like our grandmothers, these gowns can be patched or re-trimmed as necessary. And don’t forget that accessories that can be purchased at a more reasonable price do wonders to change up a gown from event to event! Think aprons, reticules, hats, baskets, cameos, hairstyles! Be creative!
So relax in your new found advice, find a trustworthy seamstress (cough, cough…check out my Etsy store..cough, cough) and invest in the gown of your dreams! Just please make sure it is an historically accurate gown from your historically accurate dreams! 🙂

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