Unleashing the nerd within

I have been open about my nerd status for a long time now. I’m comfortable with it, and feel no shame in admitting it. I am an enormous history nerd. It’s a trait  share with a brother. We’ve been known to get sidetracked when watching films because there is a historical inaccuracy, go into a discussion of what really happened, and miss half an hour of plot as a result. I’m not just a history nerd, though – I’m also a dress nerd. So it drives me absolutely insane when there are things that are just plain wrong about costume on the screen.

The thing most likely to send me into a fit of snide comments at the moment is an ad for genealogy website, ancestry.com.au. Specifically, this moment:

ancestry screenshot


Yep, that says that the woman climbing out the window was born in 1752. Except she’s wearing a dress that looks suspiciously Georgian style to me… and the actress looks nothing like a 50 year old woman. Which means that every time Mary Abbey appears on screen, I feel compelled to mutter something along the lines of, “Not in that dress you weren’t.” And that’s before my architectural training kicks in and I notice that it’s a gothic revival building, probably built after 1850. See? Nerd.

For those who know better – or, should I say, those who agree with me and are therefore in the right – her outfit should look more like what was once thought to be Marie Antoinette in her library. I know, it’s a fancy dress, yes. But so is the one in the video when you think she’s climbing out a window and, if you watch the rest of the clip, running off with her man (in which case surely she wouldn’t have been named Abbe yet, since presumably she’s a direct ancestor? See? Problems galore…).

Madame Sophie, 1770-1774, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

Madame Sophie, 1770-1774, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

The more I learn about historical clothing, the more it happens, too. It’s becoming a problem, getting in the way of all sorts of enjoyment on the small screen. Don’t get me started on the supposedly 17th century costumes in The Musketeers. Or pretty much any scene in The Tudors where a woman simply drops her dress and is naked for Henry VIII – no stays, no chemise, nothing, just an expensive gown crumpled at her feet…and then there’s the lack of head coverings, hair down and flowing.


It’s enough to make me give up watching it. Or to give up watching it in company, because I can never keep my complaints about the inaccuracies to myself. See? Told you I was a nerd…



Taming the Beast


Muhammad Ali was a man known, if you ignore his talent in the ring, for his rhyming taunts of his opponents in the lead up to a boxing bout. Before the 1975 “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman, he told the press that his preparations for the fight had been different to his usual routine. This time, he said, “I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” He was – and, in the view of many, remains – a great fighter who would never take a backward step (unless, of course, it was part of a strategy). For all his abilities, though, I think I could take him after this week. Perhaps not in the ring – I’m not suggesting that even now when he is racked with Parkinson’s disease that I could ever go toe-to-toe with him – but in other fields, sure. Because although Ali wrestled an alligator, he never, so far as I am aware, wrangled bridal tulle.

This is what a wedding dress looks like during alterations. Of course, this is just a tiny fraction of my work table... Which in this case is actually my 6ft dining table, covered half a meter deep with fabric.

This is what a wedding dress looks like during alterations. Of course, this is just a tiny fraction of my work table… Which in this case is actually my 6ft dining table, covered half a meter deep with fabric.

A casualty of war. Many pins fell by the wayside, unable to survive the rigours of tulle combat.

A casualty of war. Many pins fell by the wayside, unable to survive the rigours of tulle combat.

Whoever came up with the idea of a net fabric that seems lighter than air as a dress fabric was either insane, or never sewed themselves. And that’s before you factor in the varying degrees of slipperiness, stiffness and prickle. Insanity is the only reason I can think of for using the fabric in the first place. Sure, the final result can be pretty, no doubt the reason that brides throughout the western world keep returning to it generation after generation. But the process for getting there is painful. Just attempting to work around it to take up the hem of a wedding dress at the moment has caused no end of grief. There are two outer layers of soft tulle on the skirt, which I think would probably come in as a triple circle, and a further three layers of underskirt. Sandwiched between that is the taffeta layer and then there is another lining layer. The diminutive bride in this case will need an aisle at least 2 metres across just to fit her dress.. The hemming process took an entire day, to get around roughly a third of the hem (the rest doesn’t require alteration). It probably would have been quicker if I wasn’t working by hand, but I was. Space constraints wouldn’t let me get close to a sewing machine with this dress. So I spent a day doing metres and metres of hand rolled hem. Today I’m doing the rest of it.


But that’s not my only tulle at the moment. The same wedding involves a flower girl dress, designed to tie in with the wedding dress. More tulle. Thankfully not quite as much, but just cutting the pattern and managing the double layer of floaty stuff was enough to mess with my head this week, not to mention with my ludicrously sensitive skin. I’m pleased with the finished result, but left with what will no doubt become a life-long aversion to tulle. Enough that I would almost rather time travel back to Kinshasa in 1975 to face George Foreman at his peak than to risk another explosion of netting. Yet, just as Ali beat Foreman, I can sense that I am winning my fight against the dread stuff. And I haven’t even needed to rope-a-dope.

The knock-out blow...

The knock-out blow…

Two for one

And for those interested, you can buy it! Or my reproduction of it, anyway...

And for those interested, you can buy it! Or my reproduction of it, anyway…

I know. Two posts in one day. Unheard of. But I had to blog about this.

Killing time at the end of the day checking out Etsy vintage clothes that might – might – just fit me. I’m not built on lines of economy, and my measurements rarely coincide with those of actual vintage clothes. Occasionally I’ll stumble across something that can be made to wrok, but generally it’s a drool-only activity for me. Same thing today, with no joy at the bigger end of the shopping spectrum. And it’s not that there weren’t many items listed. But this goes on with my earlier post about people not being able to identify periods of clothing; some listers just have no clue about sizing.

So here it is – a few quick tips for the size-unaware.

First – if the waist of a dress is 28″, it’s not an XXL size. In fact, it’s barely even an L, as far as I can tell. But hey, let’s just consult Bettie Page and see, shall we?

The Bettie Page size chart - I figure it's vintage accurate!

The Bettie Page size chart – I figure it’s vintage accurate!

Now I know that’s a little blurry (sorry, it’s from a print screen…) so I’ll translate. 28″ waists don’t even rate an L. That’s them there in the M column. OK, so maybe the original listing was actually “Plus Size” rather than XXL, but you get the point. Since when was an M any kind of plus size? By its very definition it’s medium sized.

Column B of the same problem? It’s from the lovely shop offering vanity sizing: 50″ bust listed as an XL.

How these people xpect to sell their items is beyond me. And it’s a shame for them, because both examples here were lovely dresses, which was why I clicked on them. But I don’t like their chances of someone stumbling across them and deciding to purchase.

Rant over. Back to looking at pretty pictures.