Bicycle skirt

Beginning of this year, a friend of mine found a sweater in a modern shop which looked remarkably like a 1890’s sports sweater. It’s not quite perfect, but it definitely mimics the look. I debated about it, but in the end I couldn’t resist and followed her example and got one as well.

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An original sweater from the MET ca 1895

 

I’ve had the TV299 pattern for a ca. 1900 split skirt (bicycling/riding) for years now and never had a good reason to make it, but I now needed something to wear with the sports sweater, so it was perfect! Although dated a bit later, I found some earlier examples of similar split skirts, so I called it ‘close enough’.

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Cycling suit (MET, 1896–98) – the TV pattern image – Lady cyclist tabacco card (NY public library)

 

I knew I really wanted wool for this project, and preferably a plaid. In the end, I found this beautiful brown fabric, which has hints of green, blue and red running through. It was just a little thinner and drapier than I was hoping for, so I chose to interline it with unbleached cotton to give it a bit more structure and volume.

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The fabric, this picture probably shows the colors best

 

Shosing the interfacing when I was hemming. The bottom has a brown cotton hem facing. Because I made it bycicle length, and I didn’t want the white cotton to show when moving.

 

I tend to use patterns as inspiration and basic shapes, changing things as I go and not follow instructions. But for this skirt, I actually stuck with the pattern very closely. Technically, this is a pants pattern. It looks like a skirt, but it’s pants with really wide legs and strategic pleats. So it’s a little more complicated to me than skirts or bodices, as the only ‘pants’ I’d ever made were split drawers. Not quite the same. (What’s complicated depends on experience, pants patterns scare me much more than corsets).

 

The pattern went together quite well (when I was paying attention), the only thing I had to read a couple of times were how to fold the back pleats. It worked out as I was doing it though. My only nit-picky comment would be that because you sew the buttonholes in the front leg through 2 layers of fabric (basically in the pleated part), that bit becomes quite difficult to hem at the end. If you want your final button hole close to the bottom, I’d actually advice not stitching that when the pattern tells you (before construction), but leave that one to last (after you’ve hemmed everything). The only minor thing I changed was to take in the side/back seam a bit and widen the darts in the side, as I picked a size based on hip measurement (as advised), meaning I had to make the waist smaller by 3 inches. That worked quite well though! I was a bit scared because of all the pleating, but the relevant seams are not pleated, so I could check for fit quite well.

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Back pleats

 

I’m really happy with how this turned out, and love the fabric with this style. All the buttonholes (20…) were a bit of a chore, but they do add that little extra interest.

Button holes & buttons on the opening.

 

Making this in the shorter bicycle length means it actually reads quite modern! I didn’t necessarily plan this beforehand, but by now I’ve already worn it in daily life a couple of times!

When visiting the museum!

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I also wore the split skirt with the sweater to a photoshoot day. I made a beret to go with it the day before as it does really call for some type of headwear. I’m very happy with how this look turned out! It’s fun, but also very comfortable and easy to move around in.

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Photograph by Amabile

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Photo by PressCoat Photography

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Photo by PressCoat Photography

Achieving the Edwardian silhouette – but how?

Often in historical costuming, we try to create an outfit with which we’ll look like we just stepped from a period painting or photo. This means sewing the clothes as worn in a certain period, with varying degrees of historical correctness. Even with a perfect replica though, it often takes more than just making a dress, or a blouse and skirt. It was often the underthings which created the silhouette, and many historical dresses look a bit frumpy when not worn over the correct undergarments. But how to achieve these silhouettes? The first things to get right are usually the corset, hoops, bustles and petticoats. But some era’s need a little more. Today’s blog is on the top half of the Edwardian silhouette, and some photo comparisons on how to achieve it. If you’re in doubt on how to recreate the look, I hope this post is helpful!

 

Let’s start with some info on what we’re trying to achieve with the Edwardian silhouette I’m talking about.

The era right after 1900 was characterized by a very typical shape in women’s clothing. An hourglass figure, with a very small waist, wide hips and a large chest. It also saw the rise of the so-called ‘pigeon-breast’. This term was used to describe a women’s top half when seen from the side. In the Edwardian silhouette, the chest was left in its natural position (as opposed to the more pushed-up look from the Victorian era, or the fashionable silhouette in contemporary fashion). Additionally, the top of some dresses and blouses was left to hang very loose from the chest, to then be cinched at the waist. As is more often the case, pictures describe the look a lot better than words can.

This lovely girl shows the classic ‘pigeon breast’ silhouette.

Some more lovely ladies

The first thing important in achieving this look is to wear a correct corset. Edwardian corsets don’t push up the chest, while a Victorian corset or modern bra will do just that. But there’s a little more which can help to get the silhouette right. The first option is wearing a ruffled corset cover.

Corset covers were simple garments worn to disguise the corset lines underneath thinner dresses and blouses. They were already worn in the Victorian era, but became a bit more elaborate in the Edwardian era. More specifically, they became fuller to support the new fashionable silhouette.

The earlier corset covers could be quite lovely decorated, but were meant to be worn underneath form-fitting dresses, and therefore thin and flat.

Lovely corset-cover from the Met, 1860

Although Edwardian corset-covers can still be ‘flat’, for wearing under form-fitting evening gowns, some became more elaborate to support the fullness of the gowns and blouses.

Corset cover, Met museum 1884

Corset cover, Met museum, 1902

Some corset covers even incorporated boning to provide the shape people were looking to get.

Corset cover with boning. Met museum 1900-1910

 

Aside from the corset cover, a little extra help was sometimes needed. So-called ‘bust-improvers’ were used as extra padding. There’re multiple still in existence. This is another option to create the look.

Woman’s Bust Improver (Falsies), England, circa 1900, image from LACMA

 

So, you might ask, what’s the difference if you wear these items or not? I’ve made both bust improvers and a ruffled corset cover, and took some pictures to show what it did to the silhouette. I haven’t made a boned corset cover, but for anyone who’s interested, you can check out Fashion through History’s blogpost, because she made one.

The corset-cover I made was done using the Truly Victorian Edwardian underwear pattern. It features a chemise, drawers and both and evening and daywear corset cover. I made the latter, with the ruffles. The corset seen in the images is also from Truly Victorian, the Edwardian corset pattern.

The bust-improvers were made with a pattern from Wearing History. I also used one of their patterns for the blouse. (just for the record, I’m not affiliated with either company, but they make great patterns!)

I originally made both because I figured I could use all the help I could get to achieve the correct period effect.

I photographed both the corset cover and improvers on my dummy. For the bust improvers, I believe you’re supposed to wear them underneath the corset, but some bust improvers might have been worn on top, so I showed the difference. I personally wear them inside, because otherwise my corset is a bit large at the top. I also took pictures both with and without my Edwardian blouse on top, so you can see what the underwear does to the silhouette.

These show the different versions from the front. Some differences already show. Most noticeably, the dummy without any underwear shows that the blouse is a bit baggy (far left). On the other hand, the dummy with both the improvers and corset cover shows that the blouse is straining a bit. Nothing serious, but the blouse is just a bit too small to fit over everything.

All options front

 

Things become more interesting when looking at everything from the side. There’s a dramatic difference between no extra underwear (leftmost image) and any of the supporters. The corset cover only (2nd from left), or the bust improver in the corset (4th from left) have a very similar silhouette, which works well for the Edwardian ideal. The bust improver worn out of a corset (middle image) shows a nice full shape which is probably closest to our a modern silhouette. The bust sits a bit too high for a proper Edwardian look though. The corset-cover plus bust improver (rightmost image) clearly has the largest shape. For me personally, this is a bit too much. I have a rather small frame, and with all the padding and ruffles it feels a bit over the top.

All options side

 

My personal conclusion is that I’ll wear my bust improvers inside my corset, without the ruffled corset cover. The main reason to pick this option over the corset cover only is that my corset doesn’t really fit well without the improvers. I’m guessing that this is a good option for people with a relatively small bust, who wish to make a standard-sized corset fit a bit better. (I took sizes into account when making the corset, but could still use extra padding in the front…). For people who don’t really need this extra filling, I’d probably recommend making the ruffled corset cover. This has the added advantage of hiding corset ridges. For me, I’ll probably be adapting my corset cover by taking off the ruffles. This way, I can wear it for outfits with a tighter fit as well, and it will work better together with the bust-improvers.

I hope this comparison was useful for everyone, and I’d love to see how other people achieved the period look!