3 Things to Know about Dressing Historical Characters

Thrilled to have guest blogger and friend, historical writer Cathy Richmond.

Historical Author Cathy Richmond

Susannah had long ago given up on marriage. So when her parents died and her pastor sent her west to marry his brother, she wasn’t thinking like a new bride. Her mindset was that of a grieving daughter, bound by strict rules of mourning to wear black. Jesse, her new husband, asked her to do a lot of changing, including her clothes. Their first Sunday together, he said, “I’d hoped celebrating our marriage would outweighmourning your folks.”

Early drafts of Spring for Susannah had her changing into a calico dress. But when my publisher Thomas Nelson chose this dress for the cover, I wrote it into this first Sunday scene. The cover captures Susannah and Jesse’s emotional distance – his frustration
and her reserve.

So what do you need to know about dressing historical
characters?

  1. 1.  Clothing, including underwear, must be appropriate for the time period. Hairstyles, hats, and accessories changed, too. The 1870s, when Spring for Susannah was set, featured bustles, narrow sleeves, and lots of trimmings.
  2. 2.  Socioeconomic pressures dictated clothing. White wedding dresses were available for wealthy women in the 1880s, but less well-to-do Laura Ingalls Wilder married in a brown dress that became her Sunday-best.
  3. Regional styles prevailed. During the hoop-skirt era of the 1850s and 60s, Southern women wore wider hoops to keep heavy fabric away from their bodies. Women from small towns, with only one store, might all wear dresses made from the same fabric.

My go-to resources include:

American Victorian Costume by Priscilla Harris Dalrymple

Victorian Fashions and Costume from Harper’s Bazar by Stella Blum

The History of Underclothes by C & P Cunnington

Museums – But most display fancy clothes from wealthy people, not everyday wear.

Reenactors and docents – Most love to share from their extensive research.

The Thomas Nelson Costume Closet -- doesn't it look fun

Check out Cathy’s books at: www.CatherineRichmond.com

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About lynnegentry

Wife. Mother. Writer. Acting Coach. Director of Dallas International Performing Arts Academy.
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9 Responses to 3 Things to Know about Dressing Historical Characters

  1. I would love to visit Thomas Nelson’s costume closet. So good they had that dress as it is perfect for Susannah.

  2. garmonjulie says:

    This was so much fun to read! I’d love to go play dress-up in the TN closet. Thank you, Cathy and Lynne for showing us behind the scenes. 🙂

  3. Lynne Gentry says:

    Thanks for stopping by Julie. It would be fun to sneak in to that costume room, wouldn’t it!

  4. Hi, Maryann and Julie! I don’t know how the editors get anything done – they could be playing dress-up all day!

  5. Maryann and Lynne, Do you know each other? You’re both living in Texas and involved in theater and writing. (I do this to Maryann all the time – she keeps telling me Texas is a BIG state – she can’t know everyone!)

  6. Carla Gade says:

    Thanks for the tips! Your cover is gorgeous and really does at great job at capturing the mood. And I would love to see that costume closet, too!

  7. Thanks, Carla. Wouldn’t it be fun to play in that closet?

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