Before we get too deep into the making of this garment, I want to share with you all some philosophy that’s been pinging around my head since the day I started planning this outfit.
Those of you who know me in real life know I love bright colours. No… that’s not strong enough. I like gaudy colours. I like the kind of colours that make other people cringe and grab for their Foster Grants. That particularly horrid shade of screaming lime has come to be called “Kass green” among my nearest and dearest. So you see where I’m going here…
In historical reenactment, we don’t get the opportunity to wear many truly bright colours. Yes, both Kass green and bright orange are achievable with period vegetable dyes (as evidenced by the skeins of naturally-dyed lambswool thread we sell on our site), but we don’t really see these colours used in quiet the combinations that inspire me. Although lime green is an incredibly easy colour to make with the common dyes woad and weld, it is hardly a common colour in medieval art. And you sure don’t see bright orange and hot pink with lime green in Renaissance manuscripts. So we shy away from those colours. We “play it safe”. We revolt from finding one incidence of lime green clothing and making a whole wardrobe based on it. We don’t make the rare common and the common rare.
But for a Browncoat Ball, we can do anything we like! =)
So, as you know, I’ve been planning a screamingly bright outfit for the Browncoat Ball at CYPHAN in June. And I’ve been dreaming about future outfits using bright turquoise and lime green and…
…the clothing historian in me raises her hand. “But these ARE period dye colours for the Victorian period.”
Bwah?!?!? The devil you say!
But it’s true! As I cast my mind back to those classes on the science of dyeing, I remember hearing about the first artificial dyes. They were called aniline dyes and the chemical was discovered in 1856 by an 18 year old student, William Henry Perkin, who was trying to synthesize the anti-malaria drug, quinine. It turned out that the compound he produced, when dissolved in alcohol, produced a very effective dye. He called it “aniline purple” and opened a dyeworks in London in 1857. By 1859, it was being called “mauve” and Queen Victorian wore a silk gown dyed with mauveine to the National Exhibition in 1862, generating a great fashion for the dye.
Just look at that colour! I don’t know the date of this piece of silk, and I can’t read the date on the letter, but presumably it is dyed with the original dye chemicals. See how gaudily bright it is?
Supposedly the discovery of aniline dyes started a fashion for gaudy colours. We must remember that these bright colours were the Brand New Thing™ to the Victorians. And the Victorians loved nothing more than showing the world how clever British Industry was.
We tend to think of Victorians a greyish brown and somber. But look at the way they painted and decorated their houses? Have you ever seen a greyish brown “Painted Lady”? Colours were rampant in the Victorian period. But modernly, we associate Victorians with conservative values, and bright colours are too radical for them. They’re too gaudy, to decadent, to “native”. In reality, the Victorians used a great deal of colour in their dressing. In other words, using hot pink and bright green and screaming yellow and flaming orange in my Victorian clothing isn’t unrealistic at all.
So I get a chance to do something ahistorical, and I stick to what’s period anyway. Oh well… *shrugs* This cheetah can’t change her spots that quickly!
But at least you can never call me boring!