Getting dressed in the 18th century was no small feat. There were many layers of clothing, most of them tied and laced in ways that made getting out of them as painstaking as getting into them,
When we shot the scene of Claire getting dressed with Mrs. Fitz, Ron insisted that we film the entire sequence. “Are you sure?” I asked, “It takes about 30 minutes !!” But he insisted. He knew it would help to tell the story of a stranger in a strange land. Since the beginning Ron has said that the world Claire lands in, had to be as foreign as if she had landed on another planet.
If any of us, who throw on underwear, t shirt and jeans, before leaving the house, suddenly dropped into 1947, we would have to don underwear, garter belt, seamed stockings, dress, gloves, and hat before going out. Actually, you would have to put on most of that, (sans hat and gloves) every day, just to take care of kids and house.
Now imagine a woman of 1947 dropping into 1745. It would have been as alien as dropping us into 1947.
1. No underwear. They didn’t wear it. What did they do when they got their periods??, everyone always asks. Lots of debate on this one. Some historians maintain that there was a very different attitude to menstruation than there is today, the smell of menstrual blood was considered erotic, and obvious menstruation was a sure way of knowing when a young woman was fertile, and an older woman no longer was. And, there were no toilets except for the very wealthy. Most people did not carry chamber pots with them. One can assume people did there business wherever and whenever was needed.
2. Chemise. You lived in this garment, always. You even bathed in it, the one time a year you might take a bath.
3. Corset. It takes about 20 minutes to lace up a corset. Great for the posture and great for the back the back when hauling around children and pots of boiling laundry that weighed a few hundred pounds. Think of it as sort of an 18th century back brace for very hard working women.
4. Bum roll, or pannier. Wide hips were/are a sign of fertility, so either item exaggerated a woman’s hips and accentuated a small waist. Children were something of a commodity at that time, so fertility was incredibly important. It was often a matter of life and death for poor families, who needed the free labor provided by children. For the nobility, children were equally important for securing lines of succession and property.
5. Bodice, frequently a separate garment, worn on the outside of the corset, our blouse , or top. Most upperclass women wore dresses, though they were often open in front, showing the layer beneath.
6. Petticoat, worn over bum roll or pannier.
7. Underskirt, worn over petticoat. If you were wealthy it was embroidered or embellished.
8. Overskirt. The skirt worn on the outside. Either plain and functional or elaborately decorated.
8. Stomacher, a rigid board or panel covered in fabric, worn on front of bodice, either behind laces, or sewn on.
9. Stockings, shoes, mitts, cloaks, pockets. Accessories I will cover in another post. Too much to list, too much to wear.
What an ordeal.
The day we shot this scene was excruciating. It took forever. There would be these long periods of deadly silence, as Annette laced up the corset. She finally started humming a song to fill the silence.You could literally hear everyone squirming behind the camera.
I enjoyed the moment thoroughly as camera almost never waits for costumes, lots of other things, but rarely costumes. There was a lovely validation for years and years of not having enough time to do what one needs to do.