Turn of the Century Romantic

“It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I do wish fall did not have to blow away to make room for winter!  However it may be that it is now December and I should be in the mood for Christmas, I would like to feature what perhaps is my favorite outfit from this fall, amplified by a colorful background of the parting season.  By sewing a simple skirt to match an old antique original blouse, I am finally able to completely experience my long love with another historical era in a very real, tactile manner.  “It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it? Because when you are imagining you might as well imagine something worth while” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I’m talking about the 1905 time slot…just in the cusp of the turn of the 20th century, when the dreamy Gibson Girl stood for an innovative form of female independence and empowerment.  This outfit exemplifies the dawn of the modern day “separates” to wear for an active and socially important place in society.

The Gibson Girl was seen as beautiful and feminine by being an active, talented, strong, athletic, understanding, and worthwhile individual – a “new” but welcomed concept for the times!  Her sudden availability to a form of menswear, that is, blouse and bottoms (albeit a feminized version atop a full swingy skirt), were part and parcel to that new found freedom society was opening up for the Gibson Girl.  Reading what I say is one thing, but now that I have had the opportunity to wear such an ensemble, I personally can attest it is truly wonderful to wear, surprisingly easy to move and do many things in, empowering in the feeling of classiness and being put together, and so very romantic and feminine at the same time!  Bring back the turn of the century!  “It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Of course, I suppose you can tell that I couldn’t help but associate myself with a red-head from the same era, everyone’s favorite spunky kindred spirit, Anne spelled with an “e” of “Anne of Green Gables” or “Anne of Avonlea” from the author Lucy Maud Montgomery.  The 1980’s movies from Sullivan Entertainment were something I first watched as a young teen, and I have been smitten with a crush on the stories, the characters, and the era’s fashions ever since!  Besides, the way Anne has a way with words and is not afraid to use the full breadth of the English language has made her one of my ultimate heroines for my writing skills.  “But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I might not have a set with Anne’s favorite “puff sleeves” just yet (a matching velvet winter jacket is coming down the pike of my future projects…just wait).  However, I’m tickled to be wearing this over 100 year old, perfect condition blouse!  It was a birthday present to myself, bought a few months back from the shop Jumblelaya on Etsy.  The details on the blouse are just amazing (handmade lace inserts, tiny pin tucks galore, and a plethora of shell buttons down the back) and the fit is so meant for me!  From what research I have done, I believe this ¾ sleeved, collarless style is circa 1905 to 1907, which fits perfectly into my idealized “Anne” characterization of myself – Montgomery’s first book came out in 1908.

All other accessories are from my Grandmother (earrings, cameo, and hanging waist watch pendant) and assimilate well by matching with era appropriate jewelry.  My shoes are a lucky resale store find, also imitating (decently well, especially with the pointy toes) the less formal, ankle-freeing “walking” footwear that was seen as more practical, less formal, and a new trend circa 1905.  Having more than one kind of shoe style further revolutionized women’s lives at the turn of the century.  No longer were women restricted to boots as their only option for footwear!  The century itself was only one of the many things that had changed…


FABRIC:  a linen and rayon blend fabric in a very blue navy for the skirt

PATTERN:  Folkwear #209 “Walking Skirt”; my pattern is something I picked up from a second-hand seller with a copyright of 1980

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, a waistband hook-and-eye, and some interfacing was needed to make this skirt –easy-peasy!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was made in one afternoon’s time of about 5 hours, finished on November 10, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  For just under 3 yards of the fabric, bought just recently at my local JoAnn’s store, cost me just under $20.

Making this skirt was so much easier than expected!  Granted, I took the fast, modern, and easy way to make this using my sewing machine to sew the skirt in its entirety.  Yes, perhaps a hand stitched hem and everything would have been better for a proper historical garment.  But as the navy color makes the matching thread pretty much invisible, and as I will not be wearing this nearly as much as I would like, I opted for machine stitching.  They had sewing machines available for the home seamstress back then, so although my machine is not something from the turn of the century, it is not entirely unlikely that a skirt like this might have been sewn mechanically.

Now I realize that a basic, beautiful design like this is a wide open blank canvas for waiting for personalization.  I was indeed sorely tempted to add at least some rouleax trim, horizontal pleats, or decorative cording of some sort along the bottom above the hem.  However, my lace blouse is so intricately complex and such a priceless historical piece that is deserves to take the center stage of the outfit by having all the details.  My matching velvet jacket yet to make will have lots of details, as well.  Sometimes simple is the most beautiful anyway.

As ‘simple’ as the skirt seams, is has a smart and lovely design.  First of all, there is a slight train to the skirt, where the back dips and sweeps the floor.  There are five gores to the skirt with no side seams.  The side panels on both right and left of the center front wrap around to the behind where they join the two center back panels.  The center back panels are not that obvious because they get pleated in their entire width on either side of the placket closure.  The placket closure only has the one waistline hook.  That’s all it really needs as the back is so full with all the pleats and the interfacing keeps the placket stiff so it doesn’t really open up anyway.  Besides the challenge of working with such long seams and such a large amount of fabric, I am amazed at how something so far back in history can be so easy today and so perennially elegant.

There is such a wide flare to each of the skirt’s panels that they were giant sized pattern pieces.  I did have to open up my wide width fabric and fold the entire 3 yards in half the ‘unconventional’ way, making for a giant 60 by 108 inch square on the floor!  Even still, I did have to take out five inches out of the length to accommodate fitting in the pattern pieces.  According to the size chart, however, five inches was just what I needed for my height to end up with an ankle length skirt, so things fell into place perfectly here.

The size chart was spot on, I must say I’m impressed!  I was not sure what to expect, as this is my first time using a Folkwear pattern.  I was in between sizes so I went up in size and merely made slightly wider seam allowances.  This worked out great, so the sizing is pretty precise.  The instructions were good too.  My only ‘problem’ (which wasn’t really a problem, anyway) was the lack of markings for the pleated back.  Actually, I should clarify that the instructions call for gathering of the back panels, but from what I have seen of extant turn of the century skirts, and with my own taste voting for the organized symmetry of pleats, the gathers were replaced.  Thus, I was left to my own designs to make-do some organized pleats with some measuring to have them match equally on both sides.

If only the back wasn’t behind me where I can’t see it, I’d be ogling it to no end because I think the fullness with the pleating is stunning!  It does totally compliment by contrast the conventional, full, pigeon-breast, uni-bosom of the era and the full head of hair which forms the classic curved Gibson Girl silhouette.  Who would think that emphasizing the back side could look so good?!  The back fullness gives something so basic as my walking such a wonderful sash-shay to it!  And yet, I do not feel confined by it at all.  This is truly the most romantic of eras I’ve dressed in to date.

Some words must be said as well about how I made-do with what I had to even achieve the proper silhouette in the first place.  I luckily did not have to really make the undergarments to match…I already had them.  This is what comes from years and years of re-enacting and buying stuff over those years, some of which were deals and opportunities found that were too good to miss even though the use of them was something obviously for the future.  A modern, turn of the century-style corset cover and pantaloons set was finally put to good use, as was a full, long uber-ruffled hemmed petticoat that my mom had made for a semi-historical costume I wore about 15 years back.  Keeping stuff like this on hand for so long had a redeeming feel to finally find the perfect use and reason to wear them.

I know ladies of the turn of the century would be wearing the famous S-bend corset, which I do not have.  Making one was out of the question and affording one made by someone else for me was not happening as well.  I have seen some ladies who have dressed in the early 1900’s fashion use their Titanic-era longline corset and add a ruffled bust improver on the chest and a padded bum roll to sort of cheat and get by in between eras.  I did consider the latter option as I do have a teens era-corset, but I didn’t feel like making anything for underneath (go ahead, call me lazy!) and hubby says I’m skinny enough to get by using other ways.  So – I am wearing a modern brassire as my first layer with a very basic, three layered ruffled “bust improver” pinned very simply on me to get the same effect.  Then, as the corset cover had the right pigeon-breast shape in front, it completes the “proper” look for me.  To get an idea of what I wore, it rather looks like what “Atelier Nostalgia” made (see it here) except my bust ruffles are on the inside of the corset cover, and there is more embroidery.  In lieu of butt padding, the gathered waist of my mom’s petticoat was adapted so the gathered waist was smooth in the front and had all of its fullness in back to fill out the pleats of the skirt.  It looks like this vintage original petticoat except mine is blue polka dotted cotton with extra wide ruffles added along the hem.  Yes, I’m sorry, I’m cheating, but at the same time…not really.  The turn of the century era was the beginning of the “modern” female, and women began to realize their value and potential was so much greater than the limitations society placed on them.  We women are experts at ingenious making-do, so I do not feel bad at all in the spirit of the Gibson Girl!  Pretend you didn’t read this and you’d be none the wiser as to what’s underneath what you see.

My books are actually not just something to hold and look good.  They are old books from our collection that were published circa 1900, both of which are on my “to read” list.  The green and gold covered book is “A Man of Mark” by Anthony Hope, the author of the little known classic “Prisoner of Zenda” and its sequel “Rupert of Hentzau”.  Having enjoyed reading those last two and totally addicted to Hope’s stories, I had started to read the “A Man of Mark” but have not yet finished it. “It’s so much more romantic to end a story up with a funeral than a wedding.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables .  Anthony Hope stays true to Anne’s ideal on at least one occasion in his stories, so I’ll have to see if “A Man of Mark” continues that.

The little red and gold book is the factual yet romanticized “Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada” by the famous Washington Irving.  I love books that show a different side of an author, and this one shows the studious and serious side to an author more often known for writing the short fiction stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow“.  Again, this book has been another one started but not yet finished by me.  Sort of like my sewing, it’s so hard to keep up in reality with everything that’s in my head which I want to do, so some things unintentionally get pushed to the side for a “later”.  “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables.  I will finish these two books yet.

“The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables  Well, Anne was wrong, because this outfit is much more wonderful than I imagined it years back.  The funny thing is I had very little qualms about wearing this out and about the Botanical Garden where we took these pictures.  In fact I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to take it off.  The air was slightly chilly and all the skirt layers kept me rather warm.  Also, 7 to 12 year old girls were really giving me good looks and smiles, as if they were seeing something they might like to wear as well.  I’m supposing I was a good fashion-history influence, but maybe I was just blending in with and complimenting the Victorian surroundings.

When you feel good deep down in what you wear, it has to manifest itself and I believe that spark of enjoying what you wear – whatever that is – and especially feeling pride because you made it can be a very catching emotion for others.  “We ought always to try to influence others for good…and it is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables  Thanks to Anne’s wit, advice, and fashion inspiration, I’m sure many others like me have found themselves fascinated by the turn of the century, and I just finally translated that through my sewing skills.  Why did this take so long – where and when can I wear this more?!