Monday, December 19, 2011

Avoiding Fashion Disasters

I worry about this in my writing, but not in real life.  One of the best things about being a full time writer is working in a tropical shirt with flamingos, shorts and a pair of sandals.

When I'm writing though I want to make sure I have my wardrobe scenes correctly done.  One of the things that distracted me from full enjoyment of the classic Lawrence Olivier, Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice was the dressing of the women in styles more suited to the 1840s than the beginning of the 19th C.: More Romantic than Classical.  Interestingly, Wikipedia says that was a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers, who wanted more elaborate costumes than those of Austen's era.

Today I was working on a piece where the heroine, who's traveling to England aboard a pirate ship in 1818, receives a pelisse from the captain because her clothing is too tropical in weight for the North Atlantic.  Captain St. Armand has a touch of the metrosexual about him and knows his fashions. I consulted Cunnington's comprehensive guide on English women's dress in the 19th C. to keep it period accurate, though I may have taken a liberty or two since I needed to work the previously mentioned pink satin into it:


It was at the end of one of those lessons that Sails came looking for her. He was older than the other sailors, with a deep scar pitting his cheek and pulling up his eyelid, but nimble fingers and sinewy arms from years of wrestling canvas and hemp into shape.

“I have your jacket here, Miss. Captain St. Armand said to bring it to you as it’s blowin’ up stiff in the next day or two.”

He unwrapped a length of worn, but clean cotton in the late afternoon sun. Inside was a pelisse, longer than the jackets the men wore and bearing no resemblance to their utilitarian gear. It was sapphire silk brocade shot with gold threads, and lined with the pink satin. Golden buttons rimmed with seed pearls fastened the front, and the collar was deep.

Lydia stared at it, speechless. It was a garment fit for a princess, not a governess. Sails did not look at her as he pointed out the features.

“See, the brocade would have been scratchy up around your face and neck, so that’s why the captain gave me the beaver pelt to line it for you.”

“Beaver?” she asked dumbly. There was fur on the jacket, deep rich, brown fur. She put her hand out to stroke it, and it was kitten soft beneath her fingertips. It was the same fur as the captain’s pillow and it made her think of how that pillow must feel against bare skin.

“We got those pelts off of a Canadian who traded to us and saved himself a trip to England for his efforts.”

“Mr. Sails, it is lovely, but—“

“If you reject it, you will make poor Sails feel miserable,” said a low voice in her ear. “Look at how much effort he put into your jacket. That hideous cap, however, is completely wrong for this ensemble. You need a bonnet made in England, Miss Burke, something in plush to set this garment off.”

Lydia turned to look at St. Armand, but he was looking down at the fabric spread out for her view, the brocade glowing in the mellow light.

“The pink works well for a lining and if you had a fabric rose or two adorning your bonnet it would add to the appearance. But only if the roses are on the crown, far enough from your face not to make you look sallow.”

He leaned over and swooped up the garment, and while Lydia stood as still and dumb as a wooden puppet he took his jacket off of her and helped her slip her arms into the new pelisse, the satin sliding over the rough wool of her gray dress. Then he turned her toward him, raising the fur collar to frame her face.

“I approve, Sails. You’ve done a masterful job on Miss Burke’s gear.”

So when I pick up this scene tomorrow I've got my heroine in a garment that's going to point out to her, once again, how drab her life is without a pirate bringing a little color (and a touch of decadent luxury) into her existence.

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