Distressing Costumes

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MegsMaster
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Distressing Costumes

Post by MegsMaster »

Hi

I am new to this site, so greeting to everyone.

For the last 3 years I have been putting together a portfolio of photos to illustrate an event from my own personal history. this concerned a female ancestor from the 18 C deported to the West Indies as an indentured servant. This is the background.

However, more sepcifically, I am trying to render a tattered shift as grimy and grubby as possible in such a manner that it looks authentic enough on camera to give the impression that it had been worn continously for an extended period, without it being disgusting to wear by the poor model!

I have tried dyes, spices, coffee and tea but it simply does look, in my eye at least, as being anything dirty enough for a girl working day in and day out in the field of a plantation.

Is there anyone out there that can advise me on how to achieve the desired effect? Any help would be gratefully recieved.

MM
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Here is "meg" in the street prior to her arrest in the stry
Here is "meg" in the street prior to her arrest in the stry

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Dave B
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Post by Dave B »

Ask a coule of three year old kids to keep it clean for you.
Find time in every day to look at your life and say; 'Well, it could be worse'

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sally
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Post by sally »

Try burying it in the compost heap or the garden for a week, then give it a good wash. That should add some good natural staining but not be too long and damage the fabric irreparably

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gregory23b
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Post by gregory23b »

Buy a similar low level already worn dress from someone else and get it refit for you, taking in where it wasn't etc. the reworking will show as different areas of lightness and wear would be exposed or hidden. talk to one of the 18thC groups they might be able to help you in getting a decent well worn gown that matches your needs and gives you a head start.

Start with an outfit of a less vibrant colour that might suit your state of destitution, go for a blue grey perhaps, a decent dress would be worth money to a poor girl, so she may well have flogged that off for money for food and a cheaper dress. That pic looks like a dirty posh frock rather than a well worn and hand me down gown, too valuable to let get worse IMHO.

Do some work in it, gardening. Gather the gown up.

Do everything you can to avoid knackering it, ie work in it and keep it clean, point being even if it was a rag you would still want to make it last as long as possible. You might spend a long time brushing the mud out so thin parts might occur, hems might need taking up as they fray, discrete patching, your master may not want you to look like a sack.

How much wear and filth do you expect there to be? also does this person only possess one outfit, even the poor servants had changes of clothing.

Question, in the picture she looks like she is begging, is she destitute or was her indenture inclusive of lodgings and food etc or does this pic represent a particualr stage in her life?

Judging by the state of the street that girl will starve, as I suspect very few people walk past.

If I may be so bold, the person is too attractive and well fed, legs are dirty but otherwise fine, if you see what I mean.

Interesting project, I take it it is a personal one? a agreat opportunity to get dirty I reckon, right up my street.

best of luck and welcome to the forum.
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mally ley
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Post by mally ley »

Hang the garment out on the washing line for a while - rain and sun will break it down a bit, also possibly pin an apron in the right place (so it doesn't blow about too much) so the area under where an apron might be doesn't fade as fast.
Remember to think about the patches that would wear faster than others. As Jorge says, hems are one area, but also elbows. Think about the activities the wearer might be involved in regularly.

Sorry, that applies to the gown, you are asking about shift.

Some similar principals apply though - think about where the dirt will accumulate - sweat stains round arm pits, greasy marks round collar and cuffs. Getting feet caught in hem might mean it has torn and is mended. What job is/was she doing? Might there be anything specific that could have stained the sleeves?

random thoughts ...

jim-m
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Post by jim-m »

I thought this was going to be about authenticity again! (which in a way it is I supppose!)

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gregory23b
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Post by gregory23b »

Sorry Megs, I realise you mean the shift (thanks Mally), I was going on the principle the shift might not be as visible under the gown.
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Tod
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Post by Tod »

Hi
as one of very few 18th century re-enactors on here I might be able to help you out.
As an "white" slave, you ancestor would not have been expected to wear dirty filthy clothing. Of course the clothing would not have been super clean and of an up to date fashion, but hand me downs from plantation owners were not unknown. There is also a possibility (although it would worth checking contemporary artwork) that she would not have been bare headed.

Regarding how to age the shift. Looking at the picture the one you have is made of cotton, which is very white to start with (modern). Try using linen as it ages better. Sal in her posting is spot on (no surprise there). I'm just about to age a doublet by burying it in the garden, and then giving a very gentle wash just to get the mud off.
PM me if you want any further help, by the way second hand 18th century kit is mega rare.

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Cat
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Post by Cat »

And without trying to sound 'noxious or supercilious, if you want it to look perfect, check out hairstyles and common head coverings-you/your model has lovely hair and plucked eyebrows that 'don't go' with the image.

In my opinion, having rinacted for a ver'long time she either needs not to be a beggar, but to have fallen on hard times-she could then be a bit more tattered-finery-looking, or needs scruffier, less well conditioned hair and so forth. I'd go with the first as being much easier-you could have fun experimenting with cheap'n'nasty cosmetics, which the poor woman may have used.

Not meaning to sound over critical-it's the little things that make an image believable.
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Libby
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Post by Libby »

Hi everyone. I'm new to this site too.

I don't know if this is a daft offer, but I have a shift that is a good ten or twelve years old and is so old and worn now that it tears and needs mending just about every time I wear it. It's worn, stained and marked but has been properly maintained, cleaned and mended after (almost) every event I've done.

Want to borrow it? Or have it even? At some point I'm going to have to give up and make new nice linen ones anyway.

I'm about a size 12-14 if you want to know rough size. It's your bog standard round necked, t-shaped cotton shift with underarm gussets and long sleeves. I vaguely remember it was made from an old bed-sheet.

Might save you some artificial ageing if you can have a genuinely knackered item...

Libby

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Sophia
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Post by Sophia »

OOPs

This raises a question, am I being too keen washing and bleaching our linens every time (only using ecover powder and ecover bleach at 40*C same as for his polycotton work shirts, has about same effect too). :?

His shirts are OK though stained around the collar, his coifs are hopelessly grubby despite my best efforts - have decided to reserve new one for posh wear. My shifts haven't faired so well - though I think the damage on the left sleeves is due to me carrying basket on left arm when in short sleeved kirtle/sleeveless petticoat.

Sophia (who is regrettably doing needs shifts and is probably too early anyway) :D

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Alan E
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Post by Alan E »

Sophia wrote:OOPs

This raises a question, am I being too keen washing and bleaching our linens every time (only using ecover powder and ecover bleach at 40*C same as for his polycotton work shirts, has about same effect too). :?

His shirts are OK though stained around the collar, his coifs are hopelessly grubby despite my best efforts - have decided to reserve new one for posh wear. My shifts haven't faired so well - though I think the damage on the left sleeves is due to me carrying basket on left arm when in short sleeved kirtle/sleeveless petticoat.

Sophia (who is regrettably doing needs shifts and is probably too early anyway) :D

Loads of evidence that people kept their linens clean - see for ex "Did they wash in those days" by Jane Huggett (Stuart Press) which concentrates mainly on Tudor period, but includes earlier evidence: The office of Launderess didn't suddenly appear out of nowhere!
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Post by frances »

Few more points, In the 18th c. your chemise/shift would not be on show. You might have a frill at the elbows and maybe a little bit peeping out at the necklline, but that is it. So why do you want to distress it? If you were doing the washing by standing in a large bucket and stamping up and down the front of the dress might be tucked up to waist level, with chemise covering the legs. But then all it would be is white. Someone working in the fields might also tuck up her skirt, but on leaving the field the outer skirt would be untucked and the girl would then look clean and respectable walking back to the house. The only dirty thing on show would be the feet and ankles and maybe the hands. Certainly under the nails could be filthy..

If that is the outfit you will be using - I notice that you have the top and skirt separate - in the 18th c. they were usually one dress, no chemise showing at the waistline. You can remedy this by adding hooks and eyes.

A poor servant might be given clothing twice a year as part of her wages. No employer would want the servants to be raggedy - it would have reflected badly on the status of the employer.

To distress an outfit use sandpaper to wear areas thin as already mentioned - elbows, back of the neck, under arms and hem. Aoso the apron.

Also dark blue is unlikely to be an 18c. colour. A linen cap tied under the chin with the hair all tucked in would add to the impression you a trying to give here. I have a feeling that the apron can be other colours, but I would have to look that one up. It can be dirty, but without holes as all girls would have been taught to sew from and early age and everything would have been darned and patched. And by the way, even the outer dress could have been pieced - that is made up of lots of bits of material sewn together and then made into a dress. Fabric was so expensive in those days.

I have now run out of steam!! Hope this helps a bit.

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Bittersweet
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Post by Bittersweet »

There is some brilliant costume advice on this thread but I wonder if it's now wandering away from the point slightly? The initial posting seems to suggest that the person had been a servant but not any longer. This now looks like it's meant to be an ex-servant who's now been a beggar and is about to be arrested.

Surely this means that she's unlikely to be in good/clean attire and dressed correctly as she probably no longer has the means or will for that. What was she arrested for, begging or worse?
Why can't life be simple?

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gregory23b
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Post by gregory23b »

Bittersweet

the image title mentions her before her arrest, I wonder if she had been deported as a vagrant? Her text is talking about a plantation worker, or so it reads to me. I suspect the photo is prior to her deportation.

Until she replies we wont get much more info....
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