Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Tale of Two Reconstructions

Yesterday I found a fascinating article that (for once) for once, has nothing to do with Viking age or other early period clothing.  The citation of the article is:
Davidson, Hilary & Hodson, Anna.  Joining forces: the intersection of two replica garments, in Textiles and Text:  Re-establishing the Links between Archival and Object-based Research (Archetype Publications 2007), pp. 204-210.  
When I went back to post a link to the article, the PDF was no longer available, but interested readers may well be able to obtain the article by inter-library loan. The book is available expensively from the publisher and there are a few inexpensive used copies listed on; it may be available from other sources as well.

The article describes the authors' experience with two different replicas of Early Modern clothing. One author made a "pair of bodys" (a corset-like garment) based on instructions in Juan Alcega's Tailor's Pattern Book of 1589, using period techniques and materials, while the other made a toile based upon a surviving early 17th century blackwork jacket, sewn by machine using modern materials. Later, they placed the garments on a mannequin, with the jacket toile over the bodice. To the authors' surprise, this conjunction of the two "replicas" (I'm using quotes because the toile is not a replica in the ordinary sense) was more enlightening about the cut and fit of the garments than either replica had been alone. Ms. Davidson and Ms. Hodson note that the bodice and jacket, when shown in the positions in which they would have been worn show that both garments have the same back waist length "and exactly reflects the proportionate back-waist lengths shown in sculptures" which was not clear from examining the jacket alone. (p. 208). The conjunction of the two garments also showed that the unusual neckline of the jacket made sense when it was worn over the bodice:
The top edge of the bodice threw into relief the natural meeting point of the two curved front sections. This was not evident when the jacket lay flat or when tried on a mannequin or model without a period undergarment. The apex of the curve matches the top of the bodice, after which the two front sections meet smoothly down the centre front. (p. 208)
Even more interestingly, the two garments together fit four different women of different proportions surprisingly well:
It has so far been worn by four women, and a mannequin, of different heights and proportions. Providing the back edges were laced fully closed, the bodice consistently achieved the required cone shape, as it gives structure independent of the natural shape of the body underneath. The busk creates a straight line from the waist to the bust that disregards the body’s curves. This refashioning provides a basic uniformity of shape and structure that can be exploited by external garments, like the jacket. On the same range of wearers, tested after realising this material relationship, the toile alone was ill-fitting and shapeless by comparison with the universal fit it achieved when relying on the bodice’s body-regulating framework. (p. 208)
I highly recommend this article to any of my readers not familiar with it, particularly readers interested in Early Modern costume. It is a marvelous illustration of the importance of undergarments in achieving period fit, as well as a powerful argument that recreations of garments that are sufficiently exact can, in and of themselves, provide researchers with much of the context they need to understand how the garments had to have been used.


  1. How intriguing! Are there photographs in the original article?

  2. Yes, there are some (though not as many as I'd like). There's a photograph of the original blackwork jacket, a picture of the toile and the bodice on a mannequin, and one of the toile and bodice being worn by a woman; that's what I remember offhand.

  3. It's on I just downloaded it.

    1. That's curious. I downloaded it from, but when I went to write this blog post I got the "the authors have not downloaded this article" message from the relevant page.