Idle Muse Theatre Company prides itself on producing theatre that will transport you to another place and time. Regardless of what the characters are wearing... we take you there...but we also then turn around quickly and say..."it actually doesn't matter that someone is in a three piece suit with a narrow lapel - the issues are the same and situations are similar. Social relevance is as important a story device as the plot is to us."
That said, we often find ourselves frequently doing period Victorian and Edwardian pieces - but I'll let the dramaturg and director blog about social, class, and cultural constructs.
Rather, let us talk briefly about Victorian sensibilities in the way of clothing and what it means to be a Victorian in said clothing.
Victoria herself was very self conscious and liked to use her clothing to protect her from the outside world. She was constantly covered from top to bottom. As a designer that concept in and of itself is very appealing....because...it is a choice for that character. A character that wants to be protected typically wears more layers and covers up more flesh: Layers, High necked collars.
But then - there's all the pretty tatted lace and frills. Florals. Corsets. Yummy corsets. Yes.
Yeah. That. We as a culture (and I mean worldwide not just English or American) find the Victorian silhouette so romantic and lusty that we have really (sometimes literally) over fetishized the look of the corset and the thigh high stocking and the high necked lace collar. Those particular garments in and of themselves have created a look that is very dominant for the female figure. What was once the epitome of vulnerability is now a very strong look. The choice is different now....as modern women we can dress as we please and if that look is appealing, so be it and the devil may care.
It was not so in 1889. Women wore what they wore because if they didn't their decorum and moral character was immediately questioned - or worse - taken. London was theivey and rapey. And frightening. About the time of our play begins, the famous Jack the Ripper was preying on women of ill repute. There was, immediately, a response in fashion. Garments were tighter, higher and lower in all the appropriate places.
Fashion was not just social - but like an exoskeleton of safety.
In Dartmoor Devonshire women have a little more freedom clothing wise. It's more practical lifestyle. Rather than dodge a running carriage in a street filled with horse manure and urine...women find themselves in the middle of nowhere and having to do a lot more walking. But there are creatures - not just likely thieves and rapists like London - but actual creatures.
If one covers up oneself in London to protect oneself from immorality and degradation, then...one covers up oneself in the country to be safe from nature.
How, then, do we tell the story of Beryl Stapleton in period clothing? In period clothing on a budget. A tight budget. Tiiiight. In the land of storefront theatre, as a costume designer and producer - I try very hard to stay at $100 per person including shoes. In a cast of 11 that is very difficult. (and most of the full timers out there reading this are laughing at its near impossibility)
I've found that in this challenging arena - Layered Texture is queen. (Salve regina).
Or in Beryl's case the lack thereof. She is vulnerable and exotic and enticing. Those are easily translated into the traditional silhouette. I chose the bustle (more on that later) the overbust corset and cotton lawn under things (it's very sheer cotton and is super easy to work with)
But she is also a victim in a world where someone would notice if she were dressed inappropriately or in a state of distress.
In order to achieve that my choice is layers of white chiffon and delicate organza butterfly details.
Why white chiffon and white organza? The idea behind the chiffon is that it will give a solid appearance when her outfit is lit head on and be more gossamer if back lit. More spectral. More mystical. It's also a pretty solid choice to highlight her frailty.
She is very fragile and as the show unfolds you come to find out exactly why.
Also - I can pretty much have my way with the texture. Beryl will be ruffled and trimmed and posh...and very transparently dressed in the right moments of the show to highlight her vulnerability.
As for the period trappings. Meet...Prudence the Lobster Tail Cane Bustle. (Yes. I name some stuff in my line of business. It keeps me from going mad...)
There is a bustle pad (Purchased. I'm not THAT crazy) and a hand made cane bustle. yeah. handmade. (Right now in the photos it is just basted. I will eventually seal up this sucker. Actors are notoriously hard on stuff. Which is fine by me. I don't have to memorize anything and talk in front of people for two hours. I'll get them what they need in order to move the way they need to comfortably).
And now the fun budgeting begins. I wanted sheerness and "see-throughity" but didn't really want the look of the concentric caning. So...I made Prudence and then gave her a lovely triple layer of tulle. The tulle is still sheer and will soften the look of the lobster tail. By the by - I deliberately chose this shape of bustle. While the actress will still be able to function as a human...it will look like she cannot. We have trained ourselves to see collapsible bustling. This bustle is something much more staunch and has a visual weight that most other bustles won't have - e.g. the other two ladies in this show will be wearing them - but their bustles look more as if you could set the dresses aside and use the bustles as pillows upon which to nap.
Prudence will make Beryl look like she's a prisoner of her own clothing - regardless of the lightness of the chiffon and the frothy ruffling. She will look bound up and trussed up like a sacrificial poultry.
Ok well hopefully sexier than that....
And the finished look. (only ruffled by machine, y'all. All layers are hand sewn. three layers of tulle.)