I’ve always envied the ladies of the 19th century for their wardrobes. Yes, I know the dresses were tight, hot and probably smelled like B.O., but they looked so pretty! I used to spin around in my Easter dresses with the cancans, but I knew that if I only had one of those old-fashioned dresses, it would stand out like that permanently, without making me dizzy! Even after I grew up, I longed for a dress like that. I’d watch period dramas and try to play it cool but inside I was whispering, “Some day I will have one of you. Some day you will be mine!”
So imagine my delight, when a very nice lady contacted me through this website and told me that she was the seamstress who created the lovely red dress on the “Caught in the Middle” cover.
Having already used the dress for a cover shoot, she was ready to sell it and wanted to give me first chance at it. I confess I thought it over longer than I should’ve, but in the end, I decided that if I was ever going to buy a dress, this one was perfect.
True, I did have some misgivings. Before I got the dress, I was a little concerned about the quality. After all, this was made for a photo shoot. Maybe it was only basted together. Maybe the fabric wasn’t of the best quality. But when I got the dress I was astonished. Not only was the dress a great example of craftsmanship, but it also had many extras that I didn’t expect.
On the cover, you can’t really see the bodice that well, but it is reinforced with boning that keeps it snug when laced up tight and also keeps that longer panel flat over the skirt in the front.
And did you notice the neckline? Look closely at the cover and then at the mannequin. At first I thought that the seamstress had changed the lace on the neckline, but she was much more clever than that.
Instead she wove a strong thread through the collar that could be gathered up and tied, giving more coverage over the chest. Probably a good idea for this Christian romance cover. 😉 The neckline also had a drawstring in the back, allowing the dress to be worn either off the shoulders or cinched up for a more modest look.
I was also surprised by how short-waisted the bodice was, but it’s meant to end at a woman’s true waist, not just above her hips like we’re used to nowadays.
And speaking of waists, I don’t really know how to describe the stays in the back. Rubik’s cube? IRS tax code? Theory of Relativity? There are just some things I can never untangle.
Here’s what we did find out: From the waist up to where you see the strings’ ends, those tighten on the outside. From the neckline down to that same point, those tighten on the inside. If you’re picturing Mammy yanking on Scarlett’s stays – eh, no. There aren’t any eyelets which means these strings don’t slip. That’s great for keeping it tight, but tough for adjustments. And there was no way we were going to unlace it completely, even to get it on. Instead we loosened the laces as much as possible and then I did a combination tugging, jumping, and scootching move. When that failed I looked up Harry Houdini and learned how to dislocate my shoulder….not really, but it was almost necessary to get the waist portion over my shoulders. (I think I broke my collarbone.) Once in place, each junction had to be carefully tightened and for the top half they were tightened from the inside by my long-suffering mother, then tied on the inside. (Notice those strings are hidden inside the bodice? The bow you see is from the bottom laces.) It took my mother a full half hour to lace me into this dress and nearly as long to get me out of it.
This experience taught me a few things I’d never learned in all the research I’ve done:
#1 – A character wearing a dress like this would not be involved in any sort of hurried clothing removal, no matter what romance books tell you.
#2 – It does make sense to have the strings meet at the smallest part of the waist, because it allows for maximum shaping.
#3 – Having a lady’s maid with warm hands would be essential.
Either way, my mom and I were able to figure it all out for the “Caught in the Middle” book launch. I had a fabulous time in my dress and have probably never had better posture.
There was one mistake I made. I didn’t choose the right corset to wear with this dress. With the boning and laces in the bodice, it ended up being unnecessary and I went sans, but since I do have the corset (and if you’re curious) I’ll post about it next time.
Thanks for playing dress up with me!
P.S. Do you see one other difference between the cover and the dress? The seamstress added one change before she sent it to me. Do you think it looks better?
Have you ever dreamed of wearing clothes from another era or are you happy with our comfortable wardrobes today?