Kateri Schneider, Actress

Kateri Schneider, Actress

(Era 1888-1898)

“The authentic costume helped me get into character. I was playing a gaudy ‘new money’ reporter, and that’s exactly what Suzi made for me. The costume was very durable, comfortable under the hot lights, and moveable as I had to do a lot of preening and strutting to do it!”

The original costume was designed for Hanna Yaeger.  Performing as reporter “Penny Dreadful” in an original play about the Wild West, Hanna stole the show in her 1895 traveling suit. Structured with boning and lace, this was made for theatrical performance, which means it was not entirely historically correct, but designed for visual effect under stage lighting.

Hanna used the sweep of her skirt and the wired collar and jacket tabs to give the illusion of feminity mixed with the newfound independence of the late 19th century.

Penny was described by the author as a strong-willed, independent woman of the time.  She was from New York, and had been sent by her newspaper editor to cover a story in a tiny, dusty town in some undisclosed location in the wild west.

By that time the west was somewhat settled along railroad lines, but inland was full of conflict between native americans, cattlemen, settlers, & outlaws (see our “Western Women” section).  The author’s idea was to place a character who was the height of fashion, highly educated, & ahead of her time into a setting with other characters who were not aware of and did not care about fashion, morals, or ethics of the time.  The comedy of this western “whodunit” came from this contrast between characters.

The comedy in this “whodunit” orginal play came from the extreme differences in personality, costume, & attitude of the characters

New Life for the Ensemble

In 2018, Kateri Schneider assumed Hanna’s role and continued with the character.  Kateri  “Kat” will use the costume for teaching and historical interpretation.

  •  1895 falls at the very end of the Victorian Era.  Prince Albert died in 1894, & Victoria’s reign was nearing its end
  • Technically, the year marks the beginning of the Edwardian era with subcategories of La Belle Epoque, Art Nouveau, & the Gibson Girl
  • It was a time of mourning for Victoria, when she established black for mourning, & further entrenched the need for appropriate ensembles to be worn for each event for those who could afford it
  • It was also a time of new world liasons, as this next generation of English & French royal families were intermarrying
  • Most countries, like France, had established Republics, & while the monarchies were not dispersed, they had much less power & influence
  • The rich & powerful still played
  • Under Edward, the strict rules of Victorian society took another twist which would be very expensive
  • The Edwardian “Grand Dame” ruled society & set the standards for fashion & lifestyle

 

The Edwardian Hostess of 1899 would be a force to be reckoned with

 

  • Racing, riding, sports, & women in the workforce were becoming common
  • The Edwardian concept kept those of high society intentionally away from work, as it was a deliberate attempt to live in a world of only leisure
  • Edwardians had high tea, croquet on the lawn, parties to introduce their daughters to society, & excursions to the sea
  • Counter-movements of the Aesthetics, & practicality for those not of the middle or high class who could afford to not work introduced a whole new world of apparel & attitude
  • It was a time of the rise of the active woman, the suit, & Bloomers
  • Sports such as cycling, skating, tennis, golf, bowling & calisthenics were now common for all women
  • Upper class women went yachting, shooting, & riding
  • Clothing was modified to accommodate the new activities
  • Split skirts, short skirts, bloomers, & (some) less restrictive corsets became acceptable in those venues, although the most restrictive, the “S” corset of high fashion would parallel that freedom
  • Industry meant mass production of textiles & garments, which meant fashion was available to those in all walks of life
  • There was class distinction, so the higher society bought from custom designers in Paris, while the lower could mimic the appearances with ready-made or catalog goods
  • New technologies in fabrics, materials, & notions meant laces, trims, & accessories were readily & easily available for all
  • Bright synthetic dyes made the deep purples, blues, & reds available that had been previously reserved only for the elite
  • Early versions of plastics & rayons were evolving for jewelry, buttons, & everything having to do with daily life such as the new “Bakelite” telephone
  • Because everything was so new, for the first time in history men & women had something equal – everyone had to figure out how to use the new-fangled gadgets
  • Automobiles had been invented, trains crossed the continent, & people had expendable income to travel, communicate, & see what others were doing
  • With fast transit across mountains & oceans, ideas were moving as quickly as people
  • Women would soon have the right to vote, & many of all classes fought for that and other causes
  • At this time “old met new” as the old ways gave way to a much faster paced, more technological, & open-minded world emerged for women

The woman of 1895 had broad shoulders you could depend on, an attitude not to be messed with, & carried a large stick to make her point

Hanna’s “Penny Dreadful” was a fictional character, so we had the luxury of making it as historical as we want.  Even though the project was to be theatrical, it was necessary to be as close to historically accurate as possible in order to bring about the intent of the author in showing the contrast between this high fashion character of the time with what “others” would have been like in the Wild West.

Hanna made the executive decision (consistent with what her character would have done) to not wear a corset or petticoat.  We agreed under the condition the main garments would be structured with bone & wire, to give the authentic appearance.  Wiring & boning of collars, bodices body, tails, & waists was historically accurate anyway.

Based on color fashion plates & extant garments of the era, we would build a gored skirt that would keep its shape & move correctly in the sweeping fashion of 1895 (before the skirt would add more gores and increase the back length into a train).  This would be more consistent with a traveling or sporting ensemble.

She would have liked the train, but this character would have traveled west on a locomotive (train), so she would have kept her skirt above the ground.

1895 travel and visiting ensembles with SLEEVES

To be high fashion of one coming from New York City, the sleeves would have to be the largest ever in fashion history; that shape could not be sacrificed, so we developed internal structures & padding – exactly as they did at the time – for the sleeves.

If one notes historical references for the construction of sleeves, there are many which were made of the full fabric, cut in such a way that the single piece of fabric goes wide & then narrows to the wrist.  The higher fashion and larger sleeves of necessity in construction were of separate pieces; thus extant models show contrasting fabrics for lower and upper sleeve sections.  We believe this gathering of a sleeve that could be up to 20 yards of 22″ fabric into an approximate 9″ circle, was probably (other than corset-making) the most difficult construction in fashion history.

Garments of this time for entertaining or evening were made in contrasting colors & fabrics; e.g. silk with velvet.  Hanna, depicting a traveling reporter who was a working woman, needed a “suit”.  “Suits” of the time did not yet include a “blouse” which would be “invented” in the next 10 years.  They instead had evolved out of activewear in response to practical needs for horse and bicycle riding.

Suits evolved from the practical need for garments which could allow movement for sports, or be somber enough to fit into the workplace alongside men who were already wearing them

 

Light to mid range colors used for travel & activewear, along with a practical, just-above-the ground skirt

Suits would become the 3-piece ensemble similar to that which men were wearing later.  At this time they were typically of a middle range color such as tan, light green, gray, or blue which would wear well & not show dirt so well from traveling on a sooty train or out walking a dusty path.  They were of solid color, in 2 pieces, with the gored skirt & fitted tailored bodice typical of the era.

Chemisette of about 1890

The appearance of having a 3rd piece was created by the older version “chemisette”; a bib-like front piece made of lovely tucked or bloused fabric and/or lace, or “revers”, a sewn insert into the jacket/bodice that had the same appearance.

A green lace revers with bow tie was quite typical of 1895. The fabric indicates this would have been a visiting or walking dress, as opposed to a travel or work suit. Work & travel garments were usually of light worsted wool, heavy cotton, or some of the new synthentic predecessors to rayon

Revers were often worn with ties, ribbons, & lace for those of high society.  Hanna selected to use a revers for practicality in theatrical performance (easier to just put the one bodice on), and because it could be elaborately decorated as per her character.

As personal preference, Hanna’s “Penny” opted out of wearing a tie, in favor of a pearled neckline.  The “pearls” would continue on the front of the revers & on the sleeves; again a personal preference in favor of high style for this character (historically, the traveling suit would have a removable cuff because it could be taken out and cleaned in a hotel room).

Cora Brown Potter, a stage actress in 1892 with a fairly subdued hat of the era

Having the basic garment selected, the rest was a matter of choosing accessories.  While a woman out walking, yachting, or cycling at the time might wear a plain, straw “boater” hat, the high fashion woman would have something much grander.

Hats of 1895

Hats of the time began as wide-brimmed with a moderate crown, and a few feathers, ribbons, or silk flowers.  With each passing year as the Edwardian era progressed, they became huge, extremely broad-brimmed, and had thicker brims to hold up the huge amount of birds, feathers, & bows.  The Edwardian Grand Dame would carry so much weight on her head that it (along with the “S” corset which altered her center of balance) would tip her forward so that she had to walk with tiny, mincing steps.

Footwear of 1895

Other accessories, parasols, canes, boas, & boots came into extreme popularity in this era.  Because the Penny character needed to carry a notepad, and because this was a one week stage performance, Hanna opted out of investing in extensive accessories, & requested just a hat.  She was able to find a simple pair of pumps with a similar heel to the era, although the character who traveled for a living, would have most likely worn fashionable, button-up boots.

Following are more extant garment and photographic examples used for inspiration in the design & construction of Hanna’s costume.

In 1893, this was what every woman was expected to wear. This still carries Victorian elements of jewelry, but has the start of the “S” silhouette, increasing sleeve size, gored skirt, & lace that would become prevalent in the next decade

 

By 1895, sleeves had become ridiculously large and had to be supported inside

 

Women of 1895 who were trying to blend in among the men in the workplace might have wanted to lose the hat

 

1893 (left), 1894 (right) show how in just one year the sleeves grew, the skirt gores changed, and the bodice waistline dropped in spite of having a similar construction and overall appearance

 

In 1895, summer and winter day dresses had the same line. This sleeve is different that the others in that it is cut from one piece of fabric which continues to the wrist

 

By 1896 on this wool traveling suit, sleeves were loosening a big, and the skirt added gores which would evolve into the sweeping train of the Edwardian era

 

By 1897 for travel & active wear especially, sleeves were getting smaller, the waist was rising, blouses began to replace revers, & it was becoming more tailored. High fashion, formal, & other activities would evolve into the gored skirts with trains. This was most likely a sporting ensemble such as for skating because it appears to have a cross over skirt for better leg movement and an adjustable waistband that might go over extra petticoats for winter, and what might be fur cuffs

 

This project did not include a petticoat, but both of these would have been worn with this type of ensemble; more likely the one on the right in order to keep a smooth front stomach area

 

This project did not included a corset, but these two with the long lines were typical of 1895. Black was a very favorite among all women. The front spoon busk closure was necessary to avoid unsightly bulges across the tummy with the new, smooth line of the fitted gored skirt

Two versions were developed for the character.  The first was a “high fashion” style appropriate to 1895 forward.  It featured the “inverted bell flower” shape with a 4 gore skirt.  This was a longer, leaner, and smoother line than the prior 5-6 years which absolutely demanded the use of the long version of the “S” corset which tipped the bosom forward and the hips back.

With this version, a stiff taffeta would be used, along with a striped silk for the bodice.  The back might actually incorporated a rump pad or extra ruffles on the petticoat to bring the derriere out, although it was a transitional time away from bustles to using no understructures in the skirt.

This might also use a full blouse instead of revers, although that would be very ahead of fashion for this character.

In the 2nd version, we go back to the end of the 1884-85 style that was just ending the use of the large bustle.  At this time, it was almost more similar to the 1883 “no bustle” time.  The notable difference is the absence of draping and bows in the back.  In this 1884-85 version, the appearance is symmetrical, and the 6-gored paneled skirt is used.

We liked this version because it gave a lovely sweeping movement that helped the character’s attitude, used less fabric to keep costs down, and the extra gores reduced or eliminated the need to have a full petticoat, as long as a thick enough fabric was used.

Ideally, the 1885 long corset, but not yet the full “S” curved corset of the Edwardians who came next would be used, but the jacket design could have enough boning and support to eliminate the need of that too for theatrical purposes.

The final Penny Dreadful character ensemble incorporated elements from both designs and included:

    • 4-gored skirt (modern rayon fabric to keep costs down; historical construction)
    • all-in-one jacket/bodice (fully lined, boned at seams; balloon sleeves)
    • revers integrated in bodice (plastic pearl & synthetic lace overlays)
    • straw hat (colored straw with synthetic flowers, ribbon made of bodice fabric, & ribbons)

 

Modern synthetic fabrics and trims, although historically accurate for color, texture, design, & pattern, were used for this theatrical project

 

The fabric was selected based on historical samples, but was of polyester, cotton, & rayon to keep costs down

Boning was plastic & metal, with metal wires, period consistent hook-eye closures, & button on skirt

No historical undergarments were worn

Note the skirt has a slight train. Although a short train would be consistent with this character, it was in this case an accident because Hanna chose not to wear a bustle pad or petticoat which would have lifted the skirt a bit

 

The bodice, historically accurate, included pieced sleeves which were kept puffy using voile net, wired collar, boned bodice and peplum, and integrated revers with a lace overlay to hide the hook and eye closures

 

Front closure details

 

Neckline lace overlay details

 

Leftover fabrics used for inside stuffing and ribbons made out of the skirt and bodice fabrics were used on a borrowed hat form. We took apart a thrift store fabric rose bouquet to keep the costs minimal for the customer. Tracking down real or reproduction vintage components to use in an ensemble are a special joy we get out of the challenge of high end authentic AND low end theatrical projects

New Life with Kat!

Scenes from the play featuring Hanna as “Penny Dreadful”, cast poses, and mingling with the “modern folk” afterwards.

Many thanks to Hanna for donating her ensemble back to us for use in marketing.  We are honored excited to be working on Hanna’s authentic 1920’s “Great Gatsby” theme wedding gown coming in 2018!

 

“Why are you dressed so strangely?”

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