Today, I’m absolutely delighted to share a fabulous post from Anna Belfrage about dressing in the seventeenth century. It will make you giggle, I promise.
Dressing for success in the seventeenth century
In a A Rip in the Veil—the first book in The Graham Saga—the unfortunate (or not, depending how one sees it) Alex Lind has the misfortune of falling three centuries backwards in time to land at the feet of Matthew Graham. Matthew Graham is a devout Presbyterian who has fought in the Commonwealth armies in the Civil War. To Alex, he is initially very strange. Heck, the entire situation is strange: no, wait—it’s impossible!
Matthew is as taken aback as Alex is—perhaps even more, as the only explanation to her sudden appearance in his life must be magic. Or? Besides, what is the woman wearing? Those tight, tight breeches she calls ‘djeens” showcase her every curve, as do her other garments. No, had she been his woman, he’d never have allowed her to set a foot outside dressed like that, all of her exposed, like.
Alex quickly realises that in this new time she has to adapt. ASAP. And one of the first things she must embrace is an entire new wardrobe. “Yay me,” she mutters as she shakes out shift and petticoats and heavy skirts and bodice and. . .
I must admit that I wasn’t entirely thrilled when Alex landed in 1658. The seventeenth century is not my sartorial favourite – especially when it comes to male fashion.
This period dress thing is difficult.
First of all, as the writer of historical fiction it is important to understand what people wore, who wore what and how it was worn. In some cases it’s straightforward: stockings cover your feet and the nether part of your legs no matter if you live in the twentieth century or the fifteenth. But take that rather ugly male adornment that Henry VIII was so proud of flaunting – the codpiece – and I am somewhat stumped. How did it work? ( Okay, so I’ve looked this up; strings, buttons or hooks kept this decorative little (hmm) flap of fabric in place.)
Secondly, it helps if the writer in question finds the period attire alluring in some way or other. It’s difficult to write convincingly about handsome men in codpieces and padded breeches when all you see in your head is something resembling a man in a huge diaper.
Finally, there must be a familiarity with how people dress and undress. “He told her to turn around and zipped up her gown,” is not a good description of the intimacy between man and wife in the fourteenth century. (BTW, the modern zipper owes a lot to Swedish inventor Gideon Sundback. It’s nice to know us Swedes have contributed to human development: dynamite, zippers, gauge blocks, the AGA cooker.) Having exploring male fingers encountering panties in the sixteenth century is also something of an anachronism, and should the dashing regency rake pulls down his boxers you’re not reading historical fiction, you’re reading about a masquerade.
To avoid such gaffes, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the period and have accordingly done my fair share of staring at what few clothes survive from the seventeenth century—like James II’s elegant attire exhibited in the Victoria & Albert museum. Okay, so that is later in the century, but all that lace, all those embroideries, and that gigantic wig! Plus, the high heels on the shoes. . . Nope, not at all my cup of tea.
Earlier in the 1600s, men wore wide breeches, sashes, lace, ribbons—like these young and elegant Stuart brothers in Van Dyke’s portrait.
To the seventeenth century young girl, they were likely delectable. To Alex, not so much. She’d be hard put not to laugh her head off. So it is fortunate that when she first meets Matthew, he is in a ragged shirt and equally ragged breeches, fleeing from pursuing soldiers. It is also fortunate that Matthew would no more adorn himself with ribbons than he would dance attendance on the king—he is a man of Parliamentarian convictions. No, Matthew wears plain and well-made clothes, now and then adorned with a ruffled cuff or an elegant collar.
Obviously, Matthew expects this new female companion of his to dress sedately, which is how Alex finds herself obliged to re-learn just how to dress.
In the seventeenth century, there were no bras, no panties. Instead, the undergarment is a shapeless elongated linen shirt that comes to just below the knees. This shift is worn over stockings that come to just above the knee and are fastened by garters.
“I can help you with those,” Matthew suggests, and there is a twinkle in his eyes as he helps Alex fasten the stockings with pink ribbons. Just because he doesn’t wear ribbons, it doesn’t mean she can’t, he says. In fact, he rather likes the fact that she is wearing them—and that he tied them into place.
Over the shift—which also doubles as nightgown—Alex now dons a corset.
“Ugh!” she groans as she tightens into place. The corset she has ties in front—only people who can afford a ladies maid have corsets that tie in the back. She has to struggle a bit to get it to sit right, and then there are the petticoats, tied into place at her waist and falling to mid-calf. Only the very, very rich have garments that fall all the way to the floor. Most women have skirts high enough to allow them to work and walk without dragging the hem in the dirt.
“Here.” Matthew hands her the heavy skirts. And yes, they are heavy, making it hard to, for example, run. Or jump a fence. Once Alex has stepped into them, he helps her tighten them into place. A bodice, a shawl to cover what may remain exposed of her chest and then Matthew holds out a cap.
“No way!” She backs away, staring at the embroidered linen coif.
“You must cover your hair,” he says.
There is a slight. . . er . . . argument. Things end in a compromise: she will not cover her hair indoors, but otherwise she will either wear a coif or a hat. Matthew would prefer both, but he is pragmatic enough to realise this isn’t a battle he will win. Besides, Alex is having to handle a lot of change as it is.
“Tell me about it,” she mutters. She isn’t overly impressed with the food. Or the lack of chocolate. Or of tea. “I thought they had tea in the seventeenth century,” she groans.
“They do,” I tell her, “but it is very, very expensive.”
“Oh.” She gnaws her lip, her shoulders slumping. Which is probably why Matthew expends a ridiculous amount on a ridiculous small quantity of tea next time he goes to Edinburgh, pleased by the way she lights up from within when he hands the precious package over.
Over time, Alex will become accustomed to her new clothes, even if she will quite often think longingly of jeans and sweatshirts, of Converse and shop-bought socks. (She hates to knit)
But while she adapts to her new life on the outside, she remains a woman of modern conviction and outlook, which will now and then cause her quite some problems in her new time. It is fortunate that she has Matthew to guide her. On the other hand, there will be countless of occasions when Matthew will owe his life and sanity to her, the strange lass he found concussed and burned on an empty Scottish moor. Two halves made whole are my Alex and Matthew, no matter such details as sartorial arguments!
Thank you so much for such a fabulous post. I just can’t imagine all the lace:)
Here’s the blurb
On a muggy August day in 2002 Alex Lind disappears. On an equally stifling August day in 1658, Matthew Graham finds her on a Scottish moor. Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew.
Alexandra Lind is thrown three centuries backwards in time to land at the feet of escaped convict Matthew Graham.
Matthew doesn’t know what to make of this strange woman who has seemingly fallen from the skies—what is she, a witch?
Alex is convinced the tall, gaunt man is some sort of hermit, an oddball, but she quickly realises the odd one out is she, not he.
Catapulted from a life of modern comfort, Alex grapples with her new existence, further complicated by the dawning realization that someone from her time has followed her here—and not exactly to extend a helping hand.
Potential compensation for this brutal shift in fate comes in the shape of Matthew, a man she should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him. But Matthew comes with baggage of his own and on occasion his past threatens them both. At times Alex finds it all excessively exciting, longing for the structured life she used to have.
How will she ever get back? And more importantly, does she really want to?
This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
Meet the author
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.
Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.
Her Castilian Heart is the third in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In the second instalment, The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain. This latest release finds our protagonists back in England—not necessarily any safer than the wilds of Spain!
Anna has also authored The Whirlpools of Time in which she returns to the world of time travel. Join Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin on their adventures through the Scottish Highlands just as the first Jacobite rebellion is about to explode!
All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.
Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com
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