Dress for Historical Success Workshop at RWA 2010

Dress for Historical Success Workshop presented at RWA 2010 Orlando, FL

Moderator Peg Herring with authors Coralie Jensen, Jade Lee, Jeannie Lin,
Julia Justiss, Judy Ridgley, Pam Nowak, Linda Joyce, Isobel Carr, and
Elisabeth Burke

I attended this workshop primarily to support three authors from two chapters that I belong to. Elisabeth Burke, Linda Joyce, and Judy Ridgley, but came away with a wardrobe of photographs and a new respect for those that dressed before us.

I managed to sneak in late and grabbed a chair along the wall so I could sneak & take photographs. I should have planned better and hung out at the back of the room with others that were taking photographs, but I still managed to get some good shots. I took quite a few shots of each costume presented but some came out better than others. If you are represented here and you only see one frame it is because I failed in my other attempts. My apologies, I would have represented everyone here equally if I could.

I have to preface this by admitting the descriptions that appear below were written by each of the ladies who appear in the photographs. I wrote up my own descriptions but my memory was so bad that I finally contacted Peg and got the segments provided by each of the authors. Thanks so much to Peg Herring who got the descriptions to me in time to post them. And more thanks to Linda and Elisabeth who got me in contact with her in time to post this blog. My comments are in italics and the photographs and descriptions appear in the order that I remember them. Not necessarily the order in which they actually appeared. Such is my memory. I got the corrected order later, but deemed it too much work to move everything around.

Note: Comments are moderated so don’t be surprised if they don’t appear right away. You don’t need to repost. I’ll publish the first comments entered. thx gj

The fashion show began with the moderator dressed in a beautiful gown and headpiece.

Peg Herring chose to appear as Catherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII and a character in Peg’s mystery, HER HIGHNESS’ FIRST MURDER. Catherine was Elizabeth Tudor’s last stepmother, and she was a good one. Of course, Henry had already disposed of two wives named Catherine, one by divorce, one by beheading.

Peg’s costume is suitable for a formal occasion, such as a day at Court, and is similar to one Catherine wore to have her portrait done in the 1550s. She would begin with a shift, a light under-dress with fitted sleeves and a low neck. Over it, she would fasten a hoop skirt known as a farthingale, tied on at the waist. A bum roll, a tube of fabric stuffed and also tied around the waist, emphasizes the curve of the derriere. Next she would add a corset, tightly laced to narrow her waist and flatten her bosom.

An under-skirt, plain at the back and sides but fancy in front, comes next. Over that is the dress itself, split in front to show the underskirt’s elegant front section. The overdress has very elaborate sleeves with cuffs of one fabric and inserts of another draped back and under to make a puffy look. The waist is tightly fitted, with a “V” shape in front to help create the triangular look that ladies favored at the time.

To cover her hair, Catherine might add a cap with a veil, although more elaborate hats were also popular. Hair decorations often accompanied the hat, such as feathers or jeweled hairpins. Peg has also chosen a lovely beaded necklace that shows well in the dress’s squared neckline.


Coralie Hughes Jensen’s costume is an outfit worn by a landed gentleman similar to one of the Yorkshire characters in her historical novel HAWKSWOLD ABBEY, set in the time of Henry VIII. In the early 1500s, wealthy English landowners who were not part of the court or nobility lived well from the rents paid by tenants who farmed their estates. Members of the landed gentry were upper class, a highly desirable status. Particular prestige was attached to those who had inherited landed estates for generations, the “old” families. Sumptuary laws prohibited the lower and middle classes from using gold or silver thread, silk, velvet, gems, or anything signifying wealth. Doing so would land the common man or woman in jail. It was important for those with land, money, and social standing to display their rank.

The gentleman farmer’s attire was multi-layered. In full garb, he would have worn a wide-sleeved linen or cotton shirt under a waistcoat, which would be covered by a doublet, a vest or jacket of quilted material or wool embellished for formal occasions. Below, he wore upper stocks, fitted knee-breeches or fuller slops, sometimes slashed and lined with colorful fabric pulled through the slashes and puffed out to emphasize the color contrasts. Over the lower stocks, or hose, he wore shoes or knee-high boots. The flat cap, worn both indoors and outdoors, had a narrow brim, often turned up. It sat horizontally on the head and might be embellished with buttons, pins, or feathers.

Coralie’s interest in history is not limited to the Tudors. Her just-released romantic suspense, WINTER HARVEST, is set in a western Massachusetts religious commune and takes place in the early 1800s, during the heyday of the group known as the Shakers.

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Judy Ridgley appears as the “Domina’ Julia Galeria Casca, a character in her Vulcan’s City-Herculaneum. This Roman lady of the upper class is attired in the traditional gown or ‘stola’, as it was called in Ancient Pompeii. Her iridescent green stola is bordered on the hem, which is typical of the gowns of married dominas just before Vesuvius erupted on A.D. 79. Fortunately, for Julia, she survived this catastrophe to be with us today.

The lady covers her head with a maroon shawl or ‘palla’. In the early Republic period, a domina seen with head uncovered gave her husband, the dominus, grounds for divorce. Times have changed. Now, during the First Century, a woman accents all her stolas with this garment as she shops the streets of Herculaneum.

The silk stola and palla would have traveled the Silk Road through Jerusalem and on a galley to Rome. The lady’s jewelry (will have to give the details when I have them) displays the wealth of her own family and of her husband, and reveals his position as an equestrian and owner of many merchant galleys.

Julia’s hair is parted in the center and swept up, which for first century dominas revealed their married status. Her sandals are open due to the warm climate around the Tyrannian Sea where this wealthy city was situated.


Elisabeth Burke, also known as Leigh Stites, appears as Mattie Parker, a Cherokee healer living in the foothills of the Ozarks in the mid 1860s. Mattie is the mother of John and Jay Parker, two sexy sons of Missouri whose stories are told in companion novels: 2009 award-winner Broken Road and this year’s Golden Heart finalist, The Healer.

Throughout their struggles, Mattie is the glue that holds the family together, which is not surprising. The Cherokee are a matriarchal society, so ‘Ma’ wears the pants—even if it’s a dress.

The extra fullness and slightly shorter length provide freedom of movement to do daily chores. A decorative sash and bandolier bag for carrying her healing supplies add a cultural flare. When she’s working around the farm, Mattie wears a wide-brimmed bonnet to shield her face from the sun. What’s underneath? Leggings in the winter, cotton shift on cooler days, but on warmer days–nothing.

You won’t find Mattie in buckskins. The Cherokee, especially intermarried families, adapted quickly to the lifestyle of early white settlers and gave up wearing leather in favor of more easily made cloth fabrics. They did not, however, give up the comfort of their moccasins or the decorative touch of beads made from glass, shells or local seeds.

Like many Cherokee women, Mattie is an expert weaver. She also sews all the clothes for her family. This dress combines the practicality of traditional Indian ponchos with pioneer wrappers, featuring a split bodice closed with whatever is handy (in this case, it would have been a locust thorn except that it was confiscated by airport security). Though Mattie’s sons are grown, she’s still considered in her childbearing years, and this dress allows for easy nursing.


Linda Joyce is wearing the classic uniform of a 19th century schoolmarm and is here to educate her class about how proper young ladies need to dress.

Around 1907, women’s clothing became more man-tailored. The two-piece outfit with a “shirtwaist” or as we would say today, a blouse, opens in the front with buttons and has a collar. Notice the detailed pleats and gathering in the back.

The seven-gore skirt, made of seven pieces including an inverted pleat, is considered a most figure-flattering garment. It has one button and several snaps.

While clothing for a schoolmarm is made from simple fabrics like cotton, this outfit might be made of silk, taffeta or linen as well. If the fabric of the skirt and blouse are the same, the outfit is called a “shirtwaist suit.”

Notice the difference in the bonnets between the one Linda is wearing and the one Elisabeth wears above.

She gave us lessons in propriety and I was frightened that she might be hiding a ruler. No worries though this was a kind, proper and wise school marm.


Jade Lee is wearing touristy crap circa 1950. Doesn’t she look stylish? Jade is here to show the clothing her distant relatives wore to the CHIN dynasty court. Since Jade would have to cut her body in half to wear either outfit, she’s put them on a couple of dolls. The blue outfit (not shown) is typical of everyday wear in the 1800s. A silk jacket with braiding is worn over a pleated silk skirt. The pink outfit is more typical of court attire. It has the same general style, but the top and bottom match, and both are extensively embroidered.

Jade is wearing—appropriately—some jade jewelry. She claims there are a zillion superstitions surrounding this beautiful semi-precious stone, most common being that it can stabilize or preserve the body’s CHEE, or spirit. Some believe that jade will change to a richer green color if it “likes you”. And many, probably jewelers, claim that if you wear a jade bracelet and it breaks, the jade will take the harm instead of you. Our Jade recommends that you wear a lot of jade so you will never get hurt!

The colors were fabulous and the embroidery amazing.


Yes, we’re pretending to ignore those bare legs in the background that looked like they’d just done a Sharon Stone.

Our next model had more clothing than anyone so there are quite a few photographs here. It’s always difficult to show detail in black but I did my best.

Pam Nowak’s costume is patterned on an 1873 wedding dress. Black wedding gowns were common among middle class women, since the brides could reuse the dresses later. The dress is similar to what Miriam, Pam’s heroine in CHOICES, might have worn. More formal than practical calico and clearly indicating the wearer was aware of the fashions of Harper’s Bazaar, it would announce her status as an officer’s daughter. Though suffragist Sarah Donovan, heroine of Pam’s HOLT Medallion winner CHANCES, would have wrinkled her nose at the dress in favor of a simple brown work skirt, Miriam would have found it the perfect compromise between style and functionality. The dress is comprised of separates (a bodice and a skirt). Box pleats on the underskirt and the DAMask inset in the skirt front add style to the otherwise unadorned gown. The uncharacteristic diagonal pleat was copied from the original dress and may have been the result of an alteration or repair. A crinoline or petticoat and a detachable bustle would have been worn under the skirt.

The boned DAMask bodice features twenty fabric-covered buttons and accents the waistline, drawing attention to the wearer’s curves. A rear fan pleat does the same. Sleeves are set at the top of the shoulder and, except for the slight puff at the top, are tight. Original lace accents the collar and cuffs.

Accessories such as a broach, hat, gloves, parasol, and reticule complement the dress and add color.


The third frame is where the proper lady began to be a bit improper. But we encouraged it, so I believe we are at fault for ruining her too. She did keep her hat on though.


I am to be flogged for not taking notes as I was taking photographs but this gown was just spectacular as is the lady who wears it. The color and texture of the fabric and the rich colors are not accurately represented here, but I did my best with it. It is more orange than pink. Some of the photographs were dark so I enhanced them to provide better visibility. My apologies to the authors if their terrific gowns are misrepresented because of it).

Isobel Carr shows us what a woman of the Georgian era might look like. Her favorite era is late 18th century, the time of such films as The Duchess, The Affair of the Necklace and Amazing Grace. There was an air of decadence, revolution, and exuberance with the Enlightenment, as well as the thrill of war. So much going on. So many changes.

In just a few years, fashion will undergo swift and momentous change, but for the moment we are still in an era of layers, of strict corsetry, and of male elegance. Clothing is, for the most part, very structured. Hoops are on their way out, replaced in everyday dress by hip pads, though formal and court gowns are still worn over the magnificent hooped petticoats so familiar from depictions of the doomed Marie Antoinette. Into this world suddenly springs the very first “round gown”, meaning that it goes all the way around the body, pulling on over the head, without the need for a stomacher or any other parts. It is called Chemise a la Reine, Robe a la Reine or simply, the Chemise dress. Some sources claim it is of English origin, but it is Vigee le Brun’s portrait of Marie Antoinette in what critics called her “underwear” that popularized the fashion and gave it the name by which it is known today.

While the chemise would still have been worn over the ridged stays of the day, the lack of hoops and the light fabric’s ability to mould to the body, especially the legs, was a revolution in terms of female fashion. It is from this gown that the light and diaphanous gowns of Regency will be born. What Isobel is wearing today is the chemise’s successor: a true round gown with a “robe” over it similar to those worn in Emma Thompson’s version of Sense and Sensibility.


Julia Justiss appears in evening dress as Lady Honoria Carlow, heroine of her August release, THE SMUGGLER AND THE SOCIETY BRIDE. The Regency period saw a simplification in aristocratic women’s dress. Gone are bum rolls, separate sleeves, stomachers and elaborate layers of underskirts. Often a lady’s dress, even for the most formal occasions, would be just a variation of a simple “round gown,” a one-piece garment that tied, pinned, or fastened in the back. Though England was at war with France for almost the entire period of the Regency, French fashion still had a strong influence on English dress. The high-waisted, puffed-sleeved, slender-silhouette gown introduced by the Empress Josephine at Napoleon’s court replaced the more elaborate Georgian gowns and remained in fashion for several decades.

The line of the dress might be simple, but the decoration was often elaborate, with French terms sprinkled throughout. One popular trim was the “rouleau” (roo-loh,) or “roll”, literally a roll of fabric often decorated, as it is on Julia’s gown, with flower or ribbon trim. Lace was a favorite trim material for skirts, sleeves and bodices, as were jewels such as pearls, crystal (called “brilliants”) or even precious stones, which are NOT shown on Julia’s gown.

Although cropped haircuts were appearing, most women still wore their hair long, done up for evening in elaborate arrangements of curls. As the period progressed, caps and turbans were worn, but in 1814, at the time of Honoria’s story, a simple style of curls threaded through with ribbons or pearls, perhaps capped by an Ostrich feather, would finish the ensemble.

Gloves were always worn, often dyed to match the color of the gown. My lady would carry a reticule, forerunner of the modern purse, and no toilette would be complete without a fan. These were often as elaborate as the gown, displaying painted scenes, intricate lace or ivory carving. On her feet, my lady usually wore flat slippers of soft kid, similar to the Mary Jane or ballet slipper of today.


Jeannie Lin is showing off the elegant Hanfu robes featured in her 2009 Golden Heart award winning debut novel, Butterfly Swords. The story is set in the 8th century, during the Golden Age of Tang Dynasty China.

The traditional garment consists of a form-fitting bodice draped with a floor-length robe. The style was then modified according to the fashion of the times. During the Tang Dynasty, trade along the Silk Road was at its height. The magnificent clothing and accessories reflected the wealth and artistry of the period. Robes became more elaborate, with long, flowing sleeves and vibrant colors. Layers of silk and gauze gave the illusion of rippling water as ladies swept across the courtyard.

In Butterfly Swords, the heroine, Ai Li, wears this beautiful robe as she sneaks out of the palace to say farewell to the hero. She hopes that he will remember her as a woman, rather than the sword-wielding tomboy he rescued.

Explore the elegance and drama of the Tang Dynasty in Butterfly Swords, available in October from Harlequin Historical. The linked short story, The Taming of Mei Lin, will release in September from Harlequin Historical Undone.


I can’t say enough about the effort these ladies went to to provide us with accurate, well researched and generally stunning gowns. I know I appreciated the effort they went to and really enjoyed the workshop.

Here is the last photo, a group shot showing all the participants dressed for historical success!


Check out the participating authors’ newest/upcoming releases
Isobel Carr – Ripe for Seduction
Peg Herring –Her Highness’ First Murder
Coralie Jensen – Winter Harvest
Julia Justiss – The Smuggler and the Society Bride
Jade Lee –Wicked Surrender
Jeannie Lin – Butterfly Swords and The Taming of Mei Lin
Pamela Nowak – Choices
Judy Ridgley – Vulcan City—Herculaneum