Sunday, 18 June 2017 11:17

Panniers and Punctilious or: How I Learned to Love Skirt Supports

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Our stylishly turned out Dresser has assisted her Lady with the chemise, leggings, panniers and is now tightening the corset. The series of layers’ underneath clothing has purpose; the chemise was closest to the skin and served as nightgown, petticoat and under-blouse. The leggings provided warmth and good protection from tall grasses, low bushes and insects. Jumping to the corset, we know that it provided a particular feminine shape; a smaller waist, or larger bottom. And this, is where panniers totally take over the whole feminine shape idea; remember this famous picture of one of Marie Antoinette’s dresses …

That serious undercarriage was developed for the sole purpose of holding the petticoats and dress out, and away from the body; women in every social class wore hooped petticoats, which would later be referred to as panniers, after the French word “panier”, meaning basket (they resembled baskets fastened around a woman’s waist). Originally, panniers could be made of wood, whalebone, metal or reeds.

Skirts could be expanded to widths that were several feet on each side – so large, in fact, that two women couldn’t walk through a doorway at the same time, or sit on a couch together. No doubt this made the men giggle a bit, but none could deny the skill required by women when walking, sitting and getting into and out of a carriage. So much effort required, for something that wasn’t even comfortable to wear.

How to Determine the width of panniers without being an engineer …

As the diagram shows, the body measurements of the wearer are used to determine the shape and width of the panniers or hooped skirt; except, double or triple wherever necessary.

And, this is where punctilio comes into play; putting the fine points of court dressing, conduct or procedure in front of us, so we can see how fashion or courtly dress influenced the culture of the day. Women of the court were greatly influenced by clothing and this influence is ongoing; women all over the world continue to be bound, wrapped, draped and fitted in fabric.

My Panniers

Muslin was chosen as the fabric for these panniers but instead of wood, whalebone, metal or reed hoops, I used white plastic cable ties, from an automotive supply store. 

These fantastic cable ties are made of flexible plastic and are available in either black or white, and come in a variety of widths and lengths. I used the larger, ½ inch wide and 36 inches long for the panniers, but I used the smaller ¼ inch wide by 11 ¾ inches long for the stays in a corset I made some time ago. Simply cut off the bulky end of the cable tie, lightly sand away any rough edges and slip into the prepared casing. They are inexpensive, lightweight, easy to work with, and capable of holding up the dress.

So, that brings us to the dress …

We fell in love with the brown embroidered taffeta and thought it would look nice with the quilted gold fabric. I added the rope pearls, copper coloured organza, and hand-stitched pearls onto gold ribbon trim.

Here are a few views of the front, side and back of the dress …

And what’s a sleeve, without inner-sleeve detail …



Clearly, it was time to stop with the ruffles and trim ….

There’s just one more thing, a dress such as this one definitely deserves a headdress …

The panniers, dress and headdress are now part of our costume collection, but currently, Lynne and I are working on costumes for a production of The Comedy of Errors, presented by the Lethbridge Shakespeare Performance Society, beginning June 29, 2017. Check the local listing for dates and time.

We’re also working on another film with LIFS – Lethbridge Independent Film Society that rolls in July.

So, between and around requests, I plan to build more Victorian and Renaissance looks while Lynne may venture into the world of Fantasy costumes. It’s great that folks are beginning to email their costume requests to us and come by to visit us in our studio. Tomorrow, it’s bloomers for me …





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The Costumer's Notebook,

The book The Costumer's Notebook is a 295 page comprehensive handbook for Costumers for stage and film including a full Glossary of stage and film industry terms. Sections include methods and tricks for laundry, dyeing, breakdown, Dresser guidelines and protocols for Stage or Film and various size charts for men and women from shoes to gloves. Other Sections include diagrams showing How to Iron A Shirt, How to Tie a Tie and How to Tie a Bow Tie. Costume fittings, costume lay out and costume storage are also discussed.