Friday, April 18, 2014

Dressing the pirate lady

Vivian Drew wants her clothing post. Monday night, I heard a thump in the kitchen and looked to see if a cat had jumped on the counter, and saw instead an open cupboard door above my head and a mug flying at me. My "Vivian mug," which shattered at my feet.

On my ex-mug: "From Home to Port"
by Sherrie Spencer, because it makes me think of Vivian Drew

A new mug has been ordered from I can't have several Captain Hook mugs and no Vivian mug--so I suppose it's time for the post that was delayed for Tiger Lily and children who fly away. One of the ongoing challenges in writing The Stowaway has been figuring out what an Edwardian woman would wear aboard a pirate ship which has a tenuous connection to any particular era of history. Vivian's evening gowns were a simple matter, and great fun to describe, but something practical for daily life aboard ship was another story altogether.

The pirate wench: Even if the historical accuracy of this image weren't absurd, Vivian would be disinclined to throw aside the standards she's lived with for over three decades in front of men who have already tried to take unwelcome liberties with her. No, respect should not be contingent upon what a woman wears, but it happens now, and The Stowaway takes place in 1908. Any sort of bodice over a shirt would contribute to the costume-y "wench" effect, so I was left to find a different direction.

From a Dutch printing of A General History of the Robberies
and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, attributed to
Captain Charles Johnson (apparently a pseudonym)

Historical female pirates did not provide me with a solution either. Anne Bonny and Mary Read dressed the same as their male counterparts, all the better to startle their foes into making mistakes when they undid shirts and showed their true identities. While a great ploy, Vivian is not inclined to combat, dressed or otherwise, and discovers she is too fond of nice women's clothing to forgo it.

An Edwardian S-shaped, tightly-laced corset would of course be deeply unsuitable for working on a ship. But Edwardian women did wear waistcoats under suit jackets and over shirtwaists, and my discovery of the Liberty bodice provided me with the key to Vivian's wardrobe. Made of fleece-lined fabric without boning with buttons rather than lacing, and with shoulder straps, it was made for young girls as well as women like maids who needed more freedom of movement than a traditional corset would allow. Thus it would be a reasonable compromise for Vivian, providing the support and modesty she was accustomed to without the restrictions of a corset.

So a suitable outfit for her would start with a combination--a one-piece undergarment with no sleeves and divided legs rather than a skirt--with a Liberty bodice on top, and then her shirtwaist, skirt, and waistcoat. A great deal of clothing, yes, but without heating on the Jolly Roger, she'd be glad to have all of it. As for warmer weather--well, that's in the book. *wink*

When I started streamlining the narrative, it was easy to cut out details of love scenes, but much harder to let go of clothing descriptions. The world is rife with regular porn. It needs more clothing porn.


  1. The Liberty bodice is a new one to me. Sort of the "sports bra" of its day, perhaps?

    1. Pretty much.

      Liberty bodices were around for decades, evidently. I've run across some accounts of women who wore them in the 30s and 40s and thought they were absolutely miserable, as they didn't have standard corsets as a basis for comparison.

  2. I have observed that, throughout history, there have always been feminized versions of male clothing, especially uniforms. The Napoleonic Era "hussar" riding habits spring quickly to mind, with either culottes or breeches. A similar treatment could be given to either Edwardian or Nelsonian naval uniforms, integrating the aforementioned Liberty Bodice by color and cut.

    Dashing, Practical, and Feminine all at once.

    For an advanced course in clothing porn permit me to recommend the works of Georgette Heyer.

    1. Vivian might well be amenable to such a thing, although James might not appreciate any allusions to his past naval career. Ah well, after a week in the cabin boy's trousers, she's more than pleased to return to clothing she's accustomed to.

      I went through a rather intense Regency romance phase in high school, so I am familiar with Ms. Heyer. She may be an influence in ways I am not even aware of.

    2. I suspect that Mrs. Heyer has been an influence on me in ways I'm unaware of.

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