Ever since childhood, I admired the long dresses and exaggerated silhouettes worn in period dramas and fairytale movies, and wanted so much to wear those dreamy clothes. My head was filled with fantasies of frolicking through meadows in flowing skirts, descending staircases in elaborate ballgowns, and swooshing away in dramatic hooded cloaks. Modern fashion seemed boring in comparison! But growing up poor didn’t leave much room for bringing those dreams to life—on top of that, stores just don’t sell that kind of stuff! I had to make do with wearing the longest skirts and ruffliest blouses I could find at thrift stores.
Eventually I started sewing to finally make the garments that I couldn’t find. As a newbie sewist flipping through a book of gorgeous historical fashion plates, the bell-shaped skirts of 1850’s crinoline dresses reminded me of Disney princess gowns, and the desire to embrace my inner child inspired me to dive in headfirst into sewing a mid-Victorian dress!
The dress took a whole year to make from the foundations outward. I had put so much time and effort into making that dress, so of course I wore it with utmost pride! But when I posted pictures on a sewing forum, it got very mixed reactions. I am Biracial (Black and White) and have melanated skin. Quite a few people were unable to appreciate the work and skill I put into sewing the dress, and instead focused only on my skin color. The post got comments like, “Why are you dressed like a slave?”; “Black women shouldn’t wear white people clothing! That’s cultural appropriation!”; and other racist things that I won’t repeat… Those responses were disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.
However, there were many more people who were incredibly supportive of my work and gave tons of positivity and encouragement. Some even expressed how much my post inspired them to get into historical costuming themselves, and how they found it incredibly refreshing to see more diversity and representation in a community that is undeniably very white-dominated! That made it all worth it to me. Besides, I refuse to let a few racist naysayers discourage me from making and wearing things that bring me joy.
Still, others had very practical concerns. “When will you actually wear that? Won’t it just take up space?” Very valid questions. With some thought, I realized the dress could just be incorporated into my closet! It didn’t have to just sit there collecting dust if there was nowhere to wear it. After all, it’s composed of multiple pieces that I could try mixing and matching with the rest of my clothing. And as it turned out, those pieces blended in surprisingly well! That opened my mind to all sorts of new sewing and style ideas. Period clothing has so many unique and interesting details that modern clothes just kind of…lack. So why not use historical sewing patterns in a modern way to create a whimsical wardrobe that’s still practical for everyday wear? Blend old with new, fanciful with simple, dramatic with refined? The possibilities are endless! Aaaand that’s how I’ve ended up with the historic-infused style I have today!
I’m Whitney, a zany blue-haired sewist who enjoys fusing historical & modern fashion for a whimsical wardrobe! I live in Virginia with my husband, 2 cats, and pet cornsnake. Aside from sewing, I also enjoy hiking, gardening, and playing Dungeons & Dragons. My sewing and life adventures can be found on Instagram @whitneygoose.