Friday, April 8, 2016

Historical Clothing Tidbits as Compared to When Calls the Heart

My daughter and I started watching When Calls the Heart in season 2. Oh boo hoo!! How could we have missed season 1? I didn't realize the Hallmark Channel was available on our cable tier so what a happy day when this channel and show was discovered! Then season 3 came around and something seemed different...could it be the costumes? I've been wondering all along how historically accurate they were, since I know how difficult it is to do historical costumes on a budget in theater and television. However it did seem as though Elizabeth was wearing a historically accurate corset, accurate to the setting of 1910. After years of looking at historical clothing and photographs from the early 20th century, one starts to see the lines of a proper silhouette that is created by the corset. I was quite impressed that Hallmark would go to this extent! Also I was quite pleased because part of the fun of watching historical movies/tv shows is in experiencing the past...and the gorgeous clothing!
Today this article popped into my fb newsfeed that contains an interview with the costume designer of When Calls the Heart. I thought I'd share, since I'm sure there are others who are curious about the costuming.  I found the article quite interesting, and I'm not surprised to hear that the costumes are a mix of history and modern. However, I wanted to build on the comment that the author of the article  made..."I can tell you that while I have never worn a corset like Erin Krakow's character Elizabeth Thatcher, I certainly find pleasure in a crisp, clean blouse and a bright, beautiful coat — and cleanliness and color weren't top priority in a dusty 1910s frontier town." (Kelly Frieze, "Costuming Hallmark Channel's When Calls the Heart," TV Insider)
As a teenager I was a prodigious reader of books based on school teachers. One of them was Christy  by Catherine Marshall. Many may be familiar with the television series that aired in the early 1990's. What some may not know is that Christy is the mother of Catherine Marshall. Or more specifically, Marshall based this book on her mother's experiences in Cutter Gap around 1910. Her mother actually did leave a wealthy home in Asheville, North Carolina to teach the mountain children of Cutter Gap. In the book, Christy brought all her pretty clothes from the city to the mountains. She wore them day by day, carefully grooming herself. The children adored her and remarked often about her "pretties." Christy did many things that were not practical, which built some of the plot line of the novel. I think it is a possibility that this actually happened. In the preview of the book, Marshall recounts revisiting Cutter Gap after WWI and listening to her mother reminisce...which gradually unfolded into the pages of the novel, Christy.
Another school teacher I used to read about was Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House books. Although considered fiction, her books were based on her real life on the prairie...which was dusty. Although she didn't wear  fancy party clothes as a teacher anymore than Christy did in Cutter Gap, Laura did wear pretty clothes as a teacher, just like Christy did. That was a different day than today. Today we tend to dress more practically to the environment. However back then they dressed more professionally for a job such as a school mistress. However once Laura returned home, she donned work clothes and an apron to help her mother in the kitchen. Of course she always preferred to work in the fields (of course without the apron and many times without her bonnet) but she wore her nicer clothes in the classroom, even on the prairie.
Another favorite teacher I read about was Clara Barton...who played baseball (to show the big boys how it is done)...while wearing her pretty clothes.  Not her fancy clothes, but her pretty gown to make her look older and like a school teacher.

Another setting I am thinking of is 18th century Williamsburg...which many of us like to visit today...Colonial Williamsburg. I have been told by many an interpreter, and have read in many a history book of the 18th century, that the streets were dusty. That is why ladies wore caps, even while inside a building. It was to help keep their hair clean from all the dust. Not only that, if a lady were wealthy, she would wear nicer clothes than work clothes. In fact if she were upper class, she probably wouldn't wear work clothes at all. Dressier clothes of course would be reserved for a ball, but nice clothes could possibly be seen on the dusty streets of Williamsburg...or any other town before pavement took over. Even I walk about dusty Colonial Williamsburg in an 18th century chintz gown with my children in proper colonial attire.

Resting with my daughter in the Governor's Palace Garden after a dusty day on the streets of Colonial Williamsburg

I'd only wear silk if there was a special event I was attending, like the ball. Or perhaps I shall wear silk onne day for a photo shoot (I mean rendering session) at the governor's palace!
Though not practical for everyone in a dusty town to were pretty clothes, a few did. And thus it is fun to see the range of costumes and characters in When Calls the Heart, from Mountie uniform to work clothes to stunning white shirtwaist and skirt. That range recreates life. Don't we do the same today...wear a range of clothing from work clothes to good to best? Such a range...such a challenge for the costume designer due to time and budget!  I've worked in costuming before in children's choir, so I totally understand lack of budget and such. So, to learn a few tricks of the trade of bringing history to life on a budget of time and economy, I thought I'd share the article, linked at the top! Enjoy!

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