Like most things, I’ve griped about this before, but it came up in a recent conversation AGAIN….
If you are trying to recreate a specific garment or outfit in a specific painting or monument or trying to recreate a specific extant garment, you can get it right or get it not so right because you have a known standard to judge against. Even if you’re just aiming for a general look (e.g., 1560s England), you can get it more right or less right (and sometimes just outright wrong, but that’s not something we say about people’s specific projects unless we’re having a particularly catty moment – even if they used Hello Kitty fabric).
It’s not that “anything goes” just because there was more than one way to do it. Zippers are wrong. Princess seams are not documentable – to my knowledge – for most* SCA times/places. Some things are documentable; others are (currently) not documentable.
The danger lies in thinking that there is one correct silhouette or “look.” I put together a collection of over 500 pictures of portraits, crowd scenes, monuments, and extant garments that I thought were related to the Flanders gown that was all the rage in England in the 1560s/early 7os. There are very few “duplicates” of garments among them. Even if I narrow the field to include only English folks in the 1560s and looked only at the upper class, there are at least a dozen different “looks” to this outfit, and I have no delusions about having pics of all of the looks that existed for this dress. There is no one correct silhouette – some of the skirts were very full and some very narrow. There is no one correct way to do the sleeves – some were huge, some smaller, others almost pointy, some scalloped, and so on (mine are too droopy, but that’s a separate issue that is its own cautionary tale to be told another day).
I am myself guilty of saying something along the lines of “she really nailed that silhouette.” When you hear me say that, you should be hearing, “she made something that looks just like that portrait Gianetta sees in all of her books.” (also, you should remind me of this post so that I say something that makes more sense in the future – “The silhouette is exactly like ones I’ve seen in portraits.” – nitpicky? Maybe, but words actually have meaning, and the former implies that I know all of the right ways this garment should look, and I don’t.)
When a garment *doesn’t* look “right,”maybe the person absolutely blew it, but don’t make that assumption without asking questions first. The fact that a garment looks too long/short, narrow/wide, etc. often means only that it doesn’t look like the portraits that are in the best known books. Anyone who tells you otherwise likely has too high an estimation of their own knowledge of the field. I know that after my adventures in reading and picture collecting in the past year or so and being continually *shocked* by what I find in recently published books, I wouldn’t be caught dead saying that a look was wrong without talking to the person first to find out what they were using as their sources of inspiration. Pro-tip**: “I haven’t seen documentation of that style of widget” is almost always better than saying that something is wrong.
*Those Germans had some wacky sh1t. I’m not sure I’d call them princess seams, but there is some weird stuff in the patterns in that newer pattern book.
**”Pro-tip”usually means I’m being catty, usually at myself, for some past dorkiness – like leaving the container of cat treats on the counter or attempting to sew pants after 9pm or thinking I know more than I actually know about something and saying something foolish as a result – been there, done that.