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Things are quieting down over here with the Costume Mercenary, or rather, we're moving towards a different sort of busy (a somewhat less frantic sort) since production has paused for a couple of months and Foreign Fields (probably a post about the adventure that was soon enough) is behind us. This is when the more languid, (allegedly) creative designing takes place, amid the intermittent photography and trading. I've even got Mandarin Squares: Mandarins and their Insignia on my reading list for the steampunk magistrate commission, so things won't be quite as languid as perhaps I could hope.

Sorting through the big box of button samples (the contents of which has made it into button splurge posts) I've found some nice gold (very matte and yellow gold, actually, the photo doesn't really do it justice) leaf buttons, ivy leaves to be specific. I think they were probably bought meant to go with something elven, especially given the fact that the basic elven trim we use on the Forest Cloak is green with gold ivy leaves.

The design on the red-headed elf (you can tell due to the pointy ears) on the right is a hooded variant of our elven coat, probably in a soft black suede lined with forest green. It's drawn with green knot-buttons and leaf shaped sleeves much like the elven coat. It's worn over a sap green elven tunic and trousers. It's painted for a commission of (funnily enough) a hooded variant of the elven coat.

The colours of the sketches often don't have anything to do with the eventual prototype, but I'm still vaguely trying to keep to the "mossy greens, tree-bark browns, autumn scarlets" of the palette used in Lord of the Rings. Ngila Dickson, the designer who "forged" the elven costumes "from Indian silk brocade", notes that they are meant to "invoke their environment [...] and they're very light on the earth, so we searched for very, very fine layers of fabrics for them."

The design on the left is heavily oriental, influenced by all the elven costumes in Hellboy II: The Golden Army (mostly Nuala's). The colours are meant to be of twilight (somewhat like the silver and lilac robes), but I'm not overly convinced I'm managed to actually convey that with the watercolours. I'm not exactly good enough to convey a vast number of layers, but it would be nice to have more if and when it comes into being.

Perhaps due to the fact that elves are rather androgynous in nature in their elegance and beauty, most sets of elven robes would work on both male and female elves, though the exact cutting can differ somewhat and clothes cut for a feminine shape would work significantly less well on a male body.


In Other News: Finally gotten around to updating the Character Kit website with the tool rolls (£6) and globe watches (£20), last pictured together this post.

Am contemplating combing through Lord of the Rings for first hand quotes on elven clothing. (Of course, LotR elves are not the only elves and certainly not the definitive elves, but they can sometimes seem the Ur-elves of fantasy literature.)

A Stack of Gambesons and Foreign Fields



Just finished packing for this weekend's Foreign Fields at Elsecar Heritage Centre (and lacing on the sleeves of far too many gambesons). As the footnote in the Elves with Guns preview post states, we're going to Foreign Fields and after some bustling around the garage, we're more or less packed and ready.

I'm really rather excited (though it does mean it's unlikely that I'll be able to find time to do anything about the tray of lamb bones from the stew last night) and the late night impromptu purple sponge cake is perhaps doing the talking now since I'm sure the Proprietor would be quick to remind me (were he here) that the slow customer-less hours are really rather tedious (which make impossible Victorian chess puzzles seem like a good idea).

So that all said, if you're around Sheffield this weekend, drop by and say hello. Or something. We're happy for you to say something instead.
The Regency is certainly not alone in it's love of high-waisted "empire-line" dresses (it crops up in the fifteenth century as well) and the Mercenary has spent long hours lamenting the ubiquitousness of its modern incarnation in fashion magazines with the Designer and the Heroine. So here are some of the results of the musings.

Starting with a potted history (incidentally, Seitou's Fashion Timeline is utterly beautiful), the long, clinging muslin skirts of the empire silhouette were thought to have developed from Marie Antoinette's infamous chemise dresses (via the more structured robe de gaulle).* The themes and pretensions towards the classical can be found throughout the period and it's always been tempting for fashion historians to draw comparisons between garments and events: 

"The aristocratic stiffness of the old regime in France is completely mirrored in the brocaded gowns of the eighteenth century. The republican licentious notions of the Directoire find their echo in the plain transparent dresses of the time."
James Laver, Taste and Fashion (1945), p. 198  

And it doesn't take much research to say it's a bit more complicated than that.

Returning to the empire silhouette, Joe Wright, the director of the "muddy hems" version of Pride and Prejudice is commonly quoted as saying that it made women "look like marshmallows"*. It was allegedly his main motivation for setting it as early as possible, to bring down the lofty waistlines.

Of course, there are those like this article which is built around the bold assertion that "the empire shape is one of the most flattering known to women." A claim that the very cruel, if apt, Following the Fashion cartoon quickly brings into question. 

High-waisted dresses aren't universally flattering, which is hardly a revolutionary statement. The ideal figure is tall, moderately busty and willowy, which is fairly elusive as figures go unless you're looking at period fashion plates.* The idea that all manner of "sins" can be hidden under the skirts is perhaps overly optimistic, especially as the bulk of the skirts can end up adding rather than obscuring.

That all said, I've had fun drawing some Regency era dresses on stupidly willowy fashion figures.

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* The terms chemise a la reine and robe de gaulle seem to be used interchangeably. The famous portrait of Marie Antoinette can be found with either in its title. I'm inclined to agree with the Dreamstress here and use the term chemise for the giant unshaped dresses that are sashed in and use the gaulle for the more structured dresses with a waist seam (as well as sometimes panelling in the back, etc). It's a frustrating world trying to bring concrete definitions to fashions and shapes. 

* There's plenty of very fine virtual ink spilt on the subject of the costumes from this particular incarnation of Pride and Prejudice: Art of Clothes' has some very insightful and illustrated Notes; this Telegraph interview with the costume designer; Pride and Prejudice Costumes; the woefully abandoned Fashionably Bennet; this Times article on muddy hems. Not to mention Elizabeth Bennet's Jumper Dress and the Teal Almost Empire Line Dress on this blog.

* I am greatly indebted to the Regency Fashion Page and Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion for inspiration, both excellent sources of period plates.

Prototype: Fall Front Breeches

The fall front breeches (or britches, if you fancy the different spelling) are made of black linen and feature rivet buttons and buckle below the knee.

The exact cut of breeches varied through their five hundred or so years in men's fashion (sixteenth to nineteenth century). Their approximate trajectory appears to have been to have begun very full (but gathered at the knee) and slowly become more fitted as the centuries passed, first to the legs and then upwards. By around the early eighteenth century fashionable English breeches tended to be low cut to fit around the hips and style to be very full around the ass (in a baggy way that would not necessarily be termed flattering to the modern eye). These in particular, though were styled to be quite generic, though would be rather late in their history (late eighteenth to early nineteenth century) due to being relatively high-waisted and fitted.

The Proprietor confessed to feeling more silly than dashing in these breeches. He wears them with a pair of fencing socks (the logo of which we had to carefully angle out of view). He also wears in various combinations in the photos: the winged doublet, the reversible cloak and a generic frilly shirt. 

To commission a pair of breeches from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £15-20.

More photos of the fall-front breeches under the cut.


Prototype: Double-Breasted Waistcoat


A long fully-lined double-breasted waistcoat made of black faux suede with a standing collar metal buttons. It's a versatile little garment that can be worn in a number of ways (see under the cut for most of the options). 

The Designer was rather taken with the potential versatility a double-breasted waistcoat and after some thought, we decided to run up a prototype. It's much more of an everyday garment than, say, the georgian-esque riding gown or the more recent brocade waistcoat. The cloud-swirl buttons are really the only interesting detail.

The model complained about the lack of pockets, so perhaps next prototype will feature some. 

To commission a similar waistcoat from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £30-35.

More photos of the double-breasted waistcoat under the cut.




Prototype: A Simple Reversible Cloak

The basic cloak was originally meant to go with the feathered mantle as a sort of detachable cloak (and hence could be washed independently of it - we've not tried throwing the valshams into the washing machine, but it seems a dubious idea), but when that fell through as an idea we had the prototype of a rather nice reversible cloak on our hands.

It's simpler and shorter than the other reversible cloak we've done, which was black-brown with a wide trim. The wool is a cut above that which we normally use, long-haired and very soft.

The corset is the model's own and the full circle skirt is also from the Mercenary (£20, black faux silk, fully lined). Also present in the photos are some fall front breeches, which will be appearing in a post of their own shortly.

To commission a similar cloak from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £70-80. The prototype of the reversible cloak is available from Character Kit for £65.

More photos of the reversible cloak under the cut.





We return again to the ruined chapel of St Mary Magdalene and the beautiful arch of its east window. The day was a little grey, but as the Designer pointed out, we're unlikely to get a non-drizzling day this side of New Year, so having gathered most of what we need, we soldiered on.

In many ways, it's the elven coat again, but this time rather more feminine and closer to its inspiration (Arwen's Chase costume from Fellowship of the Ring). We wanted to make use of the Proprietor's stock of Fae Longswords in the photos, but with the muddlement of many bags, we managed to forget and the engraved London pocket pistol from Makai Larp lurking at the bottom of the backpack was the best we had for a weapon. Granted, Glorfindel (or Arwen, in the movies) wasn't exactly seeing off the Black Riders with a musket, but elves with guns is an unheard of trope growing trope, as fantasy medieval moves towards the renaissance and beyond (see books like Darkness Forged in Fire).

As the two hundred or so photos get sorted and cropped down (I'm not really good enough a photographer to trust myself to do composition in situ), we should be seeing more photos of the Arwen coat, the reversible cloak, (incredibly dashing) fall-front breeches and the winged doublet (this time on the Proprietor).

In Other News, the Proprietor (of Character Kit) and the Costume Mercenary will be at Elsecar Heritage Centre (near Sheffield) for the Foreign Fields Norther Lrp Kit Fair over 23-24th of October. We'll be bringing all the new pocketwatches and bits and pieces. I'm informed there will be a Zombie Show and a fantasy fashion show. Other traders who are awesome will also be present. I'm terribly excited and if you're in the region, do drop by and say hello.

More Click Me Pictures


For all the talk of nice fabrics and trim and buttons, I am a self-defined mercenary of garments and long ponderings on how I'm going to shift all those clothes that are sitting in the garage are part of the purview. I'm not sure how fascinating this is to the reader, but we're currently planning some banner adverts (different from the old set) and they look a bit like this:




Coincidence or otherwise, orders do seem to coincide with the days I put in the time to advertsie.

I'm still a little uncomfortable with singing the praises of my own products. As I've said before, I'm reasonably confident in what I do, but like with all things under the sun, perfection isn't always possible and doesn't come cheaply, each step towards it costs seemingly exponentially more than the step before (adhering to the law of diminishing return). I see design as more as juggling a long series of compromises between concept and reality. I still remember being told off for the way I wrote product descriptions by my uncle who told me to swot up on the language of fashion magazines. 

But in the meantime, any opinions on the banner adverts?
This is almost (but not quite) Elizabeth Bennet's Brown Jumper Dress from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film and quite possibly the closest we've come to attempting a replica.

The dress is well documented on the internet and there are more than a few pages dedicated to it. Pride and Prejudice Costume Study has a page on it. Costumersguide has in addition a photobucket archive of images and Period Movie Review also has a page of screencaptures.

Perhaps with all that going in, there appears to be little excuse to deviate, but as always, we did. The intention was a comfortable dress as opposed to a direct replica of the ensemble worn when Elizabeth first met Wickham. The jumper dress is made from a soft brown linen and the blouse, a white linen (as opposed to white muslin cotton). We went for a drawstring at the waist instead of a split skirt on a whim, which is a decision I'm almost regretting for reasons of accuracy. We have three coconut buttons (instead of four) and the tasselled gold/brown paisley shawl is hardly an exact match for the flowered one.


Despite all the differences I'm still rather pleased with the result and it is a very comfortable dress (so much so I ended up spending Moon Festival in it).

It's only after the shoot that I realised that we have no photos of the sleeves unrolled, but they do and they're not that exciting.

To commission a similar ensemble (in linen or cotton) from the Costume Mercenary would cost £50. Separately, the shirt would cost £20 and the dress £40.

More photos of the Brown Jumper Dress under the cut.



The Mercneary saw Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame recently and am happy to pronounce it quite possibly the most steampunk wuxia film I've seen.* It's certainly not the best wuxia film I've seen, but it is packed with some really rather intriguing ideas (many of which are underdeveloped and later abandoned in a really very disappointing second half) and nudges the envelope, at least.

Rambling continues under the cut.




Detective Dee is set during the reign of the Emperor Wu Zetian, China's only female emperor and chronicles the misadventures of an eccentric investigator on the case of the "phantom flame". Dee at first comes across as Holmes-esque in his eccentricities and though they soon evaporate, whilst they last, he is incredibly fun to watch and one could but imagine the film that could have been.

It's steampunk overtones are soon evident, as the film opens with a foreign ambassador visiting the construction of a giant edifice that should be hugely evocative of the Crystal-Palace-Look-What-We-Can-Build vein of steampunk. There is also a phantom bazaar (allegedly built in a city abandoned after an earthquake half-buried it) and some truly spectacular fights (and ones where the fight director appears to have gone mad, but would you argue with the legendary Sammo Hung?). The plot attempts magic realism of the sort where seemingly random supernatural effects are explained by other less powerful supernatural effects (a bit like a Doctor Who episode, really).  The attempt at developing the rationality in the face of supernatural powers theme is valiant, but it botches the explanations and believability is severely strained.

At first Dee, Pei Dong Lai (the albino guardsman) and Jing'er (the Emperor's handmaid) all seem to have their own complex and confliting allegiances and motivations. Their first scenes together promise mind games and chess-like manoeuvring around each other throughout the investigation. However, depth and competence of three evaporated as the plot unravelled, calling for them to be confounded by a truly moronic scheme. The film flirts with the exploration of a number of ideas, including a morally ambiguous monarch, reversing traditional gender roles, price of power and rightful sovereignty (versus tyranny), but ultimately the ending is, in all honesty, profoundly unsatisfying, with almost all of the ideas completely unexplored and left hanging.

Still, I do recommend it for the first half and it has inspired a number of thoughts. The costumes are beautiful and the visuals are stunning.

Having a female monarch preside over your steampunk setting just feels right for me and I've been wondering why this is the case. It's probably due to the mirroring of Queen Victoria and the destabilising feeling of the new and novel (another strong theme in steampunk). This is not to say if and when I write my great ricepunk opus I will try to remodel Wu Zetian after Victoria. She is her own, albeit contradictory to the point of schizophrenic, character, but tapping into that imagery of Queens and Golden Ages appears to have a great deal of potential.

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* The other being 14 Blades, which is aesthetically very ricepunk.