Making the costumes

Making the costumes

Costumes on mannequins at Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber
Steph Selmayr, Costume Director for Past Pleasures describes below her experience spending 12 months designing and making the courtiers costume installation for Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber.

The plan

Past Pleasures came to the project as established makers of historically accurate costume that is designed to be worn by live interpreters in the Palace. The intention of the costumes for Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber was a little different. The desire was to depict real courtiers at the court of the Prince and Princess of Wales, George and Caroline, during their summer season of 1716.

Contemporary design

We wanted to balance key elements of the costumes’ historical accuracy in the form of period silhouette, pattern and details, whilst abstracting the design to achieve a contemporary twist on the historical designs in keeping with the overall exhibition approach. To achieve this we explored using many different fabrics including paper – a material that is prominent in the exhibition. Ultimately we decided to use conservation material Tyvek which resembles paper but is far more durable and easier to work with.

The pure white Tyvek fitted the design concept, but also turned out to be ideal for the tricky folded aspects of the costumes which characterize this period’s details in clothing, in particular the pleated skirts on the men’s coats and the folded robing of the ladies' gowns.

Life-like figures

We thought about the physicality of the characters portrayed, looked at portraits, read contemporary comments about them and studied artifactual survivals in order to bring further bring individuality into the costumes.

To denote the higher status of the characters in the Drawing Room we picked out the pocket shape, buttons and cuffs with silver metal lace material. We then chose a fabulous gold fabric for the Prince and Princess of Wales outer garments. Most painstakingly of all we hand punched hundreds of tiny holes in the Tyvek to give the impression of lace collars and cuffs.

Making the costumes was only one of the challenges. To give the figures individuality costume expert Janet Wood individually shaped each of the figures according to historical descriptions of their size and ages.

While it took less time to create an entire outfit –Tyvek does not fray like cloth or silk—it took more time to mount the costumes onto the mannequins to ensure that the displays would stay secure.

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