Posted by: Natalie | July 29, 2010

Historical Fashion Frenzy

I was sat here quite contentedly tapping away at my keys, feeling a slight smug satisfaction that the chapters seem to be flowing a little more readily, when I had a sudden panic attack.

I was busy trying to set the flamboyance of a new setting, describing the fabrics that adorned the throne like chamber of one of my protagonists when I realised my research contained a massive gaping hole – I had no idea if the said fabrics were even in existence in 1643! Now, you might think this an unforgivable oversight when writing a historical novel and I would agree with you! I am shocked and appalled at my own lack of fabric investigation.

I could be challenged on any other part of the historical context of the story, the characters, the battles and dates, the weaponry, the places and their connections with the Civil War era as a whole. I had, or course, researched the clothing expected of the warring factions and the battle garments they were alleged to wear, but simply did not think about the wider sections of society. I am such a muppet! How could I make such a naive error? Maybe because this is my first historical book? Maybe because in all my Civil War reading it automatically neglects such tiny elements as fashion in place of the grander political issues at hand. And maybe because I just assumed the fabrics from the many Van Dyck paintings I have researched. An error indeed.

So, another hurdle. Not one that will prevent me from writing on, these details can be edited in a later date, but one that has caused a temporary halt. The internet may indeed be a marvellous thing, but is so full of wrong facts and time consuming nonsense. I have also learnt this bitter lesson of internet research before. During my undergraduate degree I believed I had found an ‘amazing site’ that I could site in an essay about the Black Death. I was so proud to have ‘found’ these remarkable details that would set my work alight. The fact that they were not corroborated in any of my research reading did not seem to enter my head – such a fool! It was following a seminar that my lecturer sat me aside and found the said site on his computer. He then laughed. Quite loudly and for some time. He was very kind though and explained that what I had discovered was pure fabrication! From that day to this, facts historical or otherwise have to be checked by at the very least three independent sources – and preferably not internet based!

So, with the help of the lovely Caroline, and her remarkable knowledge of fashion type things, I have a new reading list! The V&A museum‘s web site, provide quite comprehensive lists of books for such moments of idiocy and panic. I have already sourced one or two of these books through Birmingham’s library network and tomorrow I am going to thoroughly enjoy myself as I rummage around their reference sections (strangely few of these books to loan).

Is it strange to be quite excited by this prospect? I do love books and often wish that I could live at Waterstones, so for me this is like an actual day out! Most people get excited about going shopping or to the zoo, not me! I am genuinely thrilled about the prospect of spending hours in Birmingham’s Central Library, which may be followed by a hot chocolate while browsing book shop shelves!

Now, if you should be able to recommend any books about seventeenth century upholstery, I would be delighted to know!



  1. […] Satins and Codpieces After yesterday‘s near fatal error, I spent a good few hours in Birmingham Central Library today expanding my […]

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