On Historybounding (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Weird)

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In my post on my 37th birthday, I made an offhand reference to “historybounding” and how it has helped me discover and crystalize my personal style. But what actually is historybounding? Where did it come from? And what does it mean to me? Well, I’ve recently joined a Facebook group dedicated to historybounding and gone further into making friends in the historical dress community and thought maybe I ought to talk a bit about this.

When I very first started Tea Leaves and Tweed, I envisioned it as a vintage-inspired lifestyle blog. I went through phases of blogging mostly about natural beauty, my rudimentary internet historical research, and later Asian-inspired beauty. Through all of this, tea was a consistent presence in my life, both herbal and true, and eventually, my tea content started to inspire me more and more. But as with most things in my life, I cannot be content with one thing, one label, one… anything. So this blog is a jumble. And my vintage style was a jumble, too.

At the point that I started this blog, “vintage” in the blogging community typically meant mid-20th-century fashions, usually heavily focusing on women’s fashion, with lots of victory rolls, fit-and-flare silhouettes, and red lipstick. Obviously, I am fully on board with the red lipstick, most of the time. But I realized that 1.) my style was not firmly in even a narrow 2- or 3-decade window, and 2.) many of the styles that drew me didn’t have a lot of available vintage in my price range. But I figured that if I wanted to keep the red lipstick and not attempt to adopt a minimalist French chic look (trust me, I have flirted with minimalist, French, and chic, and I am none of them), I would need to keep my style firmly rooted in the 20th century, specifically the 20s-50s.

Enter Bernadette Banner, Rachel Maksy, and Morgan Donner. I found Bernadette’s YouTube channel when a friend of mine convinced me to try sewing one of her patterns and I was too stubborn to borrow my mother’s sewing machine, so I decided to hand-sew the whole thing. From there, I discovered historical costuming and then historybounding. I realized that I didn’t need to stick to an era or wear all vintage clothing. Putting together an ensemble that evokes an historical era is not only fun, it’s actually historically accurate, as people in the past often wore their take on what they thought historical fashions were in art. And I realized that there was a community of people out there with “vintage” looks that went much further back than the 1920s for inspiration.

The term “historybounding” grew out of the term “Disneybounding,” which was a practice that Disney fans used to wear character-inspired outfits to the parks, which prohibit dressing in costume. The challenge was to put together an outfit with recognizable color palettes or details to evoke a certain character, but without going too far over the “costume” line to be turned away at the gate. The results are truly fascinating and I highly recommend looking up Disneybounding if you’re interested in some very creative everyday cosplay. In the same vein, the idea of historybounding is to put together an outfit inspired by historical dress, but without necessarily looking like you got lost on your way to a theatrical performance (or like you’re dashing around the theater on the street in costume to make a house entrance — I have some stories!).

So now I might wear a Victorian-inspired walking skirt, high-neck blouse, blazer, and my American Duchess boots one day, and an 18th-century peasant-inspired outfit another day. I tend towards using historically-available fibers, like linen, cotton, and wool, but most of my wardrobe is either secondhand from a thrift shop, or else handmade by a modern person. Pretty much the only “historically accurate” items I own are my Penny River silk stockings and ribbon garters, plus the aforementioned boots. But just the other day, while I was wearing the outfit pictured above, a friend said I gave off a “Belle vibe.” Since my inspiration was a 19th-century painting romanticizing an 18th-century peasant, I’ll take it.

Plus, I think that historybounding gives me a way to stretch and explore my idea of time-traveling fashion. In the same way that I pick and choose items of clothing, I pick and choose ideas. I love the idea of red lipstick as a symbol of women’s suffrage and empowerment, but I acknowledge and reject some of the racist ideals held by 19th- and early-20th-century feminists (and, let’s be frank, it didn’t end there). I admire the practices of refashioning rather than buying new, mending, and using more sustainable fabrics of the past, but I recognize that the widespread use of cotton was made possible by the exploitation of enslaved and colonized people, and I look to the ethics of the companies from which I purchase. For me, historybounding is the epitome of “Vintage style, not vintage values.” By picking and choosing fashion, I am also symbolically saying that I am not limited by the mindset of an era whose clothing and style I might enjoy, while the willingness to explore historical accuracy prompts me to do more research than when I was simply looking at Etsy and Pinterest for “vintage looks.”

Finally, historybounding fashion has inspired me to historybound other aspects of my life. Most notably, I’ve started exploring the tea cultures of different eras around the world, which has also led to a fascination with historical cooking and baking. Historical cookery has not only given me an interesting look at the origins of our modern recipes, but has taught me new-to-me spice combinations and tidbits like the use of salted butter in baking (which is nice when you use up all your unsalted butter stress baking during lockdown and your spouse isn’t scheduled to go to the store for another week).

Have you ever heard of historybounding? What’s your favorite era for fashion inspiration?

For anyone who is interested, the dress I’m wearing above is from Galia Couture (not sponsored). The shirt is my spouse’s.