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

Historybounding1

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.

On Vintage Clothing Shopping Triumphs and Fails

When I first started this blog, one of my very clear goals was to share my love of vintage style. I fashioned my beauty routines after historical practices I read about and had started buying more vintage clothing to create a vintage and vintage-inspired wardrobe. Over the years, my wardrobe has fluctuated, but I still love a little vintage style. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that many of my previously purchased vintage pieces fell victim to my occasional bouts of decluttering. Add to that a new personal effort to be more sustainable, which translates into attempting to reduce the amount of clothing I purchase new, plus changes in both my body shape and needs at work from pregnancy, and I was in need of a few vintage and secondhand basics. First, I made a plan for my color scheme, and since most of my clothing is neutral colored, with some jewel tones, I decided that neutrals (black, white, dark navy, grey, brown, and cream) paired with two accent colors would work. Since they are my favorite colors, my accents are green and purple.

I started, as I usually do, on Etsy, but soon grew somewhat disillusioned with both the prices and the need to ship from different countries. I realized that for some of my basics, if I wasn’t buying new fast fashion, I at least needed to find a place to buy secondhand that fit my schedule. So, after watching a video from Rachel Maksy, I decided to investigate ThredUp, an online thrift store of sorts. I started by putting together a custom “Goody Box” of ten different blouses that fit my pseudo-Victorian/Edwardian aesthetic, but with effectively free shipping (if I kept at least one item) and an easy-to-navigate return process when I didn’t want to keep everything. I ended up liking two of the ten blouses (I almost liked three, but ended up with an odd shoulder pads situation). While ThredUp isn’t perfect, it was a great way to buy secondhand for someone with enough going on in my life that I can’t really browse thrift shops for gems on a regular basis. And I particularly like that I can filter by material, so I can only look at items made with cotton, linen, silk, and wool.

After my initial Goody Box, I bought a few more things on ThredUp, including another couple blouses, some blazers, and a skirt. Only the skirt was a miss, but only because I misjudge the silhouette online, and it will still come in handy if I ever need to dress like a normal professional rather than a professional hobbit. But the jackets were some real finds. I found a jacket that is a modernized version of an historical-style riding jacket, as well as a velvet blazer that is probably from the 80s or earlier (because the company it’s from went out of business in the 80s). It’s interesting because nothing is labeled “vintage” on ThredUp, but they do definitely sell some things that might be considered vintage (I just keep reminding myself that when I was a teenager in the 90s, 70s was considered “vintage,” so, yes, 90s can be vintage now).

But now on to the main event: Etsy. Eventually, I realized that ThredUp wasn’t really going to fit my needs for skirts, so I returned to Etsy. Knowing that I would be spending more, I decided to get two wool skirts, to replace the two skirts (one cotton and one linen) that were my standard work rotation in the warmer weather. I wanted one to be black and one to be a neutral non-black color, or one of my accent colors of green and purple. Then, I needed to get an accurate waist measurement and determine how long I needed the skirt to be to fall below my knees, which is what I feel most comfortable wearing. Sadly, the amazing purple wool skirts I found were all too small for me, but I found a lovely black wool skirt and a brown tweed wool skirt. I was struck when they arrived how much nicer they were than the previous skirts I’d remembered buying on Etsy. The fabric is sturdy but not scratchy, and there is even little piping sewn into the black skirt to create a ridged embellishment. Plus, the waist measurements were scrupulously accurate. And the seller who sold me the black skirt even included a lovely scarf as a little extra, which is fun thing about buying from Etsy sellers.

Of course, this post is called “triumphs and fails,” not “vintage triumphs,” so now we come to the fail. While I was on Etsy, I started looking around at some of the vintage “[decade] does Victorian” blouses and fell in love with an adorable Victorian-inspired silk blouse. The main problem with Etsy is that there is no consistency in how vendors disclose the condition of their items, so when I didn’t see any particular issues called out in the listing, I splurged. But when it arrived, the cuffs were frayed and missing some stitching, not terribly so, but badly enough that I would have felt like it needed to be repaired before wearing it to work. After going back and forth with the seller, they decided they’d rather just accept a return than have me get a quote for repairing it, which is fine, but it meant that I had to pay to ship it back overseas. So there is a sense of buyer beware on Etsy. Don’t be like me; contact your vintage sellers and ask about condition before clicking “Buy.”

So there is my current status on fall/winter fashion. I’ve created a largely second-hand or self-thrifted (i.e., from my own closet because the most sustainable option is to wear what you already have) wardrobe with strong historical influences. I’m certainly not “fashionable,” but I feel like my clothes show the strongest sense of personal style that I’ve ever had, and I feel the most like myself. I’ll definitely be wearing these clothes in future tea videos, so you’ll get to see them even without modeling shots here. Happy dressing!

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One last thing: For anyone who has watched my most recent tea video, today is the birthday of the lovely friend who made the handmade mug I use in that video (and that frequently makes an appearance on Instagram). If you wish her a happy birthday in the comments, I’ll certainly pass along the well wishes!

NB: This post is not sponsored or affiliated with any of the companies mentioned.

Hand Sewing the Lila + June Wrap Skirt

I finished my first proper sewing project from a pattern this weekend! I’ve been sharing some little updates along the way as I work on this lovely skirt, but I thought I ought to write a longer post detailing my process, how I deviated from the original pattern, and lessons I’ve learned along the way. Perhaps others who might be interested in sewing this pattern, but who don’t have a sewing machine, might be interested in my thoughts.

So first of all, I chose this skirt because 1.) the pattern is free, 2.) it’s a wrap skirt so sizing is very forgiving, and 3.) I know Kirsten, who owns L+J. Also, I’ve been spending a lot of my time exploring sewing YouTube videos and it’s inspiring me to sew, plus I enjoyed the embroidery project I picked up recently. I find the physical act of stitching to be very relaxing. But my one experience with a sewing machine, when I tried to “help” my mother with my Halloween costume one year, went poorly and I don’t really have a good place to put a machine right now anyway. So I decided to see if I could hand-sew the entire thing. Yes, I’m a little mad. But we’re all mad here, so here we go.

Fabric Choice:

I chose a medium-weight, quilting cotton from Fabric.com because it was inexpensive, solid colored, and machine washable. I didn’t want to break the bank with my first project because there was always a chance I’d fail utterly and have to scrap it, but I wanted something in a color I would wear, and solid so I could pair it with more tops. I also chose some all-cotton green thread.

Of course, when the fabric and thread arrived, I discovered the pitfalls of shopping online, namely that the colors don’t match as well as I’d have liked. But they match well enough and the very little stitching that is visible on the outside of the garment isn’t too jarring. When my fabric arrived, I washed and dried it, and then got ready to go!

Time Commitment:

So from the day I cut out the pattern until the day I tied off the last stitch, it was exactly a month to make this skirt. I did sit on the fabric for a little while because it arrived while we were in the process of moving house, and for a while I didn’t really have any space to lay out fabric. But after the initial move finished, I found myself with the time. But I will say that I only worked on the skirt maybe two days per week because I have a full-time job, a baby, and family and friends who insist on claiming some of my time on the weekend. If I had worked on it for a few hours every day, I might have been able to finish in a week or two. One day, perhaps I will take off a week from work to test this theory.

The biggest time sink was the hem. It’s a circle and then some, so that’s understandable. And I chose not to do the topstitching on the waistband and ties to save some time. Surprisingly, I found the side seams to be relatively quick. I actually cut the back panel of the skirt on a fold to save myself a seam, but in retrospect, one more seam wouldn’t have been that much work, and it would have been nice to have that center back seam to line up the waistband.

Stitches:

When I first started out, I was inordinately grateful for this video from Bernadette Banner on the basic stitches for historical hand-sewing. I found that going to historical practice blogs and YouTube channels was really helpful because they’re the ones using hand sewing to construct garments, rather than just for finishing or decorative work. I also appreciated this page on hand-finishing stitches. I used her Frenched seam finish on my side seams, rather than sewing each seam twice like you would on a machine.

I did my side seams in backstitch, finished the seams with a whip stitch, and felled the hem. I backstitched on the waistband, twice (my pride and joy is the inside waistband seam, which I backstitched without pricking through to the front), and used a slip stitch to close up the rest of the waist ties. As mentioned before, I skipped topstitching the waist band and ties. Those are the only deviations from the printed pattern.

So that’s my skirt process. It’s delightfully twirly and I’m thoroughly enjoying wearing it. Of course I welcome any questions you might have for me! Let me know if you have any sewing projects you’re working on, as I’m definitely planning my next project.

Custom Clothing from eShakti: First Impressions

In my last post, I mentioned that I had been offered a review sample from the clothing retailer eShakti. Normally, everything I review here is something I’ve bought myself, so I want to be very upfront that they did send me a free dress to try. That said, I was curious enough to take advantage of their promotions and buy myself two others. They arrived this week, much earlier than I thought they might.

First of all, for those who are unaware, eShakti is a customized clothing site where you go, choose a design you mostly like, and then change it into something you totally like. You are limited to the color and fabric of the original design, but you can change length, sleeves, and necklines for most styles, and you have option to remove pockets or change the zipper. I was curious about some of their materials, and I liked that I could take a design I like and make the skirt longer, as below-the-knee skirts are a non-negotiable for professional wear for me. So I dove in.

First, my sample dress is a blue-and-white tweed-y novelty woven material dress with a simple a-line skirt, v-neck, short sleeves, and large, button-embellished pockets. As a woman who values utility, I love pockets in dresses. It helps that I generally wear full-skirted designs and therefore do not worry as much about adding bulk around my hips. Anyway, I put in custom measurements (way beyond the standard bust-waist-hips), and chose to lengthen the skirt a little. I was particularly impressed that they had a measurement for sleeve circumference, as I have large-ish arms (possibly from aerials) that are constricted by sleeves.

Then, I decided to try another experiment. I bought two more dresses using their 2-for-1 promotion because I wanted to try out two other materials they have, but for these dresses, I decided to try their standard sizes. I chose the one that most closely fit my measurements. Thankfully, eShakti always asks your height and adjusts designs to that for no additional charge, so I didn’t have to worry about the length being off for the standard sizes.

For my two purchased dresses, I got a suiting material dress with a boat neck and a cotton knit with a pleated neck. Again, I made sure both dresses fell below the knee, and adjusted sleeves to my liking, but didn’t not customize the size other than entering my height. One thing I forgot to check was the zipper on one of the dresses. As someone with a rather wide rib cage, I sometimes have trouble removing dresses that don’t zip up the back. eShakti often has an option to replace a side zipper with a back zipper. Sadly, I was negligent and did not take advantage of this.

Anyway, I made my purchase, and then sat back and waited. They indicated that it could take a few weeks for the dresses to arrive, so I assumed I had time. Then on Boxing Day, I got a notification that both of my orders had shipped. I received my first order (the sample) the following Monday, while I was home sick from work. The other came the next day, though I didn’t receive it until the following day because DHL requires a signature. While it’s a bit irritating, they had no problem leaving the package once I signed the slip they left.

So now, all three dresses in hand, it was the moment of truth. Well, all three dresses fit beautifully. I would say that my body fits their standard sizing chart well enough it may not be worth the hassle of measuring, but since size customization and design customization is all covered under the same fee, I may go all-custom again just to make sure my sleeves fit.

And fit they do! The sample dress had short sleeves, which are often the bane of my existence. But these fit perfectly without constricting. They don’t make my arms look bigger than they are by being too tight. While I haven’t had time for an official photo shoot, I did take a selfie in the mirror this morning:

Because the early morning lighting is poor, it’s hard to see the color, but it is a nice, rich navy blue interspersed with white neps. It’s fully lined so static is not an issue. I’m wearing the dress at work today and it has held up to my commute and walk in, though I got a bit sweaty under the arms, possibly from the poly lining. But it could also just be that I’m not used to wearing real sleeves.

As for the other two dresses, which I actually purchased? Well, they both fit beautifully. The cotton knit is perhaps a bit too casual fo a fabric for me to want to wear to work, but I wore it to rehearsal last night and felt both comfortable and pretty. And the suiting material feels very thick and high-quality. Even the side-zipper issue was not too terrible as there was enough wiggle room in the fit to allow me to get the dress off over my head without hearing any of the seams strain.

All in all, I had a good experience. I know other bloggers have had negative experiences. I will make one comment: despite the fact that both my packages (one review sample and one paid for) left eShakti on the same day, the review sample arrived a day earlier and seemed to take a more direct route. So perhaps they do try to make sure reviewers get their clothes more quickly than the average person. But given that it was only a day or two difference, that’s not a big deal. And not enough to prevent me from ordering again in the future, perhaps for the spring when I want something a little more brightly colored!

The Necessary Elan for Wearing Men’s Clothing

First of all, I am writing this post from the perspective of a cisgendered woman, so I am referring to wearing clothing that either does not belong to me, or was purchased contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions. Off-label usage, if it were. Ignoring the most very basic rules of traditional fashion with wild abandon.

Mostly, I am talking about stealing Boyfriend’s clothing. He doesn’t mind a pair of socks here and there, or the odd t-shirt for sleeping. But this is about the peculiar style that comes about from wearing his clothing out and about.

The other weekend, for our closing show, I had not had time to do laundry and all my warm clothing was dirty. I had a t-shirt, some jeans, my boots, but no sweater. So I grabbed a sweater from the pile of oversized sweaters that even Boyfriend finds a bit too “relaxed” a fit for him. Needless to say, I was comfortable and warm, which was the main point. I was going to be running around, inside and out, gathering props and costumes after the show. I threw it on with a pair of jeans tucked into my riding boots, and didn’t give it a second thought.

Then, after the show, a friend of mine commented how stylish I looked and how much she liked my outfit. “Oh, this old thing?” I got to ask, cooly, although I did not cop to wearing a stolen sweater. And it got me thinking.

I had just come off the final performance of a fantastic run, where I played the star, and generally got to have my way around the stage for two weekends. I was at the top of my game, and plump with confidence. I think that is what made my baggy sweater and jeans look like something worn with style and flair, rather than just another sad girl wearing an oversized sweater because she can’t be bothered to keep all her stylish clothes clean.

Perhaps that’s true of all clothing; that what is required to look stylish is to simply look like you belong in whatever clothing you happened to put on. But I think there may be something deeper. There’s something particularly stylish about a woman who can particularly choose something that may not have been designed to be flattering to her body, but she chooses to wear anyway for comfort, not as a statement. It’s almost the opposite of the “normcore” trend, where you try to look intentionally awkward. Instead, I wear clothing without consciousness, and that’s when I tend to look at my best.

Coming Into My Style

Recently, one of my favorite bloggers, Jessica at Chronically Vintage, posted about her 2015 style inspirations. In her post, she wrote, “I firmly believe that one’s personal style should be a continually evolving entity of sorts.” I couldn’t agree more. Over my life, particularly in the last several years, I’ve gone through phases, but always come back to certain elements that are uniquely me.

I love my long skirts. I used to live in long skirts in the summer when I was in high school because I categorically refused to show my legs, either in shorts or shorter skirts or dresses. Part of this was a whopping dose of body insecurity, and part of it was just an unwillingness to either shave my legs regularly or try to carry off being unshaven. Oddly enough, a style born of laziness and insecurity earned me plenty of compliments, despite the fact that I was an awkward weirdling for most of my young adult life (30s are still young, right?). But I consider long skirts my version of sweatpants, which makes it pretty cool that others find them stylish.

Scarves have always been a large part of my personal style, and lately I’ve been adding shawls to that. Although the crochet habit is part of that, and I have one handmade shawl that I use regularly, I also love my purchased scarves and shawls. In fact, I might do a post soon detailing my favorite cozy shawls for winter. But scarves have been one of my signatures for as long as I can remember. It may have started somewhat when I traveled in Italy in college. Whatever the origin, I wear scarves as an accessory more often than I wear necklaces.

My boots are another one of my winter style signatures. In fact, I’ve had the same pair of black leather riding boots for over three years and yesterday realized they were actually falling apart. So it’s time to find a new signature piece. I’m thinking of trying a brown or cognac pair.

And that’s just the thing: I don’t always keep my signature pieces constant. I’ve gone from hippie gauze long skirts to solid-colored jersey skirts with a slimmer silhouette. My scarves have branched out from the standard Pashminas I found on street vendors in Europe. And now I’m going to get a new pair of boots.

I’ve gone through phases with my style. I tried going ultra-minimalist right after I separated from my ex. And it worked for a while, but I started to gravitate towards a more romantic, vintage feel. So now I’ve come to blend my modern minimalist phase into my classic, romantic signature style. But who knows? That can change.

Cozy Winter Style

As you can tell by the title of my blog, I love to wrap up in warm fabrics and drink hot tea. I really do like tweed, in all its scratchy woolen glory. And this time of year, my collection of tweeds and knits and scarves really gets to shine.

Monday, I was thrilled to receive my new winter coat, a brown herringbone tweed overcoat from a vintage seller on Etsy. It has nubs of blue and orange in it, and a subtle tartan pattern. Not only did the photographs on Etsy not do it justice at all, it fit perfectly, with just enough room that I might layer it over sweaters. It makes me glad the weather has started to taken on more of a chill.

Holiday Weekend Shopping

Underneath my coat, my cold-weather staples are long trousers and blue jeans, cabled sweaters, scarves, and my wonderful knee-length black riding boots. A pair of leather boots zipped up over a pair of slim-fitting straight-leg jeans, with a cabled sweater and a squishy scarf is the quintessential winter style to me. On the rare occasion I venture out into the cold air in a skirt, I wear a pair of thick tights or leggings, with socks over top, all tucked into my riding boots.

Cozy Workday Outfit

My favorite sweater is a fisherman-cabled sweater in a mottled oatmeal color that I wear most weekends, but it lacks the necessary elan for the office. To that end, I have a cream-colored cabled sweater in a butter-soft wool blend, a collection of cardigans, and two cowl-necked merino wool sweaters. Paired with a pair of jeans on the weekend, or a pair of vintage tweed trousers for work, my sweaters are vital for keeping warm while I walk from place to place. Whether I’m taking a stroll around the lake, or a hurried walk from my car, parked ages away from my building, I need to keep from suffering the bite of winter air.

I’ve put together some sets in Polyvore to show what I mean. Of course, I chose items mostly based on looks, so some are quite expensive, but it is the look of the thing I mean to convey. Hopefully, they will help inspire your cozy winter wardrobe!