One of the most common mistakes made in the costuming world is neglecting your undergarments. The proper foundation makes any outfit look even better, and in a century like the 18th century, where structural undergarments were such a key part of every ladies’ wardrobe, it’s important to build your ensemble from the skin up. Before I had ever sewn a dress that required side hoops, I made a pair of hoops, also known as panniers, to wear while draping my future gowns.
The hoops I constructed were made with the help of the Dreamstress’ “Panier Along”, and very much inspired by a pair of hoops currently in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. When I visited the museum this past March to see their exhibit Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, I was thrilled to find the hoops featured at the beginning of the display.
It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but costumers and historians can both be a little crazy, and I have my feet solidly in both camps. So, one of the most special parts about my trip to England was getting to see a garment that I had studied through a computer screen, recreated with my own two hands, and worn in the heat of a Williamsburg summer, staring right back at me in real life. I had done everything that I could to learn about panniers and understand them, and after I felt that I had finally gotten almost all of the knowledge I needed from that particular subset of history, I was fortunate enough to see the piece that started it all. I know, I know, that’s really nerdy, but it was a really exciting moment for me.