Friday, March 25, 2011

Questions from a Lady Attending the Dance

Photo by Steven Sandrbook Photography. View Steven's album at
In Part 2 of our English Country Dance feature, we look at ways to solve your worries over what to wear to the event, whether it be in Palmerston North on 8 April 2011, or some other costume occasion. If you missed the invitation video last week, you can view it here.

Where can I find a modest dress?
Beg, borrow, buy, hire, or make one. Some of these girls made their gowns from furnishing fabric available from stores like Moreland Fabrics for a couple of dollars a meter. Other girls borrowed from the girls who make them.
Photo by Steven Sandrbook Photography. View Steven's album at
Some wore a plain tee shirt under a regular evening gown. In several instances, the tee blended so well with the dress that I didn't realize it was there until I was editing the video footage. That's surprising, because I notice these things.
Narelle's heirloom skirt with an embroidered cotton peasant blouse with satin waist tie was a two-piece outfit that was simple, cool, and practical if not quite vintage elegance. "And the hair and feet let me down. I'll work on that for next time."

Danielle looked charming in a gown created by Charmagne.
Some girls used a straight-across camisole to fill the gap. Others pinned or tied a shawl around their shoulders. And some ladies wore everyday tidy dress. Wear whatever modest outfit you feel comfortable in, come enjoy the dance, and while you're there network with others who can help you find or create your own dream gown for the next event.
The children take a colouring break while they get up steam for the next reel.
What do I wear on my feet?
Surprisingly, the acceptable mode is whatever's comfortable. You can be elegant in dainty heeled slippers, you can be pretty and practical in ballet pumps, or you can be carefree in bare feet. Yes, it's true--many people start the evening looking proper but very soon demonstrate they'll not allow discomfort to spoil their fun.

Charmagne told me of a country dance event she attended in the USA hosted by two magnificently gowned ladies. She was astonished to glimpse tennis shoes below their hooped skirts. The ladies assured her that they had tried the trendy totter-toes look but their feet had been agony the next day. Trainers kept them comfortable all evening and most people didn't even see their feet.
This young lady was absolutely enchanting.

Charmagne Smith, our beautiful caller for Palmerston North events. Charmagne is an expert and prolific seamstress.
Where can I get gloves and a fan?
If you are attending the Palmerston North event, Charmagne will have a selection of gloves and fans available for you to borrow for the evening, but first in, first served. If you desire your own beautifully elegant accessories, try these sources.
  1. Ask your grandmother or an older lady in your community. I've discovered that many women, even those you can't imagine being young and elegant, still have their wedding gloves tucked away somewhere.
  2. Hunt around at garage sales.
  3. Hire from the local play theatre or costume hire centre.
  4. Spotlight stocks white, black, and red satin gloves of several lengths.
  5. 123+ stocks white, black, and red matte gloves for only $3.50 a pair. See Autumn Addendum for more details [coming soon].
  6. Browse online auction sites for new or used items. My best finds on were the following.

Best TradeMe Buy: Search key words: Wrist Satin Gloves

These one-size-fits-most wrist gloves will be fine for slender hands as well as wider. Remember, they are supposed to be a firm fit. Most gloves are made of a stretch fabric, so you shouldn't need to worry about busting seams. If you desire long gloves and have slender arms, you may have to reduce the width (with needle and thread) to prevent the top gaping above your elbow or drooping below it.

Best TradeMe Buy: Search key words: Asian Silk Folding Fans -- seller in Lower Hutt -- seller in Palmerston North

I bought 5 fans from the Lower Hutt dealer. The product price was attractive, but the postage and packaging wasn't -- they charged NZ$6 and gave the delicate fans no padding whatsoever. I recommend you check with the seller that they will be taking adequate precautions to protect your purchase.

If these auctions have expired by the time you view them, page down to the seller's name, click on it, and search their auction list for another auction of the same type. If you can't see one, make an inquiry (on any auction). They may not have got around to relisting it, or may be in the process of reordering stock.

Why would I need gloves or a fan?
The room and the dancers get very warm. Under such conditions, wafting your own private coolant on yourself is deeply satisfying.  Gloves allow you to keep your perspiration to yourself. You're also protected from anyone else's generous spirit. If you don't mind hot air and sticky hands, you'll be just fine without gloves or a fan.

I asked a young lady who reminded me of Jane Bennett, "How do you manage to look as serene at supper as you did when you first arrived?"  She replied sedately, "Practice."

Part of the fun of events like this is that you get to practice being feminine, looking elegant, behaving gracefully. When we hear an instrument produce beautiful music, we know it's the result of many hours of private practice and public performance. This formula applies to being a lady. Can we expect to present ourselves as a glorious melody if we don't practice?

This is a chance for you to practice. Come join us at the English Country Dance!
To find out event details, follow the instructions on the invitation in Part 1 of this feature.

Next week: What do I do with my hair?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tripping Out with Jane Austen - English Country Dance part 1

Have you noticed the popularity of nineteenth-century dramas, our fascination with the clothes and hairstyles? They portray a dignity and feminine mystique that's lacking in our lives and we want it back. One place in New Zealand where it's allowed to flourish is an event known as the English Country Dance.
Photo by Steven Sandrbook Photography. View Steven's album at
February 4th in Palmerston North was the first of such events I was free to attend. I knew I'd been missing out on a good time, but the reality of it was better than I'd dreamed.  These photos were taken during that hot and happy evening, and you're invited to the next one! [See invitation below.]
It's been more than a decade since I trotted out my dancing feet. I was amazed at how quickly I felt comfortable in my first dance, and how badly I messed up my second, but this I shall blame on not hearing a crucial piece of information from caller Charmagne Smith (probably because I was busy with two cameras during in-between dances). First Corners is not the same as First Couple. Simply profound. The support and insistence of fellow dancers eventually sent me in the right direction and before the end of the second round I was assisting others.
Outfits were diverse and colourful, representing many eras and varied dedication to detail. We'll have more photographs for you to admire next week. In the meantime, get planning your own outfit, because we would love to see you there!
Click on image to enlarge.

Photo by Steven Sandbrook Photography. View Steven's album at

Don't think you have to miss out because you don't have a dress or don't live near Palmerston North. Families regularly travel from as far as Wellington, Wanganui, and Hamilton, and as you'll see in this video, ordinary day clothes are just as common as magnificent Victorian gowns. In fact, a number of the very elegant ladies are wearing borrowed gowns. If you need help, please let us know.

If Palmerston North is too far for you to travel to, consider organizing your own event. If you can't find a dance caller in your region, Charmagne Smith may be able to recommend someone. She's travelled to many events, including outside of New Zealand. If you really want something, you can make it happen. Please let us know how you get on, and if we can help!

Next week, more photos from the last event, and tips for where to find those elegant accessories.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Modest Options from EziBuy Autumn Catalogue

Let's see what EziBuy's autumn catalogue offers for today's modest and gorgeous woman. EziBuy is available in New Zealand and Australia.
This acrylic/wool dress gives coverage in all the right places and is feminine without being wildly frilly. Wear it with a pair of bootleg jeans or opaque tights and boots. Also available in raspberry.

This drapey tunic doesn't lend itself to solo splendour, but undergirded with bootleg trousers and a coordinating tee, you'll have a modest and pleasing outfit.
Cowlnecks are still in, but happily for the selective dresser they're now being supplemented with coordinating or built-in camisoles (above and below).

 More built-in bodice boosters, allowing you to wear the flattering v-neckline with confidence.
Bolero or cropped jackets are a cute fixer for sleeveless and low-neckline after-five wear, provided the jacket neckline is an improvement on the dress.  This example has a hook and eye fastening at the front that looks like it will provide sufficient coverage. Remember, where there's one hook, you can add more.
 Above and below are more cute toppers for trousers or below-the-knee straight skirts.

 Butt, bosom, and biceps all covered. Make sure you wear smooth upholstery underneath knits like this.
If black and white looks good on you, make the most of the refined feminine detailing available at the moment. Or, take these ideas and spruce up the B/Ws you already have. Remember to give your whites a laundry inspection before you put them on the ready-to-wear rack.

This tunic may look like a modest option to top bootleg jeans or a straight skirt, but be aware that the 80s-style wide sleeves usually mean you are exposed when you lift your arms. Upon occasion a woman has done this near me and I've seen from one side of her to the other inside her shirt. If you want to wear the style, make sure you've got a close-fitting tee underneath.
Upon first sight, I thought this a dainty rebirth of the knit v-neck tee, but then I noticed that another illustration using the same tee (below) made the neckline appear lower. The only way to know is to try it on yourself. We all have different measurements in sometimes surprising locations (although what's surprising here is it's the same model), so what is modest on one lady may not be modest on another.
If you can't get to city that has an EziBuy store, for a small postal charge you get to try on anything you like in your own home -- one thing I like about that is that I can check items coordinate with my existing wardrobe! -- and you return what you don't want. If you're not sure what size you need, order one of each and send back what doesn't fit.  It's quicker, cheaper, and more convenient than driving all the way to the city.

 A couple of knits and ways to dress them up or fill the empty spots.

This knit tunic is acrylic/nylon/mohair/elastane with velvet tie at waist. I hope that with elastane in it the mohair and acrylic won't sag all the way to Antractica. (If you buy one, let us know if you get there.) It'll be cosy, but be aware it's not lined and yarn knits are not as dense as cotton knits. A chemise will certainly be a good idea (I've made a couple of cotton knit ones based on a $10 camisole and find them wonderfully comfy and cosy). If the neckline worries you, drape a scarf or wear a long-sleeved tee underneath. This will also help prevent any itch you might experience from the mohair. [Editor's Note: a new photo supplied by Ezibuy confirms that this neckline is not modest.]

We hope this post helps you keep your shopping savvy about you as you strive to be modest and modernly gorgeous. Let us know your thoughts in the comment feature below.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Skirts: How to Make Them Modest

On a small income? Hands up if you know it's hard to find cheap modest skirts?

I have a friend who uses her good old Kiwi ingenuity to solve her family's skirt problems. The simple creativity behind her solution charmed me speechless. Her theory is this: If a recycled clothing mart doesn't include modest skirts on the rack, combining 2 immodest skirts equals 1 modest skirt.

There was quite a breeze blowing when I took these photos, so the skirt looks fuller than it normally would.

For a funky look, topstitch lines a centimeter or so apart, joining the two layers, then cut between the seams on the top layer only. The raw denim edges won't need much encouragement to fray like this.

She's quick to confess that not all her partnerships are successful. Every designer in the world experiences design flops, but they tend to keep it quiet. For us, with the ability to view a solid object rather than a vision of one, it's easier to judge what to adjust or change in order for a concept to work. So look and learn.
As you can see, 50/50 length doesn't work when you have such a big contrast. My recommendation is figure out the finished length you need, then work out the balance of the two layers at a ratio no greater than 2:3 or 3:4.

Some skirts don't require a complete makeover, just a small one. B has a knack for this.

I'm particularly delighted by her solution for the knee-high back vent. B and her sister have loved this skirt to bits.
B's advice for kick-pleat insertions is to make sure that trims will stretch along with the fabric. I.e. use stretch lace and sew with a stretch stitch.
Isn't it brilliant? I almost want to go out and buy an immodest skirt just so I can have one of these myself!

B has an answer for skirts that have been damaged, perhaps an iron burn, a barbed wire rip, or a stain. Cover it up with an applique or, as below, cut out the damaged part and insert an embroidered extension.

The decorative band also works for hiding a join when you add an extension to the hem, as I've done below.

B's latest design combines the ever popular denim with the current stripe delight trend. The denim skirt has been cut into strips or shapes and these shapes are stitched on top of the striped skirt. The top portion of the striped skirt (the part above the stripes you see in the illustrations) was then removed and the raw edges (inside) neatened.
To make neat edges, place right side of denim onto right side of striped skirt. Stitch. Fold denim down over seam and press. To make frayed edge, top stitch and then hassle the raw edges.
We hope this post has inspired you and provided solutions for your modest skirt dilemma. If you have additional ideas, please share them in the comments box!
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