Shakespearean showstoppers

Original pottery with example of mens’ costume of the era. Doublet, hat, ruffled collar, pantaloons… a proper gentleman.

On my trip to London in November 2012, I took the tour at the new Rose Theatre in Southwark, right on the Thames. It is a beautiful tour showcasing the amazing craftsmanship and dedication that went into building this replica of the original Rose.

After making a total ass of myself by throwing in several “did you know”s and additional information to a post-tour presentation on Renaissance era dress (hard not to when you’ve spent several years researching the subject and generally can’t keep your mouth shut), I decided to putter quietly around the museum and check out the displays.

From the earthy to the sublime, the exhibit is designed so that crowds of school children can see everything, but adults can enjoy it as well.

The majority of my Renaissance education stems from research I did while working or playing at the Northern and Southern California Renaissance Faires from 1987-1996, living in southern England from 1996-1998, then back to a few years at Ren Faire in California, and later the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire in Oregon. I think there were a few SCA events in there, too, but who’s counting? The point is, I’d seen very few items–clothing or otherwise–that actually dated from the Renaissance. I know potters, blacksmiths, gold- and silversmiths, glassblowers, weavers, and historical re-creationists aplenty, but California is not England. Try as we might, and we do try very hard, our reproductions are not the same as the originals. To be surrounded by original items from Shakespeare’s time was quite a thrill.doublet1

doublet2 This leather doublet shows techniques of the era, especially cutting, which were used to make a gentleman’s garb more fashionable. The leather has been well preserved, which is fortunate. I’m curious how the cuts were done; individually, or with a rotary tool? Did the cuts help the leather breathe, or were they purely decorative? Did they help the wearer move more comfortably? Having worn a leather bodice at faire for many years, I know what it’s like to have your torso encased in heavy material that stretches over time and needs taking in once in a while, and how difficult it is to sew the stuff. I also know how hot and sweaty it can get in the summer, and how warm it can be in the winter.

While the original garments were impressive, the reproductions weren’t too shabby, either. This gown was made as historically accurate as possible, but it was also made for the theatre, which means the costumers took a few liberties. I have no complaints. It is a gorgeous gown.

Reproduction gown based on original designs for Queen Elizabeth I
Reproduction gown based on original designs for Queen Elizabeth I
Side view of open sleeve
Side view of open sleeve
Detail of the back. So many panels!


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