Vesture Vocab: Lexical Decorations for your Costumes and Conversations

I like words, and, admittedly,  I’m sometimes unnecessarily verbose. I am especially fond of random terms that one doesn’t get to hear every day. In all of fashion and costume history, there are an inordinate amount of words that fit this bill, and they’re like lexical little decorations for my knowledge of the subject.

Similarly, there are all sorts of minor details that can turn a good outfit into a really great and interesting ensemble, costume or cosplay. In an attempt to combine these two concepts, I’ve assembled the following list. Here are some nifty words for Scrabble and crossword aficionados, or people who would just like to spruce-up their togs terminology!

The Library, by Elizabeth Shippen Green.
The Library, by Elizabeth Shippen Green.

Aglet

(alternately spelt aiglet and/or aiguillette)

Nowadays, aglets are most commonly found on shoelaces— it’s that little stiffened or plastic-coated tip at the end of your laces to help thread them through the holes on your boots, sneakers, etc. Aglets also simply help keep the ends from unravelling– it’s super frustrating when the aglets fall-off or disappear, and all you’re left with is a frizzy, floppy end to your shoe lace, amirite?

However, aglets also have decorative uses, like on bolo ties.  Also, if you decide to, say, experiment with an Arya Stark or Robin Hood costume, you might want to make sure that your jerkin (later in the list) laces-up nice and securely. Aglets can help navigate the eyelets while adding a little pizzazz to the finished product.

Pretty in Pink's Duckie likes to dress an ensemble up with a fancy bolo tie.
Pretty in Pink’s Duckie likes to dress an ensemble up with a fancy bolo tie.

Farthingale

People (especially the rich or female) used to wear a LOT of clothing. Layer after layer after layer. A farthingale used to be one of those layers. If you’re into historical recreation, or just want to make your own interesting version of Queen Elizabeth I or another such lady of the court, it’s a handy-dandy term to know.

There were a few different types of farthingales, but their basic function was to help support the shape of the voluminous skirts of the time. The farthingale  used hoops  in casings sewn around the petticoat/underskirt to achieve their shape and structure. Nowadays, however, it could serve as a cool, sculptural or skeletal structure if paired with a sheer organza fabric, for instance:

A farthingale-esque design from Alexander McQueen's Spring 2013 collection.
A farthingale-esque design from Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2013 collection.

Underwear-as-outwear has so many potential applications; you could be a deconstructed Catharine of Aragon, or maybe your version of Storm has traveled back in time on a mission, but has decided to take some liberties with her 1620s bejeweled brocade gown.

Fibula

No bones about it! Are you trying to perfect that Disney Megara cosplay? I surmise that those little circular doodads on her HIGHLY stylized chiton (a common fashion of the time in Ancient Greece) are supposed to be fibulae (plural). A fibula was a little pin or brooch, often  used to help keep  one’s draped outfit in place.

A bronze statue from Pompeii of a woman fastening the shoulder of her peplos with a fibula. Presumably, the other shoulder has already been fastened in the same manner.
A bronze statue from Pompeii of a woman fastening the shoulder of her peplos with a fibula. Presumably, the other shoulder has already been fastened in the same manner.

Fibulae make a nice little accent or detail for any Greek or Roman-inspired outfits, really, and any number of goddesses or gods could be represented wearing such an ornament.

Want to know how to make a chiton from a bed sheet? Check-out the tutorial from Take Back Halloween!

Fichu (pronounced fee-shoo)

GESUNDHEIT. Just kidding! Costumer’s humor. Anyway, a fichu is a triangular shawl or neck scarf that is worn about the neck and shoulders. It was tucked into the bodice or pinned in place so as to cover  – gasp – cleavage!!! It was the descendant of the stiff, starched ruffs that were all the [uncomfortable] rage during the Renaissance/Tudor England era. Slowly but surely, ruffs shrank, and then evolved into the softer, but still frilly, baroque-style collars (The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp), worn by both women and men. Collars got smaller and bodices got lower, and, eventually, in order for women to maintain their delicate modesty, fichus came into style so that the low-necked or décolletage bodices starting in the 17th century and carrying into the 18th century wouldn’t be so positively scandalous.

An example of a white fichu tucked into the neckline of a gown, from the collection of the V & A.
An example of a white fichu tucked into the neckline of a gown, from the collection of the V & A.

Now, if you look at paintings from this period of time, you might note that the size, opacity and manner in which fichus were worn differs greatly. Some fichus, paired with a low-cut bodice, are sheer or lacy little bits of fabric that seem more likely to tantalize than to cover-up. A lot of this depended upon the class of person wearing the dress, age of the wearer, etc.

At any rate, if you are feeling a little exposed in a cute corset and would like to shield yourself from view (a solid, light cotton or silk would do), or even if you’d like to draw attention to the beautiful structure of your neckline (sheer, netting, lace!) a fichu can help hide or accentuate, depending on how you decide to wear it!

Jerkin

Simply put, a jerkin is a type of jacket. Sometimes it has sleeves, sometimes it doesn’t (you know, kind of like a vest. But…not.). Jerkins are a SUPER versatile costume piece. Depending on its design and details, there are nigh on endless possibilities  when it comes to its style— it could have buckles, lacing, zippers, be styled akin to a corset, be made in leather, canvas, brocade, and so forth. It could be super fancy or absolutely practical.

A jerkin from the mid 16th Century.
A jerkin from the mid 16th Century.

In a jerkin, you could be a daring musketeer, or any number of characters from film and TV: from Robert Dudley to Black Adder, or maybe even a Renaissance Katniss Everdeen, you’ve got a slew of historical and fantastical characters to choose from!

 

Print resources:

Brooks Picken, Mary. A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion. Dover Publications, Inc. 1957, 1987. Print.

Ambrose, Gavin and Harris, Paul. The Visual Dictionary of Fashion Design. AVA Publishing SA. 2007. Print.


What about YOUR favorite words, dear reader? Lay ’em on me on the comments below!

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