Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review - Victorian Fashions for Women and Children: Society's Impact on Dress

I recently had the opportunity to review Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900 by Linda Setnik, a fascinating look at fashion through photographs from the era.  I am pleased to say that the author has followed up with another wonderful resource - Victorian Fashions for Women and Children: Society’s Impact on Dress.  This new book covers the same years, 1860-1900, but looks more closely at children’s fashions, and how society influenced styles for both women and children. 

What I found particularly interesting is the way fashion magazines criticized the contemporary woman of the day for sticking to impractical styles, yet continued to feature them in their pages.  Saying we are slaves to fashion was never more prevalent than in the Victorian Era.  Women wore layers and layers (sometimes as many as ten) no matter what the weather.  Tight lacing and corsets forced organs into places they shouldn’t be.  There are amazing examples of abnormally small waistlines in the photos accompanying the text.

Sadly, women not only followed these fashions, but inflicted the same upon their daughters at a young age.  Children dressed like small adults except for shorter skirts and less ornamentation.  I was surprised to learn that boys dressed identical to girls for longer than I thought.  They normally wore dresses until the age of five or six, and sometimes even until their teenage years.  Their hair, while usually short, was parted on the side, while girls parted their hair in the center, which is sometime the only distinguishable feature in a photo.  The wealthier classes kept boys in dresses longer.  There were no gender distinctions, as a result.  All were simply children whose mothers didn’t want them to grow up. 

In addition to fashion trends, Ms. Setnik covers leisure wear, which would hardly be considered ‘leisurely’ by our standards, since it allowed for little movement.  Also covered are hairstyles and accessories like jewelry, stocking and sashes. 

Each chapter covers several years, explaining the sometimes subtle changes from season to season.  Waistlines dropped or rose, went from straight to pointed, hemlines of overskirts rose and fell, skirt and bustle sizes changed shape and size, sleeves puffed, and silhouettes slimmed.  The photographs can be dated by identifying these changes.

Some additional features are an extensive bibliography to continue your research, and a price guide for valuing the clothing. 

This book shows that Ms. Setnik thoroughly researched the topic, and is an expert in the field.  I enjoyed seeing the photographs of contemporary women, rather than perfect models, and learned many new facts and details from this fascinating era.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Blythe Gifford - Before the Word doc? An Excel spreadsheet!

In my past (pre-writer!) life, I was considered an organized person, but the process of writing a book taps deeply into the right (illogical) brain and that seems to have oozed throughout my whole life.  Still, I cling to some vestiges of organization that help me through the writing process.  My master spreadsheet is one of them.

For every book, I open an Excel workbook and give it some fanciful name.  This inevitably has nothing to do with the actual title of the book, which is generally one of the last things that’s decided.  For the Brunson Clan trilogy, I called it “Reiver Record.”  I’ll also select an interesting typeface and color for headers.  It’s all part of putting myself into the mindset of the story.  This document is opened every single day and offers me a central location to do the following:

Track hours and word count.  I track my hours, word count goal and progress, every day.  (Some people set it up by chapters, but this is what works for me.) I also make little notes on how I feel or what I did.  (Quick notes like “love scene – needs work” or “beginning to catch fire.”)  This is VERY helpful when I’m in the middle of the next book and everything is awful.  I can look back to where I was at the same point in the previous book and remember all looked dark then, too and it had a happy ending!  Here’s a sample of how it looked at the very beginning of a new project.  You can see the manic-depressive fluctuations I go through.

Create and remember the backstory.  On another tab, I list the years since my characters were born, with a column for their ages (hero/heroine), a column for real, historical events that occurred that year, and a column where I can record key life events for my characters.  It was particularly helpful when I had to juggle childhood recollections for three Brunson siblings!  That made it easy to check when Johnnie Brunson went to court or when Bessie Brunson was first kissed.  

This also is invaluable for creating character backstory when I need it.  I simply glance at the chart and I can see that the country was at war/peace/famine or whatever when my character was a certain age.  

Create the remember the timeline.  I do a similar chart for the chronology of the story itself so I have a record of when the various events happened, easy to forget halfway through the story.

Remember character names/appearance.  Another tab keeps track of my character names and titles, along with eye and hair color.  This can be sorted, to make it easy to catch if you have too many characters with names beginning with “J.”

Save tidbits of information.  Whenever I have something I want to capture, for example, the distance between two points and how long it would take the characters to travel there, I just add a tab and make a note.  

Some may prefer to do this in OneNote or another program.  For me, Excel is simple and flexible.  I back up every day by sending this spreadsheet, along with the work-in-progress, to my Yahoo email and stick it in a folder so I will never risk losing it.  I would mourn the loss of this master almost as much as if I lost my manuscript!

Blythe Gifford has been known for medieval romances featuring characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. Now, she’s written a trilogy set on the turbulent Scottish Borders of the early Tudor era, starting with RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, November 2012, Harlequin Historical.  CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD will follow in January 2013, and TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL in March 2013.  The Chicago Tribune has called her work "the perfect balance between history and romance."  Visit her at,, or on Twitter @BlytheGifford. 

Author photo by Jennifer Girard.  Cover Art Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited.  Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.