Dress to Impress by Carol McGrath – Guest Author

A warm welcome today to my guest author Carol McGrath, writing about her love of research into historical costumes for her novels.  Over to you, Carol!

When I write any Historical character real or imagined, one exceptionally, enjoyable aspect of research concerns fabrics and costume. I have to see my characters to bring them alive and create three dimensional personalities. The Stone Rose, my new novel, last in the She-Wolf Queens trilogy, is about Isabella of France, and is published on 21st April. Whilst researching Isabella, I discovered that she and Edward II, her husband, chose matching fabrics and colours for the ladies and gentlemen of their respective courts. I dramatise this in one of the scenes in the novel.

Costumes worn during the early 14th C were flowing, elegant, comfortable and they were stitched from gorgeous fabrics. Velvet was an expensive fabric that was no longer a rarity by the 14th C. Mottled velvets and velvets patterned with stripes and checks, some including metal thread began to appear at Isabella’s court and its development can be traced through wardrobe accounts of the period. Equally, plain velvets attracted a sizeable market in 14th C London. Many of these were half silk velvets. These had a weft of linen and were cheaper.

Silks could be patterned. The 12th and 13th centuries were marked by an increasing use of metal thread in silk cloth. This was often used as a brocading thread to empathise details of a pattern such as the head or feet of a bird. Metal thread was also used throughout the web of some cloths resulting in the fabrics being heavier. Spain upstaged Byzantium as a renowned centre of silk weaving after 1204 and the fall of Constantinople. Spain was also a producer of a light weight twill that was popular during this era, especially in hot weather. The amount of silk in twill was reduced by employing a main warp of single rather than double thread. The weft float was lengthened to cover three binding ends rather than two. It, therefore, made for a lighter silk. Cloths woven in Venice became available and Lucchese (woven in Lucca) cloths were commonplace by the end of Isabella’s life. Wealthy citizens of London as well as the Crown and nobility, alike, bought Italian cloth for clothing. Sumptuary laws restricting the ordinary person’s wardrobe first came in later, during Edward III’s reign.

In my story, Queen Isabella presents gorgeous purses probably made of silk lampas, a woven material, to her French brothers’ wives. It was fashionable to wear belt purses at the time. This led to a huge scandal, worthy of The Game of Thrones, after Isabella on a second visit to Paris saw the princesses’ lovers wearing her gifts of the previous year. Putting two and two together, she exposed the scandal to her father, King Philip IV of France. It is known as the Tour de Nesle Affair. The punishments endured by the unfaithful princesses was tragic. Their lovers were executed in a very cruel manner. The story, of course, is in the novel, so no spoilers.

What was the fashion at court? Men would wear a hood often with button fastenings. Buttons came into their own during this period and garments possessed many beautiful, minute buttons. They might have a split in the over gown sleeve of their tunics to reveal an under sleeve. They wore hip bags, usually leather and open-sided tunics with dragged edges. Their hose would be fashionably parti-coloured. Boots had pointed toes. They might wear small hats with shallow brims and super-tunics with decorated sleeves. Knitted stockings came in during the era. This, too, enters the story.

Women wore hair dressed over rolls, long gowns with open sides to hipline. They wore tight sleeves and over gowns had button fastenings. Courtiers loved fabrics with large patterns. They also wore high wide headdresses and this was the era when the pointed headdress was worn by fashionable ladies. They might wear a barbette under the chin and their hair in a crispinette in a plaited bun.

Isabella’s and Edward’s court appears to have been elegant, one where sumptuous fabrics were worn and whilst writing this novel I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, able to view Queen Isabella’s gorgeous wardrobe.

Carol’s latest novel, the third in the Rose Trilogy is The Stone Rose, published on 21st April 2022.

To read my review of The Stone Rose click here

Agnes, a stonemason’s daughter receives a mysterious message from the disgraced Queen Isabella speaking of a task only Agnes can fulfil. Much has been whispered of the conflicts in Edward II’s and Isabella’s marriage. Her greed and warmongering. His unspoken love for male favourites. The truth is revealed. But can either woman choose independence, follow their own desires, and survive?

To buy click here

Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed ‘She- Wolves’ Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose, continued with The Damask Rose and concludes with the brand new The Stone Rose. Born in Northern Ireland, she fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, when exploring local castles and nearby archaeological digs. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.

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