I’m talking research again. Historical novels require a lot of it. Fortunately for me, my novels are set in the late 1890s. As history goes, that’s not so long ago and information is boundless. I can get lost in the newspaper archives for hours and yes, I sometimes lose my focus as well. Why am I interested in the cost of leasing a house in a town where none of my characters live? Am I researching or procrastinating? Does it matter? This stuff is fascinating and I’m sure to need it someday.
But my favorite research is for the cover image. I’m thrilled my editor actually wants my input. The cover is so much fun—fashions and hairstyles and hats—oh my! I don’t have much of a style of my own, jeans and tee-shirts are fine with me, but there’s something about pouring over vintage fashion plates; the sumptuous fabrics, the draping, the colors, the sheer artistry of design that brings out my inner fashionista.
One of my favorite places to search is the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum http://collections.vam.ac.uk/search/ . That’s where I found this fabulous confection. Doesn’t it just conjure the image of Eliza Doolittle at Royal Ascot shouting, “Come on, Dover! Move yer bloomin’ arse!”
As it happens, my main character, Frances doesn’t attend the races, at least not in this book, so I had to move on to more appropriate attire. Another of my go-to sites for 1890s fashion, is The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s digital collection, which contains fashion plates from the Costume Institute. https://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15324coll12
Here I don’t have to settle on a typical outfit of the era. I can narrow my search to the year and even the season. Believe it or not, this is a summer walking dress. Significantly more covered than we’d see today.
Again the hat is simply a work of art. Do I wear hats? No, never. I can’t explain my fascination, but I love whiling away many happy hours browsing through these plates.
And I get to call it work.