Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Brave Accuracy

I have decided recently that clearly I do not have enough hobbies, and should find something to do with myself.  Just kidding--the truth is that I am a crazy person and apparently hate sleep. But either way, I am investigating taking up archery.  My family used to shoot together sometimes when I was younger, and I remember really liking it.  So with that in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to make a dress I could wear for archery.  I am also planning to go to New York Comic-Con in October, and will need something to wear on the main day of the convention.

Clearly, all of this is a long explanation of why I need to be Princess Merida from Disney'Pixar's Brave.


Part of the reason this project has suddenly occurred to me is this fascinating article over at Clothes on Film. So much went into the animation of these costumes, down to learning how to accurately construct a kilt, and virtually woven fabric for Merida's dress.  It made me start thinking about the historical accuracy of the clothes.

So what about a historically accurate Princess Merida outfit?

A similar, real-life style: Princess Anne of Denmark, 1685 via the Scottish National Gallery
Some things will be easy to adapt: Merida's dress is supposed to be dark blue linen, with a wool cape.  Both natural fabrics, they make a lot more sense than the shiny stuff the Disney World Merida wears--although she is super cute.

Disney World's look-a-like Merida actress.  Darling, but sooo shiny
I tried dating the film beyond "Ye Olde Highland Stereotypes," but it was pretty difficult.  Merida's dress appears to be heavily inspired by a basic kirtle shape, which was worn in various parts of the western world for a very long time; the specific style Merida's resembles (with no waist seam) is accurate for at least the 12th-15th centuries, but also looks a bit like the 17th century portrait above.  

a period illustration of a kirtle
It was however a bit easier to narrow down the time period based on the men's clothing in the movie.  The men all wear kilts with a piece fastened across the chest over the shoulder, which makes it appear to be actually a "belted plaid," or feileadh mor in Gaelic.  This was formed from a single cloth which created the pleated bottom and shoulder piece.  This existed at least as early as the 16th century, which would place Brave in the 16th or early 17th century.  

foreign illustration of belted plaids
King Fergus
While peasants (and the Highlands were a mostly agrarian society) were often behind high high fashions of any given period, there is more debate in the literature about what Scottish royalty wore.  Given that the movie is certainly set before the Union of 1707, I think it is fair to assume that while at home Merida is not dressed in highest court fashions.  With all of this in mind, and the fact that I have at least one portrait of a princess in a dress similar to both Merida's dress and a kirtle from the 17th century, I'm going for that as my basic style.  I also quite like this portrait, which is from the 15th century.

1484 illustration of Joan of Arc at the stake

Here Joan is wearing what appears to be a front-lacing kirtle and quarter or half sleeves.  With this in mind, to get the look of Merida's gown I will follow the character's laced from and cheat a bit on the sleeves.  If I make a dress with sleeves like Joan's, but add ties for more sleeve pieces, I can get the jointed-sleeve Merida look, but take them off and hide the ties if I ever want to look more accurate.

The only other thing Merida's costume lacks is an essential part of the 15th-century Gaelic woman's wardrobe: a plaid or arisaid  worn over the top of the outfit.  These were either attached at the belt or fastened similar to a man's plaid with a brooch on the chest.  This could be pulled over the hair, which was probably a great idea given how cold it gets in Scotland.

19th century illustrations of the arisaid

I would describe what Merida wears as a hooded cloak, but the idea is similar.  Several sources I read also proposed that the woman's arisaid was not always plaid, but often solid with a colored border or striped.  That would mean adding a colored border to Merida's cloak and fastening it with a brooch (which it appears to do already) makes it a passable alternative to a real arisaid--especially if the hood isn't a separate sewn and attached piece.

I suppose this means I need to start looking for dark blue linen...and also that I am a crazy person.  Onward to NY Comic-Con!

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