When it comes to “do you do research for modern contemporary novels?” then the answer is a great fat NO. It’s always seemed as though characters have either lived in places I have or places I’ve visited and fell in love with: sometimes vice versa. Horses have often featured. Hardly surprising because equines are second nature to me, and they make for a great backdrop interspersed with action. Basically, I stick with what I’m familiar with.
However, a historical novel requires much research. Despite my prior knowledge of plots and period setting (1600/1700s), there are facets of every day life I’m unfamiliar with even though I feel a great affinity with the 17th and early 18th century. Basic food, miraculously, proved little different than today with regards bread, bacon (ham) and meat, eggs, plain un-exotic vegetables and fruit, and preserving of such re salted beef, jams, preserves. But, when did cocoa (drinking chocolate) first hit these shores? When did China tea first hit these shores? When did coffee first hit these shores? When did each become commercial properties served in coffee houses? China tea became a commercial item long after having been consumed in private by wealthy elements in society. Another interesting fact: did you know people drank hawthorn flower/leaf tea beside herbal concoctions, ale, and wine? The former, very refeshing and not unlike green tea!
But, now here’s the thing, I quite got carried away with research on ladies and gentleman’s attire: not style because I’m up on all that. My interest lay in what kind of fabrics were available, where and how sourced? I adore velvet, satin, silk, and damask. With the Elizabethan era at end (see above) square necklines with their stiff upright lace collars, neck-ruffs, and below waist girdles with navel point soon fell out of favour. By 1644 and the Civil War raging in its second year, ladies necklines became softer. And, as can be seen from the images below, styles for wealthy ladies changed back and forth during this period.
Round necklines were in, so too soft voile modesty drapes for some while soft lace frills favoured by others. Sleeves became quite flamboyant with puffs, sometimes with velvet outer and slits to allow peep of contrast silk under. Skirts and bodice/girdles often stopped at the waist, and all made from a variety of luscious fabrics: velvets, satins, silks, damask and other. The Puritans on the other hand retained square necklines and adopted modesty drapes and or stiff up-to-the-neck collars. Their skirts and bodice mostly that of wool and girdles/bodice sometimes kidskin: suede as we know it today.
Why need for this much research, one might ask. But, if I’d remained ignorant of this knowledge how could I let a reader see and feel the fabric of the MC’s outfit and that of other characters? By the late 17th century early 18th, girdles/bodice with navel split-points were in favour. Sleeves were tailored narrow from shoulder to frill trim at or below elbow, and frills on skirts in abundance. See left hand image.
Oh, just a quick reminder: although we're in 2011 it's the 21st century. The years 1600 are 17th century so on and so forth!
Ahem, history lesson over. School out! ;)