1890s Can Can

July 2011 – February 2015

A can can costume has been on the wish list from the very beginning. In fact, Laughing Moon’s #105 Saloon Girl may have been my very first, non-big-4 pattern purchase. I will state up front that my dress has some issues. Still, it’s perfectly wearable. And I did manage, at long last, to finish it. This is definitely one of the more ridiculous costumes I’ve made to date.
The LM Saloon Girl pattern was used for both skirt and petticoat. Truly Victorian’s 1885 Cuirass Bodice was modified for the bodice. Having a fitted bodice pattern is a big plus and this one was made for the 1880s Calico Dress. The sleeve puffs are McCalls 7615, but made less poofy. They were added as an afterthought in 2020.
My favorite parts of the costume are the bits and accessories that go with it, especially the all-important undergarments. The corset, petticoat and drawers have write-ups of their own in the 19th Century Undies gallery. The jewelry, initially made for the purple 1860s dress, is one of my favorite sets. Curly bangs are by Jennylafleur. The thigh high stockings from Sock Dreams have very cute satin ribbons at the top. In these photos they’re covered up by the drawers.

That being said, problems with the costume itself stem from a poor choice of fabric. For years I’d been on the lookout for can can fabric. This silk shantung, with a discounted $7/yard price tag (in shot purple no less) proved too tempting to pass up. But the fabric is very lightweight – it wrinkles, snags and frays easily. The skirt was underlined in batiste, and is holding up fine so far. The bodice is not. In fact, it was threatening to rip out at the seams before I’d even worn it for photos! I thought a broadcloth underlining would be enough to take the strain. I was wrong. There are a few extra yards of this stuff left. It would make great skirt lining or ruffles. But the bodice would need to be redone in a different fabric, in order to fix the issues.
Another item of note is the complete lack of boning in the bodice. At one point, I’d considered wearing the costume without a corset. And while mulling this over, I left out the bodice’s boning. I’m not convinced that these can can dancers are all wearing highly structured garments. At least not the ones shown in extremely flexible poses. But I should have known that of course my bodice doesn’t fit (or look good), without a corset. By the time I figured this out, it was too late to add boning. The disagreeable fabric was fraying away at the seam allowances. So I added a lining, and then bound the neckline and armholes. Taking it all apart was impractical. And the silk couldn’t handle any more seam ripping. Lesson learned. Use the good stuff.

This purple shot silk is a fabulous mix of hot pink and electric blue. The wool felt hat was a fortuitous thrift store find. It’s a perfect match for the pink threads. (Doesn’t everyone carry swatches of their current projects around?) I added some over-the-top sequin trim and a few flowers. The hat itself is unaltered. It’s just worn at the back of the head, to emulate hats like those in the Rice & Bartons above. I sewed a single hair comb into the center front. This slides into a bun, right on top of my head. (The bun is enhanced with fake braids so it makes a pretty good anchor). An elastic under the chin secures the hat from the bottom. The hat is surprisingly stable, even without a hat pin. I kept bumping into objects around the house while getting ready and it never once budged.