Tuesday 12 December 2017

Revolutionary style: wrapped up in the fashion of the Rising


Kirsty wearing a typical tenement woman's attire during 1910s. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Kirsty wearing a typical tenement woman's attire during 1910s. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Kirsty Blake Knox wearing a typical Cumann na mBan uniform from 1916. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Kirsty Blake Knox wearing a typical aristocratic outfit from c1916. Photo: Caroline Quinn

"Now lean over and hike your boobs up."

I frowned at Saileog O'Halloran - the co-ordinator of the Abbey Theatre's Costume Hire Department.

"It's what they did back then," she assured me.

I was standing, corseted up, in the middle of the national theatre's costume warehouse trying on an assortment of 1916 style threads.

RTE's Rebellion had been the inspiration. Sadly, the series has not lived up to expectation - who would have thought an insurrection could seem so dull? But there is one saving grace: the exquisite costumes.

Watching those rustling petticoats, military blazers and smart hats left me with a yearning to road-test the trend.


Which is how I found myself standing in a freezing warehouse in Finglas struggling to create the illusion of cleavage.

I would be dressing up as three different ladies - an upper -lass Gibson Girl, a tenement dweller and a member of Cumann na MBan.

Obviously, I was most excited about playing the high-society dame with an unfeasibly small waist, lace gloves and parasol.

With the corset on Saileog placed the outfit - worn by The Lady from Rathmines in O'Casey's Plough and the Stars - over my head.

It was my first time wearing a corset, and I adored it, they make you stand up straighter and give you great decolletage.

The only downside is you can't really move in them so Saileog had to put my shoes on.

With everything fastened up - I wandered around the warehouse. The dress was a joy to walk in - it swung and swished beautifully.

Next up was the Cumann na mBan outfit.

"They definitely wouldn't have worn a corset," Saileog said.

I slipped on a bottle green line skirt that fell above the ankles, a military-style shirt and tie and lace up leather boots.

My expectations for this look hadn't exactly been high. But I was pleasantly surprised - it was smart and sharp.

I looked like a regular Countess Markievicz but, you know, without her bad teeth or bird's nest hair.

The final look was tenement dweller with a full skirt, apron and shawl.

I had been least excited about this ensemble until Saileog explained the shawl had been used on stage in the original production of The Plough and The Stars.

Clothes back then were so flattering and fitted.

They were also exceptionally warm - which I really appreciated on a frosty January morning.

While we will never return to corset-wearing days, it's nice to wrap yourself up in the fabric of the time.

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