by Kass McGann of Reconstructing History – a great resouce for costuming ideas, patterns, reference books, help or inspiration.
We are unbelievably privileged that Kass has written this costuming guide for the Browncoat Ball!
Every year, the famous Browncoat Ball is held in a new city. You going? What’s that you say? You don’t have anything to wear and you don’t know how to sew?
Never fear! I’m here to tell you how to have a great outfit without sewing a stitch.
You can have two of the three. Never three. It’s either going to be fast and cheap, but not good; fast and good but not cheap; or cheap and good, but not fast.
The good news: The Browncoat Ball is still months away. That’s plenty of time! So you can have “cheap” and “good” if you start now.
Now let’s be clear: I’m not going to show you how to get an exact replica of something worn in the “Shindig” episode of Firefly. If you want that, there are plenty of sites out there who will sell you the outfit. This is about how to get an outfit that will work with the Shindig aesthetic without spending a lot of cash.
So let’s look at some really inexpensive sources for formal wear.
Once upon a time, I was going on a cruise and you had to dress formally for dinner every night. Five nights! How was I going to do that? I went to my local Bridal Shop to see if they had any samples. Shops that do alterations often buy dresses in sample sizes to show customers and then you order the size you need and they do alterations to fit you. At the end of the season, the samples are no use anymore because the manufacturer no longer will make that style dress. So they sell them off for like $30! At the time I was a size 8 and samples tended to come in size 8. So I went looking for samples. Of course this only works if you happen to be the sample size.
However, when I went to the shop, they had many more dresses on sale that were not samples. You see, every season, lots of weddings get cancelled. And if the bridesmaids’ dresses have already been ordered, the shop gets stuck with them. So there will be four or five dresses in the same colour and style in all different sizes that the shop just wants to clear out. Again, I think I paid $25 for the ones I got, and some of them were Waters and Waters gowns! (Usually $250)
Many of the dresses on the extras in “Shindig” were old bridesmaids’ dresses. Even Inara’s dress was repurposed from a bridal gown! So go to your local bridal shop and have a look through their sale rack. Of course you have to get lucky that one of the abandoned dresses is in your size and that it looks right for the Browncoat Ball. But it’s no different than shopping for things in your size in a thrift store. It’s hit or miss.
The stereotypical Chinese dress is called a Cheongsam (literally “long dress”). If you google this, you’ll find a ton of things. But I found some amazing things this morning. Look at this: http://www.aliexpress.com/
Yes, it’s under $50 with free shipping!
Worried that it’s only sizes 2-10? No problem: ”Other sizes are also ok for us too, but there would be extra 20USD charges for it, if you would like to order a dress in Size 12 to Size 20, please contact us before u place the order, thank you” Yes, it’s made to your measurements.
Now it ships from China, and they make it to order, so the wait time says 30 days. I would double that just to be sure. But this is what I was saying about we have seven months!
If you’ve never bought from Ali Express before, here’s a page on them: http://searchingpanda.com/
Personally I’m blown away by this one: http://www.dhgate.com/
DHgate is also highly reviewed: http://www.
Delivery is estimated between April 14th and May 5th. But even if it was delayed and you didn’t get it until May 30th, you’d still have it four and a half months before the Ball!
(I am far too excited about this!)
Not into the Chinese look? Want Kaylee’s “layer cake”? No problem. Look: http://www.dhgate.com/product/new-exquisite-2014-ball-gown-sweetheart-lace/192513218.html?recinfo=1,2,8#cppd-8-5|null:2
$76 for a custom-made dress in your choice of 100 colours? Are you kidding me? Again, I’d add an extra month onto their delivery date just to be sure. But you’re reserving your hotel room now. Why not order your gown?
Let’s Not Forget the Men!
Mal (and many of the men in the episode) are wearing Morning Coats. This is actually late Victorian and early 20th century daytime formal wear. It would never have been worn to a ball in the evening. The men should be wearing Dress Coats (aka “tails” or “white tie”). But the ‘Verse is not Victorian England, and I digress. (I’m a costume historian. You can only expect me to shut up for so long!)
We actually sell a pattern for a Morning Coat: RH923 – 1880s-1930s Single-Breasted Morning Coat, but this is a post about not sewing. (You could, however, buy it and have a tailor make it for you though. You have plenty of time!)
Luckily there is a great, off-the-rack, inexpensive Morning Coat suit available from Gentleman’s Emporium:
This can be decorated with military braid, sashes, and other accessories to look like Kaylee’s admirers.
I took a look at the Shindig episode and I also saw some Indian styles. This type of outfit is called Lehenga Choli and it’s the long variety you want (not the belly-baring style of choli). These are more pricey, but they come with a lot of bling: https://www.google.com/webhp?
You can get cheaper lehenga cholis of course. This is just what came up for me in a quick search. If you have Indian clothing stores in your town, you may be able to find used ones.
It also occurs to me that if you got an A-line lehenga, you could easily put a hoop skirt under it for that Ball look. I’m not a big fan of hoop skirts, but there are a LOT of Ren Faire clothiers who do. Lotsa bargains in here: https://www.google.com/webhp?
For the men, the gents in Shindig are wearing a number of things, some Victorian or Victorian-ish. But Atherton Wing is definitely wearing an Indian Sherwani (men’s formal suit):
INMONARCH Mens Debonair Look Indo Western Sherwani Ready to ship IN441 38R Purple-orange
These are typically sold by men’s chest measurement, so not as custom as the cheongsam and lehenga choli. But men tend not to need custom sizing like we do.
The one I linked to is quite expensive (because it is wedding wear) but if you google “sherwani” you will come up with a lot of results in all price ranges.
A cheaper alternative that still gives the look is Kurta Pyjamas (pyjamas are a type of trousers, not sleepwear; the English term comes from this Persian word for pants). Exotic India Plain Wedding Kurta Pajama with Embroidery on Neck – Color BlackGarment Size 36 This ebay seller http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/
And that’s all without having to lift a needle! =)