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Phase Four — Testing the Hypothesis
As we learned in the last installment, formulating the hypothesis is part of the scientific method wherein you give yourself something to test in order to form your theory. Historical clothing research, while not as scientific as, say, molecular biology, still gives us information from which we can formulate hypotheses and test them.
How do we do this? Is there lab work involved? Is this going to be on the final…
Testing our construction hypotheses requires, well… construction. We have to make up the garment in the proper materials and see if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and isn’t so annoying as to be a platypus.
When all is said and done, if we’ve utilized the best of our abilities and the most appropriate period construction techniques and the garment we’ve constructed doesn’t look like the garments in the pictures we’re trying to replicate, then our hypothesis has been disproven.
This can be a difficult admission. I wouldn’t be the first historical clothing constructor to look at a pretty dress and say, “That looks good” while never admitting to myself that it looks nothing like it’s supposed to.
But the overriding directive of any research is that it is a search for the truth. If we lie to ourselves, even a little, we’re not finding truth but instead, finding our own biases — what we wish were truth. A common woman’s outfit with a perfectly cone-shaped silhouette does not prove our construction hypotheses when the all the pictorial evidence shows the shape of breasts through the bodice.
So we make up the garment and its accessories. We put it on our mannequin. Maybe we wear it ourselves and take pictures. Then we have to ask ourselves: are we the right body type for this? Because dressing up in Italian peasant clothing when you’re a six foot tall willowy Norwegian just isn’t going to test anything.
So maybe we try the gown on a person who resembles the figures in the paintings. The best testing I’ve ever done required photographs with the wearer in the same poses as the subjects of the paintings.
Then we stare at it. If something’s wrong — the skirt is too square, the bodice too rigid — we go back and fix the garment or possibly construct an entirely new one. We keep doing this until we are certain our hypothesis is correct and we can now call it a theory.
Next… Stating the Theory — Writing the Historical Notes
© 2009 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice, the author’s name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.