On Historybounding (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Weird)

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In my post on my 37th birthday, I made an offhand reference to “historybounding” and how it has helped me discover and crystalize my personal style. But what actually is historybounding? Where did it come from? And what does it mean to me? Well, I’ve recently joined a Facebook group dedicated to historybounding and gone further into making friends in the historical dress community and thought maybe I ought to talk a bit about this.

When I very first started Tea Leaves and Tweed, I envisioned it as a vintage-inspired lifestyle blog. I went through phases of blogging mostly about natural beauty, my rudimentary internet historical research, and later Asian-inspired beauty. Through all of this, tea was a consistent presence in my life, both herbal and true, and eventually, my tea content started to inspire me more and more. But as with most things in my life, I cannot be content with one thing, one label, one… anything. So this blog is a jumble. And my vintage style was a jumble, too.

At the point that I started this blog, “vintage” in the blogging community typically meant mid-20th-century fashions, usually heavily focusing on women’s fashion, with lots of victory rolls, fit-and-flare silhouettes, and red lipstick. Obviously, I am fully on board with the red lipstick, most of the time. But I realized that 1.) my style was not firmly in even a narrow 2- or 3-decade window, and 2.) many of the styles that drew me didn’t have a lot of available vintage in my price range. But I figured that if I wanted to keep the red lipstick and not attempt to adopt a minimalist French chic look (trust me, I have flirted with minimalist, French, and chic, and I am none of them), I would need to keep my style firmly rooted in the 20th century, specifically the 20s-50s.

Enter Bernadette Banner, Rachel Maksy, and Morgan Donner. I found Bernadette’s YouTube channel when a friend of mine convinced me to try sewing one of her patterns and I was too stubborn to borrow my mother’s sewing machine, so I decided to hand-sew the whole thing. From there, I discovered historical costuming and then historybounding. I realized that I didn’t need to stick to an era or wear all vintage clothing. Putting together an ensemble that evokes an historical era is not only fun, it’s actually historically accurate, as people in the past often wore their take on what they thought historical fashions were in art. And I realized that there was a community of people out there with “vintage” looks that went much further back than the 1920s for inspiration.

The term “historybounding” grew out of the term “Disneybounding,” which was a practice that Disney fans used to wear character-inspired outfits to the parks, which prohibit dressing in costume. The challenge was to put together an outfit with recognizable color palettes or details to evoke a certain character, but without going too far over the “costume” line to be turned away at the gate. The results are truly fascinating and I highly recommend looking up Disneybounding if you’re interested in some very creative everyday cosplay. In the same vein, the idea of historybounding is to put together an outfit inspired by historical dress, but without necessarily looking like you got lost on your way to a theatrical performance (or like you’re dashing around the theater on the street in costume to make a house entrance — I have some stories!).

So now I might wear a Victorian-inspired walking skirt, high-neck blouse, blazer, and my American Duchess boots one day, and an 18th-century peasant-inspired outfit another day. I tend towards using historically-available fibers, like linen, cotton, and wool, but most of my wardrobe is either secondhand from a thrift shop, or else handmade by a modern person. Pretty much the only “historically accurate” items I own are my Penny River silk stockings and ribbon garters, plus the aforementioned boots. But just the other day, while I was wearing the outfit pictured above, a friend said I gave off a “Belle vibe.” Since my inspiration was a 19th-century painting romanticizing an 18th-century peasant, I’ll take it.

Plus, I think that historybounding gives me a way to stretch and explore my idea of time-traveling fashion. In the same way that I pick and choose items of clothing, I pick and choose ideas. I love the idea of red lipstick as a symbol of women’s suffrage and empowerment, but I acknowledge and reject some of the racist ideals held by 19th- and early-20th-century feminists (and, let’s be frank, it didn’t end there). I admire the practices of refashioning rather than buying new, mending, and using more sustainable fabrics of the past, but I recognize that the widespread use of cotton was made possible by the exploitation of enslaved and colonized people, and I look to the ethics of the companies from which I purchase. For me, historybounding is the epitome of “Vintage style, not vintage values.” By picking and choosing fashion, I am also symbolically saying that I am not limited by the mindset of an era whose clothing and style I might enjoy, while the willingness to explore historical accuracy prompts me to do more research than when I was simply looking at Etsy and Pinterest for “vintage looks.”

Finally, historybounding fashion has inspired me to historybound other aspects of my life. Most notably, I’ve started exploring the tea cultures of different eras around the world, which has also led to a fascination with historical cooking and baking. Historical cookery has not only given me an interesting look at the origins of our modern recipes, but has taught me new-to-me spice combinations and tidbits like the use of salted butter in baking (which is nice when you use up all your unsalted butter stress baking during lockdown and your spouse isn’t scheduled to go to the store for another week).

Have you ever heard of historybounding? What’s your favorite era for fashion inspiration?

For anyone who is interested, the dress I’m wearing above is from Galia Couture (not sponsored). The shirt is my spouse’s.

Thoughts on My Thirty-Seventh Birthday

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Today is my birthday. Now, I’ve never actually posted on my birthday on this blog, in the roughly five years that I’ve been writing in this space, merely alluded to previous celebrations. And this time last year, I was on an extended hiatus as I rediscovered my own self after giving birth. So I thought in lieu of a Tuesday Tasting, I would ramble a bit about this birthday, previous birthdays, and some things I’ve been thinking about as I get older.

Two years ago, less than a month after my 35th birthday, I found out I was pregnant again. By the time I turned 36, I was mother to a two-month-old baby and trying to figure out who I wanted to be. The aftermath of my postpartum experience upended a lot of things I thought about myself. I could barely move for a month (and when I did, it hurt). I didn’t sleep more than a couple hours at a time. I was depressed and anxious in ways I’d never experienced. I lived in robes and nightgowns, with the occasional soft maxi dress when I had to go out. And I had a small being whose every need depended largely on me. When I say becoming a mother was an ordeal, I mean that in the sense of a time when I was physically and emotionally dismantled and then redistilled into a truer form of myself.

I started this blog with a vague idea that it would be about vintage-inspired lifestyle and beauty, with a strong affinity for tea because, well, I have a strong affinity for tea. Eventually, I discovered both Korean skin care and gongfucha, which split the blog further into two seemingly-dichotomous paths. Since then, I’ve found myself converging on a tea-focused, historically-inspired lifestyle. I’ve learned about history bounding and started dressing in a way that can only be described as Edwardian hobbit witch. I’ve started mixing my gongfucha accessories with my vintage tea cups. In fact, one of my first comments on YouTube was from a semi-famous tea personality saying that he enjoyed my mixing of teaware styles and I’ve taken that to heart. I’ve come to realize that, once you find yourself responsible for the continued existence of a helpless tiny human, it doesn’t really bother you as much to think that someone might think you look odd on public transportation or sniff derisively at the “impurity” of your tea practice.

And then I’ve gone further. I’ve deepened the link between my tea practice and my love of all things historical by starting my historical tea sessions. I find it endlessly fascinating to research the sources I need to learn about how tea practice has grown, changed, and maintained its identity through the ages (kind of like me). I’ve also returned to a somewhat more minimalist, historically-inspired beauty routine. I like to think I’ve gone from VIB Rouge to VIB (very important buveur) Rou Gui 😉

As I’ve more thoroughly committed my blog to being first and foremost a tea blog, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking down some of my old posts, particularly beauty product reviews that have little to no bearing on my current beauty routine. But ultimately, these posts reflect how I’ve grown through the years, and deserve a place in my archives. Perhaps eventually my reviews of Deciem products will no longer vastly outperform literally everything else I write, but until then, if people are finding my blog because they’re curious about inexpensive Canadian skin care, so be it.

And anyway, I’ve maintained and cultivated friendships on social media with many of the beauty influencers whose blogs and Instagram feeds I read and love as a way to learn about new beauty products. Some of them have even applauded what they see as me finding my true niche in my tea nerdery. Most of them I’ve never met in person, but they’re truly friends of mine now. And I’m starting to cultivate similar friendships in the tea community. Among the tea-lovers, the tea-growers, and the tea-sellers, I’m learning more and meeting more amazing people to help increase my feeling of connectedness to the world without having to venture out of my introvert bubble (much).

At thirty-seven, I am weirder and more fulfilled than ever before in my life, and I have my wonderful blog community to thank for it.

On Vintage Clothing Shopping Triumphs and Fails

When I first started this blog, one of my very clear goals was to share my love of vintage style. I fashioned my beauty routines after historical practices I read about and had started buying more vintage clothing to create a vintage and vintage-inspired wardrobe. Over the years, my wardrobe has fluctuated, but I still love a little vintage style. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that many of my previously purchased vintage pieces fell victim to my occasional bouts of decluttering. Add to that a new personal effort to be more sustainable, which translates into attempting to reduce the amount of clothing I purchase new, plus changes in both my body shape and needs at work from pregnancy, and I was in need of a few vintage and secondhand basics. First, I made a plan for my color scheme, and since most of my clothing is neutral colored, with some jewel tones, I decided that neutrals (black, white, dark navy, grey, brown, and cream) paired with two accent colors would work. Since they are my favorite colors, my accents are green and purple.

I started, as I usually do, on Etsy, but soon grew somewhat disillusioned with both the prices and the need to ship from different countries. I realized that for some of my basics, if I wasn’t buying new fast fashion, I at least needed to find a place to buy secondhand that fit my schedule. So, after watching a video from Rachel Maksy, I decided to investigate ThredUp, an online thrift store of sorts. I started by putting together a custom “Goody Box” of ten different blouses that fit my pseudo-Victorian/Edwardian aesthetic, but with effectively free shipping (if I kept at least one item) and an easy-to-navigate return process when I didn’t want to keep everything. I ended up liking two of the ten blouses (I almost liked three, but ended up with an odd shoulder pads situation). While ThredUp isn’t perfect, it was a great way to buy secondhand for someone with enough going on in my life that I can’t really browse thrift shops for gems on a regular basis. And I particularly like that I can filter by material, so I can only look at items made with cotton, linen, silk, and wool.

After my initial Goody Box, I bought a few more things on ThredUp, including another couple blouses, some blazers, and a skirt. Only the skirt was a miss, but only because I misjudge the silhouette online, and it will still come in handy if I ever need to dress like a normal professional rather than a professional hobbit. But the jackets were some real finds. I found a jacket that is a modernized version of an historical-style riding jacket, as well as a velvet blazer that is probably from the 80s or earlier (because the company it’s from went out of business in the 80s). It’s interesting because nothing is labeled “vintage” on ThredUp, but they do definitely sell some things that might be considered vintage (I just keep reminding myself that when I was a teenager in the 90s, 70s was considered “vintage,” so, yes, 90s can be vintage now).

But now on to the main event: Etsy. Eventually, I realized that ThredUp wasn’t really going to fit my needs for skirts, so I returned to Etsy. Knowing that I would be spending more, I decided to get two wool skirts, to replace the two skirts (one cotton and one linen) that were my standard work rotation in the warmer weather. I wanted one to be black and one to be a neutral non-black color, or one of my accent colors of green and purple. Then, I needed to get an accurate waist measurement and determine how long I needed the skirt to be to fall below my knees, which is what I feel most comfortable wearing. Sadly, the amazing purple wool skirts I found were all too small for me, but I found a lovely black wool skirt and a brown tweed wool skirt. I was struck when they arrived how much nicer they were than the previous skirts I’d remembered buying on Etsy. The fabric is sturdy but not scratchy, and there is even little piping sewn into the black skirt to create a ridged embellishment. Plus, the waist measurements were scrupulously accurate. And the seller who sold me the black skirt even included a lovely scarf as a little extra, which is fun thing about buying from Etsy sellers.

Of course, this post is called “triumphs and fails,” not “vintage triumphs,” so now we come to the fail. While I was on Etsy, I started looking around at some of the vintage “[decade] does Victorian” blouses and fell in love with an adorable Victorian-inspired silk blouse. The main problem with Etsy is that there is no consistency in how vendors disclose the condition of their items, so when I didn’t see any particular issues called out in the listing, I splurged. But when it arrived, the cuffs were frayed and missing some stitching, not terribly so, but badly enough that I would have felt like it needed to be repaired before wearing it to work. After going back and forth with the seller, they decided they’d rather just accept a return than have me get a quote for repairing it, which is fine, but it meant that I had to pay to ship it back overseas. So there is a sense of buyer beware on Etsy. Don’t be like me; contact your vintage sellers and ask about condition before clicking “Buy.”

So there is my current status on fall/winter fashion. I’ve created a largely second-hand or self-thrifted (i.e., from my own closet because the most sustainable option is to wear what you already have) wardrobe with strong historical influences. I’m certainly not “fashionable,” but I feel like my clothes show the strongest sense of personal style that I’ve ever had, and I feel the most like myself. I’ll definitely be wearing these clothes in future tea videos, so you’ll get to see them even without modeling shots here. Happy dressing!

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One last thing: For anyone who has watched my most recent tea video, today is the birthday of the lovely friend who made the handmade mug I use in that video (and that frequently makes an appearance on Instagram). If you wish her a happy birthday in the comments, I’ll certainly pass along the well wishes!

NB: This post is not sponsored or affiliated with any of the companies mentioned.