Halloween: ’18th century ghost ship’

ship headpiece

In other words, the hardest Halloween theme of all time. Which is why I love it so much! A wonderful friend living in Oxford has hired a 1920s village hall and is using it to host an horror-historical naval extravaganza this Saturday, complete with nautical nosh and piratical prancing. And yes, ships on heads.

I just don’t understand why people increasingly seem to think Hallowe’en is simply about whacking on any old fancy dress – what’s the point if it’s not remotely spooky? I was in the Balham Sewing Superstore the other day and the shop assistant was talking about how someone she knew was going as a teabag. Surely a teabag is the least scary thing in the entire world??

Having said that, my original ideas embracing all three themes of nautical, 18th-century and creepy quickly foundered (on the rocks of common sense). Rotting ship’s figurehead? Requires wooden legs, lots of seaweed and a naked bosom. Haunted sunken treasure? I was going to need to wear (eat) A LOT of chocolate coins. Deserted vessel? I’m just not ship-shaped. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that… )

The good thing about the 18th century is that, with their powdered wigs, whitened faces and bizarre headpieces, they all looked a bit freaky anyway. I’ve therefore decided to embrace a gothic 18th-century look and somehow work in the nautical as an accent. Sleepy Hollow meets Pirates of the Caribbean.


I picked up some black-purple taffeta at Shepherds Bush Market and a colleague has lent me a gigantic monster of a black tulle skirt that will serve perfectly as the base. The idea is to adapt a boned bodice pattern I know and love into a more historic silhouette by lowering the neckline and extending the waist down into a point at the centre front. I have so far resisted the absurd urge to make a full set of 18th-century reproduction stays but being full of fashion geekery have studied images in the hopes that I can position my boning to at least approximate the deep V shape.

A pair of 1770-90 stays in the V&A Museum

There’s a big party prop store in Clapham Junction that should hopefully furnish me with a tricorn, to which I am going to attempt to fix some masts (wooden barbeque skewers), sails (fabric scraps) and rigging (threads) to give that all-important ghost-ship-on-the-head element. Plus naturally I’ll go for some gothic make-up. If all of this doesn’t sound sufficiently spooky, take a look at this Pinterest board to see how scary an 18th-century hairstyle can really look…

And if all this fails I’ll go as a haunted bottle of rum.


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