Going for Baroque: an Interview With Kat Peng
Not yet registered for the costume contest and dangerously late, I was nearly frantic as I struggled with the bustle of my reproduction 1880 dress. I spotted Kat through the crowd, up ahead. I figured if anyone could help, this poised, confident woman, so eerily authentic in her civil-war era costume, could. And she did.
Liza and Kat (in pink) at Sunday in the Park, 10/2013
For Halloween I usually recycled my dance costumes and when I got older I switched to corseted gowns with big skirts and ringlets. Not only was I warmer than the other girls, I received compliments because I looked so different from them.
Most of the clothes I wore during the 80s were not that great and there was a lack of social graces. I admired the time when people dressed up, took pride in their appearance, and were polite to one another. I was the odd person out. I had really long hair because long ago, that was a women's great beauty.
When I got to Georgia State, I was delighted to discover the Georgian Dancers, and studied Renaissance and Baroque dance with them for 3 years.
Today I use my design skills to help me recreate historic gowns. I really enjoy pleating trim for hours and hours, and seeing the final project always fills me with a great sense of accomplishment. I also enjoy doing research and learning the period-correct way of sewing for each time period.
Atlanta Baroque Dance members performing. Photo (c) Christopher Wilson.
BDV: We'd love to learn more about your costume design business. Where and how did you gain your knowledge of period dress? Were you already a skilled seamstress before you developed an interest in creating historical costumes?
1850s dress designed by Kat for the Atlanta History Center
For example, Paige Whitley-Bauguess was the first person I met who wore period-correct stays under her costume. This opened up a whole new way of thinking for me. [It forces you to] move the way you would have then. Kay Dreyer, director of Stately Vintage Dancers, helped me research my mid-Victorian dance gowns and all the layers underneath.
BDV: When creating your costumes, where do you draw the line between efficiency and historical accuracy? How do your materials, construction methods, and finishing techniques compare with those of original garments?
Kat: I probably used to spend more time and money driving around looking at fabrics, weighing the pros and cons. For example, would this color have been invented by this year? Is this organza too shiny for this period? Can I find something less shiny at another store? Obviously, budget is a concern. So I get the best that I can afford.
Kat: I am on hiatus until my sons get a little bigger. I'm only working on personal projects that I can get done while the kids are sleeping.
Kat: I first fell in love with the hoop skirt and then I discovered that the silhouette came back again in the 50s. How beautiful and sensible to make a shorter skirt. I've had many favorites over the last few years, but right now, my favorite period is the 1940s.
Kat in 1940s dress by Chas Underwood
Kat in vintage burlesque wear. Photo (c) Kenton McGee.
BDV: I admire your ability to find ways to dress up, whether it's full-on Victorian or more-accessible mid-century. What are some of your favorite events and arenas? If someone were interested in similar pursuits, where should they look to find like-minded people and appropriate events?
Kat: Years ago, my girlfriends and I decided there weren't enough events in Atlanta so we would create our own. We'd dress to the nines, go out and have a martini, listen to jazz, or meet for high tea.
You have to be brave and start somewhere. You only have one life. Spend it doing something you're interested in! I can die knowing I got to do almost everything I dreamed of doing when I was a child. My last dream would be to dance on the stage at the Fox Theatre. I'm still working on that one.
BDV: What do you wear on an ordinary day? And what was going on here?
I am a unique person and wearing something one-of-a-kind just reiterates that fact.
Wonderful interview with my good friend Kat. Beautiful photos!
I reenact with my grandchildren 17oo’s local history, Spanish and British. But though I only dress period for these events, I never met older clothing I didn’t like more than present clothing. There is something I like about every era, from Medieval to Victorian to 1940’s and more. I’m old enough to have lived in pre-unisex times, when feminine things were enjoyed without apology, and caring about one’s appearance (for both sexes) was a quality, and everyone looked nice even to run errands…sigh! True that what counts is the person inside, but does the outside need to be as boring as is generally today? It’s always enjoyable to meet people who feel the same way, and only on fb there must be quite a few, from the samples I’ve seen. Thanks for this talk with Miss Kat, and best wishes in all you do.
When I lived in Atlanta, I always loved to watch period movies with Kat. She would comment on the costumes and educate me on whether they were historically accurate or not. One of my favorite moments was when we were watching a particularly saucy scene where a lady quickly undressed from her French Revolutionary clothing for her lover while running in a garden. Kat leaned over and said something like, “That would never happen. She would have so many layers and corsets to untie. She’d probably need assistance from some ladies in waiting.”