Couple’s engagement photos honor the past

news@enquirerherald.comMay 23, 2013 

— Liz Boles and Brett Johnson knew the setting at Historic Brattonsville’s Hightower Hall was perfect for their vintage-inspired wedding. But for the engagement photos, they chose a full historic theme. Boles, 25, a talented seamstress with an interest in costuming, and Johnson, a literature teacher with a passion for the Victorian era, posed for the photographs in elaborate 19th century period attire sewed by Boles.

Liz Boles and Brett Johnson knew the setting at Historic Brattonsville’s Hightower Hall was perfect for their vintage-inspired wedding. But for the engagement photos, they chose a full historic theme.

Boles, 25, a talented seamstress with an interest in costuming, and Johnson, a literature teacher with a passion for the Victorian era, posed for the photographs in elaborate 19th century period attire sewed by Boles.

In the photos shot by Rock Hill photographer David Crosby, Liz wears a light tan and blue striped Victorian bustle gown that she made from an 1872 pattern. The costume has several other pieces, including a cream-colored blouse, a full corset, petticoat and a cage bustle.

Boles wears a long tan men’s frock coat, dark blue vest and sleeve garters, all made by Liz, with a modern dress shirt and pants that were retailored to match the style of the era.

“I have been wanting to make a bustle gown for a while,” said Boles, who has sewed costumes for a hobby for several years. She started with Renaissance festival attire and moved on to science fiction conventions. Recently, she became more interested in historical costumes.

When the couple chose Hightower Hall as the site for their May 18 wedding — a place where they both have an emotional connection — it seemed fitting to have their engagement photos tie into a historic theme. The grand, white frame Italian Villa mansion was built for John and Harriet Bratton in 1856, and served as the seat of a significant 19th and 20th century plantation.

“My costuming will get completely out of control if I don’t watch it,” Boles said. “I didn’t want to make another costume unless I could really do it right. That’s what this ended up being, I guess.”

Their wedding on Saturday featured more modern attire, but with vintage touches, she said. “We didn’t want to do a full historic wedding. We wanted it to be a little more young, but still have those elements of the history that we love so much,” she said.

For the wedding, Boles wore a vintage-inspired strapless gown with a lace overlay and a sweetheart neckline, made by her mother, Cecilia Boles of Rock Hill. Johnson wore a top hat with a tailcoat.

Johnson, 26, said the idea to have engagement photos shot in the costumes was a natural outgrowth of their interest in history and her talent for costuming. “What a great way to really get the use out of the place, and if only for a little while, to feel like we were part of the history,” he said.

Boles said she started working on the costumes earlier this year. She said she spent about 60 to 80 hours working on the dress alone. “I lost a couple of whole weekends,” she said.

The dress patterns came from a book of patterns scaled down to one-eighth scale, she said. She scanned the patterns into the computer, digitally enlarged them, printed them out on about 80 sheets of paper, then taped the paper together and cut out the patterns.

The gown required about 12 to 13 yards of fabric, she said, but it only cost about $125 to make. She purchased the tan and blue striped fabric for the gown at Walmart for about $1.50 a yard. “They were practically giving it away, so I bought every scrap they had,” she said.

While the gown was made from a pattern, Boles custom-designed the cream-colored blouse and several other pieces that are part of her ensemble. “There are quite a lot of layers involved,” she said.

Boles said the couple met as Winthrop University students in a fencing club; Johnson was president and coach. “I remember pointing at him, going, ‘That guy is pretty cute,’ and now I’m marrying him,” she said.

She transferred to Clemson University to finish her bachelor’s degree in business, and he earned a master’s degree in literature from Clemson. He now teaches at Tri-County Technical College and Southern Wesleyan University in Greenville, and she works at a cat grooming school there.

Boles, who grew up in Rock Hill, said she visited Brattonsville often as a child. Johnson, who grew up in Orangeburg, did volunteer work at the site for a scholarship. “It was a place we both connected to, and we wanted a place we could go back and visit,” she said.

Johnson said they are both thrilled at how the engagement photos turned out. In addition to color images, Crosby produced photos in sepia tones, as they would have been at that period.

“Whenever I look at the photos, I feel like I actually got a chance to step back in time,” Johnson said. “I got to walk those halls and look around that place as if I were experiencing it.”

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