|A re-enactor would never be caught dead in modern sunglasses and inaccurate mary jane shoes|
I’ll be honest with you guys. This morning I received a forwarded e-mail attacking me and my blog for not being historically accurate enough. In Mary Spencer’s own words, and all capital letters:
“THIS PERSON HAS A POPULAR ‘PERIOD FASHION/SEWING’ BLOG. SHE DISPENSES OFTEN TIMES RIDICULOUS AND ERRONEOUS ADVICE, AND MAKES PRONOUNCEMENTS THAT SHOW HER LACK OF EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE WITH 18THC. REENACTING AND IT’S ATTENDANT CLOTHING. HER KNOWLEDGE OF 18THC. LADIES FASHION IS OFTEN LAUGHABLE. WHEN SHE MADE THESE GARMENTS FOR ME, SHE DID NOT EVEN KNOWWHAT ‘STAYS’ WERE! SHE WANTED TO BONE THE 17THC. JACKET, EVEN THOUGH I EXPLAINED REPEATEDLY THAT IT WOULD BE WORN OVER ‘STAYS’, AND HAD TO BE MADE ACCORDINGLY. SHE DIDN’T ‘GET IT’, WHICH DID CONCERN ME. SHE PORTRAYS HERSELF AS AN EXPERT, AND GETS ‘PIQUED’ WHEN QUESTIONED ABOUT ANYTHING.”
Aside from being hurtful and untrue, this does bring up a very good point. What is the difference between historical costuming and historical re-enactment?
I am not a re-enactor. I never have been. It’s not that I am not interested in history, but more that where I live I do not have any opportunity for 18th century re-enactment. We do have Civil War groups, but I’m just not that into it, sorry!
|An Edwardian lady, a soldier, and a cowgirl, all at one vaguely themed “Music Man” picnic in Alameda, CA|
Costumers – Who We Are (at least out here in the West)
What we *do* have in my part of the world is a large and vibrant community of open-minded people who love to dress up in costume and dance. These same people like to ride their bicycles around San Francisco wearing Steampunk clothing, like to play “urban golf” on the streets of Berkeley in 1920s and 30s sporting togs, like to invade historic landmarks for impromptu picnics. Costume is always “admired but not required.”
These people are costumers. I am a costumer. We are those who like to dress up in fashions of the past for fun. We do it because it feels good to wear these clothes, because it’s fun to make them, fun to learn about the history of dress in a hands-on way. Some of us like to be theatrical, some more historically accurate, and some of us even don’t give a care at all whether it’s accurate or not, we just like it!
|My good friend Clint put a lot of research and time into making his Elizabethan tailor’s costume, but in the end it’s about having fun, not about counting stitches.|
Historical re-enactors, however, have within their very definition a responsibility to accurately portray history in everything they do, from the pots and pans they cook in, right down to the dead-head buttons on their coats, and the buckles on their shoes. Re-enactors who sew almost always do so by hand, and try to specifically re-create the sewing methods and techniques that were used in the time period they are portraying, not just the overall look of a finished piece. I have nothing but the highest respect and awe for this community of people.
I Am Not An Expert…nor will I ever be
But I’m not one of them. And that’s okay. This blog started because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. Through the last two years I have taught myself about 18th century costuming, and other periods as well, and done so by reading books, looking at historic patterns, studying museum garments, talking to people more knowledgeable than myself, and above all sewing. These are the very same methods by which re-enactors become “educated,” but the difference is in our motivations.
|When I was making this costume, I was told publicly that clearly I knew nothing about 18th c. costume. The jacket is scaled from a Janet Arnold pattern, the stomacher based on one in the KCI, the skirt is walking length, and the shoes are Fugawee. All of these things I have learned about or learned to do since I started this blog in 2009.|
Those of you who are re-enactors and read this blog, I hope you know that is has never been intended to be a source of historical accuracy for re-enactors. I try to be accurate – I flatline, I scale historical patterns, I study textiles, trims, and construction methods, but I don’t always get it right, and sometimes I don’t care if it’s right. I want that dress to fit and look the part, whether the seams are hand sewn or not.
I will never apologize for learning as I go, and for sharing my successes, my failures, my discoveries, and my frustrations with you.
American Duchess Blogger