Podcast Episode 5: Hot Town, Summer is Sh*tty (For Costuming)

Hey All!

Our 5th Episode of Fashion History with American Duchess is now live! This week Abby & Lauren sit down and talk about how to beat the summer heat while wearing historic clothing. A couple months ago we took a quick survey from our Facebook followers for their questions and suggestions on costuming/reenacting in the summer months, and from there we’ve created this episode.

Here are the highlights:

  • Abby does some improvisation singing, much to Lauren’s surprise.
  • Linen is your bestest best best best friend for the summer.
  • Cotton is ok, but not as good as linen.
  • Wool is better than silk for the summer. Especially if you are wearing a lightweight worsted wool that is also light in color.
  • Silk can really be uncomfortable to wear in high heat because of how insulating it is. 
  • Wear light colors to help reflect the light of the sun off of your body…wearing dark colors will absorb the heat.
  • As weird as it may seem for us modern folks, cover up! By exposing your skin directly to the sun, it’s like exposing yourself to a heat source (podcast includes a lovely and graphic analogy by Abby that involves cooking chickens.) When you cover up, it can actually keep you cooler & it prevents sunburns!
Summer Dresses, 1782, British Museum, J,5.139 (Even though you can see their bums, they still have cloaks & long sleeves on! 😉 )
  • Wear less layers – Abby and Lauren chat about Philip Vickers Fithian & his commentary on Virginian women’s dress during the summer of 1774. We also chatted about how wearing a quilted petticoat without an under-petticoat is actually pretty comfortable in the intense summer Virginian heat.
Excerpt from Philip Vickers Fithian, July 1774, Google Books
  • We also answer some questions regarding whether or not unlined gowns existed (there is at least one in the Met Museum from the 18th century. We also know that sleeves could be unlined (like Abby’s 1820s silk dress).
Unlined gown made from cotton mull, c. 1785, Met Museum, 17.107.6a, b 
  • We also discuss the idea of not going inside to A/C & back out into the heat a lot – to help get the body to regulate & adjust to the temperature.
  • Also things like staying hydrated, being in the shade, and not doing much physically to help prevent heat exhaustion, etc.*
*We’re not doctors, or health experts of any kind. Please don’t consult us or take what we say as doctor gospel. If you have any health concerns relating to heat & your body, please please please talk to your doctor first! 


  • Ms. Rebecca

    June 1, 2017 at 11:03 PM

    Thank you so much for this. As a reenactor, I would have to say that this is the question at the top of the list. We do "lice checks" where we get doused with cold water if it is getting too hot. We also use pickles to help make sure everyone is staying hydrated.

  • Nancy Nichols

    June 2, 2017 at 12:18 PM

    You all are the bravest of the brave! I grew up in southeast TX, and the thought of wearing ANYTHING but a bathing suit in heat/humidity just gives me the willies! That said, I currently costume for outdoor Shakespeare in NYC (not the famous one), and I try to keep the actors as cool as possible. Last summer I remembered an old cowboy trick — dousing a cotton hanky in water and tying it around my neck! You could also lay it across your forehead if you needed to. And remember fans! I have some nice ones that could be pressed into service, and of course they would work great in combo with that wet hanky. Would any of this work for you all? Best, Nancy N

  • Unknown

    June 2, 2017 at 8:17 PM

    Ice packs can be placed between layers to cool core body heat as our full contact medieval fighters in armor often do in the summer florida heat. Linen is awesome! It breathes, naturally wicks moisture and doesn't stain as easily. Hydrating is essential and i have personally found that as someone whose body does not sweat and regulate temperature well, that shaved ice is a wonderful treat and helps cool ya!

  • Sarah Walsh

    June 3, 2017 at 4:37 PM

    Thank you for an informative, educational and timely post! I am staring down a summer/fall of portraying Abigail Adams in Utah, then Washington State, and finally Arizona. Because I give a presentation on "Dressing Abigail," which starts with me in just my shift and stays and ends with me fully kitted out, I made my stays with more of an eye to fancy aesthetics than utilitarian heat reduction. So, yes…they are green brocade :-O But I have a parasol now! And I will make a linen shift and get some mitts and follow your many other excellent recommendations 🙂

  • Mary Nease

    June 13, 2017 at 4:44 PM

    Meanwhile I sit over here as a goth in the south. Most of my lolita wardrobe is gothic, so I'll get invited to a summer meet or go to a con and kind of want to die. Any chance of an episode on mourning dress for the summer?

  • Unknown

    June 15, 2017 at 7:20 PM

    I've been wondering how to stay cool at Locust Grove, as the theme this year is Regency mourning attire. The thought of wearing a black dress, or even Spencer, makes my earlobes sweat. I feel even worse for the men in black coat, top hat, and boots! I agree with Mary above – how do we mourn in summer??

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