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How does a reenactor know what to wear? There’s a wide range of choices for any decade, so how do you know what’s right?

Well, you don’t, not without documentation. This is where it can be nice to be a soldier. There’s griping in my house about “plain old white linen grumble frocks grumble waistcoat grumble” but really, the man and boy know who they are and what to put on. (Doesn’t stop them wanting regimentals, and I know they’re casting sidelong covetous glances at British coats.)

What about the women? The range is vast, from Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Izard

to the  Oyster Seller.

Both are ca. 1775, though the original Oyster Seller was probably earlier, but here’s the thing: how differently would she have dressed in 1775 than she would have in 1765?

It’s a point taken up, to a degree, in The Dress of the People, which I devoured in the orthopedist’s waiting room yesterday.

So if you know you’re not Alice Delancey Izard, but you’re not really an oyster seller, either, what do you do?

You check the ads.

I search runaway ads for Rhode Island to check my choices. That’s how I came to make a blue wool cloak, because I found Lucy, who ran away in December 1776 in a “blue Baize cloak.” There was Polly Young, who ran away in June, 1777, in a “black skirt petticoat and a short calico gown with long sleeves.” What did that short gown look like? I wish I knew. But it does place short gowns in Rhode Island (Lucy wore a short striped Dark Flannel gown when she ran away). Now, if only we knew what “short gown” meant in New England.