authenticity, historical reenactors, interpretation, living history, Making Things, Reenacting, reenactors
Progressive. Hard-core. Uber. Elite. Authentic. Accurate.
Numerous labels are fly around the interwebs and out of people’s mouths as they encounter reenactors/living history practitioners/interpreters like and unlike them. In the right mind frame, I could argue that the ultra-authentic folks in their perfectly sewn clothes with perfect accouterments who cannot and do not interact meaningfully with the public are closer to historical costumers than historical reenactors and then watch the fur fly.
Without pasting on a label, I can say that what I like best is always learning more, and that I enjoy playing with other people who also enjoy doing research and evolving interpretation. Not, We’ve already done that, dismissively but, We did that once; how can we do it better?
But what about those folks who we know aren’t doing that? By their Nikes ye shall know them, and their riding habits worn without stays. How is it that some people are interested in change, and others reach a place from which they never move, clothing or research-wise?
What about you, gentle reader? I know you’re not all reenactors; some of you are more on the costume end of the spectrum, but from reading around, I know there are costumers motivated not just by new dresses or character ensembles but by better new dresses and character presentations. What motivates you to change and improve, and what keeps your hobby fresh for you?
Nancy N said:
As a definite costume side of the line person, I am fascinated with the reenactors who take the time to reproduce garments as correctly as possible, and write about the process to help the rest of us! I’m moved to do better each season when I see the photos where my mistakes seem to jump up and scream at me, and no amount of justifying — no time! It had to be machine washable! Nobody to iron that period correct linen! It was a quick change item! Or sometimes just that I didn’t have any helpful inspiration to guide me in a last minute decision (I’m thinking of some puff ball sleeves of doom–why is it always the sleeves…) can calm the knot in the tum when starting a new project. Thank goodness for the internet! I have become so much better at researching and planning because of bloggers like you who show the way. THANKS!
All the best,
Great questions. I’m not a re-enactor or a historical interpreter; I focus on the clothing–the sewing techniques, the materials, the evolution of fashion from period to period and the things that influence those changes. My research isn’t focused necessarily on presenting a specific type of person within a specific social class, although that plays a part. In my mind, I present a certain type of woman from a certain social class, and I sew things to wear that such a woman would have worn; but I also stamp it with my own modern personality and aesthetic taste. It’s more: if I as I am now actually lived back then, what would I want to wear? Because my main goal is to sew pretty things and wear them while doing period-appropriate activities, rather than to educate the public, this works for me. I genuinely admire those who re-enact and interpret a persona from a specific social class or trade during a period to educate the public. It’s important, and I’m always careful to clarify when questioned that this is not what I do. It’s not my goal to mislead innocent bystanders into believing that I present a 100% historically accurate picture of a woman of the period in which I dress.
That said, what motivates me to change and improve is the desire to finesse the historical accuracy of my presentation and to deepen my understanding of the period, the sewing methods and materials, and the social classes. It’s a very personal undertaking, rather than a purely academic one for me, because this is really my creative outlet and my fantasy life.
What keeps the hobby fresh for me is the constant discovery of new-to-me information, often provided by researchers and re-enactors like you. I love to learn. I’m what I think of as a ‘knowledge accumulator.’ Even if I don’t use it for a long time, I like to know, or at least know the knowledge is available. And also, a large part of what keeps it fresh is my own interest in fashion and in having something new and exciting and beautiful to wear. (I guess I am that shallow!) Other costumers’ creations and the research they do into the specific styles are so inspiring, whether it’s a historically accurate 17th century washer-woman’s outfit or an 18th century court gown or a 19th century fancy-dress costume.
Dear Kitty Calash,
Like Nancy above, I am a costumer, not a reenactor, belonging to neither any reenactment unit nor a living history group. I create garments for the enjoyment of doing so more than for wearing them, which I do rarely.
However, am deeply involved attempting to understand the process of garment creation in all of its aspects from as close a position to the methods and perspectives of the original makers as I can get within time and resource limitations.
In another life as a PhD student in American history, I learned to research material culture, and that’s the way I generally approach projects. I conduct a secondary literature search and reproduction garment search. Sometimes simultaneously, a primary literature research, which these days is far easier to do than it used to be, what with so many primary materials from libraries and museums online. If I have something in my personal collection of antique garments, I examine it. Then an extant garment search. I take notes and save citations and links all the way. This past year or two I collect all the notes on Google drive rather than writing them up on the blog, simply because time for this sort of fun is increasingly short.
Then I synthesize what I’ve learned and experiment with construction, changing things along the way. A purple silk sleeveless spencer, or body, circa late 1790s, may be the best example of the method: http://zipzipinkspot.blogspot.com/search/label/1790s%20convertible%20spencer.
Am always willing to learn more and tweak or abandon a method, since what we know is always partial. Great example is the 18th century gauze cap: http://zipzipinkspot.blogspot.com/search/label/dormeuse%20cap. Knew towards the end of the process that my methods were not efficient. Since then, Hallie Larkin has come out with excellent research, plus kits. Am perfectly happy to learn from others, and grateful to credit them for their research. So now am learning how to make a winged cap from one of her kits.
The whole process is iterative, with each iteration a chance to improve techniques, methods, and understanding. That’s probably one of the reasons why the blog is subtitled “Experiments…”
Does this help?
I admit sometimes I do not have the energy to continually question the items I’ve already vetted, but I would also never admit to getting it 100% right. I wish there was a way to highlight for those around us the accuracy (or our impression of the accuracy) of each item, maybe with a little meter: Where is this on the accuracy scale? From “total fantasy”, to “we think we got it right” and many shades in between.