I was in the midst of planning yet another maid’s dress (some of us have all the luck) when a friend alerted me to an online discussion that drew from my recent post on baskets. The comments — which I skimmed but twice– made me think about philosophy and intent.
There are two approaches to developing a living history persona and appearance I’ll consider here: one prescriptive, and one not. The prescriptive, didactic approach tells you what to wear and carry. Some folks like that. It is completely correct in some cases: soldiers, for example. You want to fall in with a unit of Light Infantry in 1777, it’s generally more convincing if you don’t wear the 1781 coat. Not everyone cares: some people will keep on wearing the Brighty Whitey Hunting Frocks and 1780 coats at reenactments commemorating events of 1776. Those folks can no longer be reached by prescriptive standards, and my preferred approach probably won’t reach them either.
Mindful reenacting or living history sounds pretty nutty, but that’s what I would encourage. Thoughtfulness. Consideration. Not just the what, but the why. Why you wear or carry something can be as important and interesting as what you’re wearing and you’ll be all the more convincing for thinking it through. Thinking, not rationalizing. How appropriate is it to be in your best clothes carrying a basket also used to carry fire wood? You have to answer that for yourself, and if you’re doing it right, the answer will not always be the same– nor will the question!
This isn’t the easiest way to go about anything, asking all these questions, but for some of us, the experiences make it worthwhile. You won’t always be able to do, carry, or wear what you want.* But the picture you create of the past will be more accurate and more engaging if you think more and justify less.
Look, I threw down about that floppy bird basket, but I have to provide food to troops this Saturday in Cambridge. What the heck will I carry it in? What will I take my sewing in?**
Probably a wallet and a bag, unless I can pack that floppy basket convincingly– it is entirely suitable to my lower sorts-stained gown impression– but if I can’t, I won’t take it. And that’s just one less thing to carry.
*I’m pretty much always the maid to make scenarios work, and while it doesn’t come naturally, art imitates life.
**Prays no one gets the bright idea to bring (shhh) tents to work on.