18th century, authenticity, common people, fashion, historical reenactors, interpretation, living history, lower, philosophy, Reenacting, style
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.
And this, I think, is where a lot of complication can enter the scene. And should. And it’s a good thing. Because, of course, we have *why* would the person of the time do XYZ and then why am *I* doing XYZ. And those don’t always line up. Why is there a washbasin in my camp? Well, at the time, washing things, and it’s upside down because it’s draining. For our little group? Well, it’s got three toddlers’ sippy cups hidden under it. The reality is that we often have to find ways to make our recreations work, simply because they are recreations–and thinking about why is often key to coming to appropriate answers. Sometimes we can say “well, then I simply won’t carry it/use anything of the kind/wear an item like that” but at other times, we have to make something work–or skip an event altogether, which I will never advocate. Maybe it’s finding the equivalent of a diaper bag or having somewhere to sit that isn’t the ground because of a medical issue or what have you. And that’s when asking why and how instead of throwing our hands up in the air is so important. Thanks for reminding us about “why”!
Finding the ways to address things like diaper bags or medical issues will take a lot of thought. And not everyone is willing to say, “Well, because of XYZ, I can’t/won’t go.” I like to think that there is a solution for most things, if we just think through the options and look for documentation to guide us towards a solution– rather than to justify our choice.
Ruth Hodges said:
Kirsten, thank you for your posts on baskets and why we carry what we carry. I know that I will be more thoughtful about my basket/sack/wallet choice in the future. Cheers!
Thank you, Ruth, that’s very kind– and astute. All I’m advocating is for people to think about what they’re doing, when, and how. I think that makes this all more fun, but that’s me. Other folks’ mileage will vary!
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