Ain’t nothin’ perfect.
Jackie’s got good points, and although I think they are slightly tangential to where I thought I was going on Monday, let’s pick them up.
Completely 1819 to represent 1819? My standard reply to pretty much every question is: It depends. Who are you, where are you, what are you doing? Middle class or higher bride? You are so 1819 it’s scary, from your skin out, head to toe. Lower class? You’ve altered your best dress, if not made a new one, and refreshed your accessories.
Look, folks: part of our problem is that we forget that the people in the past had the same covetous, jealous hearts that we have. They had wants and yearnings, for each other, for new bonnets, for velocipedes and overcoats. They were just as interested in impressing each other as we are, even if they sublimated desire into poetic images of greater obscurity than James Brown ever used.
I thought about this notion of mixed up times for clothing as I stood on a landing at work yesterday. Skin out, here’s what I wore on 1 September 2015:
- Black Natori sports bra, purchased in Boston on January 10, 2014 (I saw my surgeon so I remember.)
- White cotton tank top, label gone, acquired ca. 2013, possibly from Target
- Blue and white striped cotton 3/4 sleeve J. Crew blouse, 2006
- Black Nike undershorts, 2010
- Lucky brand jeans, August, 2015
- Red suede belt with brass buckle, ca. 2004
- Red suede Naya oxfords, late winter, 2014
The oldest thing was the belt, followed by the blouse. The most stylistically determinate item is probably the jeans, since waistline height and cut of the legs fix trouser/jeans style. So, what could this mean for us, when we dress for the past?
Let’s start with dressing for the American Revolutionary War period, 1775-1783. What you wear depends of course on who and where you are; here I am in New England, wishing I was middling sorts.
If I wear an open-front stomacher gown in 1775, will I still feel comfortable in that in 1783, when the ladies of means around me have switched to closed-front gowns? Or will I feel like I’m wearing bell bottoms and a macrame vest to high school, while the cool girls are wearing pegged Guess jeans and Fair Isle sweaters? (Not what happened to me, but you follow my point). Think how much American fashion changed between 1975 and 1983, and while you will surely see pieces carried over– watches, headbands, socks, Tretorn sneakers– they will be primarily small pieces, accessories, and not main garments.
That’s really want I think we want to get at: Yes, people mixed up clothes, wore favorite things, wore things out. But then as now, they wanted to be stylish. The more care you put into imagining yourself in the past, really being that person, the more convincing you’ll be. You won’t be perfect, and authenticity is as unachievable as objective truth, but you will be closer to real, and yes, even the public will know.