At one particular Civil War reenacting event when my group was fairly new, a fellow reenactor gave us a great compliment: your set-up is so real and the fact that you look so comfortable and at-home in your clothes presents a real-life picture. He mentioned how we move in our costumes as if we were living in them.
I think that’s key to portraying a character from history. A historical costume does SO much to place us into the past, to feel like we’re there.
It happens all the time to actors. They frequently say that they knew the character on paper, but when they put on the costume it came to life for them, allowing them to bring realism to the part.
To truly bring history to life, whether in an acting role, reenactment, or simply playing dress-up, you have to feel like your costume is your everyday clothing. Like you simply went to the closet or trunk this morning and chose that garment to put on. A garment that would reflect your activities for the day.
Are you washing dishes? Going to visit neighbors? Attending a ball?
Imagine your costume in your historical wardrobe as something you might have in your own modern closet. Today, what would you pull out for house chores or go to the movies in?
How do you behave in your modern clothing?
We wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time. And for most of that time we don’t consider our attire much. We put in on in the morning then go about our day. Only if it’s a special outfit or new are we mindful of it. The same goes when wearing historical clothing.
I remember showing off my first Victorian costume to my young nieces – an 1883 polonaise made from the ever popular Past Patterns #904.
I gave them a chance to put the dress on to see what it was like. My eldest niece, Tabitha, was so stiff! I told her it was ok to move her arms and not walk like a mummy. It’s a bodice and skirt – not a body brace.
I think as modern people wearing period clothing we forget that our ancestors were living in a different world. A different society where behaviors were not as we know them. They wouldn’t be driving in small, stick-shift cars or bumbling along in a subway.
They wouldn’t be afraid to eat spaghetti or ride in a carriage with dust blowing. They simply dealt with the circumstances of their daily lives.
So I challenge you….
Next time you put on that corset and bustle, think of them as your own clothing – something you might wear a few times a month. Don’t be afraid to move in those unfamiliar garments.
Remember a secret to looking like you stepped out of the past is to move as they did. Your clothing is only there for functional purposes. Well, that, and to make yourself look good.
What do you think? Do certain garments or costumes change your mindset with how you behave and move?