View Full Version : Help!

04-13-2006, 02:58 PM
I have been reenacting for about 6 years now, and I recently became involved with a girl who is also interested in the hobby. My question is this: what do I exactly need for a female impersonation, and where would I find such objects.


04-13-2006, 05:34 PM
Don't you think you might look kinda silly in a bonnet, corset and petticoats?

Oh, wait, you meant for your girlfriend... sorry... :oops:

Well, that's an awful big can o' worms you just pried open. I'm going to point you to the Atlantic Guard Soldier's Aid Society http://www.agsas.org/ because they are the most accuracy-oriented civilian reenacting group I've ever run into. I've met many of them and they are a jolly bunch who know their stuff and will fall all over themselves to help anyone who is willing to try. Have your young lady contact them and put herself in their capable hands, and say that Frenchie LaFrance from the Baltimore Civil War Museum sent her.

04-13-2006, 06:23 PM
I saw this guy in a green day dress and tiara a couple of years ago at an event.......................

Sorry, I had to


04-14-2006, 10:37 AM
Hee hee... you guys aren't the only ones who assumed... LOL

I'd ditto a recommendation of AGSAS. They're lovely.

One thing to be very realistic about: gearing up a citizen for living history is just as expensive as outfitting a soldier, particularly if the young lady won't be doing her own sewing. It's just as vital that her things be accurate, and they can get spendy. Plan out a base wardrobe, and start up with good stuff, so no one is spending on junk.

There are several clothing articles at http://www.thesewingacademy.com that may help.

Basic rundown of what she'll need to get dressed, skin out.

Stays or corset
Split Drawers (optional, but good if she's using a hoop)
Skirt Support (cage or hoop usually)
Underskirts (1-2)
Outer wrap (shawl at a minimum)
Headwear (sunbonnet or fashion bonnet)
Additional Accessories like aprons, jewelry, parasols

That still leaves her only dressed--without persona and impression props as needed. :) Like I said, it's a task! It's an achievable task, but a task nonetheless.

The Dandy
04-18-2006, 02:20 PM
If I may suggest for the garments them selves go with Anna Allen of the Graceful Lady. Her dresses are A++ stuff. But before she buys anything send her to the other sides for research. Books before Ball Gowns.


04-19-2006, 01:15 AM
I would definitely ditto the recommendation of Anna Allen. She does wonderful work.

But I am going to be viewed in some quarters as a heretic for suggesting that you avoid buying books on clothing. Clothing and fashion is not what the vast majority of women in the civil war era were about. We have clothing expertise available FREE on Elizabeth Stewart Clark's website and at other places, too, plenty to make buying books unnecessary. See her articles on Best Bet Wardrobe, Having a Fit, etc., and then do what the lady says! Study CDVs to get trim, accessory, and hair ideas, also available free online. If you are going to buy one book on clothing make it Who Wore What or Elizabeth's Book Dressmaker's Guide and get others through Interlibrary Loan, saving your money for good fabric and acessories like good quality shoes, etc., that you can't make yourself.

ALSO, and even more importantly, start right away finding primary sources on or by women in the area where you plan to reenact, and start learning about women's lives there. Research is the key, but NOT researching clothing, unless you decide later on that is an area in which you would like to develop particular expertise. As it is, I think many reenactors know much more about clothing, and THINK much more about clothing, than women in 1860s ever did. Reenacting should not be about clothing. It takes very little to assemble a couple of very accurate dresses and then move on to other more important things. You can always expand the wardrobe later as the need arises.

04-19-2006, 09:19 AM
May I offer mega-dittos to Terre's suggestion to start immediately "getting beyond the gear?" Yes, accurate clothing is important--but do not neglect the internal preparation to put with it! Encourage your young lady to research a passion outside of fashion--to read widely about the era and the social structures, economics, religions, politics, household set-ups, music, literature high and low--there's a wide, wide world in the past, and it's very important to know about it!

Carolann Schmitt
04-19-2006, 11:38 AM
Encourage your young lady to research a passion outside of fashion--to read widely about the era and the social structures, economics, religions, politics, household set-ups, music, literature high and low--there's a wide, wide world in the past, and it's very important to know about it!

Elizabeth's suggestion is a very good one, however it is not limited to the feminime side of the hobby. Substitute the work "military" for "fashion" in her sentence. Every thing she says is also applicable to masculine participants. "Getting beyond the gear" is not gender-specific. :D

Clothing can tell us more about past people and events than any other antiquity. It can reveal information about human beliefs, social behaviors, cultural values, industry and technology, economics, trade and much more. Learning how to dress appropriately goes hand-in-hand with learning when and where to wear it and what to do when you have it on.

04-20-2006, 10:07 AM
Oooh--Carolann, we're definitely on the same lecture stump regarding "getting beyond the gear"--I wish, wish, wish some military types would ignore the "war" entirely for one year, and dive into life BEFORE military things, and BEYOND military things. My own husband doesn't do a military impression, but if he did, I'd beat him on a regular basis to "encourage" him to learn more of the overall period. :)

04-25-2006, 11:32 PM
For some reason it's lately become unfashionable to read books in this hobby. Authentic or mainstream, books are still the best way to learn about the past. I know that some folks out there seem to spend a lot of time on the internet digging out diverse factoids about this and that, but from where I sit, this is a rather peculiar way to learn about what our ancestors thought, did, ate, wore, and sang.

It simply doesn't make sense to me to tell someone not to study, with great care and attention, sources that contain information. I mean to say -- for me, when I find some image or discussion about some aspect of the daily life of the mid-19th century, it's like ... oh, like finding a Christmas present you forgot to open, in August. I know what the other good folks are saying here -- getting beyond the gear and all that -- but honestly, in order to get beyond the gear you first have to get the gear, don't you? I see all sorts of mistakes, small and large, at the mainstream events here west of the Mississippi. For example, ladies who wear perfectly acceptable plaid cotton dresses made from one of the better patterns, but without collars and cuffs, with a plain old modern straw hat trimmed with sunflowers or who knows what. Telling these ladies not to buy a book (or take one out of the library, to be more specific) and to get beyond the gear isn't really going to help them.

Please, please read as much as you can; study the images, read the source quotations, follow up the bibliographic references. There's just no substitute for reading and study, as I'm always telling my students. Downloading the random snippet from "Making of America" just isn't enough. Even asking for advice from the helpful & kind folks (esp. those who posted above, my heroes & heroines) still isn't enough -- it just doesn't sink in until you've actually done the research for yourself.

04-26-2006, 12:33 AM
Silvana, I have got to respectfully disagree with you on part of this. We have abundant information on generic "CW ladies' clothing" on the internet, and anyone who doesn't know enough to fabricate collars and cuffs has no excuse. A Google search will turn up ample information.

It will take primary source reading, however, to discover relevant facts about the clothing in one's own area. Without a bit of primary source reading I would know that the average woman in my area was "barefoot and dight out in a large hoop" (Kate Stone, Brokenburn) for example, and that is the sort of info that is important to portray. Once we have the "generic" women's clothing set firmly in our minds, which is perfectly possible to do entirely over the internet thanks to women like Elizabeth and Carolann and you who have made it so, we still need to know quite a bit about conditions and circumstances in our own area which vary from that generic norm. Plus we need to know what the local issues were, what roads were like, how we made a living, how we procured the necessities of life, what our daily lives were like, etc. That is where we need to be concentrating our reading to begin with. It is not that clothing is not important, but we shouldn't let it assume more importance in our minds that it had for women who were alive during that period, should we?

Meanwhile, we do need people with expertise in clothing, of course, and that is an enormously valuable contribution for someone to make. More websites please! More research! More info! But I also think it is important to convey to new people that the wheel has already been invented, and that they do not need to expend enormous quantities of time and money (for books are expensive) on researching the basic clothing info that it takes to assemble a couple of dresses and a few chemises, etc., to do a basic impression. So many new reenactors NEVER get into the specifics of their area, and spend their entire reenacting careers researching clothing, clothing, and more clothing! And somehow end up with so little perspective that we think the wardrobe of the Empress Eugenie somehow has relevance for the vast majority of women in 1860s America. We are not doing the women of the time justice if we limit our impressions to clothing, or even make that our initial focus.

And I disagree with you that the internet is not a valid source for research. There are wonderful primary sources out there, on Making of America and many other sites. They are just as valid as a source printed on paper. And the secondary sources, on clothing and other subjects, are not too shabby either! Re-reading my comments I am sure you will see I was not castigating reading books, but merely suggesting a shift in time and effort to other areas beside clothing as soon as possible.

04-26-2006, 09:21 AM
I didn't say that the internet is not a valid source for research; I rarely make such sweeping statements. I'm making a case for reading books, and I find it difficult to believe that intelligent, thoughtful people would even argue against that position. You're a musician -- would you tell someone to learn about music history by reading only forums and cruising the web? Of course not. You know that scholars have to base their research on primary sources and that they have to document all of their assertions. Internet sources aren't held to those standards. Moreover, a thorough understanding of the 19th century depends on wide reading -- probably the kind of reading that average folks don't have the time or resources to accomplish.

I would like to encourage you to continue your reading and study. You'll find it much more rewarding in the long run than basing all of your knowledge on web sites. Yes, you can get a lot of useful information that way, but there's just no substitute for your own research.

04-26-2006, 10:27 AM
Yes, accurate clothing is important--but do not neglect the internal preparation to put with it! Encourage your young lady to research a passion outside of fashion--to read widely about the era and the social structures, economics, religions, politics, household set-ups, music, literature high and low--there's a wide, wide world in the past, and it's very important to know about it!

I think we're all on similar pages here--I'm a huge advocate for individual inquiry and reading, reading, reading, as my book list at the library will attest. I keep meeting people who didn't know our local library *does have* an "items out" limit of 50, and our family regularly rides the limit. :D

For those with limited book funds, Inter-Library Loan is about the best thing ever created on God's green earth! I've not yet met a reference librarian who wasn't tickled pink to explain the process and help track a book down. I don't know about other ILL systems, but the LILI system allows you to specify a limit on potential lending costs, so it's possible to request only "freebie" book loans. It's an amazing help.

I think the only thing holding any Regular Joe back from systematic reading on the period (wide ranges of primary, secondary, tertiary, compilations, etc) is perhaps lack of knowing that sort of thing is possible. Time shouldn't be a constraint--even 15 minutes a day will add up to over 90 hours of reading per year. And there are so MANY fantastic, interesting books out there... I'd far rather read them than watch TV of an evening. It's entirely possible to consistently read on a good variety of topics, or to read in-depth on one topic a month, for instance.

I don't know that school teach "library science" anymore. My mother is a librarian, so we got heavy doses of "books are the best" education at home, and I've never been afraid to try out a book for any topic. Now, if it's poorly written, don't waste too much time deciding that. :) Life's too short to read lousy books, though I usually apply that to fiction, rather than non-fiction. I've read a few thoroughly lousy non-fiction books, and come away with a great stack of information.

I do think there's simply a balance: if we research clothing to the exclusion of everything else, and never go beyond the actual garments to "what they tell us"--well, then we're pretty flat and stale. If we use clothing to springboard into "the world", we can get a mix of appropriately-dressed and widely-informed, and that's a great mix.

I know in my own reading, researching fashion has led to side reading on such topics as: funeral practices, the rise of the middle class, infant mortality, germ theory, religion, westward migration, organic farming, wage slavery, food contamination, human geography (the study of why people settle where they do), silk culture, the ice trade and the rise of refrigeration, the telegraph, portrait painters, the history of photography, and the embroidery industry.... all from a starting point of fashion, but certainly not limited to fashion books.

I agree that the Internet is a fantastic tool. It's not the only one in the tool box (else everything starts to look like a nail!), but it's one option. Books (whether digital archives or physcial items) are indispensible. Examination of original items (clothing as well as many other material culture items) can't be beat, either. There are so many tools to use, we can all be just like Norm Abrams in his Yankee Woodshop! LOL

I'm just rejoicing we don't have to wear those goofy safety goggles to use all these tools. I look dorky in those.

Delia Godric
04-26-2006, 01:17 PM
I am a bit late on reading this thread. I wish I would have caught it earlier.

Research is a seasonal and moody thing for me. This applies to what I research and how I research. I will go through phases of dress accessory detail obsession, social nuances obsession and college flash-backs to social control theory. I think that goes for many people who love to research or just have a strong interest in this hobby. When it comes to my modes of research I shift from soft internet browsing to digital collection research to ILL book syndrome to small museum hopping. Right now I am in a technology hating mood that usually comes about every late spring as technology issue increase at work. (Hmmm, coincidence there?) Summer and deep winter are usually my ILL book times. I don't have as much computer access in the summer. I also love to read in the woods or park. Winter is the curl up in blankets time ideal for books. Fall, as school starts up again, is nice for soft internet browsing to see what is new and hot. That gets old soon as I get irritated with the junk accepted as research sources here (a high school.) Museum visits fit into late fall and early spring, when budgeting allows. Of course, these phase exist in miniature for each project or topic.

I do think there are definite advantages to internet research. First, we have access to digital versions of books, journals, letters, magazines, etc.. that we may not have physical access to due to distance or the condition of the original item. Second, we can access some journal databases that used to be only available at university/college. It's nice to know who has researched related topics. (Then go find their article and order everything in the bibliography.) Third, we have to opportunity to say "help, I am at a dead end" or "Wait, this info conflicts" on discussion forums. I have found discussing such research issues with co-workers here results in a glazed over look or silly questions.

Then, there are the disadvantages - incorrect or badly researched information which to often gets popularized, focus on an anomaly which often gets overly focused on, the huge gaps in what is available and on and on.

I do think a general awareness or a broad basis of knowledge is essential. Details mean little without context. For example: a regional distinction is only a distinction because of the surrounding norm or surrounding distinctions. I suppose it's like a puzzle. Of course with research there are all sorts of extra pieces thrown in the mix. You can put the puzzle pieces together without looking at the box or with looking at the box (the box cover being the context.) If you look at a puzzle piece with it's colors and lines, it means little until you know where it fits in the bigger picture. I will concede it is entirely possible to put the puzzle together without knowing what the picture is.

After that puzzle thing, I should stop.

Anna Worden

04-26-2006, 04:15 PM
Silvana - I also would encourage you to continue your research!

No one has said research is not important, nor has anyone decried reading books. All we are talking about here is getting the focus off clothing to the exclusion of everything else. My orginal comment was about spending oodles of money BUYING books on clothing that could be better spent purchasing fabric, and getting books through ILL instead. And then I suggested that a new reenactor could get enough info for basic clothing off the internet using the sites recommended (which I will stand by), and direct further immediate book research into finding out more about her environment and life during the period, not clothing. This hardly means that reading books has gone out of fashion.

I have a bibliography of over 800 books and articles, most are primary sources or analyses based on primary sources with extensive quotes, and almost all of them about Texas, and if I ever get half way through them I will be delighted. I do read something practically every day. Problem is the bibliography grows faster than I can read them! Right now I am at about the 10% mark. Five of the books on this list are specifically about clothing, and I have already finished them. Of the others, there is a very occasional mention of items of clothing... evidence of my contention that women of the 19th century were not preoccupied about clothing, in Texas at least. And a good thing too, since it was very hard to come by.

BTW, I am not a musician. I can read shape notes more or less, but that is all.

04-30-2006, 09:19 AM
Thank you, Terre. Historical research is after all what I do for a living, so your encouragement is welcome and appreciated.

Delia, I really admire your take on all this -- it's so evident in your recent work on shawls, for example. Not only do you understand the details of various aspects of 19th century life, you also know how to situate it in the wider context. What are you working on these days?

And now I'm going back to my self-imposed internet diet for a week or two ... not as arduous as, say, the Mediterranean diet, but no doubt equally conducive to health and happiness.

Delia Godric
05-01-2006, 07:30 AM
Delia, ..... What are you working on these days?

Funny you should ask. I had been pondering the idea of doing an analysis of bonnet ribbons. I tossed the idea out since I still have so much I want to do with shawls. Then, during this weekend's yardsaling in a nice historic village, I picked up this box labled "silk pieces, great for crazy quilts". These weren't just silk scraps but an assortment of wide silk ribbons. Many of these ribbons look a great deal like the ones in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts bonnet collection. I took these as a sign to start collecting ribbon information.

I am still going to continue the shawl research collection.

Now, I am curious what other's are working on. ???

Anna Worden