Friday, August 9, 2013

Buyer Beware - Read the Fine Print

As I’m writing these posts about bodices, I can’t help but wonder why we are even having these discussions in 2013, since the inaccuracy of this article of clothing has been common knowledge for years. Certainly, they continue to be an issue because they are still sold by sutlers.  

To their credit, Jas Townsend has now added a disclaimer to their bodice offering, 

“This item is not considered accurate by many organizations, if you are working with an organization or will be wearing this at a judged event please check with them before purchasing this item.” 

They would be doing their customers a greater service if they just stopped selling them. 

Smoke and Fire?  All I can say is shame on you!  They’ve taken a real squirrely approach and instead of calling the bodice what it is, they are referring to it a “sleeveless jacket or unstayed jump”.  Really?  I’m calling you out on this one, that’s an English bodice and you know it!   

Some of the smaller sutlers, etsy and ebay sellers are the worst offenders.  There is one in particular, who knows bodices are inaccurate and sells them anyway because she thinks they are more attractive than short gowns.  
"18th Century Rev War Ladies English Waistcoat"
(A Rose by another other name........)
She admits to it in her disclaimer:  "I will not answer indignant inquires by some women insisting I should only sew drab floppy shortgowns for the reenacting public" nor can she "be responsible nor accept excuses after the sale that style or colors are unacceptable to the commander or director of your group".  Mmmmm, maybe she's had some issues with returns due to inaccuracy?????

There's another vendor on ebay, who includes the phrase. "Colonial Williamsburg" when describing her items.  I hate to break it to her, but that's a brand name that implies a certain level of quality.  A little trademark infringement perhaps?

My favorite is the one that sells a "colonial, civil war era french bodice".  I guess the American Revolution was a civil war, but somehow I don't think that's what they meant. 

Colonial, civil war french bodice
Don't get me wrong, I don't care that they sell these things.  This article of clothing might make a really good boho look paired with a vintage jacket and a pair of jeans, but don't pawn it off as 18th century for reenactors, s'il vous plait.

Once again, it comes down to us.  As members of the reenactor community, let's make sure that we are supporting the  sutlers who do their homework and offer accurate, quality goods and to eschew the ones who'll pawn off anything as "period" to make a buck.  In addition, if you are involved in organizing an event, take the time to vet your sutlers -- you'll be doing the community a big favor!


  1. Of course, she could also be referring to the 17th-century English Civil Wars. For which the bodice would be equally inappropriate. You should check your insurance, though -- some of your comments here about specific businesses are probably actionable.

    1. Actionable? Hopefully the action will come by educating buyers. Notice the " " marks around statements made by vendors touting their wares. Last time I checked we all had rights to opinions. And I agree with the opinions expressed here. Hallie (real name, not a fake one)

    2. I would agree with The Hive on this- it is a shame that sutlers continue to sell these garments, knowing full well they are not accurate IN THE LEAST.

      I see them a lot on the tour guides at our local Northern VA 18th century sites. It's such a disappointment...

      I think people tend to purchase these "bodices" because they don't know better (accurate... speaking), they are inexpensive garment compared to a jacket or gown, and since they don't know lot about the garment, they ASSUME it's CORRECT, since an 18th sutler is selling it.

      It's a shame, this continues to take place as does not help to promote and educate the public correctly re: correct 18th century garments. And it's a waste of money as well as a disappointment to find the wardrobe you purchase is inaccurate.

      For me- I'm glad someone or group has brought this issue out in the public. Maybe, it'll save someone the time, money & embarrassment of attending an event in accurately... as well feeling disappointed in their purchase.

      I think it's important, we all help each with issues of accuracy, sewing and putting together a terrific wardrobe regardless of a persons sewing ability, and budget. Maybe too, it's important to go 1 step further- and support the sutlers that DO SELL PERIOD CORRECT items. It only serves our hobby and the general public well in the end...

  2. So as a newbie, what exactly am I supposed to be making/aware of? I have tried making stays and it brought me to tears. all that work and they didn't even fit or look right. I can't afford to have them made for me, but what did the common woman do? I hardly ever make "upper class" dresses.

  3. Jen - The common woman purchased stays. There are a remarkable number that exist in collections, and there are numerous period ads for stay makers as well as many listed in probate inventories. Even though you are not making upper class dresses, you still need a pair of stays to get the proper fit in just about anything you wear. Some of the sutlers do sell some "starter" stays. They are not great and are only partially boned but work in a pinch for a first pair for someone with a limited budget. Depending on where you live, I would highly recommend taking a stays workshop to get a good fitting pair. We'll be running one in Massachusetts at the beginning of December, and Burnley and Trowbridge run them even now and then in Virginia.

  4. Jen, as an option until you get your stays, a good sports bra to give the illusion of stays (and prevent bouncing), worn under a bedgown is the best option. The bedgown is a loose short garment that laps over itself in the front, kept in place with an apron worn over it. That combination will work for you until you get a real pair of stays. Hallie

  5. As a new sutler, I find there is a problem of opposing forces - I WANT to make things as accurately (or passably accurate with available resources/time/money) as possible without being subjected to the above "shame on you" comments. I don't want to be considered "farby", but at the same time, there's a huge learning curve, and I do a LOT of research, yet will still miss on some things. Any comments seeking to help me improve my craft are welcome. However the opposite end of the spectrum is that a lot of people just need clothes... And can't/won't pay for hand-sewn masterpieces, but will still be happy with an affordable machine-sewn garment until which time they want to venture into the world of super-authentic. And in some cases, I get customers who demand non-period-correct alterations (such as people looking to nod at the style, but want a modern fit they are used to, or specific fabrics).

    I guess one thing I ponder as a business owner is how to satisfy all my customers. I don't want people spreading around that I sell crap just because it doesn't live up to one particular set of ideals, or because I'm new and still learning... But I do want to know where I could improve. I do this for my own enjoyment and learning, but I get hundreds of different garment orders from different people with different expectations.

  6. Ultimately the sutlers who develop a reputation for selling quality, well-researched goods end up thriving. There is a market for the good stuff. Do the research, document your products using primary sources, be willing to discontinue items you find to be incorrect, and you won't have to apologize to anyone.