Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hive Preview: Season 2013-2014

Here in the Hive, we’re in the process of putting the finishing touches on this winter’s schedule of offerings and wanted to give you a sneak peek.  We’ll be kicking things off this season with a Hive dedicated to Battle Road.  The lectures and clinics will be focused on topics that will make us all better interpreters and hopefully teach us a few things we didn’t already know about what happened on April 19th. We’ll also take a closer look at what goes on during the “tactical demonstration” so any of us can explain to our visitors what is going on out in the field.

February’s Hive will be all about accessories -- What items do you need to complete your outfit and how are they worn?  Does your collar get folded over your neck stock or not?  How do you get your handkerchief from bunching up?  What kind of jewelry is appropriate for your impression?  How the heck do I tie my neck cloth?  How can I make my wig look less shiny? We’ll cover a range of topics as well as include some practical hands-on sessions like fixing your gaiters so they fit properly and tricks to getting your wig to look more realistic.

In March, we’ll revisit some of the other things that make up a good impression and will continue our discussion on furniture, dishware, glassware and pottery.  We’ve noticed since last March’s presentations many of you have done a really good job in selecting great chairs and teapots!!!

So far the line up for workshops will include: Men’s drawers, clothing for young lads and girls, making a sacque back gown, and constructing a calash.  We’ll also be offering our annual clothing series for women starting in early December with stays following it up with an English gown workshop in January.  There’s also a bed gown workshop schedule for November.

Stay tuned for the full schedule -- coming soon!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Calling All Commanders!!!

What is it about this hobby and things starting with the letter B?  Bodices, Baggy Breeches, Beards.... Imagine how good we'd all look without this trifecta of terrible!  But it's only when we use another word, "BAN" as in banish, do standards really stick.  Which is why there hasn't been a bodice sighting at Battle Road in thirteen years.  Unfortunately, bans are very unpopular and nothing gets people's breeches in a bunch like the mere mention of the word.  Which is why I'm going to move on to the letter "C", as in Captain, Commander, Colonel.

Accuracy standards in this hobby are largely determined at the regimental or unit level and leadership plays a major role as to what direction a group goes in.  All of us have seen groups go from mediocre to marvelous when they elect captains who are driving the authenticity bus.

We can educate people, we can educate sutlers, but until the people in leadership positions in this hobby decide that they actually give a damn about what their female membership is wearing, things won't change.  And the bodice will persist until people who head up the umbrella organizations push for that change.

So I'm hereby putting out a call to my friends Bob Allegretto, Barry Greene, Tom DeLucco, as well as the others who hold important offices in the Continental Line, BAR, NWTA, and Living History Association.  I know that authenticity is very important to you and I also know that you can influence and educate the organizations you lead.  Now it's understood that these umbrella groups do not dictate the rules for each of your members but you can influence direction and encourage action when it comes to this issue.

So guys, will you help all of us move forward and help work to eliminate a garment that has no place at an 18th century reenactment? We're counting on you!

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!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Be Part of the Solution!

I have a friend who worked in NYC for a summer.  One day, she was walking down the street and she noticed that men were looking at her.  Wow, she thought, I must look pretty hot today.  As she continued on her way, she heard whistles and cat calls.  My, these new pants must really fit me well, was all she could think. All of a sudden a woman came up behind her and whispered, "I'm not going to mug you, just let me walk behind you."  She then told my friend, "You probably don't realize this, but the back seam of your pants has split open and your butt is peaking out. I'm a seamstress at production studio about a block away from here, I'll keep walking behind you and when we get to my office, I'll sew your pants up for you."

So how many people saw my friend's wardrobe malfunction and didn't say a word.  Did they not care or were they afraid of embarrassing her even though she was doing a good job at that herself.  If you have spinach in your teeth, don't you want someone to let you know?  How about toilet paper on your shoe?  

The other day, I suggested that we, as a community, do what we can do make sure the reeanctorism known as "the bodice" goes extinct.  If you own one, burn it, turn it into a dust rag, make a pillow out of it, but whatever you do, don't loan it out.

But the bigger question seems to be, what do you do if know someone who wears one?  Do you say something or just ignore it, even though we all  know it's not correct.  And here when we say not correct, we are talking mythical, made-up, make believe.  Whatever way you spin it, the bodice that reenactors wear is, in fact, a 20th century creation and has no basis in the 18th century. As I said in my earlier blog post, we have known this for over 20 years, this is not cutting edge research.

Now I'm certainly not suggesting that you walk up to strangers and start giving them clothing advice! But I do think we need to consider people that you know. Let's start close to home first.  Is there someone in your group who wears a bodice?  If she's in your reenacting group, you could start a conversation at one of your meetings about accuracy, sharing research and what your group can do to improve their impressions.  If you are not a Battle Road group participant, perhaps you could download their standards and see what they are all about.  Arrange a sewing day where the ladies make bedgowns for themselves - they are easy and do not require much sewing skill.
Bedgown from the Manchester City Gallery c. 1760-1780
Accession# 1972.110
If you live in New England, suggest that she join you at a Hive.  Each year we run a free newbie/tune-up clinic, where we review all the parts and pieces of clothing an accurately dressed woman needs and what works well for someone just entering the hobby.

No one really wants to be out of step. You can be the world's best spinner, know scads about hearth cooking, can talk to the public about every battle in the Revolution, but what the tourist will bring home, is that picture they took of the people in the funny clothes.  We owe them accuracy in the information we share them as well as accuracy in the clothing we wear.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Playing Bodice Whac-a-Mole!

The Bodice -- That mythical garment, created in the laboratories of Colonial Williamsburg long ago as a colonial-like uniform for their guides. They were innocently released into the wild by their Costume Design Center, who using their own words, "thought it was a good idea at the time".  Because they were inexpensive and readily available, they went on to reproduce and colonize throughout the reenacting world during the bicentennial.  As research proved their inaccuracy, movements developed to eradicate them, only for them to reappear every spring like dandelions, with each crop of new reenactors.  Sutlers continue to sell them, even though they know them to be incorrect, and as long as there is demand, they will be offered for sale.
The Mythical Bodice

We see so few of them in the Boston area because of the Battle Road Clothing Guidelines (that have pretty much become the standard around here) though there are a few annual sightings around Patriot's Day at parades and at certain town militia events.  Even here in Hiveland, we are constantly playing Bodice Whac-a-Mole!  Every time you think you've licked them, they pop up somewhere else.

This weekend at the annual Redcoats & Rebels event at Old Sturbridge Village, despite the efforts of the organizers to push authenticity standards forward, the bodices were back, though thankfully in fewer numbers than in past years. So why do they persist, even though we all know they are wrong? To answer my own question, it's because "we" know they are wrong but "we all" don't.

Now, I truly believe no one deliberately chooses to dress inaccurately.  Women wear bodices because they don't know any better and/or don't know that there are good alternatives. It's also been posed to me that one of the reasons bodices refuse to go extinct is that menfolk don't care (or don't know) about proper women's clothing and that they hand their wives a catalog and instruct them to pick something out -- because "if it's in a catalog or if a sutler sells something, it has to be right".   Whatever the reason, bodices are our hobby's perennial weed.

So my dear readers, I ask you, can we work to make New England a bodice-free zone?  Do your part!  Spread the word. Remove them from your unit's loaner clothing stash.  Lend a bedgown to a newbie.  If you are a bodice wearer, make a bedgown (they are easy to make!) or better yet make a pair of jumps or stays and get thyself into a gown.  Bring a friend to the Hive this winter!

Maybe I'm Don Quixote tilting at windmills here, but I think we can make bodices a thing of past once and for all.  What do you say folks, let's make a world where the only one left wearing a bodice is the St. Pauli girl!!!!