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!!!!


  1. I'm not a reenactor, but I find information about historical garments very interesting. What would make this *particular* post more instructive to me would be illustrations of the correct items you are asking people to use in place of the (condemmed) bodice.

  2. Quinn - that's a whole 'nother post! The ideal garment is a gown, which is worn with stays. That's a lot to undertake for a "newbie". An alternative garment is a bedgown. For someone new to reenacting is a good starter garment. It is easy to make, and until you can make a pair of stays, can be worn with a sports bra and give still a good impression. Here's a link to a good English example

  3. Here in Pa.I have been burning c 1776 shower cap mop caps the past two seasons. My sacrificial cap offerings. I will also help whack a mole bodices- Yes we CAN and KNOW how to do better period correct attire.

  4. Here's the link to the bedgown in the Manchester galleries

  5. As I suppose you have a group of international readers I think it should be well to remark that bodices of different kinds were very much in use by the rural population in many main land European countries at this time, and so are perfectly period for re-enactors in those countries.

    That is however *no excuse* to wear them in the English colonies.

    I'm fighting a similar battle over inacurate "medieval" clothing in Sweden - my main period being the late 14th century. Not sure how well I'm doing on that one, as a lot of people are more interested in the look they *want* to have, rather than the one they *should* have...

  6. Sarah - They wear two types of bodices here -- the English bodice, which is essentially a vest and then there's the French bodice, which is more like the folk costumes of Europe. What our ladies are actually wearing s a hybrid whose origin and history would make a good master thesis.

  7. I know of at least two women who claim that the "French Bodice" is actually a sleeveless stay cover. Yet when I ask for references they do not share their information. Comments?

  8. Jane, corset covers are a 19th century garment. They do not exist to my knowledge in the 17th or 18th centuries. And corset covers were never worn on the outside in 19th century. Hallie