Most of the time when we see examples of historic dress, it's in a picture or on a museum mannequin behind protective glass. But whatever the era, clothes are never meant to stand still, or even languish on a hanger. They need someone to wear them to make them come alive. They need to move with the wearer, emphasising this feature or masking that one, and as the wearer adds his or her own personal touches and accessories, the clothes become them. That's
But with fragile antique textiles, that's also almost impossible to achieve. One of the things I love most about watching the interpreters in the streets and shops of Colonial Williamsburg is seeing how well they wear their replica clothing. They're fashion plates in action.
The seductive sway of a lady's petticoats over her hoops becomes apparent as she walks, and the well-designed practicality of a gentleman's coat is easy to see when the gentleman's on his horse. This is all due to CW's amazing Costume Design Center, a group as dedicated to research and accuracy as they are to creating beautiful clothing.
But the wearers themselves make the real difference. The gentleman (interpreter Scott Greene) on horseback here is portraying His Excellency the Right Honorable John Earl of Dunmore, His Majesty's Governor of Virginia (remember his carriage, here and here?) Even dressed casually for a day of surveying his colonial holdings, by his posture and the ease with which he rides he reflects every bit of the privilege and authority that his elegant clothing represents.
The mantua-maker's apprentice (interpreter Sarah Woodyard, last seen at the TNHG having a sack gown fit to her) is here wearing a gown of her own creation. But from the ribbon on her cap to her coral beads to her fanciful lace apron, she would also be showing the latest styles to her customers, and with luck tempt them to buy more, too. It would certainly have worked with me!