As I mentioned here last week, I'm going to be blogging this week from Colonial Williamsburg while I attend their symposium Accessories: Head to Toe. There's an ever-growing interest in historic dress, and it's fascinating to see what a diverse group the attendees are (from twenty states and five foreign countries) , including re-enactors, museum curators, representatives from historic sites, theater costume designers, historical seamstresses, and writers, plus a goodly measure of people who just plain love this stuff. In other words, it's a total Two Nerdy History Girls crowd.
First introductory session Sunday night featured Susan North, co-author of one of our fav historic fashion books Seventeenth & Eighteenth Century Fashion in Detail, andcurator of fashion, 1550-1800, from the Victoria & Albert Museum. A few tidbits from her talk:
• The way that historic clothes are often displayed in books and museums – a single garment isolated on a headless mannequin – doesn't give a fair impression of how that dress or suit was actually worn. To show an 18th c. gown without its accompanying stays, shift, hoop, petticoats, stockings, shoes, scarf or neckerchief, jewelry, cap, and hat (whew!) is the same as showing a modern man dressed for the office in his suit - but without his shirt, necktie, socks, belt, or shoes.
• The manufacture of 18th c. accessories had evolved into very specific trades – glovers made only gloves, shoemakers made only shoes, etc. – that were often sold in item-specific shops as well. This concept lingers today both in accessories-specific stores, and in how the departments in modern department stores are arranged. You wouldn't go to Payless looking for a jacket, would you?
• Being thoroughly clothed by clothing and accessories from head to toe in the 18th c. was as much a health issue as a fashion one. An uncovered head or bare feet was thought to invite disease, and from the moment an infant was born and immediately swaddled until a corpse was dressed for the grave, the goal was to be as covered as possible.
Alas, I haven't yet had the chance to check out the accessories exhibition in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, but I will today, with pictures to come. I'm especially interested in seeing The Spruce Sportsman, left, finally come to life.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.