There's an interesting discussion among people who study and preserve clothing from the past: should it be called "costume"? Costume has a certain masquerade feel to it, and to modern American ears, an "early 19th c sailor's costume" is always going to sound more like something from Halloween Adventure than Nelson's navy. On the other hand, who's going to argue with the Metropolitan Museum of Art's esteemed Costume Institute?
But there's absolutely no question that the clothing, left, is A Costume. (Click on the image to enlarge it for details.) The accompanying caption explains its purpose:
"In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, British mummers dressed in fantastic modes to perform plays and dances at annual festivals, especially around Christmas. The antic revelry and gentle mischief-making of the clowns, or Toms, encouraged donations from amused spectators and gave working-class men the chance to act out. This mummer's costume is covered with playful appliques including devils carrying pitchforks and, on the back of the hat, the date and initials TF – probably signifying Tom Fool."
This costume takes minimally tailored clothing and embellishes it into something special. I love the graphic impact of the colors and the detailed appliques (representing skillful hand stitching) as well as the seaming details and fringes. For a garment that's meant to be humorous with a touch of menace, it's really quite stylish.
Above: Mummers Costume, 1829. Natural linen plain weave with appliques in fulled wool plain weave; wool fringe, cotton fringe, metallic lace, wool braid and tassel. Possibly made in Yorkshire, England. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA.
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.