Whenever I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg in the summer months, I always try to share photographs of the summer interns from the Margaret Hunter shop. Not only does the summer internship program provide valuable hands-on experience for college students who are studying historic clothing, construction, and fashion, but it also fills the shop with younger workers - workers whose ages more closely coincide with their counterparts in the 18thc.
It's easy to forget how young the Georgian labor force could be. Extended schooling was a luxury for the upper classes, child labor laws did not exist, and the entire concept of the teenager is a twentieth century invention. Most young people worked, often at an age when we'd still consider them children. Chimney sweeps, cabin boys, scullery maids, and workers in the mines, mills, and factories toiled long hours in hazardous condition for little pay. By comparison, an apprenticeship with a mantua-maker (dressmaker) or tailor offered the opportunity to learn a skilled trade, and the possibility of relative security and success.
Ike Cech, above, is one of the tailor's 2016 summer interns (I'll share the mantua-maker's interns soon.) A student at the University of Wisconsin Madison, Ike is studying textile and fashion design with a focus on historic design. This is Ike's second summer at Colonial Williamsburg; last year he was part of the team sewing the reproduction of General Washington's marquee, or tent (see more about the tent here.)
It was hot and humid today in Williamsburg, and Ike shows how an 18thc Virginian would have dressed for the summer weather while keeping an eye on London fashion. He's wearing loose, lightweight striped trousers, a checked linen shirt, and a black silk neckerchief. His striped jacket is a light wool and worn open (see the same jacket here worn buttoned for a very different look.) The final jaunty touch: a white felted wool hat, the summer version of the ubiquitous black hat worn by most 18thc Englishmen.
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.