Hint for re-creators and re-enactors, and other historical costuming geeks—–More often than not, they are
The biggest thing they tend to be wrong about is a bias towards existing clothing as an infallible source for things like materials for everyday clothing for your impression. It’s great for construction, sewing techniques, decoration, and the general aesthetic of the period, don’t get me wrong, but it may OR MAY NOT be indicative of day-to-day dress.
Clothing that makes it to the modern era to end up in those museums tends to be really nice clothes that are worth taking time and expense in period to maintain, such as the really nice silks and wools. And even then, the one thing people forget the most is how much our ancestors recycled and recut their existing clothing when they wore out or went out of fashion.
Someone at one point was trying to assert that the wheel farthingale (Think Elizabeth I in the Ditchley Portrait looking like she’s standing in the middle of a table) did not exist, because no examples have survived (The hoop Elizabeth’s effigy was wearing was replaced with a short pannier in the eighteenth century). Elizabeth was supposedly wearing a hausse-cul, or round pillow, that ginormous.
This is because no examples of the French farthingale have turned up in all the digging and re-arranging that has happened, all the trash middens we have run across, etc. BUT shortly after the French farthingale was out of fashion, dress bodices themselves were boned instead of wearing a separate corset. I imagine most of the French farthingales of England ended their lives as boning for a couple of bodices. But in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines (1954 reprinted 2000), illustration number 8, a ballet production from 1615 shows costumes centered around a boned wheel at the hips. And one wonders how the disbelievers in the French wheeled farthingale imagined Elizabeth could manage to walk with a pillow that big on her hips! Have they tried to walk with a pillow that big?
So now a friend of mine asked this one message board of Civil War re-enactors a question about an 1860s cotton dress, and what she should do for buttons.
The board proceeded to shred her for making a nice day dress out of COTTON! Oh the huge manatee! Doesn’t she know that everyday dresses for middle class women in the 1860s were all made of silk and wool, and all printed cotton was for working clothes? And they got nasty about it too, because of course you should never enter a hobby unless you can afford the absolute top-of-the-line clothes, amirite?
The hilarious part is, a few years back, one of the major pattern houses made a pattern based on this dress! This COTTON dress! And if you want to know what my friend’s dress looked like, it was something like THIS existing dress IN COTTON
Oops, looks like the Authenticity Police were wrong again. Unless you have a doctorate in this field, you are just as much a learned amateur as that newbie. This calls for a certain……humility, doesn’t it? Educate both yourself and others, folks. We’re all hobbyists here.