Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Marathon of Authentic Reenacting

Civil War reenacting is a world of its own.  And not just a world, but an art.
 If only the spectators that gather to watch a battle on Saturday afternoons knew what goes on when they're not around! If only the general public knew what goes into making a truly authentic reenacting impression!
Every reenactor is on their own journey - hopefully to a better state of authenticity. 
However, some folks don't seem to give a rat's heiny for representing the past correctly, and that's just how it is. The sad reality is that there are far too many Civil War reenactors (in Florida, anyway) that just don't care about taking the effort to do it right, and some are even almost proud of it. 
I'll be honest with y'all - these people drive me smack-dab crazy and make me want to smash things. Especially when they're the ones that get covered by the media or local press.
 It bothers me when the spectators crowd around them for pictures, unknowingly calling it "period dress" and believing that what they're seeing is a copy of something from the past. 

It bothers me when you get questions and comments like:
"Is that real fire?" (Why don't you touch it and find out? Har har har. xP) 
"Are you Amish? Mennonite?" (Last I heard, neither of these groups would condone the amount of color in the fabrics I'm wearing for my Civilian impression, let alone the idea of a woman soldier.) 
"See kids, that's how they spent their time back then! They didn't have TV and cell phones so they had to play musical instruments instead!" (GRRRR, JUST GRRRRR WHAT'S WRONG WITH PLAYING MUSIC INSTEAD OF WATCHING TV?!) 
"Gosh, I'm glad I'm not wearing all those layers! You poor thing, you must be soooo hot!" (If women could do it for over two centuries, I'm sure I'll survive, thanks.) 
"Did that tiny waist just come with your outfit or is it real?" (Ummmmm...?! Excuse me?? No, I got a plastic fake waist installed just so I could fit these clothes. Seriously what the even...) 

By the way, these were all real things people have said to me at some point in my reenacting journey. I know, it's ridiculous. 
Maybe we just have done a poor job of educating people properly; maybe most Americans would rather be watching a popular TV show than spending their free time researching history. 
Either way, the general impression is that most spectators have no idea what's accurate and what's not at a Civil War reenactment. (Kudos to those who actually do, I know you're out there! PLEASE TELL ME YOU DO ACTUALLY EXIST)

I so desperately want to change this. It's part of the reason I reenact to begin with. I know I don't have it all together yet, but I'm doing my best and I'm doing my research. I know my pagoda-sleeved blue day dress is made of cotton instead of wool or a nicer material as pagoda sleeves were usually made out of. I know I still need to buy a quality hoop, for the proper 1860s skirt silhouette. I know my bangs need to be grown out completely. 
It's a work in progress. 
At least I know my goals and I acknowledge my previous mistakes. I live and learn, I adapt and try to conform to what I have researched and studied concerning the War and life in that time period for the region I'm in. 
I know what I'm aiming for in the future. I'm going for as close to true authenticity as possible and even though it will take a while to achieve this, I'm willing to do what it takes to get there. 

Crinolines: the bane of my existence 
Even for no other reason than just to be one other female reenactor who is giving the public an accurate picture of what our American ancestors looked like. It's worth it.

Reenacting is so much more than portraying history, though. 
It is a social club, a chance to get away from the modern world for a little while, and even an opportunity for relaxation for some. It's a way to meet new friends, and form bonds that last for years even if you only see your reenacting family a few times a year. 
Also, if you're single and looking to mingle? You might just end up meeting the love of your life. Who knows? There are a lot of single folks in the hobby!

Florida doesn't have many events in comparison to some northern states, and unfortunately, a lot of our CW events are very farby. (aka, lacking historical accuracy on many levels)
 But you know what? Most of the time, you don't go just for the event itself. You go for the people. For the chance to dress in old clothes, throw modern conveniences to the wind and hang out with your friends for a weekend. 

It's wonderful. 

When I think about how I've only been truly reenacting for three years come January, (five if you count my farby days of dressing in "prairie clothes" at Ocali Country Days in my early teens) I feel very blessed that I got in with a good circle of supportive people. 
Even though I've written a book on the War, and have been studying it for nearly a decade of my life, I keep forgetting that it wasn't long ago I was one of the most-inaccurate-looking girls at the events.
And that kinda scares me. I used to be one of those people that knew what they were /supposed/ to do, but wanted to rebel just because I could. Take for example, wearing my hair down instead of up and parted as is 1860s customary. I knew it wasn't right, but I didn't care. 
Anyway, only in 2015 have I really started putting my research to use and begun 'walking the talk' by taking the jump from mainstream to authentic reenacting. 
God blessed me by putting a few different people in my life over that period who made me feel at home at events, and helped me meet new connections so that I didn't feel like an outsider. 

While I didn't have anyone to guide me and show me the do's and don'ts of reenacting, or point me to research I needed, somehow it all worked out fine. 
Doing my own research and having some kind, thoughtful friends in the hobby was enough. 

exhibit a: from the VERY early days of my "living history impressions". 2013. That look is about what my reaction now is to my hair being down at an event and wearing an eBay special with no corset or proper underpinnings...
Reenacting is awesome, but the reality is, being a beginner in the hobby certainly isn't easy.
Even though I didn't experience the struggle of trying to fit in, and even though I didn't get openly ridiculed for what I was wearing, (surely it happened behind my back, though!) I have witnessed the pressure on newcomers I've met recently. Somehow I miraculously missed the whole phase myself, because I got welcomed into the hobby with open arms. 

 But seriously. The plethora of things you are expected to acquire and knowledge you're expected to know starting out is pretty overwhelming. I mean let's be real here. If you've never reenacted before, what are the chances you'll be able to afford purchasing a full, authentic kit during a phase of one or two events? Even during just one year alone? It's almost impossible unless you've been researching for a while already, or find incredibly good deals or have somebody just give you their stuff for free. 
Or if you just got money sitting around. 

The nice thing is that there are units that will lend you kits for a small cost, and that's really helpful for a beginning reenactor who wants to get the feel of the hobby without investing in it yet. 
But if you're going for Civilian? It's not quite that easy. Unless you have a friend who lends you one of her ensembles, you're probably not going to find anyone else who'll be so kind as to loan you an authentic female civilian costume. (Costume as in, outfit. In the 1860s, this is the terminology they used. Outfit was not a word used in relation to clothing.) 
And so then you have the sutler's row ladies trying to talk you into a calico Garibaldi dress which they insist is completely period correct, especially for your first reenacting ensemble. *SCREAMS* 
So yeah, it's not a minuscule undertaking. Unless you have a circle to jump into with somebody you already know, you'e more than likely gonna feel like the outsider for a while. The reenacting circle isn't perfect and just like any other social group, you're gonna find cliques. It happens. 

But to those beginners who decide they're willing to push through any potential ridicule, and dedicate time to research, I seriously applaud you. We definitely need new faces in the reenacting community if we want it to stay living for future generations. 

And honestly, it's not as bad as I may have made it sound. Most people are actually very nice to you even if you have your accuracy all off. As long as you get in with a family-friendly group or unit, you'll be fine. Even though there will always be folks at events you want to avoid, there will also always be people who are very kind and accommodating. 

A good friend of mine says that reenacting isn't comparable to a sprint, but instead a marathon.
If you aim for authenticity, you're going to working on it for a while. It's going to be a long road, and perhaps even a lifelong journey depending on how passionate you are. 

I sure hope that it will be a lifelong pursuit for me.  Because honestly, it's one of the best things that's happened to me. 

This is the closest I am to accuracy right now, all I need to complete this look is removing the gloves and wearing a larger hoop. 
Going barefoot onto the battlefield at Ocklawaha.
My friend Daniel and I at Ocklawaha. I should be wearing my frock coat but the photographer caught me off guard here during a break period. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

The History of Aprons {a revised historical article}

a gem I found from back in 2012 at Ocali Country Days - look at us chillens, we were so young!
So, a few notes before we move on. I wrote this article back in 2011, for a website called Feelin' Feminine which is no longer in existence. While my research wasn't half bad, I left out information relating to Civil War era aprons which I'm going to include now.


Its different forms vary, stretching from the practical full-length cover-all used by cooks and homemakers, to coverings made solely to protect patients from radiation emitted by x-ray machines. 

We know it as the apron, but it's also called the pinafore and sometimes the bib. The list of its uses could go on nearly endless. It has been used for fashion purposes, such as is the case with the dainty half-apron of the 1950's. But when most of us think of aprons, practicality comes to mind first. 

Where did this versatile accessory come from? Who wore it first, who "invented" it? Has it always been used by women, and women alone? 

The truth is, the apron hasn't been always been a woman's thing. Actually, its official wearing by ladies began in the 17th century before that, it was used only by men. Blacksmiths, carvers, leather smiths, cobblers, metal forgers, fish mongers and clock makers were only a few jobs in which a sturdy apron was very useful for both protection and cleanliness. 

Many jobs that required working with metals were quite dangerous and a thick, heavy leather apron could protect its wearer's body from sparks and the heat of the flames and blistering metals.

These such aprons were typically made out of heavy leather but also duck cloth or canvas. Some particular early pen and ink sketches of the 13th century show a blacksmith's forge with master and apprentices garbed in aprons. Even though artwork only started to reflect everyday scenes (like a blacksmith's forge) in the high Middle Ages, it is probable that men wore leather aprons in the centuries beforehand. 

And what about beforehand? The first aprons ever cited (from what I've researched) were from the Middle Ages, but the KJV Bible says that Adam and Eve, after realizing they were naked," sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons." (found in Genesis 2:7) So you could say that aprons have been around since nearly the creation of man! 
Then there were the Native American men and women, who used aprons for both practical and ceremonial practices.

Now, besides working men, this garment was also used by the Masonic Lodge members, and to the present day, this "secret society" still does. Master Masons don half-aprons decorated with mysterious symbols, letters and encryptions everything, symbolic. But listen to what Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry says - 

"....Lambskin or white leathern apron. It is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason: more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, and when worthily worn, more honorable than the Star and Garter, or any other Order that can be conferred upon is you at this or any future period by king, prince, potentate, or any other person, except he be a Mason and within the Body of a just and legally constituted Lodge of such."
(From Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 1929, Volume I, The New Kentucky Monitor, arranged by Henry Pirtle, 1918)

I have come across several paintings of George Washington, who was a Mason, wearing one of these particular religious aprons. 

But aside from men, when did aprons become used by women? Surely their use has not been a recent thing, as most of us know. 
The actual use of aprons to keep dresses clean began around the seventeenth century, because housemaids, who typically had only one everyday dress, needed a way to complete dirty chores without soiling their clothes. 
Thus the apron became very popular, very quick. Aprons took less material to make and were easier to wash than a whole dress. And instead of changing your entire outfit, you could whisk away that old, dirty apron and tie on a clean new one. All in a matter of minutes! 

When the wave of French and English colonization began, emigrant families had to face the hardships of frontier life. The apron served as a way to carry vegetables from garden to kitchen, kindling from woodpiles to fires, and an "oven-mitt" to handle hot pots and pans with. These helpful coveralls kept bread dough, ashes and mud off the front of a dress. 

During the 1700's and 1800's, nearly every woman owned at least one apron. No matter if you were the mother, maid or daughter, if you were the average middle-class or working-class lady, you most likely worn an apron. Wealthier women had slaves or servants to do their 'dirty work', the work that could ruin their costumes (as outfits were called in the mid-1860s) so for them, there was no real need to wear an apron.  

But for any pioneer woman, homemaker or farmer's wife, aprons were a part of one's dress not just any accessory: they were something which made life easier. In rural areas, aprons were made of whatever materials were on hand - even feed and flour sacks. (this was especially common during the beginning of the 20th century.)

During the Civil War, pinner aprons were common among the working class. Many were made of darker materials to hide grime and stains. 

Some fashionable aprons in Victorian England, were more show than anything else being delicately embroidered and stitched. 

As the 1920's rolled in, women no longer wanted to be solely associated with the home front and aprons, once a symbol of 'domestic pride', according to apron author Teresa Coats. 

And at one point, the half-apron became popular as the full coverall became less esteemed. "Cutesy", "hostess", half aprons were in vogue. 
The 40's saw gingham and cheery cotton aprons replace the white ones and for a brief time, there was a revival. Aprons once again became more popular and appreciated. 
After WWII, the 'pretty' apron again became the uniform of the happy housewife. Blondie of the comic strip is one such example. 

Overall, your apron was a venue to show off creativity, and sort of what you might call "your badge." It was a garment that saluted and celebrated the homemaker. Essentially, the apron became a part of the 1950's professional housewife's uniform. Aprons were usually homemade, with the introduction of the sewing machine and cloth becoming more readily available. Homemade aprons, hand sewn and hand decorated, usually had themes that revolved around housework, sewing, cleaning, or cooking. Besides that, for practicality, homemade aprons were made out of extra kitchen curtains, dish towels, handkerchiefs, and once again, flour sacks. (don't those things come in handy!)

A lady would typically have at least one seasonal party apron, and several aprons color-coordinated to match her outfits. 
During the 60's, aprons again reverted to the half-apron, and even aprons with sayings, and bar-b-q aprons for men came about. Ever since the beginning of the 1900's, they have fallen 'in style' and out.

While their original purpose was to meet a need, they evolved into a novelty item, and an accessory. But even still, there are many aprons today that are still made for practical uses. Many professional cooks and chefs wear aprons, and many women and girls enjoy their aprons for the old-fashioned feel and the help of keeping your clothes clean. 
The culinary world now offers a variety of cooking aprons fit to bewilder the brain. Here are a few of the most common:

Bib aprons - named for the way it ties around the neck. The full length kitchen apron typically contains deep pockets and ties around the waist and neck.
Pinner aprons - get their name from the custom of pinning the apron to the front of a dress rather than tying it. This style isn't used typically in the modern setting unless in reenacting.
Cocktail aprons - the short, sassy and impractical half apron, typically made of gauzy material and associated with alcohol drinking and flirtation.
Butcher's apron - butchers still use these heavy-duty coveralls. The full length apron, made of heavy material, is often the favorite choice for a chef. Blacksmiths also continue to use heavy aprons for protection. 

Overall, I believe the apron to be a thing quite useful. It has proved itself to be helpful around the house. Whenever I am about to go work in the kitchen or make some food, I grab my apron. I also like to wear it in the garden. If I'm wearing nicer clothes while company is over, but am doing something in the kitchen? On goes the apron!