Sunday, December 19, 2010

Playing Rev War Dress Up

 On Saturday, December 4, I spent the day spinning at the historic Hale-Byrnes house. I'm a native Delawarean, but I'd barely even noticed this house before I googled it. In fact, I had many, many doctor appointments at each of the medical offices that flank this house, and even so, I never saw it.

 I'm not sure if this will be legible once it's posted, so here you go:
Hale-Byrnes House
Stanton, Delaware
George Washington's "General Staff Headquarters" on September 6, 1777. Here Generals Washington, Lafayette, Wayne, Maxwell, Sullivan, and Greene planned defense of Wilmington. House built circa 1750 by Samuel Hale. Owner 1776 -- Daniel Byrnes -- a miller and preacher. Restored by Delaware Society for Preservation of Antiquities. Donated to State in 1971.

A friend very kindly lent me a selection of period clothes to wear while I spun. I'm no purist, so I wasn't period-correct from the skin out. It was quite cold that day, and old houses are notorious for being marginally warmer than the outside temperature.

I'm putting aside what little vanity I have to show you, from the unmentionables out, what a woman might wear during the Revolutionary War. I did have serious thoughts about decapitating myself in these pictures but figured that looking wan and tired was also probably period-correct and so should stay.

Note, please, that any errors in description or naming are mine. My friend, K.B., who loaned me these clothes, is period-correct and knows everything ... I don't.

Here we have the shift. A woman wore this next to her skin -- no underwear, no bra. She might wear a corset or stays over her shift, but that's it. I chose not to go the period-correct route primarily because I knew there wouldn't be any "costume checkers," but also because it was pretty cold that day.

 Over the shift goes the petticoat. Now I'm not sure if this is actually a petticoat or if it's a skirt. I think it's the latter, but who am I to argue? The waistband of this baby is twill tape, which means one size fit most women, regardless of girth.

Next is the "modesty." It's basically a square of fabric that's folded once to make a triangle. The small pointed ends are tucked inside the shift, and the large point is outside the shift in the back. I pinned the front ends to my bra so that I wouldn't have to worry about it creeping out of place. For a piece of cotton, it did a really good job of keeping my neck and decolletage warm.

The dog is optional.

 The short jacket comes next. K.B. made this with fabric that came from Williamsburg -- pretty zippy, eh? And speaking of zips, this jacket has neither a zipper nor buttons. During the Revolutionary War era, the buttons went on the men's clothing; women's clothing was secured with pins.

Remember the song in the musical 1776, when John Adams's wife asks him to remember "pins, John ... pins"? Well, this is one of the reasons why she wanted them. It would be pretty hard to get things done if your clothes were flapping open in the breeze.

 The next layer is the apron. Notice how my figure is looking more and more like a packing case? Well, a woman's silhouette was pretty much a rectangle with a head and two arms sticking out.

And the piece de resistance (sp?) is the cap. This one was a tight fit -- I don't know what I would have done if my hair were any longer than it is (about 3 inches all over). If it were a better fit and I did have long hair, the hair would be stuffed into the back part of the cap. Women wore these caps to keep their hair clean and to keep it from falling into the fire or whatever else they might have been working on. This was a practical and functional article, not (as some may think) a symbol of women's oppression by men. I don't know about you, but I sure wouldn't be happy if my hair fell into the soap vat, the fireplace, the baby's dirty diaper, or whatever else I'd have been attending to in the 1700s.

So, that was my outfit. Underneath I wore black tights, a pair of SpecialEd's black socks, and a pair of black ankle boots. Everything worked out great.

So, the next time someone asks me if I'd be willing to come demonstrate spinning somewhere, I'll know what to wear for the Rev War era. If I don't need to dress in period-appropriate clothing, then I'm good to go.

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