What Not To Wear – 1861 to 1865, Part 2 / Dresses
Some of the most heinous faux pas among women who attend American Civil War reenactments involve confusion as to what constitutes an appropriate day dress or evening dress. Too many women of any age want to channel their inner Scarlet O’Hara at the Wilkes BBQ. Please let me repeat my advice from yesterday’s post~ movies do not necessarily represent reality. Just because a character in a movie wears a particular style does not make it historically correct.
There are numerous vendors purporting to offer for sale period correct day dresses, “tea dresses” or ball gowns that have absolutely no clue what was actually worn in the day. Some misguided souls pay hundreds of dollars for awful dresses that are alleged reproductions of fashion plates or original garments.
As I channel Stacy and Clinton for this post, please let me explain a few simple guidelines: 1) if it is really shiny and made of fabric that might melt near a fire, it is inauthentic; 2) if it is a “ball gown” sewn of cotton, polyester, acetate, faux taffeta, corduroy, or dupioni silk, it is not an authentic reproduction; 3) if it is a solid color dress sewn of cotton, it is not accurate; 4) if the print resembles a candy cane, a Dalmatian puppy, a Jackson Pollock painting, or has an irregular pattern, it is not period authentic; 5) if the outfit consists of a white blouse and a calico skirt- it is not an appropriate ensemble; 6) if your impression is that of a Vivandier – remember this is a military impression, not one that involves pastel prints and little Scottish hats set at a jaunty angle.
While I have recently tried to surreptitiously photograph the greatest offenders with my iPhone, I hesitate to post photos of actual reenactors because they might, at some point become customers. So to avoid alienating those who might want to use our services as period photographers, I’ve rummaged the Internet for examples of What Not To Wear in the Civil War. Please understand we who portray those actors of another time owe them the honor of doing it right.
Just say no!
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