Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Respect For the Past, Part 1

I am a History Geek. As George Santayana so famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I love seeing the patterns emerge when I look back at the big picture.

I love trying to put myself in the shoes of those who lived before me. I like to try and see both sides of a story. I love the gossip and the intrigue, who needs modern soap operas when I can read about King Henry VIII and his wives or Marie Antoinette and her jewels?

Curiosity is a constant state of being for me. I always want to learn more. Who did that? Why did they do this? Where did they live? What was that like? How would my life compare?

One of the stops on my journey of History Geekdom was spending some time as a Civil War Civilian and a volunteer at a Living History farm set in 1858.

Now when it came to living history and teaching it, I am very serious. I do a lot of research. Hours and hours of reading about what people during that time wore, what they ate, how they lived, how they played, how they worked. I looked at thousands of pictures and joined many sites to learn from other people.

I researched for three months before I even started sewing my dress. I sewed all my own underclothes, only using appropriate materials and techniques. I did purchase a corset, because sewing one was too far out of my comfort zone. I also bought a hoop skirt because the cost and skill to make one was also out of my league. The hoop wasn't authentic since it was made out of plastic instead of steel, but otherwise my outfit was very, very close to what a working class woman would have worn in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

I learned a lot, not just by doing the research, but by actually wearing the clothes and going about daily tasks.

I'm going to do a series of posts about all the things I learned, this is only the beginning.

First of all, I think there is an attitude that people back then were somehow dumber than we are now. I really disagree with that. We have it easier now, that doesn't make us smarter. We rely so much on our modern conveniences, we don't know how to live without them.

Take the way we dress. So much of what we wear is made from synthetic materials because it's cheaper and that's what they style is. The thing about cheap synthetics is that they will hold in heat and moisture. When it's a hot and muggy day you want air circulation. Natural materials will give you that. Hoop skirts actually kind of give the wearer their own little climate zone. A few shakes of your skirts and you get quite a nice breeze in your nether regions!

We also tend to wear less clothing in the heat, this makes sense to us. The hotter it gets the shorter our shorts get. Well, I learned that covering up your skin with loose, breathable natural materials is actually cooler than wearing less.

Covering up also gave me sun protection. Wearing a hat, gloves, and long sleeves might seem like it would make me roast alive, but in reality the sun wasn't touching a bit of my skin. I felt so much cooler when my natural sweat was wicked away to evaporate instead of puddling. The only part of my body that wasn't covered was my face, and I spent all day in 90+ degree weather feeling warm, but not overheated.

As long as I stayed hydrated and in the shade I was really quite comfortable.

One more note on hoop skirts. They are fun!! It takes a little practice to get the hang of sitting, and split drawers really help when it comes to using the potty, but they are so much fun to wear and walk around in. I can't even properly put it into words! If you ever have the opportunity to wear a hoop, I highly recommend it!

Next time: Corsets

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