Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Advice on a Wardrobe Core

A Dear Friend is trying to make sense of what his civilian wardrobe for re-enacting should consist of. Today, I will use a friend's wardrobe as an example to try to shed more light on the topic of a "mix-n-match" wardrobe core that I introduced in "Best Bet Wardrobe for Men and Older Boys". Other postings that might be helpful include: "A Citizen Considers His Wardrobe" and the series, "Do I Know You?"

Before one can discover what garments will be most appropriate, one must first evaluate the types of events, occasions, and tasks he will attend, paying attention to the aspects of life that will affect clothing choices. That’s the subject of an article of it’s own, so I will draw your attention to the pertinent information.

My friend is in his middle years, with a professional class background to call upon, and lives in a temperate climate. His re-enacting season usually lasts from late March through early December. He seldom camps, but does attend events where leisure attire is convenient. He prefers to tailor his portrayal to the event scenario. An average season will see him portray a factory worker, a farm worker, a small town physician, an apothecary, a plantation owner with a medical degree, and a surgeon with the Federal Army medical department.

With such a list one might think my friend is a “clothes horse” to have so many suits of clothing and question how anyone can afford to have clothes for each of those portrayals.

He has created a wardrobe toolbox. Think of it like Legos or trading cards. One has several starter packs to choose from and each “world” has expansion packs that will compliment the starter pack.

My friend’s starter pack consists of 4 shirts (2 white, 1 calico, 1 check), 4 pair of drawers, 6 hankies, 6 pairs of socks, a pair of shoes, a pair of dark blue wool trousers, a wool waistcoat/vest, suspenders/braces and 2 cravats (one green, one black).

His first expansion pack gives him pieces appropriate to working portrayals. It includes a wool over-shirt, a neckerchief, and a soft cap. He has a further expansion pack for cold weather that includes a wool pilot coat, knit comforter, and mitts.

His second expansion pack gives him pieces appropriate to office and professional portrayals. It includes a wool frock coat, a plush top hat, and a pocket watch with a locket fob. His winter expansion pack here includes a wool shawl, leather gloves, and a walking stick.

Just like Legos, separate pieces are available to offer more variety. My friend chose to add a second pair of wool trousers in a cheerful windowpane check, a snazzy silk striped waistcoat, and the Death By Fuchsia cravat. He also added a sporty coat to take his working class portrayals to town or his wealthy portrayals on a casual outing.

Because he avoided pieces that were appropriate for only upper or only lower classes, most of his garments can be worn in the appropriate occasions no matter the “class” he’s portraying. 

As he's gown and expanded as a re-enctor/living historian, different garments have become the focus of his core and he's sold off some of his original starter pack to re-invest in solitary pieces he now has the experience to know he'll find more useful. 

Start small, build slow, invest in quality rather than quantity, maintain carefully. 


**Please note the photos are property of the respective photographers and may not be mined, reprinted, or copied without express permission of the owner. There is a good reason names and photo tags are not used here. Please respect that choice. Thanks. :-)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Portrayal Series: Second Hand Clothing Dealer

Recently I have been privy to a few Dear Newbies who are considering whom to "portray." Also, I recently put together a new "portrayal" that was kinda special. It seemed a perfect opportunity for a new series.

A Bit of Background...
I had the opportunity to participate in the Civilian Town of Purdy for the 150th Anniversary of Shiloh by the Blue Gray Alliance. This gave me a chance to explore a new method of civilian re-enacting at a large "battle event." I was impressed with the possibilities of this event model. When the opportunity to participate in the Civilian Town of Gettysburg at the Blue Gray Alliance 150th Gettysburg came up, I wanted to come up with something special.
One goal of these civilian towns was to give civilian re-enactors a chance to create a "camp" that was a bit more like a "town," only with canvas standing in for permanent buildings. A few hearty souls dared to select artisanal crafts and aid societies to "display", but most selected to feature a canvas home. With a firm belief that homes are only a start to creating a "town," I wanted to add some period commerce to Gettysburg.
I am a tailor of re-enactment attire "in real life" and recently added in a ready-mades line. I am often called upon to illustrate the various layers of civilian clothing worn by people of the mid 19th century. I have created clothing for several mannequins to demonstrate this. In short, at any given time, I have a lot of 19th century clothes I can call on.
A favorite topic of mine is how people of the 19th century acquired their clothing. Putting my clothing stash together with a desire to add commerce to Gettysburg and share how people acquired clothing... I chose to portray a second-hand clothing dealer.

Clothing Dealers of the 19th century:
In an era when clothing patterning was still in the hands of elite artisans, every garment produced must be used to it's full. The second-hand clothing markets answer this need in many ways. Modern folks tend to hear "second hand" and associate with inferior goods and inferior work, worn by inferior people. Such associations tell only one small part of the second-hand story.

How clothing becomes "second hand" in the 19th century:
  • Garments produced by tailors or dress-makers that have gone unclaimed by the customers for whom they were produced might be sold to a second-hand dealer for re-sale.
  • Wardrobe from someone who passed on might be sold to a second-hand dealer by surviving relatives.
  • Garments might be sold to a second-hand dealer to off-set financial obligations or facilitate a new purchase.
  • Prisoners, Asylum Inmates, and Poorhouse Inmates might have garments sold to a second-hand dealer to pay for their treatment. (There's a good reason second-hand dealers are known as "ghouls" and "vultures" in period literature.)
Garments might be sold to second-hand dealers several times in their lifetime, finally bought by the "rag-n-bone" who would sell them for pulp or scraps.

A person starting as a second-hand clothing dealer would begin with a pack basket of clothing and travel from town to town, stopping at farms along the way. When business picks up, he might acquire a cart or wheelbarrow and may decide to stay closer to an urban area. He would make a point to attend the Market Day given in most small towns. Some larger urban areas had a market building and clothing dealers were quick to rent stalls there. A few clothing dealers would acquire buildings of their own for their enterprises.
The occupation appealed to many recent immigrants.
Canal Street Market in Cincinnati, Ohio ca. 1860 by Henry Mosler   Notice the clothing stall on the left, as indicated by the cage crinoline hanging from a fly peg

We acquired the 1860 Federal Census for Gettysburg early in the research process. There was no market building listed, but quite a few listings of "clothing" in the "occupation" category. I knew from other census research that "clothing" as an occupation might mean two things, either a second-hand clothing dealer or a ready-mades dealer. Voila, I could be in Gettysburg as a second-hand clothing dealer and it's supported by the census.

What's the difference?
A ready-mades clothing store is filled with clothing that not been owned or worn before. Second-hand clothing has been owned and likely worn before. Ready-mades is like Old Navy, Second-Hand is like a thrift shop.

Shop lay-out:
Because second-hand grew out of pack baskets and market stalls, some disorganization was needed. Clothing was sorted into loose categories and then displayed in piles. The customer sorts through for things they like, they hold them up to assess fit, and they buy or not. A few items might be featured on pegs along the wall.
Piles of sorted mens' and boys' clothing on one of two tables
The two tables and a peg in between them

My "shop" was a tent fly attached to a tent, so I had a ready supply of "pegs" for as long as my tent was supported. I added two tables (yep, modern plastic folding tables... period folding tables would have been ideal, but one works with what one has.)
Tent Posts filling in as "pegs" for "better items"

I chose a unique method of shop identification that may have been an "inside info" item missed by many. Painted lettering in the glass windows was used extensively in the 19th century to identify and advertise shops. We read accounts of damage to shops in Gettysburg due to vandalism and looting several days before we were to portray. I chose to "think like a 19th century person" and cover my "broken window" with a blanket and attach a paper identifying my shop. This let me get by with a less professional looking sign and added a conversational bit.
Blanket covered "window" with paper shop sign

Interactions with others:
I now had physical space, inventory, and background history... next up was customers. Shopping in the 19th century is different than shopping today in many ways. I put together both an introduction sheet and an FAQ to illustrate some of these differences for fellow participants.
One of my greatest failures in this was the confusion of my enterprise with a merchant of re-enactment goods (sutlers), like those seen at most events. "Is it *really* for sale?" was heard more times than I can count. To my great shame and embarrassment, I responded less than graciously to some of the latter friends who asked.
If I were to do this impression again, I would insist that all garments are "props for interaction."

Event organizers brought up how accounting and inventory control would be handled. We agreed the period method of credit accounts that must be settled up would work nicely. I created personal account books for this purpose. For inventory control purposes, we also agreed that only persons associated with "our town" would be allowed to make purchases.

A typical interaction:
The customer enters and expresses they are interested in a certain garment, say a girl's pinafore. They are directed to the pile of aprons and pinafores. They look through and find one they like. They ask, "how much?"
The haggling begins. (like a modern used car purchase, the quoted price is just a starting point for negotiation of the purchase price.)
We come to agreement on the price.
I list the purchase in the customer's account book and in my day book.
Off the customer goes with a new (to them) pinafore and their personal account book.
At the end of the day, I transfer the listings from my day book to the account ledgers (which are organized by customer's name.)
When the customer comes in to settle up, the personal account book and my account ledger must agree or we look for errors.

I greatly appreciated those who did attempt to interact with me appropriately. I regret the confusion for those who misunderstood the sales status. I hope fellow participants learned a bit about shopping in period.

Thanks to N.W. Briggs for the photographs of my display. Please do not mine without permission and credit. Thanks. :-)