Tuesday 17 May 2022

Dressing One's Character


Solid historical interpretation is far more than putting on funny clothes and talking about the famous events that happened in famous people’s lives. History is made by everyday people going about their everyday lives. The public wants to connect with people they can relate to…so you will get questions like ‘Who are you?’ ‘What is the job you are doing?’ ‘Why are you here?’ I would like you to consider, if Samuel Champlain was putting his team together, think of it as a Zombie Apocalypse Team, what would your roll on it be? Think about your own character and the role you would play on that team. Now, build your character and your interpretation around that person. Don’t think about trying to portray a famous person, build your character around what you, yourself could bring to the table. It will be far more believable if you can weave your own self into the historical character you develop.

When developing your characters, consider the site and its history, but also what your own natural personality will bring to the site. It’s far more than simple class distinctions or famous people. What is your own natural being? Are you naturally a type that likes to get your hands dirty? Should you be a labourer rather than a nobleman? If so, what sort of accessories should you have with you apart from your standard issued costume? Where would these items come from, self made or purchased, where? What sort of pocket trash would you have? Think about the items you use daily in your regular life; what would those items look like in the period you are interpreting?

You can teach the facts while engaging with the other sensory interpretations at the site. If you are cooking, what smells can you use to draw people in, what sounds do people hear while you work? What does the site look like around you? What can the visitor touch to understand their new environment better? If you are gardening, you can ask the visitors to help out, teaching them about 17th century foodstuffs brought here by the explorers. If you are tending to animals, you can weave the story of how Port Mouton got its name, or how woolen cloth is produced and traded. Working in the Trade storeroom, you can talk about hunting practices, trade with indigenous peoples, you can even bring in thoughts on how we saw each other differently and why. These are all things that the visitor can relate to, as they themselves cook food, tend their summer gardens, may have pets, and also notice how we treat each other in the modern era and may be wondering why this is so. They can relate to shared common history because they can put themselves in their ancestors shoes.

Here is where I am going to get into the nitty gritty of getting the visual narrative correct. When you approach the visitor in historical clothing, THAT ALONE is your first impression. You must go into every visitor experience with the understanding that they may know more about the clothes you are wearing, or the history you are talking about than you do. Please take the time to fully understand what you are wearing, why, and how to wear it correctly for the 17thC. If you begin learning how to wear your new clothes as they were meant to be worn, they will feel less like a costume, and you will have a better understanding of how your historical counterparts moved through their lives. The architecture of the site will start to make more sense to you as you learn to feel like a 17th century person.

Often, people would like to take the easy route and think that modern people don’t really know what historical people looked like. I challenge this idea and think that with enough exposure to art and media that modern people do know what historical people looked like, at the very least, they know when something looks wrong. They will notice the smallest details, like wearing skinny jeans underneath your petticoats, or white modern tube socks underneath the cuff of your trousers. And yes, they notice when your shirt is untucked, or you look like you haven’t taken the time to dress in a historical fashion.

So what will you be wearing?

Laura Ripley and I at an SCA event, Both in early 17thC clothes.

1 comment:

  1. Well thought out historical clothing commentary that I, myself, try to live by.
    Thank you for the posting.