Excerpts From Whatever Shall I Wear?:

From the Introduction:

Starting out on the right foot:

This book is meant as a basic guide for women getting into historic reenactment and those wanting to hone their impressions, specifically womendoing an American colonial impression, though much of the information is drawn from and applicable to Europeans, too. It's not a comprehensive reference, but a starting point.  In the back is a list of books, suppliers, and other resources for those who want to explore further. Native impressions are beyond the scope of this booklet, and deserve treatment as a separate subject. I've touched on Regency/Empire styles, but they are also sufficiently different from the rest of 18th c. fashion that they need more thorough discussion elsewhere.

As you get more involved in reenactment, you'll find that there's often more than one way of doing things-several methods of hemming a petticoat, for example. This guide gives one or two common and correct methods, not all of them.

When I got into reenactment, I found that, while there are a lot of books n women's clothing, there weren't any good short references available. In ddition, there's a lot of misinformation and outdated research on the market, especially when it comes to women's clothing books and patterns published around the time of the U.S. Bicentennial. Research has progressed much further since then, and there's a lot of new information available, if you know what to look for, but that takes a certain familiarity with the materials. If you start out with the basic wardrobe in this book, you'll have a reasonably accurate outfit, and once you get a better feel for what's what you can choose the individual details you prefer.

Remember that old adage caveat emptor, "buyer beware"? The same applies in reenactment circles. Just because a sutler (merchant) is selling it, doesn't mean it's correct.  Just because another reenactor is wearing it, doesn't mean it's correct. Your best friend is research-read up on what people were wearing, look at 18th century illustrations, and develop your own sense of what is right-so you don't make some of the mistakes (read: complete wastes of time and money) I made when I was starting out.

A few more notes of caution: many reenactors will tell you about the loads of money they spent on unnecessary gear when they were first starting out. We've bought every neat gadget or toy we saw at a sutler's tent, only to find later on that it's just extra junk cluttering up our vehicles when packing for an event, or is just plain wrong for our impressions.  If you are joining a reenactment group, find out what that group's guidelines are and, if possible, go shopping with another, more experienced group member. A good mentor will save you a lot of money by steering you toward what you really need to buy. Also, the reenactor with the most toys is not always the most accurate person in camp, especially if you portray a middling to lower class person (upper class impressions excepted, of course). Lastly, sometimes it's worth spending a little more at first to get a really accurate item, rather than buying something cheap, only to have to spend more money later on to replace the item with something better."

Back to main page