Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dressing The Part

KB Inglee (guest blogger)

KB is an historical interepreter at Greenbank Mill and Philips Farm in Delaware which is the setting for her children's book Farmer's Daughter, Miller's Son. You can reach KB at

Clothes make the man. OK in this case woman.

I have returned from three days in 1804 where I served as cook for the Corp of Discovery for 21 middle school kids. I spent the whole time in smoked and sweat soaked period clothing. The smell no longer washes out. Lewis and Clark probably never ate as well as we did, though I am sure they smelled worse.

I am still in the early stages of being a published writer with a kids' book and few short stories out there, I agonize over what to wear to book signings and literary parties. One of my friends mentioned her writer's outfit, so I bought a jacket with early American farm scenes on it and a long black dress to wear under it. If I need "regular clothes" I just go to my closet and there it is waiting for me. I never wear it to my own signings.

When I started writing historical fiction a friend and Civil War re-enactor said I had to wear the clothes in order to understand the world in which my work is set.

I was writing about the 1890s, but I made myself a Civil War Quaker Woman outfit out of a tan bed sheet. No hoops, no bows, no fashionable drop shoulders. With long stockings, tight ankle boots and a hat with a feather, I had a complete outfit. Oh, yeah, no corset.

I did feel different when I put it on. The three petticoats tangled around my legs as I walked and I was forever tripping over the floor length skirt. Ah, hoops keep that from happening. I wrote two short stories about Civil War re-enacting and one about a woman who took up spying to get her sons through the war safely.

While wearing my 1860s duds I wandered into a living history museum that presented 1790 to 1830 and stayed to volunteer. I needed a new suit of clothes, this time more comfortable and serviceable. Everything pinned or tied shut. My petticoat (we call it a skirt these days) came to my ankles, not the floor. Even the shoes were more comfortable. I wrote two short stories set in the early republic and three set in a living history museum. One of them was turned into a murder mystery evening as a fund raiser for the museum.

My main interest is still the 1890s, so I made what I call Emily suits, one of aqua satin and one a dark red gabardine skirt with white shirtwaist. I will wear one of these when my novel is published.

I have just made myself a Lewis and Clark period dress with the high waist and a straight skirt. It's a gray striped cotton satin. My book is set in 1816, so it is perfect to wear to my own book signings. People notice. I have yet to write the stories that go with it but I can feel the ideas bubbling up when I put it on.


Sandra Parshall said...

I love the pictures, KB. The clothing of any era says so much about the lives of the people. My favorite historical period is the reign of the Tudors -- what amazing clothes they wore! The aristocracy was seriously into self-torture, the men as well as the men. Those beautiful costumes must have been hell to get into and out of, let alone wear. I think modern humans are close to achieving good common sense in dress, with the emphasis on comfort, but in discarding elaborate costumes we've lost some of the color of life.

Julia Buckley said...

Terrific work, K.B. You are quite a seamstress, not to mention historian.

SherryT said...

Hi, KB!

I think you should use your first picture for the back flap of your future books.

I didn't know the Lewis and Clark outfit was working story-creation magic on you already!

Maybe I should get you to make me some clothes. Got anything in a Tumult Age Narthran costume?

Sherry(fantasy novelist)T

Rhonda L said...

KB, these photos look as if you stepped out of The Stream of Time. Also, because I'm what would now be considered an "old school" darkroom enthusiast, I kept wanting to take the photos to B&W and then sepia tone them. (Note to self: gotta learn Photoshop. :-)) Thanks for a fun entry, KB.