Blog of Celtic Folk and Rock Musician/Dark Romantic Fantasy Author/Actress/Award-winning Producer and Writer, Tiffany Apan
Also an enthusiast of History, Cosmetics, Fitness, Books, Health Food, Primal Intentions, DIY, Holistic Health, Heavy Metal, Traditional/Early Music, Classical Music, Mythology and Folklore
Formal Website: http://tiffanyapan.com
Where History and Fantasy Collide...
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” — Edgar Allan Poe
Well hey there! I am very happy to have this lovely lady back, this time doing a blogpost! In this one, Eliza goes into what all of us living historians tend to have gone through at at least one time or another. The thing is, for every awesome, respectful, and attentive spectator, there always has to be that one that is not. Hey, just recently I had some woman trying to argue with me about my stays (or corset as it is more well-known as), claiming that I really WAS crushing my ribs and extremely uncomfortable. Apparently she knew my clothing better than me. I very quickly put her in her place with actual facts and debunking myths surrounding stays and corsets. And it was apparent that she did not know what she was talking about. Only the hype that she had heard surrounding the myths.
But that is just one example and now without further ado, I will turn the floor to Eliza and allow her to discuss her experiences. :)
Yo waddup, my peasants? It’s ur gurl guest
starring on your favorite blog!
So ya gurl Tiffany and I did a blog switcharoo
which means you’re stuck with me for the time being-- I know! You’re welcome! I
had no idea what to write, with the whole move and the wedding thing I got
going on, I’ve been kinda in a writing slump… Until now! I recently went to a
few different events at the New York Historical Society and the Litchfield
300th celebration and I encountered a few of the same situations: rude
spectators. If you’ve ever been in living history or been to a reenactment,
you’ve run into rude spectators. They ask you stupid questions, touch you, or
try to outsmart you to humiliate you in front of other spectators to make
themselves feel better because they obviously have self esteem issues. You know
the type; they’re usually a wiseguy who’s committing some sort of fashion sin
be it socks and sandals or a faded t shirt that has some vacation spot on it or
they’re a middle aged woman who’s low key envious of you because you’re doing
something fun and looking good while doing it. You’ve encountered one of these
people at some point or another and they won’t leave you alone. I’ve had a
plethora of nonsense to deal with while dressed in high 18th century fashion
and I can’t even imagine what the average camp follower has to deal with, so
I’m putting together a guide on how to deal with these types.
In my various travels, concerts, and
shenanigans, I’ve had to deal with various spectators who try to act cute with
me and I’m kinda over it so I’ve begun to employ a few tactics to turn the
situation on their heads while still remaining respectful. It’s a fine line you
have to walk, but hopefully I can help you with a few tips I’ve managed to
learn through experience so that you can still hold your own while being
respectful. The last thing you want to do is upset someone and then not get
hired back after a complaint yet, at the same time, these people suck and are
making you uncomfortable so you need to stand up for yourself. The goal with
these tactics is to allow you to interpret history on your terms with your
consent. Don’t worry guys, Auntie Sass has you covered!
So the first type you’ll probably deal with is
the handsy type. The handsy type will touch your dress, feel you up, or
straight up grope you in the name of “curiosity.” They’re usually middle aged
women who are curious about how your dress works and thinks you’re nothing more
than a living mannequin they can just touch and move. For some ungodly reason,
spectators tend to think the fact you’re in costume means that you’re
automatically consenting to being reduced to nothing more than a talking dress.
During a concert last year, I was in mid talk after a song, there was this
woman sitting in the back of the audience who--unannounced-- came up to me and
grabbed my boob. Now, yes, I’m a historical thot. Lefty and Righty are usually
up at attention thanks to properly laced stays and framed by a charmingly low
cut dress, but this time, I was in my chemise a la reine! It’s one of my more
modest dresses, so I was not hoeing it up this time! She began to feel me up
right in front of the audience-- which had a few children-- much to my shock.
All I could say is “why, yes, that’s my breast!” to break the awkward silence.
Her friend then explained that she was a fashion designer and wanted to know
how the dress worked, which was no excuse to just grab my chest without
permission. A few years ago, I was at Federal Hall talking historical fashion
with two women and one just straight up reached up and under my neckerchief to
feel by breast without my consent. She gave me no other explanation other than
she just wanted to know if they were real. I WAS WEARING TWO NECKERCHIEFS
LAYERED ATOP EACH OTHER. I’m not the bustiest individual out there but, for
some reason, wearing stays means women can just come up and touch, I guess. Men
tend to not really touch you, at least not at the breast.
How do you combat this? How do you tactfully
tell someone to get their hands off your body without making a scene? The
answer is simple, just say “don’t touch me. I didn’t give you permission to
touch me.” then politely follow up with a “would you like to know about what
I’m wearing? Please feel free to ask anything” and take a step or two back. The
step back is to not only give the spectator a view of what you’re wearing but
also give you some distance between you and the spectator. Being in character
does help, too, particularly if you’re portraying someone who doesn’t tolerate
much nonsense. When I was at the New York Historical Society, I was chatting in
character as Rebecca Franks to a group of spectators while a father took it
upon himself to show his young daughter my skirts by touching them and patting
my pocket hoops. I stopped mid sentence and said, “Excuse me, but who do you
think you are touching me? I’m a lady, you don’t just touch me in such
fashion.” he innocently replied that he just wanted to show his daughter my dress
and I replied that he simply could have asked. I then stood up and showed
everyone in the group the layers of dress I was wearing then allowed the young
girl to poke my sides to feel my stays. If you are to be touched, make it on
your terms, don’t let spectators just do what they want with you.
The next type of unruly spectator is the idiot
wiseguy who thinks he’s funny but isn’t. I know for a fact you’ve run into this
wiseguy at some point or another. He thinks he’s funny when he asks you if
you’re hot in that when it’s eighty degrees out, tells the milkmaid she’s got
nice jugs, asks why don’t you just use a Casio keyboard instead of the
harpsichord you and your fiance are carrying into the building while not
holding the door for you when you need it, asks you who are you supposed to be
in a condescending voice, He’s usually older and is trying to impress his
friends or family with his rapier wit but you’ve heard the same joke from
hundreds of other men just like him. You usually roll your eyes and try to be
polite but curt and he just laughs. I swear to God if I had a nickel for every
time I had some guy ask me if I’m Martha Washington because that’s the
only historical woman they know, I’d have enough to pay off my student loans.
Because I dress up for events as a performer or character portrayal, I get the
“who are you supposed to be” question from these types all the time and, to be
honest, it’s kinda rude. Like you’re a guest to the historic house or event or
whatever and you’re going to treat the entertainers with condescension for the
sake of humor? Even when you reply with who you’re portraying or why you’re
there, you get the “never heard of her” and then you’re stuck trying to explain
who you are to someone who made it clear they don’t care and encourage this
Dealing with the wiseguy is absolutely cathartic
when done right! The first thing you need to do is master the single eyebrow
raise; it’s the one way to silently shut these people down. Body language is
important, too, a turned back speaks more than a snappy comment because it
prevents further dialogue and allows you to move on. Erik’s just learned to
tune the comments out with busywork but I’ve figured out how to turn these
jokes on their heads and help them learn. For the “who are you supposed to be?”
remark, I reply with, “Well that’s not a nice way to introduce yourself, now is
it?” I learned this at the New York Historical Society as Rebecca Franks when
some wiseguys were calling me over assuming I was Martha Washington. Insulted,
I said I was the exact opposite, so they replied with the classic “who are you
supposed to be, then?” so I gave the “That’s not the proper way to introduce
yourself, have your parents not taught you better?” and I managed to get them
to introduce themselves then introduced myself as Rebecca Franks. This tactic
takes the power away from the wiseguy and gives you the opportunity to teach
with respect, and some think it’s funny. It’s an immersion tactic that allows
people to interact with you on your terms and keep the focus on your
The final example I’m going to help you out with
is the hooker question. There’s this stupid generalization in historical
circles that claims camp followers are prostitutes. Some of my friends who
portray working class women at events get people asking them what they’re
“really doing there” with a wink and a nudge. I’ve had a few older women ask me
if I’m a hooker, including one woman who wouldn’t leave me alone about it even
though I told her I wasn’t. Like, it’s called fashion, sweetie, look it up. I
did a whole blog post about historical makeup not equating to whores and how
our concept of modesty is incredibly different from history’s modesty. With
this woman, I turned it on her head and asked her if she was one, which she
didn’t like. She then kept harping on me before I turned around and told her
she wasn’t funny. You can explain fashion all you want, but it’s not going to
convince some people, usually older women, so all you can really do is spin it
on them. When someone asks you if you’re a whore, reply with a “no, are you?”
and watch things get awkward fast. When she says “no, do I look like one?”
reply with “as much as I do.” then before she has time to reply, go in with the
facts! It’s not being bitchy so much as putting the spectator in their place
when they’re being rude, which sometimes does need to happen in order to keep
going with your performance or demonstration.
There you have it, my peasants, a little
friendly advice from the wine aunt of living history! I hope these help you out
in the future to keep your interpretation on track and not be derailed by
wiseguys or rude spectators. Consent is the most important thing in anything be
it day to day life or historical interpretation and to not have that is to not
have control of the situation. When something like this happens, be polite but
be firm and sprinkle in a bit of humor to throw them off and allow for yourself
to take over. I’d like to thank Tiffany again for allowing me to be a guest
blogger and can’t wait to work with her again! Anyway, I’m out, my peasants,
I first met April Thomas 3 years ago when I started attending the Fort Frederick Market Faire in Maryland. I instantly fell in love with her work and it has now become a little tradition of mine to always make her sutler tent my first stop when at Fort Frederick. I and many others are out there sporting her designs at historic events, and her work has also been seen in films and tv productions on PBS, BBC, History Channel, and Discovery Channel. And as a side note, I love the Keep Calm and Wear Your Stays bumper sticker that she has available in her store (because don't you dare try to tell me that my stays - or corset as they are more known as - are making me suffer as they crush my ribs into nothing...because I'm not and they're not...sorry, I had to get that out :P ). But without further ado, check out my interview with April and learn of her experiences in the world of period clothing (and food!).
TA: First, thank you for being here! How about introducing yourself and telling a little of what it is that you do?
AT: Thank you for having me! So, my Name is April C Thomas, i'm the owner
designer & proprietress of FASHIONS REVISITED which is a small
business providing historic reproduction clothing and sewing patterns
for Living History, Reenactors, Theater, Film & Tv. I
graduated in 2003 with a Degree in Fashion Design, and decided to
basically keep out of the mainstream fashion industry and prusue my
passion for historic dress and costume. I make all of the clothing I
sell, and I draft the patterns based on all the researh ive done over
the years here in the USA
and in parts of Europe.
TA: What were some of your earliest influences when it comes to costume making?
AT: My earliest influences were simple. Gone with the Wind, my Maternal
Grandmother, and my great Aunt Zuzu. I was obsessed with the idea of
wearing ANYTHING other than modern clothing, my great aunt encouraged me
to dress however I wanted, and my Granmother first taught
me to sew. Over the years those two women, who both lived through the
great depression and WW2, were amazing examples of independence and
style...as well as some mad life skills!
TA: What sort of research do you do for the garments you make?
AT: Over the years, I have spend al lot of time in museums and private
collections to examine and learn about
historic dress, mainly the 18th century. I have spent a lot of time at
the V&A, Museum of Costume in Bath, and all over the US viewing
originals in museums. My favorite collection is my own. I have collected
antique costume for over 20 years, and have been very lucky to have
found some rare
& amazing pieces. Sometimes, early in my marriage, I chose to buy
an antique dress instead of the weekly groceries...much to the
forgiveness of my dear hubby! besides studying originals, I plow
constantly through a mountain or costume research books on an almost
daily basis. The other
place most of my money goes...books. I have many, many costume books.
TA: Do you have a preferred era, decade or century?
AT: MY preferred era is the 18th century. I LOVE french and English fashions
of that century. My second favorite is early 19th century, 1812 era. I
just love anything with a high empire period waistline.
TA: With your experience, what would you say is most misunderstood about historical clothing?
AT: In my
experience, the most misunderstood thing about historical fashions
is....people think that just because clothing is old, that its not well
designed or not well thought through. Just because people lived 200
years ago does not mean they had inferior intellegence. Believe me, if
an 18th century tailor
or mantua Maker saw our waste of fabric, and "throw away" nature of
clothing...they would be shocked. They were masters at their art, wasted
virtually nothing and had skills that would make most of us
professionals today look overpaid. I am forever learning that they have
skills we have
TA: Now in addition to making historical clothing, you also the Director of
the Historical Foodways Program for the Northern York County Historical
and Preservation Society and Historic Dill's Tavern. Can you tell a
little of what you do there?
AT: My job as Director of Foodways for Nychaps and the Dill's Tavern is
really fun, and i'm honored to be doing it! I manage our two listed
kitchens, train staff in both modern & hearth cooking skills,
develop & plan food events like Tea's & special dinners, and run
concessions when we hold festivals. Basically, I get to come up with
ideas, based on the site & historic events and create fun &
authentic events. It's amazing fun, hard work, and I'm very blessed to
be there. Just this past July, we were able to fim an episode of "A
History" with Walter Staib! It was an amazing experience, I had
contacted Walter several years ago when I first joined the Dill's Crew,
and after seeing the amazing team I am with and the site, Walter was
really excited to do an episode with us. It will air on season 11,
spring 2020 on PBS and
TA: If you had to choose between clothing in food, would you be able to?
AT: No. I don't think I could choose between food or clothing. Both are
absolutely necessary for life. But I guess if I'm pushed...it's
clothing. Nothing better that seeing a garment I made on someone and
seeing their smiling face.
TA: What do you enjoy most about doing living history and reenactment events?
AT: What I love most about living history,
is the way it helps you connect with the past. I love books, but they
can't really take you places other than in your mind. If you make food,
sew clothing and walk in the footsteps of the past....you actually
connect with it. It's very transformative.
TA: And finally, are there any future projects or events that you have coming up? Plug away!
AT: well....future projects are adding a new
line of patterns to my pattern line Fashions Revisited TM. I have been
dressing Vintage a lot recently, and have a real love for the 1940's and
50's...so I have decided to branch out into vintage! I sell vintage
pieces in my ETSY page that I purchase and sort of "rehab" as well as
reproductions that I design. My love for this period come from the Great
Aunt I mentioned. She had a clothing & hat shop from the late
1930's until she passed away in the 1990's. I was able to learn so much
from her, including some millinery tricks. I will be attending vintage
shows in 2020 and
branching out into the mid-century-modern lifestyle crowd! I am planning
to continue to make as many reproductions as possible.