Friday, March 12, 2010

Persona Goals and some surpising news

This past week has been a busy one for me. First, I have completed my new website, which houses my class notes and will expand as I add more notes and research. This is something I've been planning to do for about a year now, so it's nice to finally have that off my plate.

Second, on the mundane family front, I received some rather surprising news today. My OBGYN scheduled an early ultrasound (I'm only 3 months pregnant) to double check that everything was normal. I was larger than he thought I should be. With good reason. I'm carrying twins! I'm still getting over the overwhelming shock. Other than there being two, however, everything is progressing well- they are both healthy.

On the garb front, I've made some major modifications to my project pile this week spurred by a re-evaluation of my persona goals. It took me almost 12 years to settle on a persona, which is not bad considering that some SCAdians never do, but over the past 2 years since making that choice, I haven't been too serious about it. I had a couple moments of personal realizations after the event last week that reminded me that I've been lax to commit to my chosen persona. This is not to say that I haven't made any effort (my recent research into the fitted dress, recreations of certain 15th century headwear are good examples), but I had failed to compare my projects against the goals my persona required.

I think anyone could benefit from this lesson- especially those out there who are struggling to find their identity. If you can take a good look at your chosen persona and say, without any reservation, that you want people to recognize you as that persona, that is your goal. In other words, make it your goal to attend any event and have someone know who you are because you have displayed your persona so well, you are unmistakable. For instance, if someone is told to look for you, and given the description that your persona is a 12th century Norman pilgrim- it should be no problem for them to find you.

Now, this isn't to suggest that this is an obtainable goal for everyone. Certainly, it's easier to spot unique personas than the ubiquitous 14th century French woman, but the idea still applies. Even if you're one of 25 people doing a similar persona, that still narrows the field. And if you strive to do it accurately, that's one more point in your favor. Now you're not just "So-n-so who usually wears a cotehardie:, you're "So-n-so, who does really good 14th century cotes". Wouldn't you rather be the later?

So my persona goal is this: to be recognized as a Flemish, middle-class, mid-15th century woman. This goal requires something very specific: the look that identifies me as such. What this also means is that I need to clearly define my persona. For my persona, "middle class" refers to particular level of woman. Edyth is wealthy enough, to be able to rub noses with other, possibly more wealthy, middle class women, lives comfortably, but still runs her household and rolls up her sleeves when the work needs to be done. To use today's term, Edyth is lower-middle class. This requires two types of garb- one set for daily housework, the other for social occasions. I identified some specific examples of each of these that I'd like to recreate.

Lower Class Over Gown

There are a pretty good number of images, mostly from manuscripts, that show this particular type of lower class dress (this image is from a 15th century manuscript of the Comedies of Terence.) The dress in not entirely like a fitted dress- it has a fuller skirt at a higher point, which creates a highlight to the belly, where the dress is bunched up above the belt. It is also almost always shows with the front of the skirt pulled up and tucked into the belt, and the long sleeves rolled or pushed up. This particular image shows just a long smock underneath, but I have seen this dress worn over fitted kirtles as well.

Side-Laced Fitted Kirtle

I particularly like this example from Rogier van der Weyden's St. John Altarpiece (c. 1453) of a fitted kirtle with a waist seam. This one doesn't show the lacing at the sides, but there are a large number of examples by this same artists and around this same time that do show it, so for the sake of argument, I'm suggesting that this kirtle laces up the side we can't see. This is also a lower class gown, seen on servants or others of the "working" class (or shown on biblical figures that may or may not fall into the category). Though this particular detail image doesn't show it too well, the dress is completely lined in black, girdled the same way as the other lower class dress, and sporting a similar sleeve style- push or rolled up. It doesn't appear to have buttons, though the fitted kirtle underneath clearly does. This also has a squarish neckline.

Relaxed Houpplande

Despite my reservations about her headdress, I've always liked the gown in this image (The Magdalen Reading, also by van der Weyden, c. 1438). This is just one example of the middle class houpplande that I call "relaxed", because it is generally shown with the v-neckline slightly untightened. There are two versions of this type of gown I have seen- one with a solid-colored kirtle and a patterned lining to the houpplande (with furt trim), and one like this, with a patterned kirtle and a completely fur-lined houpplande. I prefer the former, mainly because I can't see myself wearing a completely fur-lined dress, much less making one. This particular surcote would be worn for social or special occasions by my persona, rather than daily housewear.

These three dresses are just the start. I have a long list of additional fitted kirtles, a few other formal surcotes and new underpinnings to go along with them. I'm not sure which of these is the first on the pile, though, as I need materials for all of them. Fitted underkirtles, however, will probably take up the majority of my time to start- I have at least 3 planned already.

Of course, we'll have to see what twins do to my girlish figure before too much longer....