Sunday, March 22, 2015

What My Wardrobe Taught Me at War

Last week, I had the enormous pleasure of attending Gulf Wars, a multi-kingdom SCA event in Mississippi. This was the first week-long event I have been able to attend since Pennsic 32 in 2003, and my first real vacation in that same amount of time. My husband and I left our children with Grandma and ventured south for a much needed break to recharge our batteries and have an adventure.

Since the event was a full week, I knew this would be a great opportunity to put my garb collection to the test. I spend so much time sewing garment after garment, but I rarely have the chance to see how they all work together to form a functioning wardrobe. The weather reports and predictions of my friends indicated that the option to layer linen and wool was a good one to have, so I packed up every dress I have that currently fits. In addition, I packed up just about every headdress and hat I had that was remotely correct for those gowns.

View from our pavilion.
It turned out that wool was not really the ideal choice for the week. The temperatures ranged between the low 70's in the mornings to the low 80's by lunch time. And the constant threat of storms from Wednesday on mostly just manifested as humidity, especially in the early evenings. It was not the expected weather.


I did my best to mix my items in ways that worked for the weather, but also worked for my plan that day. For instance, on Wednesday morning, I taught a class on headdress, so I wore my horned veil, which I wore with the navy wool dress and orange linen underdress. On Thursday, I was teaching German Brick Stitch, so I wore my hair in braids paired with my German pleated kerchief. My ginger dress and blue day dress gave me a generic 15th century look that mostly worked with that.

I never touched the heavier wool dresses I brought, but all the linen got play, sometimes more than once. The ginger dress in particular needs more attention once it's clean. That linen has more stretch than the other pieces I've gotten from Fabrics-Store, and the higher humidity (and therefore more moisture around my body) seemed to exploit that. It needs some very careful adjustments to compensate if I'm going to get more use out of it over the summer.


My overall assessment is that I'm happy with what I was able to put together given the unexpected weather. I was able to combine pieces appropriately, and on the two days that involved wool, I felt that I'd made good choices to stay cool, both in the headdress I wore and in making sure I had a fan or stayed in the shade. I'm not disappointed in any of my pieces, even the ginger linen.

There are some things, however, that this experience has pointed out to me.


First, I need more lined linen dresses. The red rose dress, which is heavy linen lined in the bodice with linen, was more comfortable than the two single-layer middle-weight linen dresses worn layered together. I wore the red dress twice- once on Tuesday with a veil, and again for court on Thursday evening paired with my black wool open hood. If the linen was not quite as heavy, and layered throughout, I could see that very easily working as a standard summer uniform.

I don't really think there was anything wrong with my push last year to use more wool, and I'm not giving that intention up, but the hot weather last week was a reminder that the climate that we play in is not always a medieval climate. I may explore my options for silk blends or tropical-weight wool, to avoid an over-reliance on linen, but I need to be willing to compensate for the heat and humidity while still maintaining my period and persona. I have a gorgeous green linen waiting in the wings, and have every intention of using that for my next dress.

Second, I was able to determine some of the missing pieces in my wardrobe in terms of the period that my persona covers. Along with this, I can see that there's a disconnect between the headdress I tend to favor and the outfits I like to wear. These are actually two separate things, but they compound into a larger issue.


On Friday, I attended a 14th Century Deed of Arms (which was awesome to watch) and it made me realized later that I'm lacking options for portraying that last decade of the 14th century that I very specifically included in my year range when I finally settled on a persona. Since the one 1390's dress I have, the Grandes Chroniques wool dress, was too hot to wear, I wasn't able to accurately portray a 14th century look. (As a side note, it was actually completely coincidental that I was doing anything 14th century that day- I'd forgotten about the Deed.) The closest I could do was to pair my laced-front pink wool dress with my 14th century open hood. For my persona in general, this was incorrect, but more importantly, that style of hood would not have been worn with a fitted dress. They simply don't line up that way. And that means I wasn't taking my own advice by mixing the two styles. Certainly I had fair reason, but this was a great opportunity to identify a point on which I could do better.

I actively avoid falling into the "make all the things" rabbit hole that us costumers often find ourselves in, but the reality is, I need more things. They need to be right though, and not just another piece. Last week was an invaluable tool to show me why that is, and what "right" means for me and the persona I'm trying to give justice to. It's not about finding just any piece or outfit in my period and going for it. Instead, it's about assessing whether or not it's correct for me, works in conjunction with what I already have, and fits a gap. So the action item I gave myself to get started on this point is two parts. A) Separate my headdress into two categories- those I use for demonstrations and classes, and those that are actually correct for Edyth. Those that are specifically for classes can be pulled out from my "regular" wardrobe, forcing me to create new headdress that are accordingly correct instead. B) Locate at least one outfit from the 1390's that's right for my social station and can be rendered appropriately in a light-weight material.

Finally, there are some pieces that I've known I needed, but continued to put them off because they didn't seem necessary in the context of just going to day events. Specifically, I need to reassess my supportive layers. Currently, I use my linen short cote as a supportive piece under those items that aren't all that supportive on their own. The only real exception is my red rose dress. Unfortunately, I only have one short cote. It did a lot of airing out last week. The other issue was that the short cote still has no sleeves. I'd planned on attaching white linen sleeves before we left, but I'd put it off. On Thursday, having white sleeves showing on my arms would have been more appropriate than my bare forearms. These types of "back end logistics" seem so trivial in between weekend events, but they really can make or break your efforts toward a more correct look. At least one new supportive cote with sleeves is most definitely in order.


Gulf Wars helped me see the gap between what I know to be correct and what I have. It's not a huge gap, thankfully, but as I move forward in my personal challenge to focus on what's accurate on a more specific level, it's a gap that can and should be closed. In the coming weeks, I'll share more about the pieces I now feel I need.

In case you missed it, I shared my daily outfits on Facebook last week. I really enjoyed showing you my outfits each day, and I hope that those of you that followed along found it fun and inspiring.

I also want to thank those of you that stopped me to say hi (even briefly) or attended one of my classes. It means so much to me to know you're out there, watching me take this journey, and I can't thank you enough for the support you give me just by reading.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing that point of view, I really learned by reading it. Now I really have to check everything and make choices (and new clothes !!!).

    The same kind of thinking came to me after my first med camp, a few years ago (my first and only unfortunately). I thought I was prepared, ready and exact, but I failed miserably... And I learned the hard way what to do and NOT do.

    Thank you again !!! :-)

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