Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.

Period Attire--There is a Proper Time and Place

I still vividly recall one of the first lessons taught in my very first high school drama class.  It was that actors who wear their costumes and stage make-up outside the theater are considered rank amateurs.  Apparently, being called an, "amateur," is about the lowest insult an actor could ever receive.


That lesson always stayed with me, and when I took up historical reenacting I applied it there as well.  Yes, I'm aware of the fact that historical reenactors don't like to be put in the same category as theatrical actors, but there are a few similarities--the biggest one being that both professions typically wear clothing that one wouldn't ordinarily wear out on the street.  And, just as with theatrical actors, there is a time and place where wearing historical attire is appropriate, and there is a time and place where it is not.


If you're in Tombstone, or at an Old West festival, by all means wear your period attire.  Even if you're not there to perform, if the venue allows or encourages visitors to wear period clothing go for it.  Even when I wasn't a member of a reenactment group, if it is a special event weekend in Tombstone, and I was there signing my books, I would wear period clothing if I was in the mood for it.  However, if I had plans to go someplace else after an event was over I'd have a change of clothes with me and put on modern attire before going to a non-period venue.  Even if I thought I'd be going straight home afterward I'd still bring a change of clothes with me just in case.  Likewise, if I'm having a book signing at a non-western venue, such as a Barnes & Nobel bookstore, I typically wear modern western wear. 


This past weekend I attended the Tucson Festival of Books.  It was my first time there, and it's a huge event. There are, literally, hundreds of authors there, and just about every book genre you can imagine is represented.  Being a non-western event I left my period clothing a home, however both days I spotted folks from the steampunk convention I'd attended the weekend before walking around in their steampunk costumes.  They were not exhibitors at this event, and their outfits drew raised eyebrows from the folks I was sharing my tent with.  They simply didn't understand why these people were in costume, and they thought they looked, "silly," to say the least.


Granted, the steampunk crowd are not historical reenactors, however wearing those outfits outside the proper venue made them look like amateurs, especially to those who had no idea what steampunk is.  That's why those of us who take historic clothing seriously should treat our period garments with respect and not wear them outside the proper venues.  Otherwise our period attire turns into clown costumes. 


My thought for the day.




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Comment by Gayle Martin on March 15, 2011 at 10:44am

I find that true also, depending on the venue.


When I was working with historical museums the standards were high.  In Tombstone the costume contests depend on who is judging them.  The year I won, "Town Lady," at Wyatt Earp Days I wore a simple, but accurate, skirt and blouse ensemble.  The following year I wore the same outfit, but the judges were different and they favored the, "Hollywood" look.  Then I joined the Tombstone Vigilantes, and since they sponsor the events I'm no longer eligible to enter the costume contests.  Yee haw!! 

Comment by Gayle Martin on March 15, 2011 at 7:50am

Men wearing 1880s period attire--frock coats, button fly pants, high collar shirts, don't really stand out.  However if I were to run around everyday wearing a Victorian bustle dress people would think I was nuts.  Especially when it's 100 degrees outside.



Comment by dirtrider on March 15, 2011 at 6:59am
By the way, Dan'l,,,,,,, how
do you git
them pointy boots onto those gunboats ya call feet????
Comment by dirtrider on March 15, 2011 at 6:57am
Dang, Dan'l,,,,,,, don't hold back,,,, tell us how you really feel....
Comment by dirtrider on March 14, 2011 at 8:07pm
"----both days I spotted folks from the steampunk convention I'd attended the weekend before walking around in their steampunk costumes."

Well now, in my humble (heh-heh) opinion,,,, they dang well look silly enyway....

"I am not a re-enactor, nor an actor. I am just an old retired cowboy that dresses the way I have alwas dressed. To have some yahoo try to put me down because of the manner in which I chose to dress is insulting."

Now other than the pointy boots, which I can never draw onto mah feet, I am with Stan all the way. Not only that, I'll bet that he and I could do some asswuppin with our canes if they git too stupid. It ain't right to jump into someone else's attire. Some people just need to be slapped.
Comment by Gayle Martin on March 14, 2011 at 11:10am

Actually Stan, you bring up another good point, and that's the, "stitch Nazis." 


There is an unwritten code among historic reenactors, and that is that you don't criticise someone else's outfit--unless they ask you for your opinion.


You're obviously wearing modern western attire, which a lot of people like to wear as their everyday garb.  I see nothing wrong with that, and while I wouldn't encourage you to pick a fight, I think you would well be within your rights to let them know that you are not a reenactor, and that you're not there for them to critique. 

Comment by Mel Graf on March 14, 2011 at 10:10am
I agree with you.  Good post.

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