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Battle of Plattsburgh Requires Authentic Clothing

  High-neck dresses with bottoms that sweep the floor ranging in an array of colors and patterns — this is what women wear during Plattsburgh’s historical re-enactments. Re-enactments center around remembering the Battle of Plattsburgh, and participants look to 19th-century fashion for inspiration. If you are thinking of participating in a re-enactment here are a few things to consider: First you have to do some research. It’s important to be time period correct. Know the different rankings in the military and the class system because that is the social indicator. “People didn’t have phones or cars,” says Sue Walters, an…

Clothes

 

High-neck dresses with bottoms that sweep the floor ranging in an array of colors and patterns — this is what women wear during Plattsburgh’s historical re-enactments. Re-enactments center around remembering the Battle of Plattsburgh, and participants look to 19th-century fashion for inspiration.

If you are thinking of participating in a re-enactment here are a few things to consider: First you have to do some research. It’s important to be time period correct. Know the different rankings in the military and the class system because that is the social indicator. “People didn’t have phones or cars,” says Sue Walters, an affiliate of the Battle of Plattsburgh Association. “The only thing they had to advertise was their clothing.”

Once you know your time period, develop your character. “Come up with a back story for yourself, know why you don’t have certain clothing.” Your character will let you know what clothing you should or should not wear. A general’s wife would be dressed in more elegant clothing compared to a soldier’s wife. Now that you know whom you will portray, you can start thinking about what clothing to wear. For women, an empire waist dress that usually has a drawstring under the bust, buttons in the back and with short or long sleeves is traditional. “Empire waist has a very distinctive look and was ideal beauty,” says Walters, who also recommends women put their hair up. “The hairline went up and the skirt went down.”

If you are looking to make your own empire waist dress and you’re not great at sewing, Walters recommends giving yourself two weeks. “Empire waist is straight sewing. If you can sew a straight line, you can sew the dress.” It was common to have clothing made of silk and fine linens rather than homespun cotton, which was considered a luxury item. Wool was common for soldiers because it was durable and easy to get. However, re-enactors prefer linen because it’s a lighter fabric, allowing people to stay cool, and it doesn’t catch fire easily if your re-enactment duty is to cook at camp.

If your imagination is lacking, and you want a glimpse into re-enactment clothing, make a trip to the War of 1812 Museum. Here you can find some examples of re-enactment clothing on display to inspire your own. During the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemorative Weekend, your fashion and back story will be put to the test as re-enactors come together to recreate the War of 1812 as soldiers, generals, wives and more.

The Battle of Plattsburgh will be held Sept. 10-13 with the Battle of Plattsburgh Parade Sept. 12 starting at 1 p.m. Historical re-enactments are a lot of fun, but they’re events you should definitely plan for. Walters’ best piece of advice, “New re-enactors should go simple, start thinking about your story and start talking to people!”

Issue 5: Summer/Spring 2015

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