Friday, March 9, 2012

How to Phrase the Buckskin Dress Question?

Last week I received an e-mail from a (potential?/not?) customer that was innocuous enough until today. What brought this to the forefront was seeing a stunning leather dress made by a new FB friend, and talking with a different customer about the very same issue, which made me remember all the other women who have gotten dragged out of my store by their guys because "it's not a leather dress," and before you say, "it can't be that many, Gail" trust me - it's a lot... If as many girls that get told to wear leather wore it, we'd see a lot more girls wearing it.
It's bothering me enough to put the situation & question to you, Dear Readers.

Note: I'm not taking any orders right now, so unless she's buying something I have in stock it's not an issue for me, and I don't make leather dresses anyway - so it's just a matter of who I send her on to. But how/who to send her to?

Situation: She is very interested in getting into living history/rendezvous/Rev War, and her husband has been in it for quite some time.
Issue: She wants to dress Colonial, he wants her to wear a leather dress (no indication of tribe/nation or time frame, and she says he dresses Skinner).

First: I'm not a fan of buckskin dresses. When done well, they are stunning - when done poorly, well...
I don't like wearing them - they are cold & damp when it's cold, hot & sticky when it's hot, they make funny noises when I walk; they chafe, rub & pull; they stay wet once they get wet and they smell funny. They leave little flecks of leather-sweat-slime all over me. I'm self-conscious about my hips and they showcase my worst attributes at all times, and I can't stand to wear a bra with the dress, but I'm physically uncomfortable going without. Let's not even discuss keeping all that fringe away from porta-potty water (OK, fine, it's similar to the paniers in the pee-bucket issue -- those things are just not made for pre-20th c. women)...
Overall I'm just not a fan. So it's really hard for me to play them up to anyone... though when they are done well they are stunning.

Second: I'm just stubborn enough to be irritated at one person telling another person what to wear, especially when the person doing the telling isn't the one doing the buying/selling. A gift is one thing, "because I said so" is a whole other ball of barbed wire.
Having duly noted the irony of the above statement (I'm in the business of telling people what to wear) and acknowledging that personality quirk; I'm not in the business of causing marital discord.
BUT... there are high points to buckskin dresses, namely "when done well, they are stunning."

Thinking about this issue, while sewing a lovely (yes, please turn out lovely) 1800-15 bib-front dress, I came to the conclusion that the symbolism associated with the Buckskin Dress can go one of two ways while our guy is holding up a smoky, dirty, clingy, sack-looking thing & smiling at us like a mad-man, while we're trying to read his mind (which we are terrible at, FYI) . He's either thinking...
1: You are my Sun, Moon & Stars; my one and only love, Treasure of my Heart and I want you to be my Indian Princess.
2: Burn this hunk of meat on a stick, Squaw.*
*1927-1993 definition - ick.
It could go either way, really. And us girls who aren't huge leather fans are always wondering if it's #2. There's a big difference between being your Lady Love and being your Old Lady.

In reenacting terms, a good portrayal is priceless.
OK, so you want me to wear a buckskin dress. Why? Who, when & what am I representing? What are the proper mannerisms, lodging, food, hairstyles and furnishings? What is the history of the people I'm representing? What special skills did they know? Are their descendants still around or have they died out/integrated? What goods were traded/produced by those people and with whom? Who were their allies/enemies? What is a plausible back story for this specific portrayal and at what types of events will I be portraying her and to what extent? You're not going to try to talk me into getting a facial tattoo, are you? I mean, you do know that's what eyeliner is for, right?

Is a buckskin dress the goal, and should we therefore build the character around the dress? (totally acceptable).
Or should we research & build the character first, then represent her faithfully even if she would have worn a linen shortgown & wrap skirt & wool leggings?

I could say more about humorously bad experiences with wet leather, but anyone who has ever worn a buckskin dress in a 40F rainstorm Knows.
I will say, buckskin dresses are remarkably easy to swim across a river in. Do not try that in Colonial clothes.

So I guess I have two questions:
1: Ladies, if you love/hate leather dresses - why?
2: Gents, if you love/hate leather dresses - why?

Gorgeous! Stunning! "This is how you do it!"

Umm.... notsomuch unless it's Halloween; then go for it... but not at a reenactment, please.

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