29 April 2012

Occasionally I get to go out and play...

Instead of sewing, today I got to go over to a friend's house in my overalls and build stuff and get messy and play with their dogs. (Ren faire is AWESOME!) Which is to say, I've been building sets for the local ren faire again.

After spending most of the week sick with the flu (sadly too sick to really get any sewing done either) I got to get out in the fresh air today in time for a building party.

We're building an inn! Kristin was there to take pictures.

"Then the go-kart track should go over here, and the pin ball machines go along this wall..."

We can't call it an 'inn raising' if we don't stand some of it up at some point...
This building isn't for my guild, I'm labor on this outing, though my guildies certainly turned out to help. The Hearth of St Brigid (my guild) has always carried an ethos of being the cross-guild players, taking the "All for one and one for all" aspect of being a faire player beyond our guildyard, to include the whole of the faire.

We were helping out a new crew that has risen at WMRF called the Guild of Saint Julian that will be portraying an inkeeper and his staff, plus various guests and regulars. The inn will be created like theater flats, decorated and painted and assembled as a modular set that they can add onto over time. 

It's a bit exciting for us since the guilds in our faire have historically operated mostly out of tents. This is the first time our faire and thus our guilds have grown and prospered sufficiently that it's feasible to start assembling real sets.

Fair is in August and there's a lot to do between now and then, but we made great headway today. This is going to be great!

15 April 2012

Garb: Some thoughts on a troublesome word.

There is a word at the top of this page that carries a lot of baggage in our community. I'm speaking of "Garb". It seems odd to me to spend a lot of time discussing a simple noun that has been around since at least 1580, which was used by Shakespeare in Hamlet and Coriolanus to describe the fashion of a country (sometimes in reference to language, sometimes attire). But discuss it I do. 

In fact, in costuming forums and in real life, I am constantly called upon to defend my use of the word by those who hate it with a passion that I find surprising. And of all the linguistic eccentricities for which I might be called to the carpet, why choose garb?

"Because it's a word that describes quite accurately what I'm doing here" doesn't seem enough for most of my challengers.
garb (plural garbs)
1. A type of dress or clothing.
2. fashion, style of dressing oneself up
3. (figuratively) a guise, external appearance
Seems simple enough. We need a word to describe the fashions and styles of another time, to differentiate from the fashion and styles of our time. So we reach for a suitable word and run with it.

And trip over all the people trying to stop us.

Last week, I sat back and watched a group that I used to belong to turn itself inside out in an argument about the use of the term 'garb' on this blog and others. Mostly -- though I went unnamed -- it was clear that the instigator was upset by my use of the term in another forum. The teeth-gnashing, and eye-poking that ensued among partisans on both sides was truly something to see.

It's just a word, people... or is it? 
In search of historical context, I went looking for the source.

I reached out to Jon DeCles, who was there when both the Society of Creative Anachronism was born and when Phyllis Patterson was struggling to bring the Renaissance Pleasure Faire to life and asked him what he remembered of the use of the term "garb" -- this is what he said:
I can recall the use of 'garb' in the format of 'medieval garb' being used in the earliest days of the Society for Creative Anachronism, i.e., the late 1960s. The point was to make a distinction between 'clothing' and 'costume.' The distinction was an important one because costumes didn't have to have pockets or fasten with period fasteners, they just had to look good from a distance. It was an important point because the SCA got many people from Science Fiction Fandom who were used throwing together splendid costumes for one use at a masquerade ball at a convention, often made from old stuff they got at a thrift store but often bearing little resemblance to anything 'period.'
I still remember Phyllis Patterson struggling with getting people to understand, at her Renaissance Pleasure Faires in those days, that hot pink satin hennons were not characteristic of the Elizabethan Age.
(Thanks, Jon for taking some time out of your day to answer an out-of-the-blue question for me.)

Jon's note confirms what I have always assumed: that the application of the term "Garb" or "Renaissance/Medieval Garb" has always been used to differentiate between clothing and the one-use costumery of the masquerade ball or the October traipse through a corn maze. It's a bit of jargon we've adopted to set our costuming apart from other sorts of costuming.

One of my missions with this blog and as a costumer in general is to make this pastime accessible to all.  And to do that I have to get newcomers past the ingrained cultural baggage that 'costume' has in the United States at the dawn of the 21st century. Because we are combating an implicit association between the word "costume" with the word "Halloween".

If your goal is to become a costume historian, I pray you, don't use the term. The academes get quite sniffy about nomenclature. If you are talking to new recruits to this pastime and want to sidestep the first thought that pops into their head when you say 'costume' (no matter how anthropologically correct it might be) then pick a different word. Any word. Honestly, we've so debased the coin of 'costume' that anything else is better. I don't really care which one you use as long as you don't stomp on someone else's choice.

From where I sit, it's a lot like freaking out when someone uses the word 'dude' in modern life instead of 'fellow' or 'guy'. Oh, it happens -- I hear people get mad about it all the time, but I don't understand it. It's hard not to think that some folks just enjoy being annoyed by things they cannot control. Garb has become ingrained in our subculture, it is part of how we differentiate between the clothing we wear in the 21st century and the clothing we wear when we step into the past.

Here's the thing... There has always been a bit of a noticeable rift between reenactors and historians, which has led to a desire in many to strive to 'be taken seriously by the establishment'.  And on a fundamental level, I think that this desire to abandon anything that is specific to reenactor culture arises from that. When the academes sniff at our efforts, it hurts a little. I work at a college, I've seen the looks directed my way when I talk about how I spend my free time.

If you're a reenactor and a certified costume historian (or any kind of historian) you are standing astride two worlds, increasing the friction felt from things that are specific to the culture of one and disdained by the other.  Though that is changing. I believe that the rise of 'Experimental Archaeology' like the folks in From a Green Valley can be tracked back to the assimilation of reenactors into the historical fold. The idea that historical lives can be understood without directly experiencing them has been eroded. By us.

So if you're walking the academic road, I salute you. Within your world, I certainly understand that those looks are troublesome. I feel for you. I honestly do. But anytime that leads you come after me, to make it my problem, you've crossed a line.

Why anyone cares what I call my stuff is anyone's guess. I use garb, attire, clothing, and other words 
interchangeably, because as an advanced user of the English language, I know that's how it's supposed to work. Telling me that one of those words is 'bad' comes across as rank hipsterism.

Whether you intended it that way or not, that's how you are coming across: "Garb is so yesterday; we say 'attire' now, loser."

Having long ago set aside use of the term "garb nazi" to describe the holier-than-thou costumer and for a long time I've been using 'garb snark'. Maybe it is time to set aside that term now and start using 'Costume Hipster'.

I implore all of you: Go forth from this place and be nice to one another. Use all of your words. Use the correct words. Hell, make up some words if you want to. Don't just use the ones that the cool kids tell you are cool today. 

Anyway, that's my two cents. Don't spend it all in one place.

- Scott

13 April 2012

Doublets: The Waiting Room Sessions

I'm a stress-stitcher. And being home for the beginning of my mom's long slog through the labyrinth of breast cancer was a time that inspired me to turn to the needle and thread for some relief.  

While I was touring the waiting rooms of central Missouri hospitals, I sat with needle in hand, fielding questions from old ladies who had apparently never seen a man sew before. And in between questions, I completed a red doublet and got most of the way through a blue one.

Here are some pictures.

01 April 2012

My Time Machine

As a reenactor and as a writer, I spend a lot of time delving into the past and exploring what life was like at various points in history. I've lived in the renaissance and written about WWII, Prohibition, the Great Library of Alexandria, and Shakespeare. And a question I often hear is "Do you feel like you were born at the wrong point in history?"

I believe that children are our future: So 
feed them well and use them to fuel our 
time machines...
(Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that since I wrote Howard Carter no one has asked whether I was born on the wrong planet.)

It annoys me at times, but I suppose it's a fair question.

Let's face it, I have a lot of skills that aren't of much use in the 21st century. And by the metric of the rest of the country, my childhood was more on like my dad's than it was like the rest of my peers. We didn't have a video game system or computer. Dad didn't believe in them. I learned to type on a typewriter (as is right and proper.)

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' farm where I made a lot of my own toys. I built rafts. I sank them. I swam to shore and built new ones. I played with GI Joe while we listened to Fibber McGee & Molly on the radio. I watched Star Wars like every other kid of my age, but read voraciously from a library that was stocked mostly with books written over a half century before I was born.

My friends refer to this as a 'sheltered upbringing' but I'm not sure I'd agree.

My childhood was a Mark Twain novel ghostwritten by Ray Bradbury, filtered through an Archie comic.
The world that was shown to me on MTV seemed distant and somewhat surreal, simultaneously more modern and less than the world around me.

I still prefer hand tools to electric, my typewriter to my laptop. It probably also explains why I have no real attachment to those wonders of modern technology that the people around me can't live without. It's not inarguable that I really am a man out of my era and I wouldn't blame you if you thought that if given a time machine and license to use it that I'd be off like a shot.

I certainly used to think so.  Why, I may have been misplaced several centuries! I even said as much to my dad once. Dad looked at me and kind of snorted and said "Take off your glasses."

Touché, Dad

I have allergies and poor eyesight and I have an asthma inhaler in my pocket as I type this. Even when I join in a historical reenactment and try to sink into a past age, never far from my mind is the fact that I never would have survived childhood in these past worlds.

Books are my time machine. Then and now, they are my preferred method of time travel. If someone offered me a trip through time I might not take them up on it if I cannot close the cover and return to the modern era any time I wish.

And it's not at all about the asthma inhaler. The women around me are valued as highly as the men. My wife is an engineer. My boss is a woman.  I can see someone passing me on the street and talk to them without see more about them than just the color of their skin. I can say whatever I want here and as long as I don't libel anyone, no one can stop me.

Because honestly... the 'good old days' weren't that good.

So until the man in the Blue Box comes to escort me to the opening night of Hamlet and then safely home again... I like this time period just fine, thanks.