So, for the last 5 years it has seemed appropriate for me to be the outsider at the Civil War events my family attends. If you are unsure what I'm talking about, you can see my husband who's a "real" Abe here http://alincolnlive.webs.com/ .
My role is most often child care, costume room organizer, food and water supply, secretary and script writer. But, someone recently saw fit to "dress" me up and invite me out for the evening. She offered to make me a gown of silver gray, with two different tops, one for a ball and one for a fashion/tea show I will be attending this summer as ((drum roll))......Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln. Right now, it's just a one time appearance, until I'm able to present for a full weekend.
In the meantime though these fineries gave me a chance to spy out what actually goes on at these shindigs Spring Balls. I mean, it can be quite intimidating knowing your husband is out dancing the night away on the town with overly clad women in silk. Why shouldn't I?
In order to save my self-esteem, I did a before and after picture. So, don't judge! It takes an element of loosing yourself to step back 200 years in time and become something you truly are not comfortable being, everything from hairstyle, pleats, hoop skirt, and even a corset. Wow, what a ton of work just to get dressed. Did you know you have to get everything on before the corset, because you cannot bend over to tie your shoe or pick up something from the floor.
Then you have to learn proper etiquette. Like, always, always stand at the gentleman's right side, never show your ankles, do not cross the dance floor unattended or you'll be thought of as forward, never by any means turn down an invitation to dance, never wear a red gown, hair nets are a must to keep all your hair in place, and gloves are to be always worn so as never to touch bare skin. By no means should a man's hands touch your waist or vs. ((Phew, after I learned all that, it took all the fun out of spying!))
I was to be Widow Nottingham with my daughter Ms. Nottingham and her friend Ms. Sanger. Here we are just before we stepped back in time flaunting our new-millennium-modern-women-look with our techy toys.
Our costumes were made and delivered to the upstairs of the hall where we had a huge carpeted room with mirrors and furniture to lounge on and several other women comparing their fancies. All we had to do was show up and get pampered. It was a great experience and fun.
Here we are, all dressed up and ready to go......
It was a revealing experience of what we have seen on one of our favorite Civil War movies Little Women, caddy women comparing their goods to each others. And the fear of being asked to dance or not and worse yet, dancing with someone you don't wish to. Not to mention even knowing the dances. Thankfully we had a masterful master of ceremonies and he talked you through every move. It was always nice when you pair up with someone who had been at it a few times before.
But there was that one dance, myself and 3 other single teen women, all we could do was giggle. We had to escort ourselves off the dance floor and find a room to let it all out. We laughed to tears, recomposed ourselves in the powder room, and returned to the floor. Goodness, it's hard to remain composed. How did they ever do it?
Then there was Mr. Lincoln. He scandalously asked me to dance with him 4 times that evening. I thought his extra attention awkward, but it was much fun, I've decided to return again sometime.
And, all in all, Mrs. Lincoln gave me very little to "spy" about. She doesn't prefer much dancing herself, due to arthritic knees, so she was happy to see Mr. Lincoln having a good time. She truly is a good sport (as I am myself!).
All in all, it was an evening of learning. As I continue to prepare for my next roll, as Mrs. Lincoln as a guest at a society fashion and tea show, I'm learning that I'm not one to romanticize the Civil War era. During these times many suffered, lost lives, and it was a time that evil (slavery) made many men and women rich. So the question remains, how do we portray these parts and pieces of history and not become delusional to the realities of them. It was appropriately stated by one of our fellow actors that the Civil War was a time of great loss and while they dressed as best as they could for these social events, many had to learn to focus on a greater reason to gather than to just show their fineries. I liked that idea and will hopefully continue to find a greater purpose for all these fancy duds!
"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and,
under a just God, can not long retain it."
(The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln - "Letter to Henry. L. pierce, April 6, 1859).