Last month I spent a lot of time thinking about getting into character, and why I had been having so much trouble with the new role in the Victorian Garden. I've been struggling to learn all the gardening, to finish my clothing, to find ways to get into character and relate to my visitors. Often it takes some time for me to feel comfortable in a new role, but this one has seemed almost torturous (though that could have been the corset.)
The day in the garden that I felt the most confident, the most "in character" had a lot of things going for it, I had time to prepare the day before, I was given garden tasks I knew I could do, and I went into the day feeling very pretty.
The evening before I managed to sew a few more hook and eye closures on my costume, so my pink petticoat was no longer held on with pins, and the back of my skirt at least had the hook, even if the eye was still a safety pin. I know that those two little things made absolutely no difference to the visitors, but to know that I had made even some tiny progress on my clothing made me feel better in the clothes. During the day itself I was assigned a garden task that I felt confident about (watering and fertilizing) and in the afternoon I was joined by the summer camp kids in their cute pinafores, which I always think is great fun.
I had been visiting with a college friend the few days before, and I remembered from so long ago his skills at French braids. I asked, and he accepted so when I arrived in the morning my hair looked fabulous. Those braids, even more than the clothing fixes, and the camp kids made me feel 100%. All day long I greeted every visitor with a flirtatious smile and a story about growing up in Portsmouth. I got the gardening chores done so fast, and I did not second guess myself too often. I know most people could not see my lovely coif under the bonnet, but I made sure to take off my bonnet as much as possible.
Am I being shallow? Is this a weakness on my part? I think it is entirely a reflection of the history I am portraying.
In Shapiro house I wear a big frumpy apron when I am inside, and a massive dark raincoat to go out. I wear an unflattering orange shirt that I made out of flannel, I mix brown, black and navy blue. Mrs. Shapiro was a thrifty woman. She cared about feeding her family well but did not worry about feeding herself. Her husband unplugged the alarm clocks during the day so they would not waste electricity. I do not have photographic evidence of Mrs. Shapiro's fashion sense until later in her life, but I feel fairly confident surmising that her own clothing did not matter much to Mrs. Shapiro.
Victorian ladies are something different altogether. We have stories of them changing outfits three times a day. Even their underthings required help for proper fitting. Susan Dewey specifically was known as a beauty and a charmer. In 1870 she has been married for 3 years and has come back to her home town for the summer. Though I only have a few facts about Susie, I surmise from the mores of the time if nothing else that she would look pretty well put together, which is something I struggle with.
So I often find it tough to have the confidence to play Susan Dewey. To play her well I think I need a servant to see that I'm properly attired before I'm ready to face the world, or the museum going public. Or maybe I just need to find ways to feel pretty.