Article: Gentle Guidance About Fashion Mistakes

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What Is The Best Way To Inform Someone That They Are Making A Period Fashion Mistake?

By Duchess Willow de Wisp, OL

Let us imagine that we know someone who has been doing better and better at making costumes and everyone is very pleased with how they look and you go to look at their new costume and you see them making a mistake that you got burned for in your early years. What do you do?

If you just come out and say “that’s not period” they will think you are the authenticity police and that you are rude. But if you say nothing, you know that what they are doing will undo all the good work that they have done so far. You can just hear what people said to you and about you when you made that mistake.

Do you care enough about this person to clue them in when it will be thrown back in your face? You know if you say, “So-and-So will think less of you if you wear this as it is,” they will go to the people and ask them. You know from past experience these people will look the person in the eyes and say, “Willow (put in your name) is unreasonable. You can wear anything you want. No one has the right to keep you from wearing it.” Then the person will come back and say, “Mistress (put in name) says you are unreasonable and I can wear anything I want.”

You are left there with egg on your face thinking, “Yes, you can wear anything you want and they can refuse to support you for awards.” And two years later when the person still hasn't gotten any awards and they are wondering what they are doing wrong, you hold your tongue because if you say, “It is because you look like a newcomer and a fringe player because of what you are wearing,” they will get very mad at you.

Because many people today do not want to be political -- and giving someone advice, even if they ask for it, is political -- they will not share insights into how we play the game. I heard Peers and Nobles saying “it is not my job to teach”. I heard cop-outs like, “They don’t want to learn.” Or “I had to do it on my own -- they should be able to.” “They can look it up.”

Let’s look at those answers:

“They can look it up.”
There is a general concept that you can “look up things” on the internet. Yes, you can look it up and get hundreds of answers, but if you don’t know much about the subject how can you tell if the information is valid? The Internet is always changing, so a site that was really good was there one day and gone tomorrow. I have seen some really bad advice on the Internet.

What about the library? You know how many costume books my local library has? Two. They are the ones currently in print and they really are very general. I had talked to a young lady who discovered that in her library there was only one book on the medieval period. I questioned that, so I went to my local library and found three. When I asked the Librarian about information, she directed me to the computers. You can get some things from interlibrary loan, but you need to know the name of the book to request it.

You can buy the books. I am sorry, but young people, people with children and old people with set incomes just do not have the money to speculate on books. You see a promising title on line, but when you get it home it is all fluff. We need to provide people in the SCA with useful titles.

"People just don’t want to learn."
That is a silly statement. Why are they in a historical club if they don’t want to learn? It isn’t that they don’t want to learn -- they don’t want to be lectured at. They do not want to be made to feel stupid. No one who is going to a lot of trouble to make a costume and hand sew things on it is making a mistake on purpose. I bet they did some research. We just need to get them data before they buy the fabric.

I have never been good at telling people about what they are doing wrong. I just can’t get it right. Once, many years ago, a young lady wanted to do a Byzantine outfit and bead. She brought me some fabric to look at. The fabric had the right design and it was beautiful, but it was polyester knit. In a soft voice, I tried to explain to her that if she took the time to bead the piece that someday she would want to put it in a contest and they would give her a hard time over the fabric. I then said, “But, it is your right to use this fabric if you want it.” I swear the only thing she heard was “right”. Two years later when it was finished -- and it was one the best beading jobs I had ever seen – it did not win the competition she entered, since the judges just could not get pass the polyester knit. They gave it almost no points at all. She was furious with the SCA. She was furious with me. She said we were unfair and she quit the SCA along with at least three other people. I didn’t want her to be mad at me so I was very vague. In the end I lost four friends.

In my time in the SCA I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of people leave the SCA because they were criticized for having something not period. If we gave them just a little help, maybe we would have kept them. The best thing is to get the information to the people before they make the mistake.

Whose job is it to teach people? If you look at the kingdom, it looks like we have a person for every job. But that is far from the truth. In the “game,” we have peers and nobles and in the medieval times, they would all have households. They would teach people, and the nobles higher up the chain would take people from their vassals, and they in turn would teach them and their Lords who spirit them away. For example, a knight has a personal Herald and the Baron sees him doing something well for the Knight and asks the Knight for the use of the Herald. The Herald is now the Baron’s man and in that job comes in contact with the King, who sees that the man is very good at what he does. The King requests the Herald’s service from the Baron. The Baron is pleased to let the King have his Herald because this puts the King in his debt and if the Herald makes good, his good fortune may rub off on the Baron. At the very least, this makes this Barony the place to go if you want to advance in this world. And what about the Knight? Well he has served his Lord -- and if his Baron is good, he will be grateful to the Knight and show him.

This was the pattern that Ansteorra had for many, many years. The households would get people started. Then Barons and Baronesses had courts that trained up people. It was from these courts that the Kingdom would fill its posts and make its peers. But, this system is not in play anymore. We used to expect every Lord and Lady to set up some kind of household and do their duty in training, teaching and helping new people. If someone did something well, the Lord and Lady of the Household would bring the individual to the attention of the Baron and Baroness and peers in the area. The Peers were expected to work with people, not only in their own households, but anyone in their spheres of influence.

As we behaved in a medieval fashion (which is persona play) in our medieval world, this teaching and training and helping just seemed natural. Now, we have a hole in the bucket. We have many people coming in that do not have enough information to advance to really be part of the SCA. Getting information seems too hard and they have the feeling that people are hoarding their information. The effort of getting into the system takes too much time and money, so they quit.

When we have a problem like this happen, then it is on all of us to help out. We need to kick start the system again.

Here are some things we can do.

  1. Try to get your group to sponsor more revels with historical or education theme. What, have parties?? Yes! Little parties of this kind allow for non-threatening education. People can show off their clothes and tell their horror stories about their first costume. You can even have a “worst mistake” theme where people bring in their “worst mistake”. You could have a “Bring Your Costume Books” party where people show off their favorite - or least favorite - costume book. These parties can promote learning. (For example, Namron held a “Banned By The Church” party. You could be just like people in medieval times and go out and make a new outfit flouting the banned item.)
  2. Bring your books out to fighter practice and other activities.
  3. If you are a performer -- do pieces that shares your knowledge about the Middle Ages.
  4. Set up an area at meetings that has educational displays and if possible set some stuff out at events as well. Do a display in the area.
  5. Do not let your events become “clique-fests.” Make sure your group does something at your events that shows a historical activity and encourage people to interact. This will spotlight people and what they are doing and wearing so newer people will get the idea of who they should model themselves after.
  6. Praise people who are wearing good costumes in public and in small groups. Remember what people used say about children” little pitchers have big ears,” and realize that this is true about newcomers, too. They are picking up data all the time as to what we believe to be proper for the SCA.
  7. Talk to people about everything and anything and listen for the questions. Many people in today’s world find it hard to ask questions, so encourage them to do so. If you do not know the answer -- help them find someone who might.
  8. Realize that we, the people, make the SCA and that it falls to all of us to teach, train and help. Also, we need to be sure our information is correct -- so we should compare notes and seek the advice of knowledgeable people and research and share that research.
  9. Write articles and reviews of books and articles for your local newsletter.
  10. Take on a newcomer and mentor them for a while. Set up a system with other people so the new person gets a larger and larger pool of experience to draw on. Don’t think of it as a permanent arrangement, but like training children who will grow up and someday have a place all their own. You have a goal -- to make a this individual into a successful Ansteorran.