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Beginner's Corner

Yea, Verily, Now We Be Stylin'!



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No, it's not skinning bucks............ Developed and maintained by JP Finn


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Yea, Verily, Now We Be Stylin'
by
Phil Jose

If you've kept up with these articles, hopefully you've started getting a handle on how to talk the talk of a skinner. In this article we'll start work on how to walk the walk. (Though be forwarned-- that's a mighty difficult chore in contemporary shoes.) The first step is getting you out of those funny clothes you've been wearing and putting you in some proper duds.

Getting properly clothed is like anything else in this hobby-- you'll start small and take your time. I can hear you out there: "I wanna get started big time, the money's burning a hole in my pocket, an he's telling me to take my dang time again!" yep, and with some dang good reasons-- what if you spend that zillion in cash and six months down the pike you decide that buckskinning's not really what you want to do? Or, you do like it, but you decide to develop a different persona? Believe He Who's Been There, it's better to burn a little extra time than a bunch of extra money.

Remember when you first started developing a persona, how your started with a "generic" life and filled in the blanks as you progressed? Getting your wardrobe up to speed is much the same process. Your first efforts are going to be mainly symbolic. For the guys, you'll more than likely start out with a "boatman's shirt" (a type of oversized pull-on shirt). Ladies, there's no disgrace in showing up dressed out for the first time in shoes and stockings that are obviously modern. Don't think that you have to have a full change of period-proper clothes for that first dress-out. The first time I considered myself "dressed out" I was wearing a period-proper boatman's shirt, contemporary black denim jeans, and tennis shoes.

Are you going to feel odd not dressed properly for either this century or the one your persona haunts? I certainly hope so. You should set a goal to be dressed a little more authentically each time you attend an event. It's a great motivator.

Before we get started, there's one other thing I want to mention. If you're a couple who intend to go to rendezvous together, dress in the same social strata. This may mean tweaking your personae a bit. However, you can blow a lot of your camp's authenticity by not adhearing to this. In the times that your persona lived, the social structure was far more rigid that it is today. A fine Boston-born lady would certainly never be seen with a longhunter.

Guys, start out with that boatman's shirt for your first purchase. They're big, loose-fitting things that resemble a short nightshirt. The beauty of the boatman's shirt is that it will get you by for any of the time periods covered in these articles. For the earlier periods (F&I and RevWar) stick to solid colors. For the Western Fur Trade, small floral patterns are good. White cotton or linen works for any period, especially if your persona lives in town.

Next add your footgear. Keep in mind that even if your persona isn't that of a woodsman or mountain man, the moccasin is acceptable for the poorer-class folks. (Ladies, this applies to you, too.) If the thought of mocs doesn't appeal to you, then make do with just about any black leather shoe until you can research what kind of period proper shoe you need. And beware-- period proper shoes get expensive.

The last item you'll want to change over are pants. Before you buy a pair, you might want to see about picking up some sort of "possibles bag" (a pouch that hangs over a shoulder). That's because you're going to have give up one of the most convenient of the modern conveniences-- pockets. The britches you're going to wear in your "new" life aren't going to have any. Trust me, you'll need a place for wallet, keys, cash, etc. If you're doing Western Trade Era, you can start out with a pair of white painter's pants and red suspenders.

Ladies, I can't speak from experience for you. Any kind of field testing would require me to shave my beard, and that's where I draw the line. However, having more guts than sense, I herewith offer this advice:

You're probably going to spend more money initially than your male counterpart. To start with, you'll need a "chemise," a cotton garment resembling a nightgown, over which you'll wear "petticoats" (which translates into "skirts," not the undergarment that probably first comes to mind). Be prepared to wear at least two petticoats and have about a three inch strip of wool sewn all the way around the hem. (This is a "spark guard" for when you're near the open fire.) Finally comes the "bodice," a vestlike anti-bounce device that respectable authorities tell me should be worn tightly.

Another couple thing m'lady needs are some sort of hat, and a "pocket," the junk-collecting equivalent of a purse that is made of cloth and tied around the waist. Shoes and stockings can be saved for last. (If your persona is poor enough, you can consider going barefoot.)

For the rest of your ensemble, I'll let you ladies complete it after you've researched your persona. Please don't think me a coward-- it takes a brave and foolhearty sort of guy to give this many fashion tips to a female audience.

There's one fashion tip that's universal: if you have a friend that's getting you started and offers to lend you anything to be a little more authentic for those first few dress-outs, don't be shy about accepting it. Should this happen, then congratulations, you've just had that first taste of acceptance. Being lent to and borrowed from is part of the skinner's way of life.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned anything about leather clothing. Even if you're dying to jump into that buckskin shirt and britches, hold off for a while. Leathers are expensive and usually custom made. Remember that the proper cut and embellishments are widely varied, depending on your persona's era and locale. Save up your cash, do your research, and make sure you're going to stick around for a while before you commit to leathers.

I'd suggest that you first start dressing out for rendezvous in warm weather. This will buy you time before you drop a good sum of cash for a coat or cape. If your persona is of the higher or middle classes of society, capes are a good idea. They are also proper for both men and women, and very warm. For the rest of us lowlives, your first cold weather gear will probably be a "capote," a coat that resembles a hooded bathrobe and goes down to at least the knees. Again, these are quite proper for guys or gals. Capotes are made out of wool blankets, and are warm. Put a capote over your other woolen winter clothing, and you're set for some pretty cold weather.

I'd like to make another suggestion: if your pocketbook doesn't allow for cold weather gear for the first winter, remember that it's no disgrace to "daytrip" (walk through an event for the day and go home) some winter events as a flatlander. That way you can at least keep your eyes open and see what folks are wearing to keep from freezing.

There's a very important point I want to drive home. When you're gathering together your wardrobe, make certain that the fabrics are all natural-- cotton, linen, wool. The unimportant reason for this is because synthetics will make you the clueless laughingstock of the event. The important reason is that in so doing you're looking after your own safety. The natural fabrics tend to smolder or burn when a spark hits them and gives you time to react. Synthetics, on the other hand, will melt and stick to the skin underneath. The time to consider this is well before that spark from the campfire pops out and lands on your clothing. If you think I'm exaggerating, meet me in camp. I'll show you my winter leggings-- they have several small ember burns all around the cuffs.

So now it's time to take the plunge. Are you going to buy your clothes or make them?

If you're planning on buying them, keep your eyes open at events. You'll often find shirts, petticoats, etc. for sale either on Traders' Row of from "blanket traders" (folks who don't make a living from rendezvous, but have odds and ends for sale or trade). The only drawback is that you may or may not find what you're looking for, depending on the size of the event.

If you don't want to wait, there are places to buy from, via mail order or the Net:

Making Time
(314-830-0079, www.makingtime.com).
While clothing is a sideline for most suppliers, it is Making Time's stock in trade. The workmanship, materials, and research behind the clothing they sell are top quality, yet the price on that first set of duds is still going to be well within your reach. I can personally vouch for this establishment as I've had some custom-made clothes done by them.

Oakhill Enterprises
(716-468-2669, www.frontiernet.net/~oakhill)
These folks carry a fine line of clothing and accessories for any time period from 1640 through the American Civil War.
(And I can vouch for this one jp)

Smoke and Fire
(www.smoke-fire.com).
Those folks that publish "The Smoke and Fire News" also have a mail order service that includes clothing.

James Townsend & Son
(www.jastown.com/)
James Townsend is a mail order house that specializes in the F&I Era. Among their many lines of goodies is clothing.

For the adventurous, think about making your own change of clothes. Even if you're not that adept at sewing, don't worry-- they needn't be perfect, just period proper. It's also a handy rendezvous skill to acquire. Simple things like boatman's shirts and petticoats are great "for sale or trade" items. And let's not be sexist here, either. Guys, there's nothing wrong with giving this a whirl for yourself. In fact, (it's bragging rights time,) I not only make most of my own rendezvous clothes, but I -- ahem! ahem!-- handstitch them together.

Here's a couple of the better pattern compaines out there. All I have here are addresses, so you'll have to revert to the period proper custom of writing for a catalog:

Missouri River Patterns
Box 314
Dennison, TX 75020

Eagle's View Patterns
168 W. 12th St.
Ogden, UT 84403

Also, if you've already picked up the Dixie Gun Works Catalog (see the second article) have a look in there. They have a good selection of patterns from many different companies.

If you're contemplating picking up a pattern that you saw in your local fabric store, stop it right now. The "Little House on the Prairie" look that you'd wind up with would get you laughed out of camp.

Be sure to check the instructions on the patterns carefully. Usually, there's good advice in them concerning the proper materials to use, however sometimes the step-by-step directions leave a lot to be desired.

So here we are at the end of the sixth article, with the information in it that you wished was in the first. Remember though, that I warned you that there was a lot of work ahead of you. But with this article, you've reached a critical plateau. Start dressing out and you're going to start feeling differently about yourself. You're going to start seeing events in a different perspective, that of the doer, rather than the wannabe. More importantly, the participants in the events are going to start seeing you in a different perspective. You're going to sense that their attitude is changing. While most skinners are friendly, they're going to start being friendlier. That's a good sign of acceptance.

Have you arrived? No. But now we know that you're interested in getting there.

Copyright 1999, Philip Jose.


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