There are some hard truths that you will learn once you start working in colonial costume. Some are fun, some are weird, some are just downright bizarre. But working in full colonial get up is something that very few people can say that they’ve done. And even fewer can say that they’ve enjoyed.
You will use your apron for everything
Aprons are meant to mainly be decoration on your costume. But like our colonial predecessors, when you work in said costume, you will find yourself using your apron for just about everything. When you need to carry lots of items, it becomes a basket. When you want to have a different look to your outfit, it becomes a fashion accessory. When you want to dust off the register, it becomes a swiffer pad. And when you don’t have a tissue and it’s a goddamn emergency, it doubles as a Kleenex.
You will have to listen to tourists complaining about the heat
When I was a hostess at Chowning’s Tavern and Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, I often worked outside on the porch. In the Virginian heat. In an abbreviated costume that still required socks that go up to your knees. It never failed that some annoying guest would come up and complain about having to wait outside for dinner in the heat. At the time, I would be fully covered and sweating like a pig, observing this person in shorts and a tank top complaining about the weather.
You will have to lace up your own stays
Back in the colonial days women lived at home until they were married, then they settled down to pop out kids. So they never really lived alone. So they always had someone to help them get into their underwear. Unfortunately, this is not always how it works in the modern era. Eventually, you will find yourself alone and seeking desperate measures to get your stays on by yourself. When I went to the Costume Design Center and told them that I needed help, they suggested that I get dressed at work and get one of my co-workers to help me get into my stays. Which, my co-workers are awesome, but they’re not that awesome. I need to be able to get dressed by myself. Like a real adult.
You will go to the grocery store in costume
There comes a time when, for whatever reason, you can’t get home and change. You end up going to the grocery store, going out to eat, going to the doctor, going on a date, or doing something outside of Colonial Williamsburg while still in costume. Without the context of the colonial setting, you look just plain weird. People will stare, children will point, and you will just get on with your life. Because this is just something that happens to you when you work in costume.
People will touch you
When I was working at the taverns, one time I was folding napkins in the hallway with my back turned and a woman came up behind me and started to untie my apron. Feeling that I was being undressed and not at all happy about this, I yelped a bit and whirled around. The woman backed off, looking sheepish and said that she just wanted to see how I was tying my costume. Rob, one of my co-workers, told me that he was working one day when a random woman came up and just started to undo the buttons his waistcoat. She kept going until things were about to get awkward and Rob had to physically stop her.
It’s interesting to people when you’re wearing these costume and in completely authentic period pieces. But then they just get handsy and things get weird. Just because someone is dressed up, doesn’t mean that you get to touch them. Even if they’re wearing something really cool.
If you’re a dude, everyone will assume, at one point, that you’re Ben Franklin
Rob told me that there’s a pervasive theory around the guests at Colonial Williamsburg that if you’re male and wear glasses, no matter your age, your build, your dress, anything, they will ask if you’re Ben Franklin. I work with Mike Thomlinson, who is a Ben Franklin impersonator that puts effort into looking like the man. So when people ask if he’s Ben Franklin, we just laugh and say yes. But for someone thinking that Rob was Ben Franklin, that’s a little more than a stretch. But these are just things that will happen when you work in costume.