My family owns an entire closet full of period costumes. We made most of them ourselves. And we love any excuse to wear them.
In that respect, we are stereotypical homeschoolers.
We’ve donned tabards and chainmail for Renaissance festivals, waistcoats and doublets at Plymouth Plantation, buckskins and coon-tailed caps at the Alamo, colonial outfits in historic Williamsburg and antebellum gowns and Civil War uniforms at Gettysburg.
It isn’t just the little ones who dress up. The teens and young adults join in the fun, as well.
And Mom. You could call me the ringleader. As head seamstress, I consider each successive wearing a validation of the amount of time I spent crafting said costumes.
Dad dresses up, too, though usually with less enthusiasm than his wife. That being said, it was entirely Doug’s idea to dress as mimes when we toured Paris. So he obviously doesn’t mind humoring this particular penchant too much.
Dressing for whatever era we’re studying in school really helps history come alive. Hence, our doing so every chance we get. Most of the time, we receive a warm welcome for our efforts, but on a couple of occasions, it has backfired.
Several years ago, I packed the colonial costumes for us to wear during a trip to Old Salem, which we did, convinced we would blend right in, which we didn’t. We could count on one hand the number of costumed interpreters we met during our off-season visit. And even they regarded us with puzzled expressions and asked loaded questions about our religious background, which they presumed must be very strict, indeed!
More recently, when we dressed in first-century tunics and robes to visit the Holy Land Experience in Florida, we were turned away completely. We had to change back into street clothes before they’d even let us in.
Evidently, the park had a policy against patrons wearing costumes. Disney theme parks have a similar rule for guests older than 14, although younger children are welcome to come dressed in their princess or superhero costumes.
Speaking of superhero costumes, we have lots of those, too. Only, I didn’t make them. That baton has been passed off, and my kids crafted those incredibly detailed costumes themselves: Thor, Doctor Strange, Wonder Woman, the Blue Power Ranger. Ironman’s body armor is still under construction, though the helmet looks fantastic.
The kids did an amazing job with all of this. Unwilling to be left out, I slapped together a Batgirl costume, as well. Three of us won prizes for our efforts at our homeschool co-op’s DC vs. Marvel Day. And, since the costumes were all finished and ready to go for opening night of “Avengers: Endgame,” some of us wore them again for that.
Just as I relished any opportunity to don the Antebellum gowns and Davy Crocket buckskins I spent so much time sewing, my budding costume designers were grateful for an opportunity to get a little more wear out of the outfits over which they’d so lovingly labored.
Even if you have no desire to dress in period costumes yourself, you needn’t miss out completely. “Living history” museums make for some wonderfully educational outings. Often the docents at these historical sites are themselves costumed interpreters. As they conduct your tour, they’ll transport you back in time and give you a better idea of what it was like to live in the period represented.
What’s more, they’re usually knowledgeable history buffs who welcome thoughtful questions, so you can learn a lot from them if you have time to pick their brains.
Places like Colonial Williamsburg or Plymouth Plantation have costumed interpreters onsite every day. These locations are so big, they take a full day (or more) to fully explore.
Other sites are smaller and may only have costumed guides available on the weekends or during special events. Good places to look for this kind of experience are military outposts, forts, pioneer villages and similar historical settlements.
Even Tyler offers a variety of such opportunities at different times of year.
In the fall, Renaissance festivals and Civil War reenactments abound in this area. Camp Ford has been known to host such reenactments in the past, and the Four Winds Renaissance Faire in Troup is normally held each October.
In early December, both the Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum and the McClendon House open their doors to the public for an evening of living history, Christmas caroling and horse-drawn carriage rides.
And, of course, March brings the opening of the Azalea and Spring Flower Trail in Tyler. For more than 50 years, young high school girls dressed in Antebellum gowns have greeted guests to our fair city from the lawns of beautifully landscaped homes in the Azalea District during the weekends the trail is open.
Three of my own daughters have served as Azalea Belles in years past. That’s how my oldest daughter, Bethany, met her current employer, a pediatric dentist by the name of Kent Boozer. She was stationed in his yard for a couple of shifts seventeen years ago, and Dr. Boozer told her then if she ever decided to go into dentistry, he wanted her to come work with him. Which is exactly what she did.
The moral of the story? Dressing up in period costumes to geek out on history may make you stand out like a sore thumb. But it also opens doors that allow you to meet some very smart, interesting and kind-hearted people. And you just never can tell where such connections might lead.
Jennifer Flanders loves and appreciates history much more now as a teacher than she ever did as a student. For more great ideas for cultivating a lifestyle of learning, please visit her blog, https://www.flandersfamily.info.