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Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Joan Leotta has been playing with words since childhood. She is a poet, essayist, journalist, playwright, and author of several books both, fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She is also a performer and gives one-woman shows on historic figures and spoken word folklore shows and teaches writing and storytelling. Learn more about Joan and her books at her website. 

Storytelling—An excuse to play dress-up!
Civil War Costuming

As a professional performer and writer, I have the excuse to wear "costumes." When I perform shows from the US Civil or Revolutionary War eras or other historical periods, I find that costumes help reinforce the verbal and storyline cues. Moreover, wearing the clothes of a person of that era, allows you as performer to literally "walk in the shoes" of the characters you have created. Yes, wearing a corset and large crinolines does affect the way you walk, sit, and think about your daily tasks.

As a writer, wearing costumes to a signing calls attention to your book and helps put you in the mind of your characters during the research phase of your writing. Civil War appearance is one of the easiest of past eras to duplicate. Not only is there a plethora of actual books and drawings available, but also there are organizations called "sutlers" who frequent the many Civil War reenactments. Undergarments will be the most expensive part of your ensemble, especially the corset. And yes, in almost all cases, you will need a corset to achieve the proper "look". Modern lingerie store options do not give the correct look to your body. Do not waste money on those.

Many of these purveyors of clothing and more also have a strong online presence. If you are writing about an historical period like the Civil War, attending a reenactment will act as a time machine—well, almost.

Unless you are performing in a National Park, you can obtain costumes (all except for the underwear) that are cheaper by purchasing patterns (if you can sew) or buying costumes that "look" authentic but have hidden zippers, etc. 

Here are my favorite resources:
For Inspiration--Gody's Lady's Book
This magazine was once only available to those with funds to purchase old copies. Now you can peruse it online. Women on both sides (Union and Confederate) kept up with the latest fashions via this publication. At one time over 150,00 subscribed.
www.accessible-archives.com › Collections and Coverage

For the practical—two sites
When it comes time to dressing yourself, I highly recommend two sites: Both of these tell how to put your ensemble together from underwear on up, as well as help you choose patterns, accessories, etc.

Secrets of the Heart
In the middle of the night in January, 1865, two Union soldiers set out on a reconnaissance mission just before the battle of Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Rinaldo DeBartolo wants to finish the mission and to return to Italy and his sweetheart, Emilia. When he and his partner, Walter discover hidden gold, a trail of secrets begins.

That trail winds through the Italian unification, two world wars and a tangle of immigration to reach into Rome Italy in the 1990s at the time of Desert Storm. There the descendents of the American De Bartolo family meet Rinaldo's descendents.

Kathy Ann, the youngest of the clan is working a gap year as a journalist in Her writing endeavors and the family's reunion become complicated by romance, stolen art, and the discovery that not all secrets, even family secrets, are good ones.
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1 comment:

KB Inglee said...

You are so right.
I was on a boat carrying Civil War reenactors from Delaware City to Pea Patch Island. The woman who was sitting across from me didn't have enough hands to keep her hat in place and her hoops under control. I vowed that day never to wear hoops. A friend suggested I be a Quaker. I put together a simple dress out of a bed sheet. I can now dress in the periods of my characters (1640, 1750, 1860, and 1890). I wear which ever is appropriate for the signing and I always stand up, never sit behind the table. People who won't approach the sitting writers are happy to come up and talk to me about my clothing.