As much as I hate to admit it, I love being the lady of the manor. I love wearing the fancy gowns, and doing 'girly' 18th century things- sewing, dancing, playing music, making jewelry…. The list is endless. But what I usually get paid for is being the everyday working class gal- you know, the cook, the seamstress, the servant. Not complaining, nope not at all. Money is money is money, and in this day and age, with historic sites closing right and left and museum jobs nowhere to be found, I will do just about any character my clients choose. I of course do not play strumpets though I did once in a film, but I'll just let ya think about that one for awhile.
Normally I try and do a midway between what I call my skivvies (beat up short gown, worn out skirt, old old broken in apron) and my lady of the manor (hand draped, hand sewn silk ball gown). What that usually turns out to be is a nicely made linen English gown with no trim that I dress up with accessories, or a period correct print gown with some, not much, trim.
And I hate to admit it, here comes the snobby me, why would one want to dress up like a servant if you don't have to? Then I saw this painting and it changed my mind.
So when I came across this lovely lady in the de Young museum in San Francisco I was mesmerized. How lovely is she! The painting is called Market Woman, by Thomas waterman Wood, 1858. Though it is about 80 years later than the period I usually work in, she spoke to me. I love the way her head wrap and her neck kerchief match in that lovely pink silk or printed cotton. And look at the apron- pieced together off center. The colors make her joyful. Nothing has been wasted in making what would be an everyday work outfit into something beautiful. Simple. Clean and lovely.