So here it is, the eagerly anticipated beginning to the sesquicentennial celebration. I will be kicking off the living history year in April with an event in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. It should prove to be an outstanding event with a great mix of things to see and do for a wide variety of Civil War enthusiasts.
With that being said, I found myself in need of a new bonnet. Have you ever been bonnet shopping? It is not something I find myself liking. Without the proper research, you could potentially spend at least $150 and up on an incorrect one. There are so many styles and shapes, let alone materials to choose from, but how do you know if you are getting something that is "good enough" or something that is historically accurate? Let me tell you, it isn't an easy task.
So, with my research information handy, I was a woman on a mission. I happened to stop at a local "sutler." Upon entering the store, I saw the most beautiful bonnets, from a distance. Upon closer inspection, they were made out of synthetic materials, the flowers were not of the correct material, and the lace on the brims were hot glued on. I proceeded to engage the cashier in mild conversation about the weather and such and when she saw me looking at the bonnets she gave me permission to try some on. I had indicated to her that I was not looking for ones that really had all the fru-fru lace and frillies on the insides, just something very simple to go with my impression of upper lower class farmer's wife, which might I say is vastly underportrayed in my area, but would be the most prominent of the time of the Civil War.
The cashier then proceeded to still encourage me to try them on and stated that ALL bonnets had the lace and other frillies on the inside. Now, armed with my new-found bonnet research, I knew this was not the case. There were bonnets that existed during the Civil War that did not contain said frillies. She then proceeded to get out her book of Civil War CDV's, to which I gladly took a look at. And lo, and behold, one of the first ones in there was a very simple one without lace. And it certainly was not hot glued together.
It's these types of things that really grind my gears. If you want to own a store and sell items, that is fine, but please don't peg yourself as being authentic when it is clearly not. If the maker of these beautiful bonnets would have taken the time to research and construct the items properly, in a period correct way, I would have purchased one in a heartbeat. Three years ago, I wouldn't have known any better and would have purchased one because I hadn't done the reseach, I would have bought it because it was pretty and matched my outfit.... And unfortunatly, that is what many people do.
I can't stress enough how very important it is to spend time researching an item before you purchase it. Do you want to spend $200 on something and turn around a month or a year later and find out that it is not historically accurate? I sure don't, especially in today's economy. I work hard for my money and it is not something I easily part with, especially on historical items that are hot glued together. I understand that we can not do everything as they did during the time of the Civil War, but we can try to be as accurate as possible, so that we are able to educate the next generation properly. After all, isn't that what being a living historian is all about?