Today was the first day of my two week attempt to live like a middle class educated housewife would have in Wellington in 1916.
It was…interesting. And already I have learned some things.
I had a meeting at 10am, so I rose at 8 (rather late for 1916, but Mr D was home, and I was trying to disrupt his schedule as little as possible), and got dressed, and made tea and porridge (oatmeal) with sultanas.
First thought: getting dressed took ages. I’m pretty used to putting on historic garments in a hurry, but obviously I’d get faster through practice and repetition. Still, there are a LOT of garments to put on: combinations, a corset, stockings, a corset cover, two layers of petticoats, a blouse, a skirt, cardigan and shoes.* It all added up. If you’re the sort of dresser who takes a lot of time styling your hair and makeup, this would be comparable, but on a daily basis I’m as speedy as possible: unders, jeans, undershirt, overshirt, cardigan, chignon, foundation (if that), sorted.
Second thought: despite the usual ‘shoes before corset’ joke of the costuming world, you can’t really put your shoes on before your corset if your stockings have to hook to your corset, and slide down while you’re putting it on your corset, thus defeating the whole point of putting them on first.
Because dressing took so long I was rushing to finish breakfast and wash up (as a good 1916 housekeeper would – no leaving dishes in the sink!), and then rushing to get to my meeting, so I made a terrible 1910s faux pas.
I forgot my hat.
And it’s a beauty. Wait until I show it you to!
Anyway, oh, the horror!
So, scandalously hatless I stopped by The Fabric Store after my meeting (nothing purchased), and then did my shopping – no plastic bags, and dearly wishing I could just stand at a counter, read my list, and have the shopkeeper fetch it for me!
No one who didn’t know what I was doing commented on my outfit, because this is Wellington, and we don’t care how you dress as long as you do your job, plus we’re all artsy and eccentric too, so what makes you think you’re so different? In any case, we are all much too cosmopolitan to comment on eccentricities. Guy in a chicken suit and Death walk down Cuba Mall hand in hand? Everybody pretends not to notice, because we are too cool for that. Celebrities love it here.** Basically, lady in 1916 garb doesn’t even register.
My afternoon got slightly off schedule due to a personal matter, so I didn’t manage to ‘Wash on Monday’.
By the time I got home at 3 I was definitely starting to notice how many hours I had been wearing a corset for.
I was also noticing how unsuitable modern cars and furniture are for corsets. I’m writing this sitting on a very hard, straight backed chair, because modern couches are torture in a longline. But, it’s past 10pm and I’m still in it, so I haven’t given up yet.
Third though: This corset is really compressing my bladder. I’ve never gone to the loo as many times in a day as I have today. Luckily, it’s really easy to use the loo in combinations and a longline corset. Which leads on to:
Fourth thought: Going without modern knickers feels really, really weird. Especially when you discover how easy and uncomfortable it is to get a combinations wedgie.
I’ll leave this at that…
Fifth though: In addition to compressing my bladder, the corset is squishing my stomach. I can only eat a tiny bit at a time (though I do want to eat quite often). I wonder if I’m going to loose weight, or gain it, because…
Sixth thought: this diet is killer. Based on a menu suggestion from the Dominion from 1913 I made pea soup, sausages (they said pork, I substituted venison), and brussel sprouts. I was also meant to make ‘chip potatoes’ (potato wedges), but realised I didn’t have the right kind of potatoes in the house. And dessert, but I’m trying not to incite a rebellion from Mr D (who also got broccoli with his dinner). Based on the ingredients called for, most of the recipes in the Dominion are for at least 6 people, and I’ve decided there is almost no way to cut them down for two while still making all the dishes. I suspect wartime women living in small households had a lot more dinners that were tomato soup and sardine sandwiches and nothing else.
Right, back to the diet. EVERYTHING in it is base. And that’s hugely true for all the winter menus. No wonder all the heroines in LM Montgomery books eat so many apples. You are desperate for something acidic.
I ate an apple at 4pm. It was heavenly.
Seventh though: moving is nice, sitting is not. Poor seamstresses and typists. Poor me. Time for a sponge bath and bed!
* There will hopefully be photos of the outfit, as one of my students took some.
**Someday I will show you the photo of a seagull I took while sitting on a bench on the waterfront with Jermaine Clement sitting next to me, because no way was I going to be gauche enough to turn around and take pictures of him, but I already had the camera out to photograph the seagull when he sat down.