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Past Pleasurea re-enactment

Fri 3rd May 2013
10.30am-3.30pm

Godalming, Surrey

Friday 3rd May 2013 – Past Pleasures: Re-enactment
A joint Costume and Textile Society event took place at the Chichester Hall in Witley, Surrey. Mark Wallis, MD of Past Pleasures, together with Stephanie Selmayr, Costume Director and Laura Sheldon gave an overview of the company and showed a selection of period costumes.
Past Pleasures is a company which provides costumed interpretation on historic sites at Historic Royal Palaces and other historic attractions.
The interpreters are generally graduates and historians who undertake thorough research to write and interpret history in order to portray characters from the past in costume. They are seen as “doing the best you can to excite history”
Stephanie showed a number of her own original garments and accessories including: a blue 1830’s dress, a green silk gown and petticoat, and a brown silk gown with a dustguard at the hem. Also, an original sample corset, and a collar with very tightly pleated ruff, revealing how difficult and time-consuming it would be to reproduce. She discussed the merits of the use of originals in recreating costumes for the modern-day interpreters.
It is necessary to take into account the number of different people who will wear the costumes, providing garments which can easily be adjusted to fit; the type of activity required by the character; the need for the interpreters to dress themselves, and the need to find suitable fabrics and lace to create the correct effect. It was interesting to note that the replica costumes worn by Past Pleasures presenters often receive more wear and tear than the original period clothing. Therefore various strengthening techniques are required in the stitching and the type of fabric used to make the clothing more robust.
There are times when the character being portrayed is not typical of the period, Past Pleasures tend to have other people in typical dress of the period in order to make the scene more real.
It was agreed that it is almost impossible to recreate costumes using exactly the same methods used originally.
Laura gave an illustrated presentation of characters portrayed by Past Pleasures at various locations. For example: Romans at Valence House, Henry II at Dover Castle, Wars of the Roses at Tower of London. Past Pleasures was also involved at the Zoffany Exhibition at the Royal Academy, servants at Audley End House, slavery at Kew Palace.
After a break for lunch when we sat outside in the beautiful spring sunshine, Mark showed us part of his wonderful collection of men’s waistcoats dated between 1710 and 1910, and a selection of gentlemen’s accessories.
It was interesting to see the subtle changes to the style of waistcoats in relation to changes in fashion, from the long fitted highly decorative and flamboyant waistcoats of the early 18th century with their wings at the lower hem to fit in with the fullness of the coats, to the subsequent straighter and shortened waistcoats of the early 19th century, and thus the Victorian waistcoats often with a dark background, but with bright coloured patterns. We were also shown novelty waistcoats with hunting scenes and an unusual Punch and Judy theme.
Amongst the accessories in Mark’s collection were rare shirt collars which tied at the back of the neck and neck-cloths. Late 18th century pocket books, shoe and breeches buckles, snuff boxes, quizzing glasses, gloves and malacca sticks and sleeve buttons (an early form of cuff-links).
We are most grateful to Mark and his colleagues for their time and effort to give such an interesting presentation.
Alison Lawrence