Colonial Williamsburg's Costume Design Center celebrates its 75th anniversary of costumed interpretation in 2009.
Click images to enlarge
The first decade of costuming suggests the 1700s, but places pockets too high and leaves shopkeepers in shirtsleeves rather than in proper coats.
Early trades interpreters are somewhat overdressed, since the upper classes would not have spun their own cloth. The chore would have been the province of the enslaved or rural population, who would have worn plain, utilitarian clothing.
A natural silhouette belies the fact that early interpreters were not required to wear stays: rigid foundation garments which constricted the torso into a smooth, conical shape.
Loosely-fitted pants and 1940's shoes disguised with buckles are indicators of the modern era, rather than the colonial. As costume evolves, clothing is fitted closely to the body, as it would have been in the 18th century.
The low sleeve line worn by this interpreter at the Palace is authentic to the period, but later research will show that the shirt ruffle should only extend half as far down the chest, and that the Governor's servant probably would have worn a wig.
The ladylike capelet worn by this interpreter is correct for the 18th century, but her cap is not. As understanding of antique clothing progresses, more aspects of costume will be based on surviving garments and period illustrations.
Trades interpreters are beginning to be clothed in more class-appropriate clothing, although loose sleeves and breeches indicate that improvements in fit are still to come.
Today's research tells us that these waistcoats should have twice as many buttons, placed more closely together.
Elbow-length sleeves on the ladies and oversized cuffs and scant buttons on men's coats reveal that more refinements will be made in the coming years. Plaid, abundant ruffles, hair flowers and fuchsia gowns are more theatrical than authentic.
Pinners worn on the heads of gentry-class children are charming to the eye, but not historically accurate. A domestic slave of the period likely would have worn a head wrap, rather than the mobcap pictured here.
Hunting frocks worn by the Fifes and Drums are replicas of what is considered the first truly American garment, developed by frontiersmen.
Sixties-era fifers and drummers wore white breeches and waistcoats covered by red wool regimental coats.
In accordance with military practice, the Fifes and Drums dress in the clothing of the regiment they march with, but their colors are reversed to indicate their status as musicians.
By the 70s, the once-ubiquitous panniers, or hoops, are only worn by gentry women for very formal affairs.
The choker, or "betsy" worn here is appropriate for a gentry lady of the period, but little attention is yet given to the authenticity of fabric dyes. Wigs probably would have been worn by all gentlemen at the table.
Tradesmen's clothing develops an authentic patina through years of use. Here, breeches and coats fit snugly, and each layer of clothing communicates a distinct function.
As the understanding of historic dress deepens, hair is dressed closely to the head, figure-shaping foundation garments are worn, and the gown's neckline and sleeves are proper for the third quarter of the 18th century.
The riding habit worn here is based on an original example. Made of wool, it would have been constructed by a tailor, rather than the milliner and mantua maker who typically created a woman's clothes.
The fabrics and patterns displayed at this festive palace ball are based on surviving garments and period illustrations. Gloves and wigs are worn by all, and panniers, or hoops, appear as indicators of high formality.
Spinning interpretation comes full circle. This woman is dressed in the simple clothing of a rural laborer more likely to be found in homespun than her gentry-costumed predecessor.
Costumes are fitted to each individual in the Costume Design Center. Here, no less a lady than Martha Washington is pinned and hemmed to perfection.
'A Day in the Life,' an instructional television series, is filmed in Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area, and costumes for all levels of society are part of the production.
Lord and lady Dunmore make a formal passage from the Governor's Palace dining room to the ballroom in court dress. The footmen's livery is based on a surviving letter which specified fabric color and trim.
The ornate embroidery on Lord Dunmore's waistcoat would have been professionally embroidered on a panel, then made up by a local tailor.
By 2002, all patterns and fabrics are based on surviving examples and research. From period caps to handmade shoes, every effort is made to clothe interpreters in authentic articles.
The Marquis de Lafayette joins the cast of revolutionary figures in the Historic Area. His blue and buff continentals and mariner's cuff are patterned after a painting of the Marquis. The plume in his hat is an indicator of rank.
Gentry women at tea are clothed in silk gowns and caps, both marks of high status. All interpreters are required to wear stays, which lend the Revolutionary era's silhouette to the scene.
George Washington is portrayed in civilian dress. His handmade leather gloves are based on a pair worn by Washington himself.
Uniforms for the Fifes and Drums are updated based on a surviving example in London's National Army Museum and notations made in orderly books.