Saturday, July 28, 2012

 American Duchess, you're famous.

The Friday evening before last I ventured out of my lovely, bleary-eyed, unwashed cocoon of GRE-studying mania and drove up the road a'ways to a natural science/history museum. This was for the second in a series of lectures and workshops that have been scheduled this summer called "Clothing the Back-Country Housewife." This particular lecture dealt with gowns and petticoats, and I think I was invited to speak more out of a spirit of willingness than knowledge or ability. I've made... (actually counting right now)... 7 petticoats in 18th-century style. I make them the same way every time, so no news there. And gowns? Yeah. Let me just bring out the massive, ancient index of all of the 18th century gowns I've made and just lay it here on the counter with a heavy, authoritative "thud." I made need help opening it. It's pretty massive. Ready? Ah, yes. Here's the page with all of the gowns totaled on it. Licks finger and scans the page... 

One. I've made one full-length gown.

But if you count all of the short gowns I've made, the number jumps to two.

So clearly, I am an expert on the subject. (And this is why I love living in South Somewheresville. Distinguishing oneself is not difficult. I am also a local authority on soap, because I used some once.)

I was delighted to go. I love, LOVE the ladies that organized this lecture/workshop series. They are a hoot. Especially when they get loaded with decaffeinated coffee and pecan sandies. (I am the youngest person there by 30 years. We are a mature gathering.) Discussion is lively and opinions are tempered with both Southern manners and a liberal application of cookies. Many of the women have been studying rural early American clothing since the Bicentennial, and most of them have the ruffled, floor-length cotton chemise to prove it.

The workshops have been a wonderful opportunity to swap historic sewing war stories and compare projects. They've collectively made a recent push towards greater accuracy in clothing presentation on the site, which is both admirable and daunting. Their research has been very illuminating. But the down side to interpreting history in the rural South is all the "great unknown" issues. Sure, there are unanswerable questions related to any epoch in any place. But it gets compounded when you push everything about 100 miles (and more) away from the nearest "city." Does a free woman on 20 acres of land who works in her own fields have more or less access to materials than an indentured servant who works for a family with a city home as well as a country home? Does a runaway slave from Edisto Island dress better or worse than a prosperous farmer in the foot-hills?

Et cetera, et cetera.

This brings me to American Duchess and fame. At the end of the recent small-town gown workshop, one of the participants began to comment on another woman's shoes. (Modern wear.) This inspired yet another of the venerable ladies to literally shout out "Wait! Before everyone leaves! I found a GREAT new source for 18th century shoes! She's called 'American Duchess' and she's out of Nevada! Look her up!"

It was one of those moments, ya know? Clash of the worlds! Universes unite!

So, Lauren, I just thought you'd like to know... a septuagenarian in self-proclaimed "back woods" North Carolina knows to go to you for 18th century shoes.

You are now officially famous.


  1. That is so awesome!!! My day is officially made, thank you!!

  2. YES. This happened in my rural Illinois area too when I wore my Georgies and someone recognized them as Lauren's and was suitably jealous. Out in the middle of nowhere on the Mississippi floodplain :D