Monday, March 23, 2015

Mix and Match: My War Correspondent Uniform

It's been a couple of months since my last WWII adventure, but I wanted to share a set of photos to explain what I wear when I'm dressed as a War Correspondent. Consider it the fashion half of my WarCo posts--more on their role in the war coming soon!

War Correspondents are an interesting in-between: civilians in uniform. Many of the women who covered the war from foreign locations were there providing reports long before the USA officially entered the war, so they'd been writing and shooting photos in normal/civilian clothes. It's likely that they continued to do so even after the US was involved, because sometimes there's no time to change--dresses, pajamas, overcoats, you get the story whether you're dressed or not. War Correspondents were also less uniform than actual military women; before real uniforms were available, some WarCos took uniform specifications to have made up at a tailor. In other cases, just like women joining up, they would alter available men's garments because there wasn't anything for the women yet. While the availability of uniforms as the war progressed increased (and therefore it would be easier to have a "real" uniform), I think it's fair to say that WarCos didn't always fit military specs for the branch they were associated with, although they tried their best to match.

Accredited War Correspondents were listed officially as captains (although the rank was purely symbolic), so that in case of enemy capture they had a rank to provide leverage. It also offered protection against accusations of spying. I find this quirk particularly interesting: wearing officer uniforms with correspondent insignia was a protection against being thought a spy. A random civilian wouldn't be outwardly demonstrating their affiliation, which would look more suspicious if the civilian started taking notes, asking questions, or taking pictures--behaviors both spies and reporters might exhibit. For WarCos attached to the US Army (which is what I do, and what I will focus on), this mean wearing two types of insignia: 1) US lapel pins, which were worn as part of the female WAAC uniform, and 2) Correspondent or Photographer arm bands (later patches).

an iconic image of female War Correspondents in London--notice the "C" armbands on their uniforms, and the differences in skirts and shoes

a second, less famous image of the photo above being taken--notice the photographer is wearing a "P" armband
Most importantly to me, uniforms provided a professional quality to female War Correspondents that they had been fighting for--and continued to fight for. Uniforms announce "I am a part of this war effort." They make it more difficult (but certainly not impossible) to dismiss the woman wearing it. They are a tangible representation of the important work being done, and I can only imagine how monumental that was.

War Correspondents also had a few differences in their uniforms: sometimes they wore a beret, although women's army uniforms did not include one; sometimes they wore the belt/buckle dropped from the women's army uniforms; they typically wore men's garrison caps instead of Hobby Hats (there was a female version of the garrison cap later, although it appears to have been less commonly acquired for WarCos). There appear to also be several variations of the insignia set, probably more variation than with women's actual army uniforms. Several kinds of WarCo patches, occasional shoulder loops, metal pins instead of patches altogether. There's a range, which is both frustrating (it's hard to decide what to wear to look "right") and flexible.

Correspondent Helen Kirkpatrick in an army beret with WarCo patch
My War Correspondent uniform comes from several different sources. I'm still working on it--the more you learn--but at the moment I have a base to support excursions in winter and summer, with some layers to change around and keep things interesting. My base outfit is an older (WAAC)-style uniform with jacket and belt, because I wanted to go towards the first uniforms a WarCo would have been able to get. When I first wore it, the pockets and buttons were wrong because there wasn't enough time to fix them before the event. Since then, I've re-done the pockets and switched out the plain gold buttons for original bakelite Army ones (which were later replaced with the more common gold ones). I opted for a matching set of OD (olive drab) skirt and jacket, because that way it's very little effort to switch to WAC if I decide I want to, but I could have opted for the officer "pinks" option (and it seems that many correspondents did wear that version).
My first event as a WarCo, wearing my uniform (and carrying my camera)
A quick cell phone snap of the re-done uniform jacket with new buttons/pockets, because of COURSE there isn't a single picture of me wearing it at the event in January :)
It's worth noting that I prefer the beret to the garrison cap, although I do have one as well because options are great! (and you can do more fun hair with the garrison cap...) It's also worth noting that my current beret is black, but I've recently learned that it should actually be khaki--the more you know--so I'll be fixing that before my next event. It's a process! In addition to some form of hat with WarCo patch, I also wear a patch on my jacket (you can see it in the photo above) and a "C" armband (which I don't have a picture of, because I'm the one behind the camera). Although as a photographer I could (and probably will at some point) wear a "P" instead, early on the only armbands were the "C" for "correspondent" and that's generally what I'm aiming for.

My shoes are also close but not perfectly army-issue. In the picture above from this summer I'm wearing modern gray Aerosole heels, which are pretty similar to original 40s shoes I've seen. Actually, I ran into a girl at the WWII weekend in June who was amused we had the same original 1940s shoes--except hers were originals, and mine were the modern Aerosoles! Since then, I've gotten a pair that are better with a uniform, since they more closely resemble the brown WAC oxfords. You can see that second pair in the pictures below: black oxfords with a low heel, from Payless's "comfort plus" (aka faux Aerosole) line. They're perfect, because they look close enough (which is what a WarCo would have aimed for) and they're super comfy. They're also pretty waterproof, which came in handy in the snow!

my gray shoes are a little like these originals, currently for sale on etsy
For the Fort Indiantown Gap event I attended in January, I also needed some warm layers. It was super cold, and I was so glad I had them! To add to my jacket/skirt base, I decided a second layering option would come in handy. That ended up being an OD shawl-collar sweater, which is a reproduction of a men's army piece. It wasn't uncommon for women to have to make do with leftovers from men's uniforms at the beginning, and being warm would be more important than having a great fit, so I decided it was reasonable to imagine a female WarCo in a men's army-issue sweater. Plus, it was 100% wool and so warm

original photo of WACs off duty--you can see the different layers and sweaters here

hanging out with friends in my sweater
On top of my uniform, I also needed a coat. I've been keeping an eye on ebay for a WAC overcoat, but they're kind of hard to find and usually pretty expensive. In the meantime, I've done what an actual WarCo would have: acquired a men's army overcoat instead. I wore mine with the "C" armband, since I didn't have a correspondent patch for it. It was long and not very flattering, but totally worth it. Frostbite is no fun! Of course, I've managed to not get a picture of that either. I need to do better next time with this!

While at the event, I also picked up a WAC parka. These seem to be particularly rare, and are OD with brown "fur" of some kind (alpaca fleece, if my research is correct) lining it and forming the collar. It isn't in the best shape, but was amazingly warm and I'm going to try to preserve it. I've actually had a really hard time tracking down information about this particular item, but did find it mentioned in World War II Allied Nursing Services, which includes the following passage labeled 1943:
"One example of this [ANC/WAC uniform] co-ordination was the cold weather parka; the issued item was identical for both services...The parka had a warm alpaca fleece lining with a windproof cotton shell, a detachable hood and waistbelt. Under field conditions complaints were received about the fastening--a five-button front with a storm flap secured by three press studs" (p.1955).

in my parka in the bitter cold in January--this is missing the belt, but does have belt loops, so I stole the belt from my uniform jacket eventually

All in all, I've got a lot of options to mix and match while still in uniform, and that's pretty awesome. Even better, when I'm in uniform at an event trying to take pictures, people just assume I'm official, so I get to take pictures from areas the attending public isn't allowed to go near. It's not nearly the same as the struggle correspondents faced to get the best shot of the action, but it's about as close as I can get to understanding the triumph that goes along with that perfect capture.

To learn more:
Smith, Jill Halcomb (2004). Dressed for Duty (vol 2). R. James Bender Publishing: San Jose, CA.  
Sorel, Nancy Caldwell (1999). Women Who Wrote the War. Harper Collins: New York, NY.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Liberating My Legs: A Re-made Plaid 1914 Skirt

In November 2013, I participated in the America's Hometown Thanksgiving living history event for the first time as a women's suffragist. Since the only 19teens clothes I had up until then were evening dresses, this also meant making a new ensemble. I'll be honest: ragtime styles have never particularly called to me, so I decided that if I was going to put in the time/effort to make a 1914 outfit, I wanted to make something a little crazy and very fashionable for the early 1910s. After some poking about, I settled on making a "hobble skirt"--a skirt that narrows perceptibly at the knee, with such a narrow hem it actually interferes with taking a full stride.

A fashionable ensemble with the narrowed "hobble" hem, 1913
Hobble skirts were all the rage, but they were so dumb. There are newspaper articles from the period (you can read examples here and here) discussing the difficulties for walking, getting into and out of cars or trams, and generally functioning in these. Naturally, I thought they were hilarious and I wanted one. (Not to mention, I figured they'd be easy to do and I needed a quick project).

In Plymouth, 2013
So I did make a hobble skirt, and it came out pretty well! But it was super dumb, and I spent all day getting laughed at (good natured-ly by my friends, and not so kindly by some of the other participants).

you can see the very narrow hem here
It frustrated me. So this past November, when I started planning for our suffrage rally round 2, I knew I wanted to widen out my hobble. Because not only was it frustrating and super dumb to wear, it also made me realize that the hobble skirt represented the exact attitude suffragists were fighting.

A cartoon mocking women trying to move quickly in hobble skirts

Postcard of a girl in a hobble skirt pointing to her feet and saying "I can't kick!"
There seems to be an attitude in articles about the fad of "stupid women, wearing clothes they can't move in." There was even a movie from the period called The Suffragettes and the Hobble Skirt (1910), which seems to not exist anymore, but the plot of which is described as "a persecuted man gives women hobble skirts and they are jailed." Essentially, the hobble skirt fashion is used as women's own downfall from their fight for the vote (source on the film here). 
I'm not trying to argue that women who were suffragists did not ever participate in popular fashions, or that a suffragist would never wear a hobble skirt. It's absolutely possible--believing women should have the right to vote doesn't mean you can't also like dumb things. (I certainly believe in both women's rights and dumb fashions.) But I do think that when we, as living history presenters, wear historical clothes at events, we might be the only exposure some people have to the period--and that is worth keeping in mind when planning ensembles. That first year, wearing the hobble skirt, I encountered a lot of the same attitudes from other people at the event that I encountered in texts from the 19teens.

And that definitely wasn't the impression of the women's suffrage movement I wanted to present. 

So the night before our second round of rallies I set to work (I know, I know...last minute...). The first step was to release the pleats from the original skirt, to give my self full range of motion. It's still narrow, in keeping with the 1914 silhouette, but with enough room to function. Next I used the leftover fabric from the stash (thank goodness for buying too much!) to create an over-layer, which made the now very boring skirt tube look way more interesting.
I took inspiration from the layered skirts in fashion plates like these:
dresses, 1914
ensembles with tiered skirts, 1914
my favorite (of course): plaid tunic skirt
I ended up with something I am much, much happier with.

I ended up ditching the original jacket I made--maybe by next year I'll have fixed that too...
I think in the end the over-layer is too long (it was supposed to be sorter, but it kept sliding down my hips), but aside from that I'm really satisfied with this. The plaid wool is warm, the shape is fun and stylish, but most of all--it's functional. I did just fine climbing around all day in 20 degree weather (well, I could move...I was pretty cold!), and I didn't feel super dumb. Hooray!

I also love the way it moves in the wind

And I do mean this is functional, even though it still keeps the narrow look. I even went ice skating in it as part of our 1890s weekend in January! (Also, since we were ice skating, these are all cell phone pics...sorry!)

on the ice

oh hey! range of motion! (and closed eyes...whoops.)


In the end, I'm happy with this project--and I'm excited to wear it again as we rally!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Highlights from Battle of the Bulge at Fort Indiantown Gap

So somehow the month of January got away from me. It might have been the 6 consecutive weeks of travel and events, or the snow, or the holiday recovery, or being sick...but it doesn't really matter. What actually matters is that every event was a blast, I don't regret a thing, and I feel super enthusiastic about getting some of my post backlog up and published!

But that's all coming later--today, I wanted to share some photos from my most recent excursion: the Battle of the Bulge event at Fort Indiantown Gap in PA. This was only my second WWII event, and was a completely different experience from the first. For starters, it was winter. Hooray for period outerwear! Whoo, we needed it! Second, unlike WWII Weekend at the MAAM, the Gap was only open to the public on Saturday (the last day of an almost week-long event); so instead of large public displays, for the most part this event was just reenactors doing their thing. It was super fascinating. I'll admit that I oscillated a lot between feeling in the thick of things and feeling like a complete outsider (an anthropologist of sorts, I suppose), but I enjoyed myself immensely.

Even better, I got some great shots! Which is more of a miracle than it may seem, because I shot exclusively with my retrofit Speed Graphic, which meant I was shooting blind a lot of the time.

Setting up the Speed Graphic on a bunk in the women's barracks before a night out shooting
As usual (because my camera is occupied during these events), I don't have very many pictures of myself, and none of me in action yet. I'm hoping to grab a few from other generous attendees, but in the meantime, here are some highlights from the event!

by the barracks


a knitting lesson

ATS forces drilling on post

Allied HQ, far left

Treatment of a stomach wound in the German field hospital

tending a head wound in the German field hospital
The Fort Indiantown Gap event is supposed to be based on the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in the Ardennes region of the Western Front (which includes Belgium, France, and Luxembourg) from December 1944 to January 1945. The German offensive hit American troops particularly hard, resulting in the highest US casualty rate of any operation during the war. While eventually a victory for the Allies, the Bulge was particularly grueling due in part to frigid temperatures, the high casualty rate, and contention among British and American leadership. Churchill called the Battle of the Bulge "undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will...be regarded as an ever-famous American victory." 


German troops fighting in the Ardennes, 1944 (via Wikipedia)
I have been told that one of the things that makes the Gap event so neat is the tactical exercises, which allow reenactors to get into the nitty-gritty of battle. The event is held on a National Guard base, so units convoy up into the mountainous exercise area for the battle parts of the event, which last over two days. We faced some gruelingly low temperatures ourselves during those days, but unlike in 1945, the higher-ups cancelled the second day of the tactical for safety reasons. That was the day I was planning to go out, which was disappointing. Instead, I shot the smaller public battle demonstration held in a wooded area near the barracks (which is why my photos are full of brush). It wasn't exactly the Bulge, but it was still an adventure to run about getting knee-deep in snow to try and get the shot while staying out of the way of the oncoming line!

First men ahead of the main line


The Allied line moves forward





The remaining soldiers regroup towards the end of the skirmish--you can see the "casualties" in the distance to the right

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Eating My Words

"I just really hope we get some snow. I want dramatic snow pictures!" Might be something I said several times in the week leading up to my most recent excursion into the 1940s. Whoops?

Salem in the snow last night, from my Instagram

On the other hand, I'm clearly not the only person to ever think the snow made for a dramatic setting. People have been capturing the perils and playtimes of snow days in Boston for over 100 years, which is pretty awesome. The Boston Public Library has a fabulous archive of some of these images, taken by Boston Herald-Traveler photographer Leslie Jones.

Jones at rest with a couple of camera, from the BPL's archive site
Leslie Jones preferred the term "camera man" to photographer, and while he was interested in taking pictures from a young age, Jones actually began adulthood as a pattern maker in a Boston factory. During that time, he also did freelance photography work, capturing the city as he saw it.  When he lost two fingers in a factory accident, Jones went to work for local newspaper the Boston Herald-Trader full time in 1917. During his 39 year tenure at the Herald-Trader, Jones covered everything from the day-to-day excitement of Boston, to historic events (e.g., Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic), to local baseball at Fenway Park. After his death, his family donated an incredible 40,000(!) negatives to the archives at the Boston Public Library, and the collection is available online here if you'd like to take a look--I really recommend it.

Jones shooting in Fenway Park, undated (but probably c.1940s?)
I've selected a few of my favorites from the library's "Boston in Winter" album to share with you. Check out more on their Flickr account!

Package delivery by sleigh, market district, date unkown
Girls snowshoeing on Boston Common, c.1930s
Horse slips on snow, c.1920s (poor horse! At least cars don't feel pain when they slide)
Checking the weather equipment on Boston Common, 1923
At the corner of Tremont and Boylston, 1930 (check out those fabulous hats!)
So really, not much has changed!

Carting snow away in trucks, 1939
Snow removal by truck, 2015 (via the Boston Globe)
For those of you in New England, stay warm and safe!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The "Winter Princess" 1890s Ballgown

This weekend was the 1890s ball and skating outing with the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, and I was really pleased to have my friend KP come visit to join me! Of course, that also meant I needed a new dress...

I'd been planning to make a new 1890s dress eventually anyways, because my butterfly dress has a lot of fit issues and I've had it for several years at this point. (Although I will admit the changes I made for a ball this summer--which I've never blogged about, bad blogger! but Quinn has, and it was also covered by Bill Cunningham, so you can spot me in group shots there--greatly improve my feelings about the dress.) Anyways, I'd been planning a new dress...but this ended up being sort of the "murphy's law" of sewing plans: first I had a business trip that put me behind on sewing projects for earlier in the month, then I got horridly ill, and then I was sitting in the ladies' dressing room sewing when I was supposed to be setting up refreshments. Whoops.

I didn't have time to go fabric shopping, so I used a blue velvet I had in my stash originally purchased for the 1870s dress I made at Christmas. It is gorgeous, plush stuff that looks quite bright in some light and quite dark in other light. Like magic! A friend also nabbed me some white rabbit fur trim, which is a fabulous contrast. Right now there's just a bit thrown on, but I have 16 1/2 yards of it, so that's coming! 

I knew I wanted to make a super classic 90s dress with big sleeves, because my butterfly dress doesn't have them. I drew inspiration from portraits of the Russian royal family as well as some of the dresses belonging to Empress Maria Fyodorovna. Here are some favorites:

engagement photo of Nicholas II and Alexandra, 1894: big sleeves, fur trim

portrait of Grand Duchess Elizabeth c.1890: dark with pale trim, lots of pearls
Portrait of Maria Fyodorovna, 1894: fur trim!
Purple velvet dress by House of Worth for Maria Fyodorovna, 1890s

Years ago I purchased 1890s skirt and bodice patterns from Laughing Moon Mercantile, but when I started working on this project I decided I didn't have time to make a toile (as it was already the week of the ball), and I knew the bodice pattern didn't fit me very well straight out of the envelope. Instead, I ended up using the 1875 bodice pattern from the Mother/Daughter Dress Project because I knew it fit well. I switched the closures from front to back, shortened the bodice to end at my natural waist, and raised the neckline up slightly on my shoulders. I did stick with the Laughing Moon 5 gore skirt pattern, but I re-curved the top of the panels to make it fit more snugly on my hips without losing the volume at the hem.

There are still some adjustments to make (a hem, for instance, would be good--this will get a stiff linen interfacing as well as a velvet facing to help keep the shape), but overall I'm happy with this. I definitely felt regal, so mission accomplished!

The 1890s ball was held at the Dane Estate, an absolutely lovely mansion just outside Boston. We had fun posing for pictures in its elegant rooms, but with all the crazy going on I completely forgot my camera. As a result, these were all taken on my phone. Apologies, but enjoy!

playing with the full length mirrors in the library



sitting in the round mezzanine between the first and second floors--sorry these are so grainy! My phone did not like the dark...


my friend in my ballgown. She looked lovely and it was nice to be able to make her feel like a princess.


As people post pictures of the ballroom I'll do another post!