American Historical Looks 101 Resource Help
August 28, 2017 8:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be part of a project that involves looking back at American history & pop culture, and we're encouraged/requested to come up with multiple looks that evoke particular time periods. I'm not American so I don't know all that much about American history. What resources can I look up that will give me a good overview of those time periods, especially those that can serve as visual references?

So I'm going to be part of Taylor Mac's 24 Decade History production that's coming to Melbourne in a couple of months. My role (Dandy Minion - a sort of cross between a stage kitten and a street performer) involves being as outlandish and weird with our costumes as we can, evoking a kind of magical fantasy version of ourselves basically. (Here's a sneak peek that gives you an idea of the general aesthetic of the show).

We're encouraged to come up with 8 different looks for each chunk of the show, if possible, reflecting on the different time periods covered within the show. Most of my resources have gone towards 2 specific costumes (I only got the memo about 8 yesterday) and they did say "8 if possible", so there's some flexibility. When I asked the producer about how different each look needs to be she reiterated the "if possible" part , and suggested that I could have accessories that evoke something from the time period even if my base costume is relatively similar night to night.

What I'm looking for are primers/overviews I could read that'll give me some suggestions about symbols I could incorporate into costumes as accessories. The time period covered is 1776 to 2016, though I don't need to be super historically accurate (so I'm not expected to dress up like a 19th century maiden, for example). I'm hoping to incorporate symbols that reflect historical events more so than 'this is what is fashionable at the time', though that's possible too. So stuff like "In Decade X roses were really popular - so maybe have roses in your hair" or "Butch/femme dynamics came to the forefront in Decade Y; here's a link to butch/femme costume in American history". Since this is being staged in Australia and I'm a multi-national immigrant I'm also open to incorporating stuff that's more Australian or international, doesn't have to be strictly American references.

Practically speaking: This will be for 4 nights of 6 hours each, with 2 costumes per night. I'm hoping to build these costumes by borrowing accessories and building on bases, though I do have friends helping out. We'll be walking/running/moving around a lot so comfort is key.

The specific time periods covered that I need costumes for:

DAY 1:
Costume 1: 1776-1806 (American Revolution, Temperance Movement, something about housewives?)

Costume 2: 1806-1836 (Indian removal act, 'heteronormative narrative' which I assume refers to something homophobia-related)

DAY 2:
Costume 3: 1836-1866 (Underground Railroad, Walt Whitman, Steven Foster)

Costume 4: 1866-1896 (Reconstruction, 'Gilded Age', Oklahoma Land Rush) - One of my current costumes can fit this already

DAY 3:
Costume 5: 1896-1926 (NYC Jewish Tenement, WWI Trenches, Speakeasy)

Costume 6: 1926-1956 (Harlem Renaissance, Prison, White Flight) - I'm thinking of doing a sari for this or #5 to evoke the start of South Asian migration into the US

DAY 4:
Costume 7: 1956-1986 (March to Washington, Stonewall, 'backroom'?)

Costume 8: 1986-2016 (AIDS crisis, Radical Lesbians, original content) - my other costume can either go here or in #7, it's a cosplay of a contemporary gay male musician I'm a big fan of

I know the 100 Years of Fashion videos could be helpful; what else could I look up for inspiration and research?
posted by divabat to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (1 answer total)
Oh man, I bet the artist Claire Hummel would be all over good resources for a project like this. She loves historical costuming.

In fact, haha, googling her name and "historical costuming" yielded this amazing list of resources. Hope you will find something perfect for your use case.
posted by potrzebie at 12:24 AM on August 29, 2017

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