with Few Sources
CAVEAT: The texts used in this demo are copyrighted and
cannot be put up on the site without permission. What follows
is the handout without pictures. Sorry! It's dry but short.
Recreating With Few or No Extant Sources -
Recreating 'period' or historically accurate clothing is
very much like putting forth a theory. The piece of clothing
that we make is our 'theory' of what similar pieces of clothing
would have looked like in period. We base our theory on evidence
in the form of source material. This is fairly easy to do
when there's a great deal of source material but can become
a nightmare when we can find only one or two sources to work
In addition to the availability of source material, we also
have to keep in mind that not all source material is created
equal. Actual pieces just like the one we want to recreate
are best to work with. These usually come in the form of extant
garments or pieces of garments. It would also be great if
we could handle the extant pieces ourselves but not everyone
is able to do that. Most often, we rely heavily upon photographs
of extant pieces of clothing.
But what does one do when there is literally no extant pieces
of clothing or photographs of extant pieces to work from?
Where else does one look for good source material? How well
do certain secondary and even tertiary sources rank when we
need to use them to extrapolate a theory?
Venture forth, intrepid re-creationist, into the world of
secondary and tertiary sources!
Good Secondary and Tertiary Source Materials -
As stated above, extant pieces of clothing or photographs
of extant pieces of clothing are the best source, bar none.
These are known as 'primary source documentation'. Strictly
speaking, in the academic world, photos of extant pieces are
considered secondary source material but for the purposes
of the SCA and other re-creationist groups, photos of extant
pieces are considered primary sources. Let's face it
not everyone can just nip off to the Victoria & Albert
Museum and be allowed into their backroom to fondle extant
pieces of clothing.
Often times, however, many of us pick a time period to study
that has very few if any extant pieces to work with. As an
example, take a look at 10th century Central Asia.
Archaeology in this particular area has only recently begun
and with the current situation, all work has ceased. Not to
mention the high probability that some actual and potential
archaeological sites have been bombed off of the map. Archaeology
in this area has been done and documented however. Here is
where your local University may come in handy. Archaeological
periodicals are published several times a year and contain
a wealth of information on areas. These are not generally
available on the internet - you have to go out and find them.
The bonus with periodicals is that they describe in scientific
detail extant pieces of goods found in the site being studied.
This could include pottery, jewelry, money, other textiles
such as rugs and embroideries and possibly clothing.
In addition to accessing the Archaeological periodicals for
a given area that you are trying to study the clothing of,
make sure to not overlook the history timeline of that area.
Central Asia in particular has a long history of being fought
over and occupied by several different cultures. Persian,
Mongolian and Turkish conquerors all have made an impact on
the area. In addition to this military occupation, the Silk
Road runs right through the middle of the territory. Trade
would have had an enormous impact on the goods available for
clothing in the area. Studying this aspect during the time
period in question would yield a wealth of facts that could
be used to create clothing. For instance, silk of many types
from China would be available in the area. Town people in
the area would have the money and access for richer varieties;
Nomads would generally have used cheaper varieties but it
is not inconceivable that they would have access to the same
things as the town dwellers.
Another aspect to look at is the arts of the area. During
certain time periods, such as the Turkish and Mongolian occupations,
illuminated Tailors Books were made showing people in clothing.
Recently, there have been many museums that have published
books with photographs of those illuminations. Coins of the
area sometimes are stamped with examples of people and a look
at their clothes may yield some ideas. Pieces of jewelry sometimes
depict clothed people. Pottery, tapestries, sculpture, frescos
and other arts of the area can yield amazing results.
Lastly, while it can be problematic, one can take a look
at the cultures there now and compare them with cultures there
previously. For example, say that I have an Archaeological
periodical that contains an article on Central Asian clothing
found in a grave (grave finds or specific use finds are also
problematic to draw conclusions from but that's another discussion
entirely) that dates to the 5th century. I also might be able
to find a book published by a museum that shows an article
of clothing from the 17th century. Both pieces of clothing
- being shirts in this hypothetical case - look extremely
similar in cut. So I could then extrapolate, based on these
two examples that the cut of a shirt in the 10th century would
also be similar. Be very careful with extrapolation, however.
It's easy to get carried away. The cultural influences of
the 10th century were not the same as either the 5th or 17th
century so embroidery motifs and maybe even the type of fabric
available or used may not be the same.
To make a long discussion short, when we are faced with a
dearth of source material from our chosen time period, we
need to broaden our horizons to include other cultural identifiers
such as the arts as well as using the sociopolitical history
timeline of the area to draw some conclusions about what might
have been used for motifs and materials. In looking for information
on 10th Century Asia, I would not simply concentrate on the
10th century; I would also look for articles from the 8th
through the 13th century. This broadens the base from which
Strictly speaking, this is using secondary and tertiary sources
which means that our 'theory' is not as sound as if we were
using primary source material. Sometimes, however, it's all
that's available until something extant comes to light.