Why Playing (Historical) Dress Up Is Cool

It’s time for another travel confession: I love costumed interpreters. LOVE them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by historical interpreters (you know, those people who dress up in period costumes and impart their knowledge to visitors). From tour guides to actors who refuse to break character and acknowledge the 21st century, they help to bring history, and historical places, alive for me.

Better than just a regular old tour guide or, even worse, one of those self-guided pre-recorded handsets (there’s nothing worse than walking around, holding a gargantuan walkie-talkie type contraption up to one ear and listening to some non-descript voice drone on and on about indigenous plants (or substitute any other boring subject here)).

Renaissance faires, plantation tour guides, battlefield re-enactors; there are many different ways you can dress up and go back in time. Travel can be about finding yourself, or losing yourself, or transforming yourself into another person. I’m particularly fond of the last one: transformation.

I guess I should confess, if you haven’t already figured it out, that I love history. I used to think that my dream job would be to work at Colonial Williamsburg, wearing a giant dress and fancy hat and strolling down the street pretending to be in another century.  Unfortunately, that kind of job involves a bit more than just wanting to wear a fancy dress.

I love walking through old homes and looking at hundreds-of-years-old furniture and trying to imagine what it would’ve been like to have lived there, back then. I love realizing that the floors I’m walking on have been walked on for hundreds of years, by people in hoop skirts and flapper dresses and mod patterns. I love all those moments, and I love when there’s someone there, in a long skirt or a top hat, to tell me more. Maybe it’s a history geek thing, but I don’t care. It’s nice to get away from smart phones and computer screens and constant connectivity. It makes me appreciate how busy the settlers/pilgrims/farmers must have been back then, when their whole day was centered around cooking and cleaning and making clothes and getting food; you know, the necessary things to live.

It also makes me realize how easy I have it today, with all of this leisure time and time for introspection. Heck, having the time and the ability to go to a living history museum and even think about all this stuff is a luxury that, I admit, I usually take for granted. So, whether it’s at a Renaissance faire or a ghost tour, on a battlefield or in an old plantation house, take a minute to look around and think about what you’re hearing. Look at the interpreter as if they really are from that time, not just some person who will leave for the day and put on some jeans, hop into their car, and go home. Let them guide you back through time, and maybe you’ll find something interesting about yourself there.

What’s your favorite historical period to play dress up in?

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