Susan and Ken Reed's Life Universe and Everything index page
It's not who you are, it's what you wear

Current Article — October 2004

Woman cutting fabricOr isn’t what you wear a mirror of what you are? Nothing is so individualistic — nor so culturally “dictated” as our clothing. We wear the symbols of our personal tastes: proportions, colors, textures, comfort level, and consciously or subconsciously, the symbols of the social groups to which we belong.

One way to approach a culture is through its clothing. Often its concepts of what is appropriate to gender roles, race, religions, ethnicity, occupations, socio-economic status, and such are embedded in its range of acceptable clothing. By examining what people wore under what circumstances, we can start to understand underlying social and cultural structures. At the same time we can appreciate the range of personal expression with a society.

In the Society for Creative Anachronism, I discovered the joys of “garb.” Putting on period clothing felt like putting on my persona. After a period where I was more interested in playing with color, texture, and draping, I turned to serious research into what people actually wore in the Middle Ages and how it was constructed. I read and experimented avidly and after a while, decided that it was so much fun, that I would like to find a way to do this professionally. Curatorial work came to mind, so I looked for a graduate program in historical costume — and found one in my own back yard at the University of Maryland. When I started the program, I was confident about my knowledge of costuming and research. Well, there’s nothing like graduate school to show you just how little you know. What a variety of research questions, concerns, and techniques I was exposed to!

It was at Maryland that I became interested in clothing as a social symbol and in clothing of everyday life. I also realized that a firm factual foundation for Medieval/Renaissance clothing had not yet been laid down. My master’s thesis was an attempt to start building that factorial data base by doing a quantitative study of men’s headdress from 1400 to 1519.

Meanwhile in the SCA, I work to promote better research methods through classes and articles. The artifacts we reproduce/recreate can be an exciting starting point from which to research the lives and times of those who would have made or used those artifacts in period.

New article — “15th-century Men's Doublets: An Overview

Thesis on Men’s Headdress Now Available

I have finally managed to convert my 1992 Master’s degree thesis a web-viewable format. I started to convert the files to HTML, but soon realized that the combined size of the files would exceed the web space allotted by my ISP, so I converted the files to portable document format (PDF) files you can download here.

You can download each chapter separately or, if you have a high-speed connection (or don’t mind long downloads), you can download the combined file. The combined file also has bookmarks for each section and the table of contents, list of tables and list of figures are linked to the appropriate pages for easier navigation. Chapters III and IV are graphics heavy, hence the large file sizes. You will need the free Adobe Reader to view these files.

This thesis contains many statistical analyses, but you will find summary information that may be interesting and useful, especially for documentation.

If you want a taste of what this research covers, I have presented one of the results of my study on 15th-century and early 16th -century men’s headdress, a distribution of headdress types by decade for the years 1400–1519. Also included are verbal and visual definitions of the headdress types used in the study. Some sections of this thesis has been coverted to HTML, such as the “Review of Literature” and a section of the “Methodology” chapter on analyzing visual sources for costume research.

From Chaperones to Chaplets:
Aspects of Men’s Headdress 1400–1519

  Size of PDF Number of Pages
Front Matter
8 pages
Chapter I — Introduction
4 pages
Chapter II — Review of Literature
18 pages
Chapter III — Methodology
28 pages
Chapter IV — Results and Discussion
62 pages
Chapter V — Summary and Conclusions
8 pages
4 pages
Combined Thesis File
132 pages

Previous articles can be found on the Archive page. I would love to hear your comments on these, so please e-mail me through our feedback form with any responses you have.