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Blue Irish Peasant




irishbodicelacingcloseThis dress was made for a halloween party. There were a few
special circumstances to this party…. First of all, it was at a little irish
pub I worked at at the time. Secondly, I was the server *working* for this particular
shindig, and while costumes weren’t absolutely compulsory, it’s hard to explain
showing up to work a costume party in your normal monkey suit when your boss
knows that he gave you every weekend off during the summer so that you could
go play costumer at your local ren faire. I guess it’s sort of an occupational
hazard. But I figured, this is sort of a good experiment….. Could I produce
a working peasant costume, based on what I *think* we know of peasant costumes
in period, that looks good and that I can work in? I mean, seriously, waitressing
isn’t exactly light, easy work. It involves plenty of reaching, leaning, grabbing,
hauling, and general hustling.

The dress is a bodice with attached skirts. The bodice is lined,
and has four pieces of boning (heavy cable ties) in the front. The skirt is
also fully lined. The whole thing is medium weight cotton. The trim is two different
ribbons, on mounted on the other, held in place with a very compressed blind
stretch stitch to mimic the look of hand applique. (Details on this and other
fabulous techniques can be found in the book, Fine Machine Sewing.) While I
was working, I kept the overskirt kirtled up in front to hide my regulation
waitress’ apron, with a single underskirt. The chemise, I should note, is old
and utterly unperiod, and the only one I own with elestic. That’s why I wore
it — I don’t care if it gets ruined.

The whole effect is amazingly peasant. While I based it on the
information I could find on irish peasant costumes, the whole effect is so amazingly
peasant that it’s just a happy little peasant dress. It could pass for irish,
regional italien or german, or english, front the sixteenth century through
the late nineteenth “traditional” dress. Now, could I work in it?
I mean, I have heard rumors that all peasant costumes were unboned and probably
worn loose, so that peasants could work. This dress was boned, and tight enough
to produce cleavage in the name of higher tips. And yes, I could work in it.
I had, at my busiest point, five tables in non-smoking and four in smoking.
(For those of you who haven’t waited tables, having nine working tables across
two rooms is a heavy aerobic workout at best, and at worst becomes an exercise
in utter frustration, feelings of hopeless inadequacy, abuse from customers
and management alike, and an exhausting amount of running and hauling. This
wasn’t as near bad as it could have been, because most people were basically
nice about the whole thing, but a bus boy would have been a help. Another server
would have been an even bigger help…..) I don’t think I was sweating and panting
any more than I would have been in my normal slacks, bra, and shirt. I wasn’t
unable to perform any of my normal duties — bending and squatting to get to
exotic items like the coffee grounds or the salad dressing, reaching to get
food from the window, carrying plates to tables (three on one arm, one or two
in the other hand), putting plates on the tables (which normally involves bending
your knees and leaning backwards, not forwards — you’ll see most any experienced
waitress doing this whenever possible, because it’s just easier on your back),
cleaning tables, and all the rest of that rot. I’m somehow inclined to think
that waitressing has, at least in it’s basic elements, not really changed much
over the last couple hundred years. I mean, sure, now we have ketchup to bring
to the table, and civilized innovations like napkins and little bread plates
that mostly just clutter up the table, and lots of places (large chains, especially)
give servers classes on how to be a server (which cover everything you might
want to know *except* how to get food to a table — the irony abounds. One chain,
for example, made me sit through two weeks of classes, with tests and bloody
homework, and never once covered anything actively useful like how to put glasses
onto a tray and take them off without unbalancing the lousy tray, or how to
put a tray of plates onto the jacks (tray holder) without getting your arm stuck
between the tray and the jacks. Unsurprisingly, I spilled a glass of wine on
my first table. And not once did a customer *ever* ask me how many ounces of
fries they could expect with their meal.)

Per my normal habit, I’ve digressed again. Suffice to say, in
answer to the question, “Can you do peasant type work in a peasant type
dress that happens to involve boning and a tight lacing?” the answer is
a firm yes. I was pleasantly surprised, in fact, to find that my back still
didn’t hurt when I finally got home to take pictures at three in the morning.
I’d worked from 5pm till 1am, hung around for a few beers, then helped to clean
up when the place closed at 2am. My back should have been sincerely displeased
about the whole experience after about 10pm. It didn’t start to hurt until about
38 seconds after I unlaced the dress. There’s something to be said for light
corsetry amongst the working classes. Don’t believe me? Think hard about those
cute little back support belt/brace things that home improvement stores make
their people wear…. ;)

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