Many years ago, my daughters wanted to try Civil War Reenacting. My eldest daughter found a Civil War pattern and made a dress. I didn’t have the time, so for my younger daughter and myself – knowing very little about Civil War Era costuming- I purchased completely incorrect dresses at the thrift store.
We stayed in a hotel and attended the reenactment at Fort Tejon on a Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, we brought our canvas and aluminum camping chairs to the early morning church service. As I looked around, I realized that everyone was sitting on wooden chairs and dressed very differently than I was. But still, the re-enactors were encouraging, friendly and helpful, and they did not expect me to be perfect. Because I was not discouraged or judged, I continued to observe and to make more effort to be period correct at later events. It took some time (and money) but now our family portrays a fairly correct time period when we reenact.
I received several emails a few months ago about the costuming at the Civil War Balls. One gentleman was upset that, although the ladies were spending a lot of time and money buying, renting or making gowns, the gentlemen at the Ball were not making as much effort to be period authentic in their outfits. Another person commented on the fact that a lady at one of the Balls last year was not as modestly dressed as our standards indicated she should be, and she wondered if I had confronted that particular lady about it.
My hope for all of these events is that everyone has a fulfilling and uplifting time. For the gentlemen in particular, it helps if the ladies are modestly dressed. But when it comes to the dress codes, I only teach and encourage modesty, but I do not have a costume police. I find that when a person comes for the first time, they might not quite understand why we have dress standards, but as we offer people love and grace, they come again with a better understanding of the expectations.
The only thing I’ve ever been able to do at the Balls is offer an event where good times are possible, maybe even probable, but certainly not guaranteed. In a gathering of imperfect people, we have to accept imperfections sometimes. I am thankful when people offer me love and grace as I stumble through life, and I want to do the same for them. I will continue to encourage people to attend the Balls, whether they are perfectly dressed or not, focusing on the happiness in the dancers’ faces rather than the clothes they are wearing. Some people will make a larger effort in dress than others, but the costuming is not the biggest part of these events to me. Building a loving and grace-full community is really what it is all about.