Sometime in my distant past, I was part of an education program about life in the Victorian era. We dressed in reproduction clothing and talked about life, culture and architecture around the turn of the century. One of the presentations I did was on how upper middle-class women dressed at that time. I would start with just my “unmentionables on” which were my split crotch drawers, a chemise that went down nearly to my knees and a partially laced corset. Under my drawers, I had on some thick tights since it was always cold in that room. I had a maid who dressed me while I talked to the guests. She tightened my corset, helped me put on my corset cover, then my petticoat, followed by a skirt then the matching bodice of my gown. I did this over and over again as groups came through at regular intervals.
In another part of the house (this was in a renovated historic home) other reenactors talked about courtship, running a household, local business, and the “fads” and “new innovations” of the day. Before we began to receive guests, I was called into the parlor by another reenactor who wanted to introduce me to his friend who was new to our merry band of history players. I was waiting for our first group to arrive so I was in my chemise, drawers, and corset. Since it was winter I had a long velvet shirt I brought that looked somewhat like a short dressing gown. It was not buttoned up in front so I could just throw it off when our visitors arrived. I was introduced to the new addition and we began talking about our day and what it’s like to speak in character in front of guests.
I began to notice the new recruit seemed to be avoiding my gaze. I have a tendency to look people in the eye when I talk but not in an aggressive way, just in a connecting way. His body language seemed to broadcast a bit of unease and he kept turning away and spending most of the time just looking at the other gentleman. Finally when I asked a question that required a long answer from him (not intentional since I wasn’t really sure what was going on) the oddest thing happened. When he turned to talk to me, he raised his hand and kept it outstretch as if I had a blinding light coming from me and he had to shield it. He then laughed nervously and said he just couldn’t talk to me dressed like that. It was very distracting and it felt wrong looking at me while I was undressed.