ST. ALBANS — If you think putting together a good outfit is hard work today, try going back a century or two.
Or, just talk to the men and women procuring period dress for the St. Albans Raid 150th Anniversary Commemoration. The event – remembering the northernmost land action in the Civil War and taking place Sept. 18-21 in St. Albans – is inspiring local people to tap all their resources and creativity to find those big, layered dresses, fancy bonnets, formal coats and vests, and any other number of accessories that complete the 1860s look.
Museum volunteers, young and older, Raid Commemoration organizers, seamstresses, grandkids and the St. Albans City Mayor are all among the people getting in on the historical fun.
Cindy Leadbeater, a St. Albans resident and seamstress, has been a popular name around town lately, as she is putting together many locals’ dresses for the event.
Many of those have been seen in the store window of Donna Howard’s bookshop, The Eloquent Page.
By the time mid-September rolls around, Leadbeater said in a recent interview that she will have sewn about 16 period outfits for men and women, dresses, vests, underpinnings and all. These will be in addition to her own period dress and those she’s made for her three granddaughters – Amanda Powers, 11, Mya Belanger, 11, and Priya Bates, 8.
“I’ve been busy,” Leadbeater said.
Despite the large volume of sewing projects, Leadbeater said she likes the process of putting together period pieces, which she has done with style tips from Lynn Sawyer, a self-taught expert in Civil War clothing from Cambridge who has done several local workshops here in the past.
Leadbeater also works closely with the person who will be wearing the outfit in order to find the best fit and specific preferences.
“I started doing the Civil War sewing, just offered to do it to help out and make sure people were dressed,” Leadbeater said. “I like the creation. I love the detail. I love the finished product.”
Leadbeater said she was already booked straight through during her interview in late July, since the dresses take quite a bit of time with all the lace, trimmings, large skirts, layers and detailed bodices. Though she tries to keep prices reasonable, she said that the amount of fabric and detail can make dresses cost anywhere from $250 to upwards of $600.
Mayor Liz Gamache is one of the people who ordered a dress from Leadbeater for the Raid Commemoration weekend. In order to be economical, Gamache is having the dress made to be worn for both day and evening events, with a different top for each part of the day.
“I’m just really excited,” Gamache said in a recent phone interview.
Louise Haynes, a St. Albans Historical Museum volunteer and member of the board of directors, is also getting sewing help from Leadbeater.
“I called Cindy Leadbeater right away,” Haynes said in a recent interview. Haynes began putting together her outfit in March, a process that she says has been no small feat.
“These ladies were quite frilly,” said Haynes. “Some of the things are outlandish.”
Haynes has bought and/or made a bonnet, lace sleeve, gloves, a parasol, a hoop skirt, pieces of jewelry and brooches, a hairpiece, and a headpiece, all to go with her dress, which for the skirt alone, required eight yards of fabric.
“It makes me overjoyed that I didn’t live in this period,” said Haynes, who said she’s had to learn how to sit in a hoop skirt without falling over. “I can’t imagine wearing all those clothes.”
The whole outfit has cost Haynes about $400 to $500 – she plans to donate it to the historical museum after the events in September.
“It [has been] a fun process,” Haynes added.
Leadbeater also has been putting together some men’s jackets and vests as well as bonnets to sell during the Raid events. Local resident Richard Cummings, who is in charge of the Civil War scene re-enactment in September, is receiving some sewing help. He said in a recent interview he plans to dress as an 1860s businessman to match his wife, who will also be wearing period dress.
Cummings’ outfit will include a topcoat with velvet collars, a bowler hat, and a vest.
“Let me tell you bub, that’s going to be really sharp,” he said.
While Leadbeater is a popular source for period dress for St. Albans residents, those who haven’t found an outfit but still want to shouldn’t worry: there’s always Ebay.
That was the tentative plan of Lindsay Legault-Knowles, a 16-year old St. Albans Historical museum volunteer and member of the board of directors. It is, after all, where the Fairfield teen bought her prom dress, custom made in the 1860’s style, which she wore with a hoop skirt.
“I’m a big history person,” Legault-Knowles said in a recent interview. “The dream of most of the people at the museum is to see all the people in town in period dress.”
Everyone will have a chance to dress up several times during the Raid Commemoration weekend, including for the Mayor’s Ball at the St. Albans Historical Museum on the evening of Sept. 20.
The ball will be from 8 to 11 p.m. that Saturday in a period-decorated room with a live, 1860’s style band, and ticket holders can also pay extra to go to one, two or three restaurants (Twiggs, One Federal, and Jeff’s Restaurant) in the area for a cocktail, appetizer, and taste of 1864. A total of 120 tickets are available, with a good number of them having already been sold.
Jan Johnson, the coordinator for the ball, said that period dress has been a hot topic as of late, and not just because she’s having her own dress made by Leadbeater.
“There’s quite a bit of buzz about getting into costume,” she said in a recent interview. Period or formal wear is required for the ball and promenade before hand, with the goal being that the city of St. Albans will feel like it’s back in 1864.
“It should be quite a nice picture of people strolling around,” said Johnson.
For more information about period dress, buying tickets for the Mayor’s Ball, and other items, please visit stalbansraid.com.