Last autumn one of my blog readers caught on to my son's fascination with the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the Louisiana Purchase. She, herself, is part of the modern Corps of Discovery, so she e-mailed me the title of a book that would be perfect for any research we hoped to pursue, Lewis and Clark Tailor Made, Trail Worn: Army Life, Clothing, and Weapons of the Corps of Discovery. Even though she recommended the library, we purchased this book and it has immeasurably proven its value. It is full of research based on primary resources, full of renderings and detailed illustrations, as well as being well-documented. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your recomendation!!!!!
My son wanted to portray Meriweather Lewis. Our books on the expedition had no information on what any of the expedition members wore. I did lots of googling to get an idea of where to possibly aim my research to more reliable sources. I discovered that all the movies portray Lewis and Clark in buckskin or hunting frocks. During the big Lewis and Clark anniversary celebration a few years ago, all of the media, literature and even signposts marking their routes show them in buckskin or hunting frocks. Yet my son was certain there had to be a regimental, and he's usually right. At a loss, it was my plan for my son to simply wear a hunting frock, which he already had, or to choose another person of history with a known regimental. This book solved the mystery. The book is the breakthrough research book on what the men wore on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Because it was a military expedition, they wore regimentals..
We went shopping for materials. Because this would be a one time worn stage costume, with nowhere to interpret Lewis more formally, we did not have the budget for navy blue wool (I spent nearly $100 for the wool for his Lafayette regimental, shown below. That was a birthday present.) Therefore we opted for navy blue felt (gasp, but this is a stage costume) yet there was none to be found. I was also planning on using a pattern for a coat with the Regency tails, and as usual my son debated the proper pattern. He insisted the lines were the same as the Lafayette coat (1770's.) I disagreed but I aim to please my son and he is quite strong willed and usually right. Then I got the idea to remake the Lafayette regimental (without destroying it). I had extra red wool in the fabric stash and I only needed to make new reveres (facings) to take the place of the buff.
Soooooo, here is the Lafayette regimental, which is historically correct, based on intensive research I did of General Washington's papers describing the officers' regimentals in the American Revolution. I've seen and handled the Lafayette reproduction epaulettes at the Colonial Williamsburg Costume Design Center during an open house, so I knew what those looked like and how they were constructed.
Obviously this is a prime example of how embellishments make the officer.
We knew we could reuse all the small clothes (shirt, waistcoat, breeches, even cravat) from the Lafayette regimental for the 1803 regimental.
Now that you see all the angles and lines and Lafayette French/American embellishment, watch the transformation and stage tricks for costuming.
Here is my son the night of the history presentation, in his small clothes with the addition of a red sash, representing a French soldier (who lost his coat in battle). He gave us a tour of the many Napoleonic battlefields. (I had no time to sew a Napoleonic soldier regimental on top of the Meriweather Lewis regimental.)
Here are the embellishments, the red reveres and epaulettes I made for the 1803 regimental.
Presenting....Captain Meriweather Lewis of the Corps of Discovery, 1803, co-leading the expeditionary force into the Lousiana Purchase!
The chapeau de bras (hat) was made by my son. Doesn't it add to the drama?! I was scared of him and that was the point of those hats. When I shared photos on my facebook account, a lot of friends noted the fear factor. Mission accomplished!
The hat is period accurate, and fully functional, with a cap inside fitted to the head, while capable of collapsing under his arm.
I promise the Lafayette regimental was not harmed in the process of this transformation. I merely turned under all the buff and even used it as support for all the red facings. All of the red is basted into place. Afterwards all was restored to its glorious 1770's American/French alliance splendor!
Ah! Do note the addition of itty bitty red diamonds on the buff lining, where the tails meet under the hands and near the knee. The Lafayette regimental does not do that. The Lafayette regimental could meet there but does not have red diamonds meeting there.
The gold Lafayette epaulettes were merely taken off and exchanged for the silver. There is a different type for each shoulder of the 1803 regimental.
In the process of arranging things, I proved to my son that the cut of the 1803 regimental is indeed closer to that of the early 19th century Regency tails. No problem though, because all the world's a stage! Being a stage costume, we merely did lots of rearranging and tucking with the aid of the red military sash.
Here you can see his fancy silver epaulette. We pretended to have dinner at President Thomas Jefferson's home of Monticello, just a few hours from our own home. Meriweather Lewis was a cousin to Jefferson. We were served a traditional Napoleonic dinner, during which Meriweather Lewis regaled us with tales of the expedition.
Can you tell that his hair is brushed forward in a most period early 19th century manner? I had cut his hair the day before. Haircuts were mandatory and new to the early 19th century military man, even as early as 1803. However we kept the period accurate sideburns, no longer than the base of the ear, which he usually wants cut. All period accurate according to the book titled above.
Here are pictures after his formal presentation.
Now for the HSF details:
The Challenge: #4 Embellishment
Fabric: red wool, silver trim
Pattern: self-drafted from analysis of extant renderings
How historically accurate is it? quite accurate
Hours to complete: lots
First worn: history presentation
Total cost: $10 and stash remnants