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Tea party in Sackets Harbor reflects fashion, class of War of 1812 period

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SACKETS HARBOR — A high tea event at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site showed off some of the high fashion of the late 1700s and early 1800s, just about the time of the War of 1812.

About 30 people took part in the event, enjoying a three-course tea, as site volunteers displayed period wear.

“It was a very fascinating time,” said Maggie Caden, a village resident who brought her sister Gladys Dean, of Monterey, Calif. In addition to the history of the time, the two said they enjoy romance novels set in the Regency era, from about 1790 to 1820.

Among the most recognizable women’s fashions of the time was the Empire style dress design. Known as the regency style in England, due to the country’s fighting with France, or the Federalist style in America, due to its disputes with England, the dresses had a high waistline, right underneath the bust, with the rest of the outfit in a more free-flowing shape.

Compared with earlier eras, “it was very risque,” said Barbara M. Monk, an Odessa, Ontario, resident who spoke to the group.

The thin, sheer dress materials required multiple layers for warmth and body coverage.

Despite the more prominent chest area display, Ms. Monte said, elbows were not to be shown at that time, with gloves frequently worn.

Capturing the feeling of the time is important, said Michelle H. Bunny, a volunteer and self-proclaimed history buff who has hand-sewn four dresses and multiple other outfits, and knitted a pineapple-styled handbag popular at the time. “Very little was convenient at this time period,” she said.

Participants noted that the frontier lifestyle in the north country at the time would have led most women to wear more practical homespun linen or wool dresses.

Describing the look as “cute,” village resident Diane Daymont said she did not think the style was primed for a comeback.

“I’m a fashionista, and this is not my idea of fashion,” she said.

Men’s fashion of the time also was represented: Re-enactor Thomas V. Nowak broke down the elements of his period military uniform, from the low-cut boots and attached wool gaiters, to the firm leather stock to ensure posture, to the high-waisted pantaloons.

The uniform coat was so expensive to make, Mr. Nowak said, that deserting with it “was like committing grand larceny in those days.”

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