December 2, 1997 in Features

The Perfect Look In Victorian Era Was Painfully Thin

Shanna Southern Peterson Correspondent
 

Tames Alan is truly a renaissance woman. She is an artist, actress and historian who combines her vast knowledge of history and love of clothing to produce and star in one-woman shows aimed at teaching history through the fashions of various time periods.

Alan brings history to life for her audience. As she teaches, she changes her clothing to explain what women of a given period wore and why, from the ancient world to Victorian England.

Alan has been performing her historical vignettes to packed auditoriums throughout the United States and Canada for 10 years.

“My goal is to teach the audience what was considered ‘normal’ in other time periods so we may learn to be more tolerant of others,” she says. If the enthusiastic reaction of the audience at a recent Spokane performance is any gauge, she’s succeeding beautifully.

As she’s cinched into a replica 19th-century corset, Alan explains how the ideal woman would strive for a waist no larger than what her husband could encircle with his hands.

She describes the perfect look for a proper Victorian woman: a victim of tuberculosis, with snow-white complexion and high coloring to the cheeks. A man would be considered quite successful if he married a woman with tuberculosis, because only a wealthy man could afford the expense of caring for a woman in such poor health.

When fully assembled, the typical outfit of a middle-class woman in 1850 weighed more than 200 pounds and included at least 1,100 yards of lace, Alan says.

It’s information such as this, presented with humor and flair, that makes the audience thankful they were born 100 years after Victorian times.

Alan has studied history, theater and art in Oregon and California. But teaching fashion history in a conventional classroom setting wasn’t enough to satisfy her. After reading Richard Nelson Bolles’ book, “What Color Is Your Parachute?” she sat down and made a list of all the things she loved to do. When she finished, she had a rough description of the programs she now performs.

In addition to her current six shows, she’s working on adding five additional presentations to the lineup. She gave 138 performances last year and hopes to add Europe to her tour next year.

“I have a professional corsetier make my corsets so they are custom fit and much more comfortable than the ones you might buy at a store,” Alan says. “And I can now afford to have a milliner make my hats, but I continue to make the rest of my costumes myself.”

Considering her talent and showmanship, perhaps I should amend my opening statement. Tames Alan is not merely a renaissance woman, but a woman of all times.

For more information about her performances and schedule, visit Alan’s Web site at www.oz.net/~tamsalan/ Or write to Living History Lectures, PO Box 205, Lakebay, WA 98349.

MEMO: Shanna Southern Peterson is a Spokane writer and home economist. The Clothesline appears weekly. Ideas for the column may be sent to her c/o The Spokesman-Review Features Department, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210, or e-mail shanptr@aol.com.

Shanna Southern Peterson is a Spokane writer and home economist. The Clothesline appears weekly. Ideas for the column may be sent to her c/o The Spokesman-Review Features Department, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210, or e-mail shanptr@aol.com.


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