You’ll recall from Part 1 of this tale that I made mention of me organising the Historical Fashion Show that was part of the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations. For so long it was something that was so far away but, all of a sudden, I not only found myself at the Heritage Celebrations but awakening on the very day that the show was to happen.
Despite feeling exhausted on my return from the ball I still woke early on Saturday morning. I took one last look at the script and made a couple of adjustments before getting myself ready. I felt somewhere between nervous and calm and hoped to stay either at the same level or – more miraculously – become even calmer.
Mum and Dad had come back up to help set up so I headed down to the hall to meet them and to start setting up and getting everything organised. The streets were quite quiet at that time of the morning except for a couple of tour coaches parked near the precinct.
I met Mum and Dad and we entered the hall at the back. Jen was already there, packing up from the ball and the catwalk was already being set up.
We unloaded a garment rack and mirror from the back of the car to set up in the kitchen, which was to serve as the changing area. Mum left to get the final script printed and Dad and I started setting out the chairs.
We set out about 60 chairs and I wondered if I was being a little bit overconfident. We also discovered that we had no microphone and no PA system. A big uh-oh. I don’t have a big voice and now I was going to basically try and yell at people.
This was not helping my nerves.
Mum returned with the script and I helped her dress in her 1890s Plum Outfit. As I was doing that, Lorna arrived with her dresses and to claim a space in the kitchen. I was able to show her the order of participants to check if she thought that there was enough time to change her outfits.
After she had left Mum pointed something out – one of my petticoats was clearly showing below the hem of my skirt. I was wearing three petticoats and we couldn’t figure out which one was causing the problem without shedding the layers and I had already done battle with my bodice hooks and eyes and did not want to deal with that again.
All of my anxiety about looking like an imposter on stage came flooding out. The whole time I had been sewing my Aubergine Dress I had had an underlying fear that if my dress didn’t look perfect that the audience would assume that I didn’t know what I was talking about.
My panic attack lasted two, maybe three minutes but, once recovered, I was able to think clearly. The offending petticoat was diagnosed and removed and Mum helped me battle the hooks and eyes (I’m seriously considering changing the closures to buttons).
I still hadn’t written in the thank you cards I had purchased so, while Dad popped little chocolates inside the gift bags, I started that task. I also set up a Backstage Emergency Station with needles and threads, safety pins, bobby pins, etc. Basically, anything I could think of.
With the parade about to start, we locked up the hall and I sought out my fellow suffragists. No matter what, I had been determined that I would march to celebrate and acknowledge those who never gave up fighting for women’s right to vote in New Zealand. As we were assembling I was able to recruit Elizabeth, Naomi’s mother, for the fashion show, dressed as a suffragist.
Despite the chance-of-rain weather the parade still went well and I felt incredibly proud to be representing the suffragists. Cheryl led us with some chants and a lot of women spectators clapped and cheered as we passed. My hat fell victim to a gust of wind but it was rescued and returned to me by the lovely people walking behind me.
On return to the starting point, there was some time for milling about and chatting before Mum and I went off in search of Trish, my aunt, whom I had spotted during the parade. She had already moved on so then the objective changed to finding a coffee for me. I hadn’t had any yet (and still was somehow functioning (to a degree)). As I was waiting to order one I realise that I hadn’t eaten anything yet either. I wasn’t feeling hungry but I didn’t want to faint onstage so I bought a scone.
We walked back to the hall and found Dad (we had accidentally lost him). They headed off in search of lunch and I was all alone in the hall. I tried to eat the scone and while I waited for my coffee to cool to drinking temperature, folded all of the handouts and set them by the donation box in the foyer.
After I finished my coffee I unlocked the front doors of the hall and stood in the entrance. I couldn’t see the racing from there due to the crowd of spectators but I was more interested in trying to spot any dresses that might go well in the show.
As I was standing there, a gentleman who I had crossed paths with previously, stopped and asked if I lived in Oamaru.
‘No’, I told him.
‘But they trusted you to open up the hall?’
‘They trusted me to organise the fashion show,’ I replied, realising then just what a unique opportunity I had been given.
My friends and I joke about how I’m a non-local local. I’ve never lived in Oamaru but my grandparents lived in Hampden while I was growing up so we came into Oamaru a lot. My great great grandparents became locals and my great grandfather was born there. I have books on the history of Oamaru on my bookshelf keeping my historical costuming books company. And, of course, I’ve been attending the Heritage Celebrations for years.
So, to be responsible for one of the events was not only a huge privilege but also a huge responsibility. I didn’t want to let anybody down and I certainly didn’t want to cause the committee to question why they had handed me the reins.
Another passerby who stopped to talk to me was June, a lovely older lady who told me that she had wanted to be in the show but never had a reply to her email. An email I had never received because a local Oamaru Facebook page had spelt both my name and email address incorrectly (A situation I did manage to get rectified, but not quickly enough it seems). I told June that I would love to have her in the show if she was still interested, which she was.
Other participants started arriving and I showed them through to the kitchen-turned-changing-area. Maree and Scott also arrived and I was so glad and relieved to see them. Between the three of us, we figured out the best way to utilise the catwalk staging and how everything was going to work.
Two of the District Council Interns arrived and stationed themselves at the entrance with the donation box. Backstage, when everyone had assembled I read through the order of participants and Maree gave everyone a briefing of directions.
As we were doing this, Scott came backstage and asked if I had any more handouts. My brain ran the numbers – 65 handouts and they were all taken? That meant that there were a few more people in the audience than I had dared to hope for. The next time he came backstage he announced that people were pulling the extra chairs in and the hall was filling up.
A small wave of ‘uh oh, what have I got myself into?’ surged through my brain. Just as it passed, Scott came bursting through the doors again, heading straight for the spare chairs. The hall was packed.
Absolute panic hijacked my brain for a second and I looked at Maree. She told me afterwards that she thought I looked like I was about to faint. Maybe if I hadn’t eaten that scone I might have? Strangely, apart from a few moments of panic, I was feeling reasonably calm.
I remember asking what the time was and the answer was three o’clock. Show Time. Now or Never. Well, more precisely, it was Now or Now because backing out of it just was not an option. Here were my lovely participants, all dressed and ready to go – ready to put themselves out there for the public to see. And out there was the audience – and not a small one either – who had paid their gold coin and were waiting to see what I had put together.
Scott and I walked up the steps to the stage. The curtain had been drawn since we weren’t using the stage and everyone was going to be gathered up there ready to take their cue. The audience chatter echoed about the stage behind the curtain, and it definitely sounded like a whole lot of people.
Down the steps and through the door… I was so glad that I had had a heads up about how full the hall was because I’m pretty sure I could have turned around and disappeared back through the door.
We stepped up onto the catwalk staging and Scott addressed the audience. He explained that we didn’t have a microphone so could everyone please keep quiet so that others could hear. He also asked that all modern devices be switched to silent. Because (utilising a saying I had come up with earlier during the Celebrations) we ‘didn’t want to hear the future calling.’ He stepped off the catwalk and took his station by the door to escort each participant.
‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Historical Fashion Show for 2018…’ and so it began.
To be completely honest, most of the show was a blur to me. We had a couple of glitches and, I know at the start I was nervous and spoke too quickly. Oh, and someone’s cell phone rang about a third of the way through. How rude. Especially after being asked to switch phones to silent. I hesitated for a moment wondering whether to continue or not. Then, I decided quite definitely that I was going to stop and wait. After all, I was up there putting myself out there and it was disrespectful so I wasn’t going to let it slide.
But, that aside, it went really well. Everyone who wore more than one outfit was changed and ready to step back out onto the catwalk for their second walk on time (thanks so much to them and those who were helping backstage!). The audience gave spontaneous applause for some of the participants and, Dad pointed out that they were listening because ‘they laughed at my jokes.’
Before I knew it, I was running through my thank yous. Thanking the participants, those who helped to set up, Maree, the committee for taking a chance on me, the audience for attending, and wishing them all the best for the rest of the Celebrations. I wasn’t prepared for the applause and awkwardly bobbed into a curtsey before stepping off the catwalk.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive from friends and strangers alike. The general consensus was that I had done a great job, it was a shame that there had been no microphone, it had been well organised, and that it was one of the better shows some people had seen.
What delighted me most was to hear from so many was that they had learnt something. That had been one of my intentions – or hopes – and I had succeeded. What I didn’t expect, was for a gentleman to reenter the hall to tell me that he and some friends had been standing outside the hall talking about it and that they wanted to let me know that they all thought that I had done a wonderful job.
A lot of friends and acquaintances had pitched in to pack away the chairs while all of this was happening (thank you to you all) and the hall emptied out enough to close and lock the front doors.
Mum, Dad, and Trish helped me pack up what was left and to load it into Mum and Dad’s car. After figuring out the logistics of our next course of action, I walked back to my accommodation to change from my bodice into my shirtwaist to be ready for the shindig that evening. Trish picked me up and, with Mum and Dad following, we drove out to Maree and Scott’s.
Mum changed back into her normal clothes and I said my goodbyes to them (with Mum trying to put in an order for her next outfit). I then, quite happily, spent the rest of the afternoon doing…well… not a lot for the first time in a long time. The cats were more than happy to help me with this.
As 8 o’clock drew closer we were picked up and driven to the Oamaru Club for the Shindig. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening despite the fact that I was exhausted, and a great way to let down my hair (almost literally – it started coming loose during the more vigorous dances).
It rained quite considerably while we were inside but even accidentally stepping into a very full gutter while crossing the road could not dampen my spirits as I reflected on just how incredible my day had actually been.
Sunday arrived with that bittersweet feeling that accompanies the last day of any event. It was cool but sunny – though with a forecast for rain about midday.
Some stallholders had clearly opted not to risk it and were noticeably absent. Others were prepared to stick it out – or to at least keep an eye on changes in the weather in case it was clear that they would need to pack up in a hurry.
It didn’t take long to run into friends and again I found myself bouncing between different groups of people. Before the weather could even chance to turn nasty, we had some fun taking photos.
I stopped by Honey and Spice – my favourite stall – to say hello and to stock up on my soaps. I also picked up a bathtub tea bag, filled with all sorts of delicious ingredients to throw in my bath the following night when staying in Christchurch. After all, I thought, I’d definitely earned it!
I attached myself to Maree and Scott for the rest of the day – or at least until the approaching rumbles of thunder drew closer. The rain began and they decided to head off after we confirmed our traditional dinner plans. Despite the spots of rain, I wasn’t ready to retreat yet as I had booked myself in to see Carol for a photo.
I took cover, hiding away in the entrance of the building Carol’s studio is situated in. From there I could watch the retreat of umbrella-less fete-goers, the stroll of those armed with umbrellas, and the start of the stall dismantling. As I watched, I noticed the Brough sisters taking shelter under a stall’ s gazebo. I braved the drops of rain to hurry over to say hello, thank you and to bid them a safe journey back to Invercargill.
I returned to the entrance of Carol’s studio just in time. The heavens opened and I watched as the remaining members of the public scattered, and as stallholders rushed to complete their task as soon as they could. Carol spotted me through the window in the door and told me to come inside and keep warm (and to dry off).
I waited for the clients before me, a family group, had their photos taken and then decide which one that they liked best. Out of the window, it was clear that the rain was getting worse. I really felt for the stallholders.
The family paid and left and then it was my turn. We tried a few different ideas to get the right photo and also ended up just chatting. Carol had been at the fashion show, taking photos for the Oamaru Mail, and she showed me one of the photos that she had taken – the one that was published in that week’s edition – that gave some sort of idea of just how many people had been present. I still couldn’t wrap my head around it.
We chose two photos from the session and as Carol was sorting those out Maree and I were messaging – Scott had offered to pick me up and drive me the short distance back to my accommodation to save me getting absolutely saturated. Cars and vans had been let through into the precinct by this time so Scott could pick me up right outside.
I said goodbye and thank you so much to Carol, and then dashed across the footpath, gathered my skirts and jumped into the car. Not very ladylike, but at that stage, I was beyond caring. Scott drove me to my accommodation where I had the chance to dry out before dinner and to start packing everything up.
The rain had let up before dinner time and my friends and I enjoyed our traditional Sunday night dinner at the Last Post. One last outing in our Victorian clothes before having to travel back to the 21st Century, and to travel back to our homes and to our ‘real lives’, our suitcases packed with new memories, experiences, and for myself, with a victory to be proud of. I had stepped completely out of my comfort zone, had taken on a challenge that scared me but that I wanted to do, I had surprised myself and learned that there is so much that I am capable of achieving in this hobby.
To wrap this post up I once again want to thank the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations committee for such an amazing opportunity. Let’s hope that next year is even better 😊