A traditional garment inspires couple to go back through time, relive life like Victorians
A married couple in Washington State both share a love for the Victorian era. Their affinity for the period extends not just to reading about it but living the lifestyle on a daily basis.
When Sarah Chrisman first put on a corset her husband, Gabriel, bought for her, it was like a wake-up call. The garment was comfortable to wear, unlike what has been written or said about it.
“When I realized that everything I’d heard about corsets was wrong, I started asking myself what else have I heard about the era, what else might be wrong?” Sarah told ABC News.
From there, the couple began to slowly incorporate Victorian furniture into their Port Townsend home, which was built in 1888, shunning the use of modern technology as much as possible, and changed their lifestyle to mimic those living in the late 19th century, including donning the clothes of that period.
Sarah sews all her own clothes and a seamstress makes Gabriel’s outfits. After wearing the period garments for some time, the Chrismans were surprised by what they learned from putting on Victorian attire.
“Wearing 19th-century clothes on a daily basis gave us insights into intimate life of the past, things so private and yet so commonplace they were never written down,” Sarah wrote for Vox.
Sarah notes how the clothes made her more aware of her surroundings, including “the faint wind caused by the passage of a person or animal close by.”
Modern appliances in the Chrismans’ home are kept at a minimum, such as a landline, internet, and computer—used only when necessary. Instead, the home is furnished with mostly antique appliances like a woodfired stove set, an ice box, and a kerosene space heater. There are also no modern lightbulbs in the house.
“When Gabriel and I have company we use early electric lightbulbs, based on the first patents of Tesla and Edison. When it’s just the two of us, we use oil lamps,” Sarah explained.
“When we started using period illumination every day, we were amazed by how much brighter the light is from antique oil lamps than from modern reproductions,” she added.
The use of such items also taught the couple an invaluable lesson about resources.
“When we use resources through technology that has to be tended, we’re far more careful about how we use them,” Sarah wrote. “To use our antique space heater in the winter, I have to fill its reservoir with kerosene and keep its wick and flame spreader clean; when we want to use it, I have to open and light it. It’s not a burdensome process, but it’s certainly a more mindful one than flicking a switch.”
If any modern gadgets get broken, they try to find antique replacements because the quality is much better.
“When cheap modern things in our lives inevitably broke, we replaced them with sturdy historic equivalents instead of more disposable modern trash,” she wrote.
The lack of music or a television in the home isn’t a problem for the couple either, who pass the time reading or riding on penny-farthings.
Sarah, an author, spends a considerable time writing in her den using a fountain pen that she fills “with liquid ink using an eyedropper.”
“My inkwell and the blotter I use to dry the ink on each page before I turn it are antiques from the 1890s,” she wrote.
When Vox published Sarah’s commentary in 2015, many netizens were puzzled as to why the couple chose to live like this. If not as an experiment, why subject themselves to this?
The Chrismans are acutely aware that they live in the 21st century, but they have found satisfaction and joy living without modern gadgets (neither own a cell phone).
“Even before I met Gabriel, we both saw value in older ways of looking at the world,” Sarah states.
“It’s a life that keeps us far more in touch with the natural seasons, too.”
Sarah bakes fresh bread, washes clothes by hand, and makes her own clothes. Despite the extra work, she doesn’t mind it at all.
“Not everyone necessarily wants to live the same lifestyle we have chosen, of course. But anyone can benefit from choices that increase their awareness of their surroundings and the way things they use every day affect them,” Sarah wrote.
Not everyone agrees with the Chrismans’ choice to live like Victorians; they have faced criticism and hostility from strangers.
“People assume the hard part of our lifestyle comes from the life itself, but using Victorian items every day brings us great joy and fulfillment. The truly hard part is dealing with other people’s reactions,” she said.
“We live in a world that can be terribly hostile to difference of any sort. Societies are rife with bullies who attack nonconformists of any stripe,” she added.
“By comparison, wearing a Victorian corset is the easiest thing in the world.”
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