Living history, one outfit at a time: Every day -- and on Instagram

By Bryan Bowman | Jul 04, 2018
Abby Fields rarely dresses in contemporary clothing.

Sitting at Uncle Jon’s Coffee and Cafe in Marion, 20-year-old Mattapoisett resident Abby Fields wears Victorian era black laced boots that are well over a century old. The rest of her wardrobe is mashed together from different time periods throughout history, a practice called "anachronism."

Her white cotton blouse was made during the Roaring '20s. Her red, ankle-length wool skirt with embroidered floral patterns at the bottom, was hand-crafted around the outbreak of World War I.

Completing her outfit is a necklace made in the 1850s. The centerpiece is embroidered with woven human hair, a common way people remembered and honored loved ones before the advent of widespread photography.

“I know it seems strange, but people throughout history were much closer to death and you wouldn’t have a lot to remember your loved ones by,” Fields said.

She doesn’t know whose hair she’s wearing around her neck, but she hopes to find out someday.

“I’m hoping when I die I’ll find out and he or she will be like ‘thanks for taking me to weird places,' ” she said.

Fields hardly ever wears any modern clothing, in part because she feels the contemporary clothing industry and its reliance on low-wage foreign workers is unethical. But her primary inspiration is a passion for historical textiles and the craftsmanship that went into making them.

“I really like them, and it’s backed up by the ethics … But I just think they’re prettier,” she said between sips of her smoothie.

Fields’ interest in historical clothing is part of a broader passion for history that began as a child. Her great grandmother, a member of the the Fairhaven Colonial Club, would dress up in Revolutionary War era costumes for events.

Although Fields didn't know her great grandmother well, the older woman'scollection of antique clothing found its way to Field's grandmother’s house, where she would play dress up with them.

“I look back now, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so happy I didn’t hurt any of it because I could have ruined them,' ” she said.

Beginning with the clothing, Fields’ passion for history blossomed. She started the History Club at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where she is going into her junior year majoring in history.

She sits on the board of the Mattapoisett and Sippican Historical Societies -- the youngest board member of both organizations. She helps out at the Marion Antique Shop, and completed an internship at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in the spring of her sophomore year.

While Fields appreciates the lessons of history and the design of antique clothing, she does not reject modern society. She has an iPhone, uses a laptop and is otherwise not very dissimilar from other millennials.

“I like a lot of modern culture in the sense that I have rights. … We have great healthcare and are a lot more aware of what’s happening around us,”  she said.

Fields has also integrated aspects of modern culture into her passion for history and its clothing. She runs an Instagram page called “anachronabby” with more than 2,000 followers where she posts pictures of her antique clothing collection.

Its a lot more than a fashion statement. Fields believes that the study of clothing is an important and too often forgotten aspect of history.

“There needs to be a better focus on preserving clothes because … it makes history more human,” she said.

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