Van Cortlandt House Museum – 18th Century Picnic

I’m not shy about admitting there was a lot of blog reading and Instagram lurking before I got the courage to try sewing costumes. And then, in fits and starts, I finally completed an outfit, but quickly realized only dressing up for Halloween wasn’t going to satisfy me. I daydreamed about flying to the Fetes Galantes with an entire wardrobe of extravagant gowns.


I still would love to go one day. But the truth is you don’t have to wait for a perfect Cinderella moment, just push up your sleeves and get started!

fairy godmother cinderella

As I mentioned in my previous post, this picnic came about by simply reaching out to a local historic site and seeing if they would allow a small group in costume. Laura Carpenter, the director of Van Cortlandt House Museum, is a reenactor herself and kindly signed off on a group tour and picnic. There are plenty of talented costumers in NYC and I had a feeling that if I planned something, at least a couple people would show up. We ended up having over a dozen guests, from first-time sewers to experienced costumers— thank you to everyone who came!

One of the best moments of that day was when one of the ladies turned to me as I was pouring lemonade and asked “So how many times have you all done this before?” Because costumers are awesome — and despite mostly being strangers moments before —  everyone started gabbing about each other’s ensembles, machine vs. hand-sewing, Burnley & Trowbridge workshops, and dear-god-my-stays-are-so-sweaty like we’d been meeting for years!

Lesson: nothing ventured, nothing gained! Why not set up your own event if you can’t find anything in your area? Keep in mind that many sites are fully or partially staffed by volunteers, and doing what they can to share the unique history of their house or museum through donations. They’re likely happy to have people help get the word out about their site, but make sure all your guests are clear on any restrictions. Of course, the original 13 colonies sort of have a monopoly on 18th century buildings, but you could always meet at a park, restaurant, community multi-use space, or an obliging member’s backyard.

If you’d like to take part in the next NYC-area meetup, join the Facebook group to stay in touch!

Meredith Barnes (aka Molly Picture Studio) took some lovely shots and has kindly shared them with us. You can see more on her Facebook page.

Picnic at van Cortlandt House Museum, New York. Photo by Molly Picture Studio.
How lovely are these ladies? (L-r) Betsy, Amanda-Rae, Liz, Meredith, Caroline, Halli, me, Maria, and Jere. Photo by Molly Picture Studio.

Meredith B. spread the word to her reenactor friends and they came together from New Jersey. You could tell this was not their first picnic! I need to follow their trick and find a small basket to hide my phone and other items. I forgot to tie on my pocket that day and really missed having a place to stash things.

The picnic was potluck and it was really delicious!


I met Amanda (above in her Poldark cosplay) at the American Duchess event months ago, and then we ran into each other again at the Redthreaded Trunk Show! I later realized several of us were also at the American Duchess event through IG posts. It was nice to chat and get to know everyone a little bit.

I love seeing the mix of silhouettes and colors here.

I’m thrilled to have a nice photo of my outfit, but spot a lot of things to fix for next time. My stomacher is pinned too low, and my stay strap and shift are showing. It was so hot and humid that day that I decided to scrap my plans to curl my hair since it wouldn’t last a minute, and threw it up in a bun. Also, I need to make a linen jacket because holy hell a wool jacket is practically a death sentence over all those layers!

Liz self-drafted her striped caraco and paired it with a fab strawberry hedgehog wig. Meredith M. and Betsy both had very Vigee-LeBrun hedgehog-and-bergere combos and Halli used pink-tinted pomatum— Versailles chic! Amanda also had a great idea to add a  curled hair extension. In other words, I need to step up my hair game!

Shoes! And cute stockings, too!
Hats, parasols, fans — all very necessary for summer costuming events!

Van Cortlandt House Museum

The Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park was named after this historic house built in the 1740’s by the Van Cortlandt family. The family had lived on the land since 1691, and their successful wheat plantation and grist mill led to their prominence in New York society. The house would remain in the Van Cortlandt family for 140 years before it was sold to the city, and it would be decades before it was registered a National Historic Landmark in 1967. Apparently one of its many uses before becoming a museum was as a dormitory for ranch hands herding buffalo!


You enter through the side door to do a self-guided tour and there are several floors to explore, including one furnished as it would have been during Gen. Washington’s stay. The restored formal dining room is elegant and beautifully designed in Wedgewood blue and cream. I have more photos, but I hope to entice you to go see it in person 🙂

Note the Dutch influence in the colors used here and the Delft tiles.
A gown waiting to be put on in the beautiful chintz covered bed.

You can get to VCHM by taking the 1 train to the last stop (Van Cortlandt Park-242nd St.), and walking about five minutes into the park. It’s a fun peek into New York’s past that’s off the beaten path. They also have a history summer camp for kids in August.

Looking forward to our next meetup, maybe I’ll see you there!

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