09 April 2017

The Peacock Scale

In thinking about how to grade historical accuracy, I realized that not all aspects of accuracy are equal. If the over-all impression of a garment is strikingly inaccurate, it doesn't really help if a closer examination shows that the details are correct (e.g., consider a hand-sewn 18th century shift made from shock pink linen).

So, IMHO some requirements are more basic than others, and need to be fulfilled before I can get "accuracy points" for other aspects—sort of like a parallel to Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

From there, I came up with this four-level scale as a guide to self-grading my historical garments:

Basic (30 %)

If I saw it from a distance, say across the square or down the street, it would look plausible to me (think "extras in a period production").
  • silhouette and general impression
  • color
  • drape and shine of the fabric, etc. 
  • when considering a costume as a whole, all essential items must be present, like e.g head coverings for women in most periods

Medium (60 %)

If I saw the garment in use, from a 1 m (or 1 yd) distance, it would look plausible ("main characters in a period production").
  • seam placement (garment cut, as well as joins due to narrow period fabrics)
  • visible seams look like they're sewn with period techniques
  • fabric's weave and thread count is acceptable, and it looks like the right fiber
  • period-appropriate buttons and trim

Advanced (90 %)

When I put on the garment or outfit, and wear it for some hours, to the best of my knowledge it will handle, look, and feel like it did in period ("time travel").
  • lining fabric choice
  • interior seams and finishes
  • mostly correct fiber content (affects how fabric breathes and wrinkles)
  • hand made hooks and eyes 
  • boning has period-appropriate width and the right stiffness

Master (100 %)

If future museum specialists examined the garment, using microscopes, X-ray photography and so on, they would want to await the carbon dating results before saying if it's extremely well-preserved, or a really good reproduction.
  • fabric weave, weight, and thread count
  • exact fiber content
  • boning material
  • techniques used in construction, that aren't visible from inside nor outside

Would this approach really work?

I hope so. At least I think it will help me to get my priorities right, so I put my effort into the right aspects of the garment—improving visible aspects of accuracy, before fairly invisible ones.

In a 30 % accurate outfit, I would probably feel okay with visiting an open event that doesn't have an enforced dress code, or go to a historic site that doesn't mind people in costume; at 60 % I'd be confident that I contribute to the period experience of the people I meet. At some point I'd enjoy reaching 90+ %, for the time travel experience.

Most of my projects will likely fall in-between these precise levels. Suppose a garment fulfills all the 30 % requirements but also part of the 60 % and 90 % ones; then I'll rate it somewhere in the 35 to 55 % range, depending on how much of the 60 % requirements it covers. I.e., meeting some of the 90 % requirements doesn't add points unless the 60 % level is reached. I picked the colors of the visual scale (inspired by the peacock's showy tail feathers) to start with green as I feel that anything from 30 % and up is fine, depending on the context.

What do you think?

What do you think of this concept? Can a framework of fixed levels be helpful, or are there other aspects of accuracy that make it irrelevant?

If you like the Peacock Scale idea, you're welcome to use it (a link back to this page is appreciated). In case you want to use my graphic scales, please save the relevant images (below) to your computer so you can link to your own copy.


  1. Thank you so much for making this! I will have to use this from here on out, if that's alright with you!

  2. I'm glad you appreciate my idea, and you're most welcome to use it!

  3. Great idea! This is helpful to new reenactors like me.

    1. Thanks!

      Now that I've started using the scale myself, I've found it a bit frustrating to get percentages in the low to middle range, and I need to remind myself that if I score e.g. 60 % I'm doing way better than if it was 60 % at a school test. ;-)