Leslie Goddard won't take offense if you say she lives in the past
Leslie Goddard won't take offense if you say she lives in the past Credit: Karen Kring

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

“You can drive in a hoopskirt. In a pinch, you can. It collapses surprisingly well. People always think when you sit down, the hoop is going to snap up and hit you in the forehead, but it doesn’t. The whole point of them was, women had been wearing eight to 12 petticoats, which are really heavy, and when you put on the wire hoopskirt, it’s very lightweight, and it gives you complete freedom of movement.

“I try to be as accurate as I can. One of the stickiest eras is the Civil War, because there are so many Civil War reenactors, and they really know how far off the ground women’s skirts were, how thick the collars tended to be. If you’re out there and you’re dressed in period clothes without a corset, people will know. I like the characters like Louisa May Alcott, who said she could never keep her hair tidy or her clothes straight, so that gives me a little bit of license.

“Makeup is the hardest part. I go for accuracy, which usually means no makeup, except for Jackie Kennedy. It’s “wash everything off and rely on yourself.” And that’s hard. I wear mascara every day; it’s hard for me even to go to the grocery store with no eyeliner on.

“Every time I do Jackie Kennedy, I have to make sure there are no runs in the stockings; everything has to be perfectly pressed and perfectly clean. We have the same shoe size—size 10. She had really big feet. I listened to recordings of her over and over, trying to get that sort of breathy voice. I looked into seeing if I could find her actual lipstick. She wore Adrien Arpel Perfect Pink. I don’t think they make it anymore.

“When you’ve got on the Bertha Palmer costume, with the multiple layers and the corset, and you’re balancing the hat and you want it at the perfect angle, it forces you to be upright. You almost are forced to be statuesque.

“I discovered this book, this memoir of Violet Jessop, who had been a first-class stewardess on the Titanic and then was on the Titanic‘s twin sister, the Britannic, which was sunk during World War I. She’s the only verified person to have survived both sinkings. She has these wonderful descriptions of people on board telling her not to forget to ‘get some fresh green peas for my Pekingese, and make sure to mash them up really well.’ And then she describes sitting in the lifeboat, watching the ship go down, listening to those screams that died out after 30 minutes. It’s so incredibly performable.

“It takes me about a year to put a portrayal together. I’ve had times where I’m so enmeshed in research that I will dream that I’m there, that I’m at a Civil War battlefield.

“I’ve dreamt I’m spending the night on the Titanic. I’m never at the disaster. I’m more just like wandering around.”