I wear a red, white, and blue colonial costume, with a knee-length, blousy shirt; knee breeches; high, cotton stockings; and a heavy, sleeveless waistcoat (pronounced WES-kit) - all of which, on a hot and humid summer day, act as a perfect sponge for the quart or two of perspiration I inevitably surrender while walking several miles over the course of the three 90-minute tours I complete each working day. Sometimes I wish I had downspouts to carry off the sweat, the way the tricorne gutters are supposed to carry off rainwater.
In my experience, despite its supposed drainage advantages, the tricorne does not prevent one's face and eyeglasses from getting wet in the rain, and its pointy front is completely useless as a sun visor. All in all, it's a perfectly ridiculous hat, about as functional as a baseball cap worn backward. It also guarantees that at least once a day, a group of children will notice me walking by and snarl in unison, " aarrrrgh!"
My reply, polite yet firm, is always the same: "I'm not a pirate. I'm a patriot!"
I suppose I should be grateful that my period costume does not include the style of men's headgear that succeeded the tricorne, emerging in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: the bicorne. This hat, with the brim tacked up in two places, is worn sideways, like that of Napoleon, Cap'n Crunch, and countless cartoon psychos with their tongues hanging out and one hand stuffed inside the front of their waistcoat.
After four summers of donning a tricorne hat and the rest of the colonial gear, I can quickly forget that I'm wearing it, especially when I'm off duty. Sometimes I take public transportation to and from work, and you'd be amazed at how few people give a second look to someone wearing an outlandish costume on the Market-Frankford El. (This is in keeping, I'm sure, with SEPTA riders' long-standing practice of not noticing - let alone acknowledging - anything weird encountered on their commutes.) I've been greeted with the same steely nonchalance by pharmacists at CVS and even bartenders at Dirty Frank's, where weirdness is pretty much taken for granted.
But I can't overstate the absolute delight with which my Paul Revere outfit is routinely greeted by visitors to Philadelphia from all over the world. And talk about a babe magnet! I am constantly being approached by women asking sweetly and excitedly if they can have their pictures taken with me. My advice to single males on the prowl is to forget about walking a puppy to meet girls; just dress like Ben Franklin and hang out near Independence Hall.
Another insight I've gained from several long, hot summers spent trekking the sidewalks and alleyways of old Philadelphia while dressed like a Founding Father: Our city still knocks the socks off of first-time visitors - the graceful architecture, William Penn's stately street plan, the lively sidewalks filled with people who live and work within walking distance, and Philadelphia's sense of place and of itself.
Once, in the middle of a tour I was giving to a group from northern Ohio, a man asked unexpectedly and perfectly sincerely, "Who would want to live anywhere else?" I tipped my tricorne and said, from a lifetime of experience, "I cannot imagine."
Clark Deleon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.