I opened the chest and pulled them out, fearing the worst. Actually, once I had got over the initial shock, it wasn't as bad as perhaps I had thought -- there was no corset, no layers and layers of petticoats and no fiddly little ribbons and laces. But then, I was a homeless girl with no money, so I suppose I wouldn't be dressed like that, even if I owned the clothes myself.
Instead there was a single petticoat, designed to be worn over what I remembered from a lesson as something called a 'camisole' and a pair of pantaloons that reached to my shins. A broad white belt with primitive hook-and-eye fastenings seemed to defy all attempts to discover its purpose, until I decided it must have been for my waist. Putting it on, I found that it pulled my stomach in further than I had ever imagined was possible, until I was gasping for breath.
Well, it would have to be endured, at least until I discovered what I was doing here.
Next came the dress, and that again was not so bad. It was brown with a tartan-like design and reached below my knees, stopping about two inches above the petticoat and a further two inches above the pantaloons. The material seemed to have been chosen to last instead of for appearance's sake, but it was decent enough. I started to put things on in the order they were meant to go...
The belt, of course that went first. Or did it? I took it off again and put on the camisole and petticoat, then tried to fasten it again. No, it would not close. Perhaps over the camisole and under the petticoat? Or would it be the other way around? I experimented for a moment; not liking to completely abandon my modern underwear, I kept that on underneath.
I never did find out whether I got everything in the right order, but by the time I had the dress on, tied up and complemented by a pair of scratchy wool stockings and worn black boots, I was too flustered to care. It looked well enough to my clueless eyes, and that was good enough for me--besides, I still had to work out what I should do with my hair.
Eventually I opted for the simplest option and tied it up in a half ponytail with the ribbon that they had so thoughtfully provided. An apron lay over the chest and I put that on as well, hoping it would serve to cover up my slightly wonky bodice front. Now I was ready.
Looking back, I wonder at how calm I was, and how little I panicked. But of course, I was convinced it was all some elaborate hoax or a dream--though the discomfort caused by the clothes seemed to rule out the latter--and I couldn't help thinking that before long I would be home again, back in good old 2010 where I belonged, so I decided it was pointless to shout or protest.
Would the woman want me to wait or to go to her? I decided to open the door and see: sure enough, she was waiting outside, her face harsh although she forced a smile when she saw me, and led me down the corridor to a room with a long wooden table and two benches. It was full, or rather, it contained about twelve other young people, all looking surprisingly well dressed.
"You will wait here until they come," we were instructed. That was fine by me, since I had nowhere else to go. I decided to try and find out what was going on.
"So, why are we all in here?" I asked a girl sitting next to me. Her dress was almost the same as mine but lighter in colour, and her apron was stained.
"You don't know?" She looked astounded. "But we've all been trying for weeks to be selected; we all know how lucky we are..." She stared at me. "Are you honestly trying to say you don't know what's going on? You can't be serious." But I was. I really, genuinely, didn't know a thing. And with every minute, the belief that this wasn't real was fading.