Kim Kardashian gets attention for wearing a waist trainer to achieve her hourglass figure, but Sarah Chrisman, 36, has news for her: "I've worn a corset day and night for the past seven years — it's like a hug that never goes away!"
And that's not the only aspect of Victorian-era life Sarah has adopted. She and her husband, Gabriel, 38, live in an 1880s home, keep their food cold with an icebox, cook with a wood-burning stove, read by oil lamp and ride bikes most everywhere. Sarah strolls in Port Townsend, Washington, dressed like a Gibson girl and takes her fellow citizens' reactions in stride: Little girls ask if she's a princess, and elderly gentlemen say she looks the way they remember their first sweethearts. "And there are boomer-generation women who scream at me that I'm oppressing women," she says. "There's a whole spectrum."
It all started in early 2009, when Gabriel gave Sarah, who collected vintage clothing, a corset for her birthday. Contrary to what she'd heard, she found it comfortable, which moved the couple to find out what else about living in that time period might not be as they'd imagined. "We've always been fascinated with this period," says Sarah. "We believe that the best way to understand a different culture is to interact with its daily life."
So each day, after Gabriel heads off to his job at a bike shop, Sarah dresses in her corset, pantalets, petticoats and a long dress and begins tackling a list of chores befitting a scullery maid. First she cleans out the ashes in the stove and lays a new fire; then she empties the drip tray from the icebox, bakes a loaf of bread, fills the lamps and the heater with oil and washes the laundry by hand.
Finally, she sits down to write with her antique fountain pen. She's handwritten but has used a newer amenity, the computer, to send them to her publisher. (The couple's other concessions to modernity include a car so Gabriel can get to work 50 miles away as well as Skype when necessary, although they would prefer to use a telegraph if they could.)
Despite their eccentric lifestyle, for the Chrismans, "It's not about replicating the past — we're trying to bring these principles into the modern world," says Gabriel, adding that living Victorian has brought the couple closer. Without distractions like cell phones and TV, they have plenty of time for meaningful conversations, healthy outdoor activities and shared hobbies like cycling, hiking and cooking.
What won't they pursue in the Victorian manner? "Dentistry!" says Sarah — smart, considering that chloroform and ether were widely used anesthetics in that era. "If I had my druthers," Sarah admits, "I wouldn't be going to a modern dentist, either — I'd be going to one from maybe 500 years in the future!"
A version of this article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of GolfHr.