Once upon a time, quite recently, a couple from Washington State planned a wedding anniversary treat to visit Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. Excited and ready to enjoy their day, the pair showed up all decked out in what they say is everyday wear for them: head-to- toe Victorian. They were abruptly told Butchart Gardens has a “no costumes” policy and unless they wanted to change into some old clothes sitting around in the back, they had to leave. According to the couple’s lengthy blog post about the incident, there was a lot of discussion, both sides rigid in their positions:
– We don’t allow costumes here.
– These aren’t costumes … this is what we wear every day.
– Well, you can’t wear them here, whatever you want to call them.
The reason for the policy, explained by a manager, is that it’s confusing to other attendees who might think the costumed people are staff employees.
In the end the couple had to leave but they were (after a lot of arguing, again according to the blog post) given their money back.
This story brings up very interesting issues: What is costume? Where and when are costumes appropriate? The American College Dictionary defines costume as: dress or garb belonging to another period, place, etc.
People who sport period clothing outfits full time, a growing trend, will argue that what they are wearing is their regular clothing and therefore not costumes. OK, from their perspective. But it seems to me that these well-dressed individuals don’t understand that to most everyone else (dressed head-to-toe in ath-leisure) they do indeed look like they’re in costume and that’s what can pose problems for museums and other attractions. The historical silhouettes of the Victorian period in particular – bustles and top hats for example – are so far from what we know and have known for nearly two centuries, of course they’re costumes. I can understand the potential for confusion and the need for policies.
I think part of the costume problem is the variety of costumes that are popping up. It’s not just period clothing but also animals, comic book characters, and masks which are a security issue. Apparently, Butchart Gardens had a person show up in a ladybug costume. A teenage girl dressed as Tinkerbell caused all kinds of confusion at Disneyland. Venues don’t want the distractions and I don’t blame them. They have to draw a line and stick to it and … it’s not personal.
Now don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to see and be among people dressed Victorian, Edwardian, or any past era of lovely clothing. It’s a far prettier picture than shorts, jeans, tank tops, baseball caps and flip flops. But I do think that those of us who dress in period clothing, whether all the time or just occasionally, should keep in mind that actually, we live in the 21 century and it’s rude to walk around in our garb insisting that the rules/policies shouldn’t apply to us. The fact is that our clothing choices to most of the world are costumes and perhaps we should take responsibility for that by checking out various venue policies ahead of time to avoid confrontation and disappointment. (The Buchart Gardens have their policy clearly posted on their website.)
Also, perhaps staff at these venues should be trained on how to handle people who are sporting costumes. Sneering and such is unnecessary and a very bad reflection on the individual staff member as well as the place of business.
Respect on both sides will go a long way.