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Posts Tagged ‘Costume College’

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Late last month I ventured to Woodland Hills, CA for my very first Costume College, which is an annual “costuming arts conference” brought to us by Costumer’s Guild West, Inc. Attendees enjoy three days of workshops and lectures on all things period costuming and history. There are also special events such as an opening night social, a grand ball with a red carpet! Afternoon tea, a small marketplace, an exhibit, photo ops, and I’m sure I’ve left out something. Each year has a theme and this year it was – Dressing the Royals.

Costume College has been around for 26 years and over time it has grown from a mostly local event to attracting people from all over the country and the world. In 2017 there were just over 400 attendees – this year CC topped out at around 650. That’s a big leap in one year.

It seems cosplay (big in the LA area) has sparked an interest in period costuming prompting people to check this out. I would also suggest that the current desire for “experiences” might also play a role. I spoke to a few people who were first timers. One woman from LA has been involved in reenactments but she had only recently heard about CC. Another is a regular at various cosplay events and wanted to expand her costuming adventures. There were young and not-so-young, women and men but mostly women. Almost all of the people I spoke with are serious sewists – the more complex the outfit the better.

 

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The lobby on Friday morning.

Once upon a time I was into Victorian ballroom dancing and I had a local seamstress make a Victorian gown for me, but that’s as far as I went. Other than the 1920s-40s, I’m actually not that interested in costuming for myself. So at CC I focused on the fashion history lectures, which were a mixed bag. I noticed quickly that the quality varied. The presenters who were academics gave strong in-depth lectures on their subjects and were able to answer just about any question thrown at them. Lectures given by people who worked in or owned businesses that related to their topic, such as historical shoes, were excellent.  But there were some instructors that had simply chosen a topic they liked and done basic internet research and those presentations were thin. Given that everyone who works Costume College, including the instructors, are volunteers perhaps this is not surprising but nevertheless, disappointing.

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Waiting to walk the Red Carpet.

Speaking of volunteers, I tip my hat to the board and every one of the volunteers who spent months putting CC together. I could see how much work it must be and it seemed on the surface to go smoothly. I also want to give a shout out to the Woodland Hills Marriott. I usually don’t care for big corporate hotels, but this one was a pleasure! I had a few minor problems over my stay and the staff were friendly and went out of their way for me. My room was spacious and clean. The two swimming pools were kept immaculate.

Back to CC. The organizers ask attendees if they’d like to take a volunteer shift over the weekend and I was happy to do that. At the last minute my original assignment was changed to crowd control at the Red Carpet. People in costume are invited to walk a red carpet on Saturday evening before the Grand Ball. My job was to direct them to a staging room before walking. It was an intense two hours as people in packs kept coming and coming off the elevators donning all array of costumes. Given the theme I spotted many a Queen Victoria. I also saw Renaissance, Regency, Georgian (a very popular choice), Victorian, Edwardian … even a 1920s flapper. There were Steampunk ensembles and a couple of odd sci-fi creature type costumes. After awhile the scene became a whirlwind of time travel, but the nearby Starbucks sign kept me grounded.

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The Queen Victoria Trio.

What did I wear? For the daytime lectures I wore vintage inspired pieces that I made myself, or were custom made, paired with vintage accessories. My look was pretty consistent with what I wear everyday anyway – 1920s/30s. As I mentioned I’m not into extravagant period costumes so I avoided most of the special events. I did briefly pop into one or two and even though it is stressed that no one HAS to wear a costume, I felt pretty uncomfortable. Plus people who attend year after year know each other and kind of stick together. It’s tough for newbies.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one not into dressing up. After my volunteer shift I stopped into the Hospitality Suite for a bit of rest and refreshment, I chatted with a couple of women who told me that they enjoy making costumes but not dressing themselves. They explained that there are really two camps at CC – the making and the crafting and the dressing and showing.

I believe that! I noticed that some people had multiple elaborate costumes, a different one for every event. We are talking hoops, corsets, layers of undergarments, wigs, hats. Oh my! I kept thinking – how does one travel with all that stuff and indeed there was a lecture on that very topic. (On a side note, it was a visual shock Monday morning to see the same people roaming around the lobby in leggings and flip flops.)

Overall I enjoyed my first Costume College. I learned new things, met interesting people, and found inspiration here and there. I’d say it’s an experience worth the effort at least once.

Interested? The theme next year is: What’s That Fabric.

 

 

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Zack Pinsent. Photo: BBC

Why dress up in jeans and a t-shirt if you can go along to Tesco dressed as Napoleon or something?

Zack Pinsent, British tailor who specializes in Regency period clothing.

Zack dresses full time in period clothing. He’s a part of a new BBC television show, My Friend Jane, which is all about modern day fans of Jane Austen.

Speaking of period clothing, later this week I am on my way to Costume College. For the very first time I’ll be joining the ranks of other period clothing enthusiasts for three days of fashion history lectures and workshops such as:

  • Making the Phantom Bustle
  • 18th Century Coat Construction
  • How to Set an Authentic 16th Century Ruff

… just to mention a few.

I am most interested in fashion history so I’ll be headed to the lecture classes. I’m looking forward to learning about 18th century fabrics, changes in women’s fashions 1774-1784, Hanbok – modern historical Korean dress, and much much more!

Costume College is an annual “costuming arts conference” brought to us by Costumer’s Guild West, Inc.

You can be sure I’ll be writing about this and posting on Instagram.

Follow along #overdressed4life.

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