Happy New Year!

This year I am looking forward to a lot of big changes that are already in the works. I am also doing everything I can to create even more.

I hope that my readers are enjoying my content, but I am considering seperating out my costume blog from the rest. Even though it is all me, I am working towards developing a costume business and do not want my political beliefs getting in the way. However this means creating interesting content for two seperate audiences, while starting a business and working full-time. All the while trying not to ignore my family and other responsibilities. I also know that since I have been sending people all to the same site, that would inevitably lead to confusion. On the other hand, it is better to do it now while I am still just starting out. What do you think?

I need to finish building a few things and taking pictures, but as soon as I am done I will set up my Etsy store and share that with everyone. I will be endeavoring to provide high-quality pieces ranging from the elaborate to the simple. I am working on some toys now, but my costumes will also be available. Everything will be made-to-order, so we can make sure that everything is just right. This will also be the main channel to contact me about special orders. I always love a challenge!

I look forward to the possibility of making money doing something that I love. I know this will be a challenge, but if I can make it work, it will be better for myself and my family. Wish me luck, and I wish you all the best for all of your New Years Resolutions!

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Geek Culture

Like many people of my generation, I am surprised to find what was out is in. I was always the type to like what I liked, no matter who said what about it. This has always been obvious in my clothing choices, but it is not the only thing.

My personal geek has always been history. When I graduated from college with a B.A. in History I decided I could stop calling myself an ‘history nut’ to calling myself an ‘Historian’. I have never made the change.

But there is also books. I love to escape into a great story. My teachers used to have to slow me down. I was told that I would not have time to read all of Little Women in time to finish my fourth grade book report. In fact sometimes it is a book that gets me into history. Reading a book about King Tutankhamun’s tomb is what got me into studying Egypt for several years.

And then there is the clothes. Historical clothes, fantasy clothes, elegant clothes, funky clothes, kids dressed like grown-ups, grown-ups dressed like kids. Most anything that was not the norm was fair game. (That said, more recently there have been a lot of people pushing that same box in places I won’t even go.

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Like this rendition of a bubble dress)

When I was young I resisted a lot of ‘geek’ things. I had a personal ban on sci-fi, was wary of fantasy, knew nothing of Anime, and rejected Video Games. But I always felt a kinship with this type of geek. We were all outcasts, we knew what it was to be left out of the clique. But somewhere we had a feeling that some people, maybe even the ones who hassled us the most, did it because they were afraid to let anyone know they were like us.

Later on, with the re-birth of Goth, I found the first outcast clique I felt like I could fit in with. The fun clothes were just up my alley, and I did not keep to the ‘all black’ rule, as my Morticia Morticia dress might show. I remember one day I was wearing a lime green floor length dress that I had made with black lipstick and some friends started to debate whether people who saw me would assume I was a Goth or a Raver. I had a lot of fun with the fact that I could find makeup in totally wild colors, and I would spend the hour and a half morning bus ride designing elaborate Venetian style masks out of eyeliner.

By this point Lord of the Rings was out, and I was a big fan. I still had not seen Star Wars, but I was beginning to be exposed to Anime somewhat, and I was more computer savvy than most people my age, although by no means a computer geek. Compared to them I live in the stone ages. (And might prefer that). I was already in the SCA and was finally feeling like there were people with whom I could fit in, something that, outside of Madrid, I thought was impossible in elementary school.

It was not until an awesome college professor who specialized in Shakespeare had us analyze A New Hope that I finally got over my ‘no sci-fi’ rule, although I do still find a lot of it not to my taste. I still have trouble getting into video games just because they have a tenancy to eat so much time. That said, I have my weaknesses. I play Sims, Tetris, Bloons and Civilization far more than I should, and I play Minecraft (much to the amazement of my students when I was substitute teaching) on occasion. I love going to cons, of any sort. It is another place where I feel at home in my crazy costumes.

These days, with the popularity of geek I find that I feel almost disappointed, now that the people who would have been my bullies behave like they are my pals, I get a bit put off sometimes. As many people know it is easy to tell a true fan from those who embrace the geek because of the popularity. And sometimes, because I am a late-comer to some of the geek myself, I feel like I am either placed in that category or I am being deceptive to people who think I have been a lifelong fan. On the other hand, there are so many things that do play into my lifelong geeks, that I feel like finally the fad has joined me.

Steampunk is a perfect example. It is technology, albeit fictional, that I can understand on some level, it is history, sort-of, and it is clothes! Victorian is one of my favorite periods, and recently it has shown up in several places. In my own mind I make a distinction between

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true Victorian
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the idea of Victorian   (Dracula, Melodrama, etc.)

as well as

 

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Goth Victorian

and

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Steampunk

But I like all of them and I think that it is awesome that something so different from modern fashion is having its own ‘retro’.

 

Growing up where I did I have not really had much opportunity to go to conventions, but where I am living now is part of the nerve center for some of it, and I really want to go explore it more.

Fashion

With my obsession with clothing, it may come as a surprise that, while I do enjoy studying historical fashion trends, I find modern fashion largely uninteresting. Every once in a while something will pop up that I like, but usually it is something that references historical fashion. In casual conversation I usually just dismiss modern fashion as boring, which is the reason that I don’t really like it. But there is more to modern fashion that bothers me than that. Prices.

I do not, cannot, and  will not understand how brand names mean higher prices. The Louis Vatton bag looks the same to me as the one at wal-mart, except that the one at wal-mart I am not paying someone to advertise for them. The quality is no better than the cheap wal-mart version or the knock offs. I have had people argue this one to no end, but I do work with these things, I know what I am looking at. As far as I have seen, men’s suits and the fabrics they use is the only exception to this rule, but even then the nice fabrics that are worth a higher price do not always go with an expensive brand name.

I completely understand paying more for a better product, I understand paying the person who makes something what it costs for them to make it. I expect that. I charge more for my work than you could buy a Halloween costume at party city, but I make it out of sturdy materials, I make it to fit the customer, and I expect to be paid for my expertise and time, as well as the costs of materials. What I do not get is paying more money for the EXACT SAME PRODUCT. We are not talking a few dollars here, it is the difference between $20 and $500. The only difference is the big showy label that says “I paid way too much for this bag!”

Honestly if people choose to spend their hard-earned money in this way this is their business, not mine. It does become my business when people assume that ‘homemade’ means cheap. It is my business when people want me to make them a real Victorian corset for the same as they could buy a cheap Halloween costume ‘corset’. It is my business when people think that because I do not make these brand-name things that my labor is worth less than they would pay for that.

Society For Creative Anachronism

Ok, so today I am gonna plug for the SCA.

I made the black dress from a pattern. I now know that the princess seams are not period, but I still wear the dress. This picture is not mine, but since I hate putting pictures of people up without their permission, and this is the only SCA picture I can find that doesn’t include a lot of other faces, this is what you get.

What is it? – The SCA stands for Society for Creative Anachronism. So what does that mean? It means a group of people (Society) who creatively are out of time and place (Anachronism). Ok, still a little literal. It is a medieval recreation society. We do our best to live as people lived in medieval times. (Without the plague, religious persecution, and lack of sanitation.)

I say medieval, but really any period prior to the 17th century is fair game. Most people stick to European history, but some do delve into the Stepps and even into Asia.

Who are These People? – All the funny clothes, strange names, and crowns can be a little intimidating. It can feel like another world, and that is the point. We take care to make our outfits, accessories, and sometimes even speech, our escape from the mundanity of everyday life. In fact, we refer to life outside the SCA as ‘Mundane Life’, imagine that. Most people choose a name that goes with a persona. They create a person who would have lived in a particular time and place. Then they live in those shoes. SCAers tend to get confused when they find out that I do not do this. I don’t because I cannot choose just one period or place. People can have several personas, but I find even that too restrictive. I will often go every day of an event in a different era. When I joined there were a lot of people whose SCA names were variations of my name. I don’t really see a point. I feel more at home at events anyway.

The crowns are a little different. SCA has our own royalty. The crowns are worn by people who are permitted to. Just to confuse you, the bigger the crown does not mean the higher the rank. The crowns are designed according to the wearer’s preference.

So What Do People Do? – If someone did it during the time period, someone in the SCA probably does it. If it is more obscure, you may have a hard time finding them, especially in a small group. At large events though, GAME ON!

The Biggest Examples –

  • Fighting – Most people who know something about the SCA know about the Fighting, so I will start there. We have two main fight styles. What we call ‘Heavy’ and ‘Light’. All of our martial activities have strict safety measures regarding the weapons, and the armor used. We rely on the honor system to count hits. In the SCA, unless specified in a particular event, if an arm is hit, you ‘lose’ that arm and must fight without it, the same goes for a leg. Fighters will kneel at this point, although I have never seen it, I do not think there are rules again hopping around. If a fighter looses both arms, they will admit defeat, although once again, I don’t think there are rules against going all Black Knight.

Heavy fighting is a recreation of broadsword melee mostly. However many people choose to use axes, maces, or even pole arms instead. We are not a live steel group, which means that when we fight, we are not using real weapons. Most are built by members out of Ratan which is like a heavy bamboo. Usually they are wrapped in duct tape. Because Duct Tape.

Light fighting is a recreation of fencing. We use heavier swords than that used in the Olympics, but use similar face masks. These swords are tipped so that no-one gets run through for real. Beginners usually use only one sword, but more advanced fighters can choose an off-hand weapon as well. I have seen a dagger, a buckler, a cloak, even a rubber chicken.

  • Other Martial Stuff – The main categories here are Archery and Thrown Weapons. These are essentially target-based activities, since we don’t actually try to kill each other. In some large-scale battles, archers are invited, provided they wear armor that meets the regulations of the battle, and use special ammunition.

I do archery, but I use a Cherokee Flat bow, so it’s not quite period. I do have to shoot a little bit differently than most people who shoot long bow. Other people use the later re-curve style. I have also seen people shoot crossbow, although they are more expensive, and therefore rarer.

I have also done some thrown weapons. I usually use knives, but have dabbled in axe throwing as well. The principles are the same. This is the least popular of the martial activities, although in many ways it is the simplest to get involved in.

  • Performance – There are also bards musicians and dancers in the SCA. People study instruments that most people have never heard of. Sometimes we can even get musicians to play for dancers. Usually this is drummers around the campfire at night while some budding belly dancer shows her moves. Occasionally we will have a formal ball, with court dances that are taught during the day for those daring enough. Bards often travel between camps singing their tales of faraway places. At my son’s first event, it was a bard that finally managed to get him to sleep.

As with everything, there are experts and there are novices. People are not deterred from doing something they are not good at, but rather recruited as someone to pass knowledge on to.

  • Arts & Sciences – In the SCA this mostly means arts, or stuff you create. As an activity, this is not the most obvious, but it’s effects are evident the moment you see a gathering. While some things are purchased outside of the organization, most things that people wear or use at events are made within the group. Some people take pride in making everything themselves, while others contribute to the SCA economy. We use modern currency, but I consider the SCA to have its own sub-economy. Some merchants are able to earn their livelihood by traveling and selling their wares at events, although many include Renaissance Faires as well. We have our own supply and demand trends, sometimes fueled by the fads. Yes, even though we are re-creating the past, certain periods go in and out fashion.

Once again, if someone made it then, someone probably makes it now. I know blacksmiths, weavers, leather-workers, seamstresses, and jewelers. Some people focus on period re-creations. Many SCA members carry knives and even swords on their person, even though they are not allowed in combat. Other artisans focus on SCA-specific crafts like creating the regulation weapons that are used in combat.

I always say that I do not like shopping, and I take great pride in breaking the female stereotype in that. But I have to admit, I lie. I love shopping. I just cannot stand the places that most people shop. I love thrift stores. I will have to write more about that another day. I also love Merchants Row. At most large events there is a designated area for craftspeople to set up stores. This is my weakness. These people sell the types of things I like. People sell period clothing, weapons, armor and jewelry. Others do intricate hair braiding (When you are at a week-long camping event and the showers are full of sweaty fighters most of the time, a braid can be a big help.) or henna. Some people sell modern paraphernalia like t-shirts. Period games are always interesting. Real root beer is always a classic. This is one of the only places that you can find period fabrics and trims to make stuff yourself. Many of the merchants accept not only cash but also barter. More recently, with the help of technologies like square, most can now accept Master Card and Lady Visa as well. I only include that because I find it amusing.

Where is it? – The SCA is an international organization, but mostly exists in the United States. There are local groups in most large cities, and even smaller ones, although it really depends on the town. The city I just moved from had, at its height, more than twenty. Then a lot of people everyone moved away around the same time, leaving around eight active members. A larger city that I lived in had its branch nearly dissolved because no-one was participating. A few years later it has grown and it thriving. Check out your area.

So Why Do I Play? – I got into SCA because I am a history nut, okay, so since I now have a bachelors in History I have decided that I can say Historian instead. But I stay in because the people are awesome. In general the people are far more accepting of others. This is the place where people who feel alienated by society at large find a home. I have made friends of different religions, political parties, and gender identities. People who have been outside the norm for their hobbies, or the way that they look, walk or talk fit in just fine in the SCA. There are some people who will point out historical inaccuracies. Usually that is done in fun, and with the best of intentions, but sometimes it is a merchant trying to sell their wares.

How Much Time and Money Does This Take? – As much as you want to put into it. Some people camp in extravagant period tents, I use a cheap two-man tent I found at Wal-Mart. Some people build elegant Elizabethan gowns, while others wear simple Viking T-tunics. (Some people build those in a period way, while others use modern techniques.) You can spend as much or as little as you want, but if you are like me, you will always want to spend more than you should.

Draping

Draping

This dress is just a draping project. It is pinned together on the dress form. If it was to be constructed, this pinning would then be used to create the pattern. The neckline looks crooked and has always bothered me in this picture, but it was just hanging that way.

As for me, this is how I went to my classes that day, antennae and all.

A Costume Designer’s Perspective on Halloween

In case you could not guess, I am a big fan of Halloween. Not because I can dress up, since I do that anyway (and at work it doesn’t matter, I still can’t.) It is because other people dress up, it’s like the one day that the population at large joins me in my world. It is special. This means that unfortunately I expect a lot of people. Looking online I see pictures of inspired, intricate costumes that took planning and dedication.

Last night and tonight I have been watching costumed guests pass through the lobby at the hotel. People put in time to get ready to go to their parties, they get all dressed up, they do their makeup, they do their hair. Some of them look pretty good. Sometimes they do themes for groups of friends. You know it’s a good day when a total stranger asks the only woman in the building who is not wearing any makeup how to apply pencil eyeliner.

That is what I want to see everywhere, and for some reason I am surprised every year when that is not what I see.  I know that for most people it’s just one night. They will throw something together at the last minute or buy something cheap off the shelves just to ‘get in the spirit’. This bothers me a little bit. It’s like they think that these cheap costumes that can only be worn once before they fall apart puts them in the same category, ‘people who dress up’. I find these cheap costumes insulting. When I make something I make it to last. Yes, to most people it’s just a costume,  but I value the time and effort. I value the care and dedication. People who wear these cheap costumes cheapen what I do. By using disposable costumes people tell me that what I do is worth no more than that.

More than that though, the problem that I have with these costumes is how sexist they have made this beautiful holiday. Women, and even girls, find that most of the costumes available are ‘sexy’ versions of something. Even the ‘original’ version is often unavailable. This makes it so that women have no other option than to try to be sexy. It is so pervasive today that even the homemade costumes usually lean this way. This year I have noticed several of these costumes with no more than underwear to cover the lower half!

Let me pause here to say that I have no problem with sexy costumes. I have no problem with women, or men, exposing their bodies. I do not believe that doing so inherently objectifies them. I do have a problem when a person’s sense of self-worth comes down to how others perceive them. I do have a problem with women being reduced to no more than their bodies. I do have a problem with having no choice but to dress provocatively. I do believe that this lack of choice objectifies people. They do not have a way to fully express themselves.

There is another problem that this revealing fad causes. Halloween falls during a time when it is getting colder outside. Girls are forced to choose between having the full effect of their costume or of staying warm. That is not healthy. Most girls grin and bear it. Most guys seem oblivious to it. Those that do take notice end up working for the girl, if they care. This means that women are put into a position of helplessness. They will wait inside while the boy goes to bring the car around, or she counts on his coat, or cape, or whatever.

Men, at least, have some choice in their costume type. But even that falls into certain categories, all of which are carefully chosen not to lose any semblance of masculinity. They can be funny, they can be scary, they can be sexy, or they can copy the original (as long as it is a manly thing). The other way that they can preserve their macho-ness is to not really dress up. I have seen many groups where the girls are done up all-out, while the guys just wear a t-shirt with a Velcro cape attached. Okay, I love those shirts, but I was honestly hoping that they would be an introduction to the everyday costume, not herald the end of dressing up.

On another, but related, note. I saw a costume of one of the monkeys, or whatever from The Bloodhound Gang video for The Bad Touch. I stopped myself from complimenting the reference because I realized what stereotype a woman who likes The Bloodhound Gang would fall into. I would instantly go from ‘responsible employee’ to ‘sex fiend’. I am a happily married woman, I like the music, and I find it funny.  If you listen to the music, it is all about sex, but it has never seemed to me to be necessarily about anything more than a guy who likes his girlfriend, which is fine. It is acceptable for a guy to make the reference, although the stereotype would probably lean towards ‘woman user’, since that is what most people think of the band. Unfortunately that stereotype is something that is acceptable, and even funny to most people.

Halloween symbolizes the best and worst of society. It brings out people’s creativity and individuality. But it also cements many popular trends. I am hopeful that I am wrong, and people do know the difference between a disposable costume and something that will last. I am hopeful that people will learn to escape the boxes that marketing and stereotypes have forced us into.

Happy Halloween everybody!