Blog by Betsy Carstairs

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Halloween, Costumes

I love Halloween & thought I would share this e-mail from my highschool chum & professional Clown Gumboat Lollipop or as I know her Dolly Hopkins

Hello I have something to friend Little Woo has put this information together that I thought would interest you about costumes....I have worked along the same lines in creating my look for costumes or personal statements similar to what she is talking about below.......  hope this helps you to as the time for dress up is so close at hand.


Costuming Philosophy 101... Just In Time for Halloween
This article is adapted from my original article of 2009: Preparing for Burning Man

If you are starting to get into costuming, be it for a performance or for a party, here are some of my philosophies on "wearable art" which I hope will inspire you!  My own history with costuming started in childhood - when I would rummage through the house to see what I could create with found materials.  Be it imitating Madonna's "Like A Virgin" look, creating gelatin-based zombie scars or making a Snow White outfit - these childhood efforts were omens of my future explorations.  I guess I never wanted to stop playing Dress-Up because it's now incorporated into my daily life.  

1) Follow your fetishes and tickle your own aesthetic: 
 If you are excited to express through some costuming, then consider what tickles your fancy currently.  Think about themes you enjoy, archetypes that mean something to you and even favorite physical aspects in texture and color to determine your costume repertoire.  Choose something that really appeals to your personal aesthetic, not just because it's trendy. 

e.g. I was wearing fun fur jackets, tutus and costumes in 2002 purely for my own enjoyment and my love of dressing up.  I didn't see people wearing these items at that time and it would be many years before I knew about Burning Man "style".

What are some of your fetishes?
Favorite characters from books, films, history etc
Favorite archetypes (human or non-human)
Favorite topics or themes
Favorite eras
Favorite art forms or art pieces
Favorite moods
Favorite colors, textures, materials
Favorite fashions and design styles
Favorite stories

2) It's helpful to think in stages for your costuming.  Consider creating a few favored costumes that you can build upon each year.  Start with a few basic items and each year, you can add more intricacy and detail.  You don't have to perfect it right away - take time to enjoy the creation process.

E.g. I have an 18th century outfit that I started to build in 2006.  Each year, I've added new layers or pieces to it.  The first year, I began with the skirt and a simple bodice. Then in 2008, I added layers to the skirt and built a matching "powdered" wig in 2009.  In 2010, I built a more elaborate wig, added a bustle, transformed shoes to match and sewed more details on the bodice.

3) Less is More:  Look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Joker... What did they have in common?  They only had 1 outfit that they wore as their signature costume! You too can have your own signature outfit! If you really love it and it represents your personal style, you can wear it repeatedly and not get tired of it. In fact, most people tend to have a few favoured outfits that they wear all the time.

4) Mix and Match:  Sometimes, it's helpful if you have items of clothing that can be part of more than 1 costume. For example: a silver scarf can serve as a halter top or a skirt.  A linen sheet can become a toga-style dress, a shawl or a headdress.  A favorite hat may go with several outfits and your warm coat hopefully fits over all your nighttime outfits! By exploring the creative possibilities, you can do a lot with just a few versatile items.

5) Get ideas from the materials at hand:  If you already have some items at home (like fabrics, accessories, wigs or hats etc), see what ideas arise from contemplating them in a new light.  It's fun to look at an item beyond its normal form and function to see what else it can do or how else it can be used!  It's so wonderful to recycle an unused or ubiquitous object and turn it into a piece of wearable art!

e.g. A fork could be the inspiration for a spaghetti/meatballs hat (with the fork sticking out of some yarn that is mimicking pasta)

A set of playing cards could be glued onto an old suit jacket...
An old pair of boots can be decorated with sequins...
A colorful bedspread could be turned into a super hero cape...

You can also get ideas by perusing the materials at a store like Dressew (337 West Hastings).  It's the most popular place in town for gathering your basic sewing supplies (diverse fabric, thread, sewing tools, etc) and it also carries a wide range of costuming accessories (masks, wigs, hats). I like to look at even the little items like buttons, special crafting tools, ribbons/lace, metal fasteners to explore what is possible.

Tip:  Go to the basement of Dressew and check out their bargain fabrics section!  Many types of fun fabrics at hugely discounted prices!  As of 2011, most were only $3 to $4 per metre... a superb deal!  You can experiment with these inexpensive fabrics and base your costuming on what you find there.  It's a huge selection (even has a lovely selection of organza) so you should be able to find what you need without going upstairs to Dressew's regularly priced fabric area.

6)  Complete the basics first and then elaborate if you have time and energy:  
If dealing with a deadline, take care of the key items first. Sometimes, people get frazzled as they try to cover too many ideas but end up with very little actually completed or with a costume that was too hastily assembled. 
7)  Incorporate Wearable Art Into Your Lifestyle:  If you love to express yourself this way, find a way to be creative with your clothing or accessories on a daily basis!  There's no need wait for a special occasion to dress up (like a party or Halloween) if you enjoy this type of play and whimsy!  Instead of having just 1 or 2 days a year to get into costume, you can make it part of your personal style.  Even just a touch of aesthetic expression can be a fun way to start the day!  (It doesn't require a lot of time)

Some people may question your taste or sanity, but you are not doing this for anyone but yourself.  Those who have like-minds or aesthetic appreciation will celebrate your flair and energy.  Often, it's people who aren't in costume who will come up to me and thank me for brightening up their day with my aesthetics.  The more comfortable you are in your own skin, the more it allows others to be comfortable around you.

There are even ways to bring some of your style to the workplace - just ensure that your safety is not compromised by the items you wear if your profession requires some special measures or protocol.  Like I said, even the smallest gesture of style or playfulness makes a difference. Above all, have fun with costuming whether you only want to do it for special occasions or if you wish to do it every day!