07 May 2014

Me, but different

The best compliment I ever got on a costume was this past year at Norwescon. I was visiting the art show and looking at the works submitted by the various artists when a person looking at me said that the didn’t know what she liked better, coming to the art show and seeing art that people had made or going through the convention and seeing the art that people were wearing. Then she pointed me out to her companion.

Costuming is my art form, and it is a difficult one to do as a stand-alone hobby. Costuming is frequently seen as part of something else and not it’s own thing. Fashion is it’s own thing but what I do isn’t fashion— it doesn’t trickle into my daywear in the way that some high end fashion concepts make their way into ready-to-wear. I design costumes because I love taking an idea and making a real thing that I wear and experience. I think it must be closest to performance art—I get something out of both making and wearing the piece and I hope that, at the very least, I brighten up my fellow Science Fiction/Fantasy fans convention experience but adding a visual element to the convention.
1993 Maenad costume

There is difficulty in designing a costume that conveys a message without the support of dialogue or sets, a known milieu, or even really character. Especially in my case as I don’t act as different character when I wear my costumes. I am always me, just in a different outfit. I am about as far as you can get from an actor. So the story my costumes convey has to come from the clothes themselves and it has to do it in the flash of a moment as I walk down a crowded hall and am seen by someone going the other direction.

I am a past master of the obscure costume that no one else understands. It has taken over 20 years to learn how to focus my designs to come up with something that ‘reads’ when I’m just walking around it. It helps that CPiC* and I tend to work together on costumes that go together. One year she was a valkyrie and I was her horse. This year we were figures from Greek mythology, fairies, ladies of action, and My Little Pirates. Having two costumes that are from the same “world” helps showcase the idea behind them-- even if the idea is as simple as “Fairies! Pretty!”

I still rely heavily on my costuming partner to help me rein in some of my magpie impulses and to ask provoking questions that give me insight into where I might be going wrong. As in any creative endeavor it helps to have an editor who I trust to tell me the truth about my creation.

I make these costumes to satisfy an deep impulse to bring images in my head to life. I have done this since I was a young girl who turned a shawl into a skirt so I could dance to West Side Story, who turned old-fashioned negligees into royal robes, and who wore a ratty cape rough-cut out of cloth and a succession of tin-foil “Queen” crowns to her kindergarten class. I don't know where this desire to be: “me, but through a different lens” came from but, like walking and reading, I can't remember a time when I didn't try to make wearable art that spoke not only to me, but to strangers on the street (or at least my fellow kindergarteners).

It has been fun and satisfying the past few years to feel like my own design skills are developing to the point where I can both make something that I am proud of and that I feel is a focused idea brought to life. I had years of frustration of creating costume after costume that was too abstract a concept, or too poorly constructed to convey the animating idea behind it. Now I have more ideas than I have time to build and it is very exciting to see them take shape.

*CPiC (Costuming Partner in Crime)

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