Note: Originally I wrote this post in early 2020 but did not publish it. Given the global pandemic I felt it would be irresponsible to imply one should gather in groups. However, it is now 2021 and some people are making plans for the future or have been inspired by movies and TV shows to seek out like-minded individuals, and plus there are many virtual events happening as well. In addition, I’ve seen a number of people say their people skills are a bit rusty since they’ve been isolated for so long, so perhaps some reminders and tips as you plan and dream for the future might be helpful.
I and other costumers are often asked “how do I get started in historical costuming?” At first I gave out advice on beginning sewing tips and classes and where to get fabrics and patterns, but I’ve realized some people are actually asking “how do I get started in historical costuming adventures?” This post gives some advice to hopeful guests and some planning tips for both aspiring and experienced hosts.
How Do I Go on Costuming Adventures?
First off, I want to emphasize that you do not have to go on fancy costume trips to have a good time, and not being invited to a private event is not a reflection on you, your skill, or your worth. Although reenactment weekends, themed birthdays, cosplay balls, etc. can be quite fun, they are not necessary for you to feel like a full costumer. Some people are perfectly satisfied with making things for themselves in their own home and find the most enjoyment out of the process. Others find fulfillment out of wearing the costume to an event. Neither mindset is wrong. Please read the “Let’s talk about FOMO” section on a previous blog post.
OK, I Get It But Really Do Want to Wear Things Outside My House
To find like-minded people start your search online for local costume groups. Try Googling your city/county/state name and keywords like “costume” or “costumers.” If you’re willing to travel then expand your geographical search and include terms like “convention,” “festival,” and “fair.” You may also try “historical society,” “living history,” and “reenactment.” If you also like sci-fi and fantasy use “cosplay” and “cosplayers” in your search terms. If you enjoy story-telling and acting looking for “LARP” (live action role-playing). If there’s currently a hot new costume show you might throw that into your search. There are also lots of costuming groups on Facebook where you can find people with similar interests. You may end up finding a formal nonprofit organization or an informal Facebook group.
If you cannot find a local group perhaps you can post in an era-specific group “Hey, does anyone live in this area? I’m from ____ city and would love to go to tea with you.” Please use common sense when meeting up with strangers and also be understanding if someone nearby doesn’t want to meet up with someone they don’t know. I’ve become In Real Life friends with people that started out as online acquaintances that I later met at events, but that doesn’t mean I accept invitations from strangers who say “Here’s my phone number. Come to my house.”
If you encounter costumers “in the wild” don’t be afraid to approach them in a respectful way. If you take a tour of a historical home from a well-dressed docent, you can ask if they made their costume and have any local organizations they can recommend you join. If you spot a costumed group at a museum or park you can ask if they are part of a public club. Basic manners still apply: don’t gawk, follow them around, or make them feel unsafe.
Have Realistic Expectations
You will not be invited to every event right away. You may find out about some events after they have passed. There is no secret formula or handshake to get into private dinners. The best way to be included is to make friends.
When you go to events make a point of introducing yourself to others; don’t always assume someone else will do it first. Before you complain about being “snubbed” please ask yourself if you put in some effort yourself and tried to reach out. Some icebreaker things you can say are:
- “Did you make your costume? It’s lovely.”
- “I’m not familiar with the character/cosplay you’re portraying but I’d love to hear more about it.”
- “That’s a great color on you!”
- “This is my first time here so if you have any tips they’d be very appreciated!”
Private events are fun but don’t forget that public events are great, too! Everyone likes to feel special, and I can understand why a private weekend getaway seems more special than a public picnic at a public park, openly advertised on FB. But please ask yourself, do you want to attend the event because it’s fun, or because it’s exclusive? And if it’s the latter, think about if you’re missing out on some great events while chasing after some other ones.
Reasonable vs. Unreasonable Requests
As a hostess and participant, I sometimes get comments and messages after I post photos on social media about an event and I’m willing to wager a lot of others do as well. If you are seeking a future invitation I cannot emphasize enough to make your correspondence extra polite since tone can be hard to gauge from text. Many people enjoy organizing events, and they are much more likely to invite you for future events if you don’t accidentally appear snide, prying, or offended:
- “Wow lovely! Was this a private or public event?” vs. “Looks like another secret party for popular girls.”
- “I’m thinking of renting the same venue; do you mind giving me a DM about the cost to see if it’s in my budget?” vs. “How much did everything cost?”
- “Is there a club website or newsletter where I could sign up for event notifications?” vs. “How come I didn’t know about this?”
Can I Ask Though?
Others may disagree but I believe so, yes, under certain circumstances. My personal opinion is that a VERY polite, direct inquiry is ok: “Hi, my name is ____ and I am a costumer who lives in _____. I apologize if this a private event but in case it is open to others I’d like to indicate my interest in attending and making new friends.” (What is not very polite is a short “Can I come too?” because it’s not clear if you are serious or will be offended if they say no). If you have an Instagram account, blog, etc. include it. This is not to see if you’re “good enough.” Sometimes someone doesn’t recognize a name but does recognize your face, IG handle, or a costume and realizes they know you after all. Help the hostess figure out you’re a “safe” person already in the community, and not a random creep on the internet.
If you get a reply that the event is/was a birthday party for friends only and not a public festival or reoccurring guild event, then thank the person politely instead of trying to guilt them for not including you. Maybe you’ll get to know them better at another event and you may be invited next time, if you didn’t come across as entitled and unpleasant.
It’s natural to feel envious about not being able to participate in everything. But before you jump to self-doubt or accusations of elitism, ask yourself would you feel the same way if this was a t-shirt and jeans meetup at the pizza parlor? If a few people gathered at the local pub for drinks and darts, would you feel like they knew you well enough to include you just because you live in the area? If the answer is no, then there is no obligation. The answer does not change because the t-shirts got swapped for gowns.
Also remember, just because you didn’t hear about it doesn’t mean it was secret.
On the subject of asking: Aside from invitations if you have a costume question it can be fine to reach out for help (if you tried doing a little research first), but please remember that some people have businesses to run, children to care for, etc. If they have a lot of followers and get lots of messages they may not have the ability to respond to every comment. If someone can and wants to personally mentor you that is lovely, but it is not an expectation you should have of everyone. You don’t know how many other requests they get or what else is on their plate. Also remember that there are many talented people who are not “famous” who might be delighted to hear from you, or have excellent expertise in a particular area.
Is the Cost Fair?
I’ve seen people complain about ticket prices and it can be a fair criticism if a group claims to be interested in outreach but makes no effort to be accessible through member discounts, scholarships, public workshops, etc. However, ultimately the cost is up to the organizers and it rude to leave comments on the event page discussing your personal finances or calling it a scam. (It is ok to ask what perks you get for your ticket price if the event details are vague).
If the hostess wants to include the cost of professional catering in the event ticket instead of making hundreds of tea sandwiches and cookies herself or hoping she gets enough volunteers, she has the right to charge for food.
If the event is held at a historical mansion that needs a donation for its preservation efforts, it is not snobbery or greed that the cost happened to fall outside your budget.
If the event’s ticket price to a public venue is higher than the regular ticket price, consider that perks like party favors and decorations or administrative costs like PayPal fees have been included, not that a profit is being generated.
If the event includes a souvenir, drinks, etc. do not demand a prorated ticket for declining part of the package; it would be chaos for the organizers to keep track of those small details for everyone.
Tickets to Venice, renting a mansion, reserving a room at an inn, catering, etc. are not cheap. Although I believe strongly that groups should try to have some lower-priced events like picnics or casual meet-ups for recruitment purposes, they are not obligated to have every single event be budget-friendly. If once a year your guild wants to have a fancy dinner in a nice hotel that is ok. Someone wanting to splurge and treat themselves does not automatically mean they are trying to be exclusionary. Costuming is a hobby, not a necessity, and by that nature it is a luxury even if you don’t use luxury materials. (That being said, if every event, workshop, and social activity your group puts on is prohibitively expensive, I would ask you examine why that is the case and who is being left out).
Tips for Hosting an Event (and Keeping Your Sanity)
Pick a date: As host(ess), you have the privilege of picking the date. If you want to, you can pick a few dates that work for you and have people choose from them but remember you get the final say. You can do a poll or vote but trying to get a large group of people to all agree on a single date will not happen. It’s lovely to be accommodating but don’t let anyone make you feel bad for not being able to find a date where 100% of your friends can come.
Have firm RSVP dates and deadlines before the event date: In your invitation state the deadlines to RSVP, to pay for tickets, pick a meal choice, etc. It saves you a lot of stress. You don’t want to scramble for extra chairs or plead with the caterer at the last minute because a few people added themselves the morning of the event.
Limit the number of guests: You are not obligated to invite an unlimited number of guests. If you want an intimate candlelit dinner party, or prefer to not have a roommate at the Airbnb, or don’t have the time to make 40 party favors or collect ticket money from 60 people, that is your right. It is your event and you get to decide how many people you have the energy to wrangle.
There are also practical/legal considerations: Find out what your location can comfortably hold, or what the fire marshall has decided is the safe limit of people. Some venues increase the price significantly over a certain number of guests; find out the point at which “party” pricing turns into “wedding” pricing. (Don’t assume that you can just raise the price of the ticket to make up the difference; any cost increase may mean a decrease in RSVPs and you might lose money or price out people you want to include).
Be aware of your local county or venue regulations. Sometimes beverage licenses, insurance policies, or hiring a security guard is required when your guest list exceeds a certain number.
Be firm about the number of guests: If the event sells out you will probably get people pleading for an exception, complaints about “unfairness,” plans to gatecrash, or other attempts to step on your boundaries. If you keep increasing the ticket blocks you are sending the message that if someone bullies you enough they can get their way, even if it puts you at risk of burnout or fines. (Also keep in mind many people complaining about a sold out item or event do not actually end up buying anything even if offered that opportunity later. You may be putting in extra work for no additional turnout).
Make the dress code easy if you want more guests: If your goal is to welcome lots of people or make it easier on your friends, do not pick an obscure or niche era. Pick something where it’s easy to sew (Regency), or has lots of patterns (Victorian), or can be purchased online (1920s). Casual Edwardian events are also nice because it is accessible to people with limited time or skills: you can thrift a white blouse and long skirt if necessary. If you do pick a very specific theme, give people lots of advance notice to get a costume together.
No guarantee of refunds: State if someone paid for their tea or dance ticket and had to cancel, they are responsible for reselling their spot and getting their money back. If there is still a lot of time before the event you may refund on a case-by-case basis. (I like to help someone find another buyer if there’s time but I also don’t want to box myself into a situation where someone can cancel suddenly and demand a refund after I’ve already paid the restaurant or vendor).
Send out reminders: Don’t bombard invitees with messages but “Hi, tomorrow is the last day to pay before I close ticket sales” etc. is often appreciated. If your invitation is through Facebook and the guest is list is small, you may also make a post tagging individuals who RSVP’d yes but forgot to send their deposit. (I would not do this for a large event where a number of people simply clicked “interested”).
Have the guest list be viewable to guests if it’s a Facebook invitation: People can see who else is going and arrange carpools, roommates, etc. without having to bother you about it. (This does not apply to non-Facebook events like a ticketed website; participants would find it odd to have their names listed publicly).
Do events at different price points: Weekends at castles are lovely but don’t forget a picnic here and there. It’s a lower barrier to entry and great for making new friends, plus less stress for you!
Consider venues with built-in entertainment: Museums, historical homes that come with tours, amusement parks, aquariums, and plays are a great place to have a good time without you having to plan a lot of party games.
To All Aspiring Guests and Hosts:
Thank you for reading and I hope this guide was helpful to you. May the future be kind to you and we all have a chance to gather together safely again soon.
Previous Posts on Costuming Manners:
Part 1: “It’s Not Necessary to Be Mean: Snark in the Costuming and Cosplay Community”
Part 2: “Good Intentions Don’t Excuse Bad Behavior”
Part 3: “Taking Control of Your Costuming Happiness”
Part 4: “Race, Microaggressions, and the Costuming Community”
I love reading these blogs. I’ll add one suggestion. If you are a frustrated costumer, no matter the era, consider attending science fiction conventions, either with friends or alone. Obviously when the delta variant cools down….. The SF/Fantasy community is generally welcoming to all costumes and at least you’ll get out and wear your finery. It is what I do since care of disabled family members keeps me from traveling to places like The Grand Hotel.
Thanks for adding that suggestion Ann! I agree cons are a great place to get involved in costuming. Even if someone isn’t ready yet to dress up they can attend informational panels and do a lot of people-watching!