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“How Do I Get Started in Historical Costuming (Adventures)?” or Host an Event? (Part 5 of the Good Costume Manners Series)

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.

Photo by In the Long Run Designs

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.

Photo by John Carey Photographic

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:

  1. “Wow lovely! Was this a private or public event?” vs. “Looks like another secret party for popular girls.”
  2. 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?”
  3. “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.

Photo by Lori Clayton

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”

Race, Microaggressions, and the Costuming Community (Part 4 of the Good Costume Manners Series)

This is Part 4 of a series of posts on being a decent person while costuming. The other posts in the Good Costume Manners series are 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” and Part 3: “Taking Control of Your Costuming Happiness.”

Originally for Part 4 I had been planning to write about how I’ve seen a rise in boorish behavior from people bored at home during quarantine.  (Some have decided to play gatekeeper and criticize cosplayers and historical costumers about their weight, physical resemblance to a character they’re portraying, materials, etc.)  Instead I feel like this is the time to discuss a much more toxic form of gatekeeping: racism, whether overt or subtle, purposeful or not. The past several weeks, as protests mounted about the deplorable way Black people are treated, I’ve seen members of the costume community respond in a myriad of ways that range from helpful activism, to shrugging it off as not their problem, to racist acts or comments of their own about the Black Lives Matter movement.

If you are reading this, chances are high that you are interested in cosplay, historical costuming, re-enactment, and/or vintage fashion. Chances are also high that your hobby has a disproportionately low number of BIPOC (especially Black and Brown) individuals compared to their presence in the general population and you’ve wondered why. Perhaps your local club or area is diverse but on a national level the hobbies are not. The reasons for this are too numerous and complex for a blog post but some of them are:

  1. BIPOC don’t feel welcome. (This, and what you can do about it, is going to be the focus of this post).
  2. Some hobbies are expensive and individuals from marginalized communities may have difficulty meeting the financial bar to purchase the costumes, materials, membership fees, or con badges.
  3. Some BIPOC fear that their friends and family will think they are being frivolous or “acting white.”

You, as an individual, may not have any control over the cultural and social constructs that have led to #2 and #3, but you can do something about #1.

BIPOC are not stupid. You don’t have to be overt and put up a Confederate flag on the lawn to drive people away from your hobby. BIPOC look for little clues like how many other POC are in a club, what kind of “jokes” are shared and tolerated by the membership, or if an organization has any policies on discrimination.

I’m not saying you, Reader, are a bad person. But perhaps you have tolerated some bad behavior, that behavior gets seen, and those micro-aggressions are little drops that grow into a trickle that becomes a river that POC might look at and say, “You know what, I don’t have the energy to wade through that just to play a game.”

I’d like you to consider if you have done the following things:

  • Your friend says something racist at an event but you don’t want to “kill the vibe” by calling him out because you’re afraid it’ll make everyone uncomfortable.
  • When your Black friend asks for cosplay suggestions you only suggest characters like Black Panther, Blade, and Storm.
  • There’s that one guy at your Civil War reenactment or Viking camp out who’s a little too aggressively interested in “heritage” and has some weird rants about minorities, but you decide he’s just really serious about his hobbies and keep inviting him back.
  • Your family member comments on your Facebook album of con pics, “Hey it’s Black Batman” or “Mexican Wonder Woman” and you don’t say “No, it’s just Batman and Wonder Woman” because you figure why bother correcting him?
  • You see an Asian person wearing a costume you don’t recognize but automatically assume it’s a geisha or anime character.
  • You state “I’m not into politics” because you’re afraid of alienating your sponsors or fan base.
  • Some of your fans compliment you with “It’s great to see an actual white person do this character because so many people doing it just don’t look right!” and you simply say thanks.
  • When asked what your stance is on civil rights issues you give a vague, non-committal answer about how you think everyone is important.
  • You justify following a popular costumer on Instagram or Youtube despite a history of terrible behavior because you “just like their pictures” or “I’m a fan of the work and not the person.”

I’m not saying you’re an awful person if you did those. It’s natural to want to avoid conflict and sometimes you’re not in a situation where it is safe to confront someone in person. Perhaps you have a business contract you can’t get out of.  However, those actions or inactions are seen and heard, and interpreted by people who might have otherwise been interested in joining up as a NOT WELCOME sign if they see it enough times.

What can you do?

  • If you see someone saying something racist, call them out. If they seem misguided, educate them. Maybe you can’t change their mind but someone else might see what you’re doing and know you’re not being complicit.
  • If someone makes an inappropriate joke tell them it’s not funny. If they insist, make them explain why it’s funny.
  • If a POC tries to join your club or reenactment don’t automatically try to steer them towards an ethnic character or persona because you think it’s “historically accurate.” Give them a chance to decide what they want to do.
  • If a POC does want to portray an ethnic character don’t assume they’re “trying to make a statement” or “want to be special.”
  • Speech, objects, and traditions that may have been accepted or tolerated in the past may be considered harmful in the present. Be aware that historical does not mean appropriate.
  • Google things on your own before asking your BIPOC friend to explain it; they’ve probably done it a lot and are tired of answering basic questions.
  • If you make a mistake, apologize. If someone tells you that your post is hurtful or has negative connotations, don’t double down and say “That’s not what I meant” or “That’s not how I’m using it.”
  • Familiarize yourself with the terms “performative activism,” “virtue signaling,” and “gaslighting” and why those actions make others uncomfortable.
  • Don’t pretend that because you are religious, have a history of charity work, or “don’t see race” you’re exempt from wrongdoing or criticism.
  • Also remember that people can change. Someone that made some mistakes in the past and thoroughly disavowed their former selves can be congratulated instead of continually dragged through the mud. There’s no incentive to change if you are still vilified after changing. Of course, this only applies to specific, genuine apologies and not “sorry you were offended” non-apologies. This also does not mean that as an ally you should expect your BIPOC friends to applaud every little thing you do; that would be exhausting.

Being excluded from a hobby is trivial in comparison to some of the other awful things happening in the world at the moment, and I am not a scholar or expert on race matters. I’m just a costumer that’s seen some things and want to stick to speaking about what I know. However, the point remains: Treat others as human. Don’t be an ass. Listen to your friends when they say they are hurt. Don’t talk over marginalized people with your own irrelevant anecdotes. Sharing a hashtag doesn’t absolve you of responsibility.

As an Asian American and a resident of a diverse area I tend to experience micro-aggressions because of my skin color (mainly online or when I travel), but I do not experience some of the particular and horrifying things Black costumers and reenactors encounter.  I am definitely not as eloquent and informed about this subject as I’d like to be and would prefer to defer to other more appropriate voices. For more information about the Black experience in America and discussion of problematic behavior: Cheyney McKnight of Not Your Momma’s History is a wonderful historical interpreter and educator who has a website, Instagram, Youtube, and Patreon.  Please feel free to suggest other POC costumers who strive to educate others in comments below. Thank you for reading!

(This post was originally written at the beginning of June, but I didn’t feel it was the right time to share then, when so many Black voices were struggling to be heard. I hope this is the right time now, not because the struggle is over, but because I’ve been seeing non-BIPOC individuals asking what immediate, relatable, and specific actions they can start taking now in their lives among the people they encounter and to make their hobbies more welcoming).

Taking Control of Your Costuming Happiness (Part 3 of the Good Costume Manners Series)

This is Part 3 of a series! If you haven’t read them yet, Part 1 is “It’s Not Necessary to Be Mean: Snark in the Costuming and Cosplay Community” and Part 2 is “Good Intentions Don’t Excuse Bad Behavior.”

I’ve previously discussed good costuming manners towards others but with this post I’d like to discuss something a little more personal: approaching this hobby in a healthy way by taking personal responsibility for and control of your costuming happiness. This means shutting down the brain weasels of self-doubt and giving up on unrealistic expectations for yourself and others.

Please note, nothing in this post should be construed as encouragement to be unkind to others because you think “See, it’s their responsibility” and “They’re just whiners.” The point of this post is to encourage people to let go of some baggage and have a great time regardless of where they live or how experienced a cosplayer they are. More sewing, less crying!

Let’s Talk About FOMO

Social media makes it really easy to see what other people are doing and feel they are having fun at conventions and parties without you, resulting in FOMO (fear of missing out).  This feeling is natural and common and nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes I see beautiful event pictures and think “Wow, I wish I could have gone to that!” However, what is not healthy is to take your feelings to one of two extremes I’ve seen:

  1. Getting depressed because you think nobody likes you.
  2. Being angry because the event wasn’t public.

1.  Getting depressed because you think nobody likes you: If you were not invited to an event, it is quite possible that the venue had space restrictions, the hostess wanted an intimate event because she didn’t have the energy to wrangle a huge party, the organizer had a small budget, or this was just for members of a club. Please don’t take it as a judgement as to whether you were “good enough.” Think about which is more likely: someone didn’t have a big enough house to invite everyone, or they specifically singled you out for exclusion? When you say it out loud I hope the latter sounds silly and you understand there are many reasons why not everyone can be included, and they weren’t directed at you.

2. Being angry because the event wasn’t public: Imagine you had a pizza party at your house and your boss found out and was upset he wasn’t invited. Your response would probably be “Um, I wanted to have a party with my friends. I’m not obligated to have the whole town over for a BBQ.” Now think: why would that change if everyone was wearing funny clothes? Lately in the costume world I’ve seen a trend towards destination events, themed weekends, fancy dress birthday parties, and other intimate social gatherings. I’ve also seen some people get upset about private events and accuse the organizers or attendees of snobbery and exclusion. Not only is this often hurtful and untrue, it will not encourage people to invite you in the future. If you willfully misconstrue and misrepresent the neutral behavior of others as malicious, you are exhibiting the behavior you accuse others of.

No one can invite everyone to everything. Sharing a hobby does not entitle you to be included in every event your fellow hobbyists organize. If someone decides they want to have a small 1940s tea party or a casual evening get-together in their hotel room at a convention they can. It doesn’t mean that they are being mean. It means they had limited seating or they didn’t want to share a house rental with strangers. It is not personal, and not being included is not a judgement on you, your self-worth, or your skill as a costumer. You don’t have to feted at event to be a “real” costumer; just by trying to costume you are being brave and creative!

You Can Host Your Own Events

People in metropolitan areas may be blessed with more venues and opportunities, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have an event of your own where you live. Please consider that when you say “There’s nothing going on where I live” do you really mean “I want someone else to do the work and I can just show up”? Sometimes if you want something to happen, you have to get the ball rolling. An event doesn’t have to be elaborate to be fun. Pick a theme and make a restaurant reservation and post on Facebook with an open invite (and tell your friends to bring their friends). Your area may be too rural to attract a comic con, but it doesn’t mean you can’t host a picnic or a day at the beach for fellow fans of a movie, book, time period, style of clothing, or other interest.  Don’t underestimate the interest a simple picnic can generate! The recent 1830s event I went to sold 50 tickets in the first hour.

I’d also advise you to scale up slowly. For your first event choose something inexpensive that doesn’t require a lot of cash from you, so you don’t get stuck losing money if a few people drop out at the last minute. Have everyone buy their own movie tickets and collect money up front if you have to pay a deposit or reserve a block of seats somewhere. Once you’ve established a core group or gauged local interest you can dream bigger (but you don’t have to; small events are fun too because everyone gets a chance to know each other).

Also check the costume policy for a venue in advance. Some places do not allow costumes because they don’t want guests to mistake you for an employee or paid performer, which is very reasonable.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Adventurer’s Meetup: Dress in steampunk or explorer costumes and have a scavenger hunt in your town.
  • Downton Abbey House Tour: Find a historical mansion in your area, get in touch with the docents, and ask if you can arrange a private tour for your group in exchange for a donation. Have everyone dress in Edwardian or 20s clothes.
  • Medieval Melee: Gather at a park dressed as a knight, princess, wizard, orc, etc. and bring a foam pool noodle as a weapon. Hold court, declare war, pick sides, and fight. Have a potluck feast celebrating the peace treaty afterwards.
  • Victorian Beach Day: Wear old-fashioned Victorian bathing suits and have fun at the ocean or lake, whether you actually go into the water or not.
  • Anime Breakfast Club: Dress up as your favorite anime character and visit a diner. If this becomes a regular event you could pick a movie to watch and discuss at monthly breakfasts.
  • Dapper Museum Visit: Find a museum with an exhibition for a particular artist and dress in the clothing of that time period.
  • Seafarers at the Aquarium: Dress as a pirate, sea captain, sailor, or Jacques Cousteau and marvel at the sea life.

There’s No Conspiracy Against You

There is no costuming Illuminati. There is also no global cabal of people who hold secret meetings to vote on who’s cool and who’s not. Most people are way too busy fretting over their own cosplay to worry about yours, and if they are a big enough jerk to say something they’re really saying something about themselves and not you. (See my comments about nitpicking).

I’ve been involved in sewing (historical costuming, cosplay, or vintage) for close to 17 years now, and the vast majority of people I’ve met have been nice and welcoming, and just so excited to meet another person with the same weird hobby. I’ve made so many great friends! If you are new please keep in mind that chances are you will also make friends if you are open to it. Put out good energy and you’ll get the same back. If you show up to an event expecting to have a bad time, you’re going to have a bad time. If you snub everyone because you’re expecting them to snub you, you’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is a fact of life that some people will not like you. (Many others will!) Sometimes someone will not like you for a silly reason, such as resembling an ex-boyfriend, your ability to wear a color they think they can’t, or because they misheard something you allegedly said. Why obsess over something you have no control over, from a tiny fraction of the people in the community? Hold your head high and carry on with your hobby.

That being said, there are some nasty corners of the internet. For your mental and emotional health, avoid wading in those cesspools. Don’t go looking to see if you’ve been posted to troll forums. Do you really need to know what a 13-year-old edgelord thinks of you, your body, or your costume? Block someone who’s being a jerk and move on.

The Internet is a Blessing and a Curse

In some ways costuming is easier now than when I first started. The internet and e-commerce websites have created a lot more indie companies selling historically accurate patterns, individuals offering 3D-printed props, specialty wig and cosplay suppliers, and small businesses selling niche items like reproduction shoes and jewelry. Museums are putting high resolution photos of their garment collections online. There are educational podcasts and tutorials and lots of inspiration available on Instagram and Pinterest.  All these readily available resources mean it’s a lot easier to put together a “good” costume. It has also increased the pressure to put together a “good” costume right from the start, and every time afterwards.

For people with savvy or resources their first attempts might not be the same as yours. We all start somewhere, but that starting point is different for everybody. The end point is also different for everyone, often by choice. (Remember not everyone wants to be screen or historically accurate!) It’s not a contest or a race. Use the internet as a resource, but not a rubric by which to judge yourself or others. Remember that Instagram is highly curated and people repost outfits, and not everyone posts the things that didn’t work out. Don’t let the algorithm fool you into thinking that everyone else is constantly making epic outfits all the time.

Have Reasonable Deadlines

It’s not fun for you to be crying the night before or morning of an event because you are still sewing. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the time you have, and start early if you can. Remember:

  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Most people won’t notice the “flaws” you do. If they do, why are they that close to your personal space?!?
  • Machine sewing is ok. Polyester is not always bad. Glue can be used judiciously.
  • You don’t need something new for each event. You can change up an outfit with different accessories if you want a fresh look, but remember that in historical times clothes were costly and worn repeatedly. If anyone has the gall to sneer at you for “wearing that old thing” remind them that it is historically accurate to re-wear outfits, wear homemade items that varied in skill, and refashion older garments into newer ones.
  • Done. Is. Better. Than. Perfect.

It’s Okay To Take a Break

If your cosplay hobby does not make you happy, ask yourself why are you doing it? Are you doing it for your own fun or to impress others? Are you staging elaborate photoshoots you find exhausting in order to gain followers on Instagram? Don’t forget to have fun with your hobby. Self-validation is much more satisfying than validation from a fickle audience.

Even if you’re doing it for yourself, it’s easy to have burnout if you are constantly churning out costumes, or you have other things like family and school that need your attention too. It’s okay to take a break, whether it’s a brief time-out for a project that’s not working out, or a longer period of weeks or months to regroup and regain your joy. It’ll still be here when you return.

You’re not obligated to attend every event or make something new for every event. Consider this official permission to say no to yourself or others.

Well, That’s Easy for You To Say

You might be reading this thinking, “Well it’s easy for you to feel confident when you have a big wardrobe and a group of friends to do cool stuff with.” I am not Athena who sprang full-grown from the head of Zeus. I had to start out knowing just a few people and having very little sewing experience at my first events. Here’s a few of my early costumes compared to my more recent ones.B207D332-8271-4A75-8AF5-D2ECF40802EB.JPG

(I wish I could find a photo of my first costume: a “medieval” dress made of tablecloth fabric with shiny Christmas trim on it. It was off-white with ill-placed red embroidery and more than one woman offered me a tampon).

Compared to now, some of the earlier outfits have questionable fit or materials and styling issues, but back then I didn’t let a lack of polish stop me from having a good time! I have nice memories from every event represented above. It took me a long time to get to where I am now (and I still have room to improve) and some people get there faster, and that’s okay. (Shout out to those amazing high school and college students that sew like pros; I see you and I’m proud of you!)

My comfort with costuming didn’t occur naturally; I wasn’t a “cool kid” growing up. I’ve had glasses, braces, severe eczema, corrective shoes, speech problems, and a limp. I was, and still am rather clumsy.  (I am sitting here writing this while drinking a chocolate shake that may or may not have ended up where I intended). But I believe in “fake it until you make it,” not giving up because someone else is “doing it better,” and surrounding yourself with awesome, encouraging friends. (You ladies know who you are and I love you!)

I believe in self-fulling prophecies, and I am determined to have a good time. And so can you.

People like you and admire your costumes more than you know, and your “weird hobby” makes you interesting.

And remember what RuPaul says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

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Good Intentions Don’t Excuse Bad Behavior (Sequel to “It’s Not Necessary to Be Mean: Snark in the Costuming and Cosplay Community”)

About a year ago I wrote a blog post called “It’s Not Necessary to Be Mean: Snark in the Costuming and Cosplay Community” and was meaning to follow up with a part two post on the anniversary, before the holidays buried me. No time like the present! If you haven’t done so, please read that previous post first; it goes over some tips and general manners for both newcomers and veterans to treat themselves and each other kindly. Consider this post a slightly more advanced primer about how good intentions don’t excuse bad behavior! I hope to get people to think about what they have been doing and whether it is unintentionally unkind.

Are your “helpful” comments really helpful?

You may think you’re giving constructive criticism, but please consider carefully if it is 1) wanted by the recipient and 2) whether it could be interpreted as condescending. Here are a few comments I’ve seen that the speaker probably thought were benign or even helpful, but a newcomer or sensitive person could find very hurtful:

  • “I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to take a little extra time to look so much better by doing XYZ.”
  • “Oh yeah, I used to wear stuff like that too when I was new. You’ll learn.”
  • “I prefer to costume at a higher caliber but I guess you can do what you want.”
  • “If you care what others think you should do XYZ.”

To be clear, those can sound judgmental and are not okay to say to someone! Well, what’s okay then?

  • DO: “Do you want to know where I buy my shoes?”
  • DON’T: “Instead of boots like that, you could get accurate ones at this company.”

The first example takes into consideration what the other person wants, and gives them the option to decline. The second example assumes the other person needs and wishes to “improve” and doesn’t have health or funding issues that require them to wear certain footwear.

  • DO: “I’ve had a really good time at that particular costume event, and feel free to ask me if you have questions about going one day.”
  • DON’T: “Costume tourism is the best! You’re missing out on the most amazing experience by not doing a fully immersive week in a castle!”

The first one is a topic of conversation about one’s own experiences and is framed with an offer of help. The second makes the other person feel bad if they haven’t had the opportunity to put together a wardrobe and the financial privilege to travel.

It’s great to be helpful! But be mindful that your suggestions don’t imply that you are judging someone, or that person will be judged by others.


Don’t put yourself down.

Some of you reading this may not realize it, but there are others that look up to you. They may be brand new or established in the hobby but admire your work. Perhaps you are a friend of theirs, or someone they follow on Instagram, or write a blog they follow, but you have more influence than you know.  Many of us are our own harshest critics and may joke about our work being “trash” but others are listening. Imagine how disheartening it would be to think that something you admire and aspire to is “not good enough” for someone you see as a role model, and thus worry your role model may be judging you too. Please be kind to others by being kind to yourself first. We all start somewhere.

I understand that some people make negative comments about their own projects to avoid seeming snobby, or to keep others from making the same mistakes. There is nothing wrong with taking a compliment gracefully with a simple “Thank you.” If your goal is to be helpful, spin your self-critiques positively.

  • DO: “Oh thanks! It’s a good pattern but watch out for the fit on the collar; I found it a little tricky.”
  • DON’T: “Oh I can’t believe you like this! My collar looks horrible!”
  • DO: “I’m glad you like my cape! I was afraid it wasn’t going to turn out right because I picked a really inexpensive fur that sheds a lot.”
  • DON’T: “This cape? Ugh, it is so cheap-looking I’m putting it in the trash when I get home.”


Don’t touch people without permission.

Good intentions don’t excuse bad behavior, especially when it comes to physical contact. Wanting to compliment someone or take a closer look at their costume does not mean you can touch someone without permission. Because you are at a convention or a fellow costumer does not mean you are automatically entitled to permission. No means no!

You would think these are obvious rules, but I am listing these out because of incidents that have actually happened to me or my friends:

  • If you are allowed to touch some fabric on a person’s body, touch their arm and not their butt.
  • If you get permission to examine someone’s corsetry, do not squeeze their breast.
  • Do not approach a gentleman and try to lift his kilt.
  • If you are in a noisy area and trying to get someone’s attention, it may be appropriate to gently tap the person on the shoulder. It is definitely not appropriate to grab their wrist and pull them towards you.
  • Keep hugs (ask permission!) gentle so you don’t break anything.

Please do the following:

  • Remember to ask permission. Ask. Really, ask.
  • Ask yourself if it’s really necessary to touch a costume, prop, wig, or person to have an understanding of it.
  • Consider whether your comment is meant to make the other person feel nice about their work, or fulfill your need to get attention from them.
  • Don’t get mad when someone says no, or try to guilt them into changing their mind.
  • Don’t assume that because you saw someone else (who may be a close friend) touch a particular cosplayer that you should be allowed to as well.


Don’t talk about a stranger’s race.

I’ve sometimes encountered individuals who said things like “Oh, it’s so nice to see a POC in the hobby!” I know they mean well or are trying to demonstrate how “woke” they are, but really the message they are sending is that regardless of my friendliness or skill in costuming, the very first thing they noticed and thought was important to comment on was the color of my skin.

If a particular ethnic group is underrepresented in your circle, a great way to make them to feel welcome is to treat them like everyone else. Specifically pointing out what makes them different may alienate someone.

Don’t assume that just because someone is a POC that their costume is ethnic in some way. If you assume wrong you may make someone very uncomfortable. One year I was at a convention wearing a Game of Thrones costume, along with a dozen other women using the same pattern. I’m pretty sure not everyone was asked questions like “Is that a kimono?”  “Are you Korean?” “Is your hairstyle part of your culture?” “Are you supposed to be a geisha?”

And please never tell someone it’s “not historically accurate” for someone of their ethnicity/ gender/ disability/ age to participate in or be present at a particular event or time period. If you’re a dentist 40 hours a week and pretending to be a Civil War soldier on the weekends, you have no business telling someone who they can’t pretend to be for fun. If you’re into fantasy stuff and cool with orcs and elves but you’re weirded out by the idea of black people in medieval Europe, maybe you should find another hobby.

What if you are an organization?

Note: If you are a reenactment group, living history site, or museum you have the right (or even an obligation) to set your own rules and educate the public about historical facts. My comments are directed at casual costuming groups such as sewing clubs, cosplay conventions, theme parties, etc. to prevent feelings of exclusion and gatekeeping.

Mentor newcomers! Host workshops, have resource lists, create an online forum where they can ask questions, etc. Write out a defined non-bullying policy and make it clear that derogatory comments about a cosplayer’s body shape, culturally insensitive costumes, etc. are not permitted. Allow for beginners to explore their interest in the club without requiring costumes that require a lot of upfront investment in time and money.

Don’t have an intentional or unintentional hierarchy with “elite” club members; encourage everyone equally. For an example of doing it right: my local costume guild had a fashion show this past week. Calls for models were public and open to all skill levels; they were not just friends of the president or “the best of the best.” There were no applications, auditions, lengthy rehearsals, or onerous requirements to enter that would scare off newcomers. The models were all ages, genders, and body types, and wore self-made and store-bought costumes, or even literally artfully wrapped bedsheets, and no one was turned away. There were other activities so that the fashion show was not the main focus, and the organizers made it clear they did not want anyone to feel left out.

Depending on the size of your organization you may require more formality to herd the squirrels. But if you don’t need to, don’t add layers of complexity that scare away shy or new people.

If you are a visitor to an educationally-minded group like a living history site, do remember the distinction between trained employees/volunteers and members of the public.  If your idea of playing along is to dress up in a historical costume that is correct for the time and area that site portrays, great! That does not give you the right to shame others that don’t or make snide comments about how someone’s clothes are off by a decade.

Just remember, time travel should be fun. Enjoy and don’t take yourself too seriously.

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About to drop the hottest album of the 18th century.