Photograph taken by Kirsten Barrett, August 2017
For me LARP is about character interactions and role-play, but a lot of cues can be gained from costumes. As you can tell, costume making has developed into an interest and forms an integral part of my hobby (ask my OH about my fabric haul …). You look for insignia, you take in whether the kit is rough and ready or fine and fancy. We are a visual people, a social people, and costume forms part of that unspoken language. If you see insignia from your unit you’re more likely to interact with them over the “others” who aren’t part of your unit, or Church, or group – almost unconsciously.
Costume is great! It helps with our immersion as a group and it’s always wonderful to see someone go from being a 21st Century citizen to being a scout or wizard or futuristic warrior (depending on your system) by putting on some different clothes and doing something with their hair or make up. Isn’t the whole point of this game to be something other than ourselves?
So why is there an unspoken snarkiness about kit? What gives us the right to judge people for the costume they put together, that they have spent time thinking over and developing and working hard on preparing?
The short answer is – none. None what so ever.
Earlier this year I wrote about conquering (or at least trying to) DIY anxiety. It’s something I still feel when embarking on projects or working on things, but I am amazed at the response that piece has had since it was published.
Recently Fresh Frippery and Historical Sewing have put up blog posts that relate to the quest for perfectionism in costuming and attitudes in the sewing community, and the fact that there is no need for the snobbery and snarkiness between costume makers when looking over garb or costumes. Which got me thinking – isn’t the best thing about costuming the fact that it’s all about interpretation? Even if someone is working on historical garb and making it by hand in the methods of the time, it’s still only interpretation. There isn’t someone from that time teaching you how to make those stitches or fitting the garment to you, or generally helping craft it – we are only interpreting what we think and know now and applying it backwards into history, to try and understand the historical finds that are found or the garments that are preserved and examined.
And whilst re-enactors and people in the SCA often talk about the fact they are interpreting history, the same can be said of those who make costumes. We are interpreting patterns, shapes, colours, fit, materials and trims. We adapt what we have, to make what we do, to fit for the purpose we desire. We are inspired by so many things around us – from historical fashion to tv shows and films to high street styles. For some people shelling out money on fancy materials is not something they can afford to do, no matter how much they want to. Or they have to consider how much effort they can put into keeping clothes clean or looked after between events – I’m particularly thinking about muddy LARP events where your clothes end up looking like they’ve been stuck together with glue! – or how much time they can afford to making new garb if something goes wrong, because making any sort of costume is a labour of love (even if you’re buying it off a seamstress/tailor on the internet). I myself stuck to materials that can be abused in the washing machine and tumble dryer, because I know I cannot spend the time hand-washing delicate things; and I know that most garb will be lucky if it sees an iron between one wash and the next after it gets stuffed in a cupboard. But there are ways to get the look you want within your budget – but this is a separate topic that may get written about in future (*hint* curtain shops are my friend, because the material is often washable and tumble drier tolerant, and I can rummage roll ends …)
I am a firm believer in practising the art of kindness – to be a supportive critic rather than someone who rips people apart, both in costuming and in life in general. When we make costumes we are entitled to our own opinions (we all have different likes and whilst one person might not think that neon lime green satin is a wise purchase, someone somewhere will have made something fabulous with it), but we have no right to be mean; because we can never understand or see the journey the other creator is on. We can try and walk a metaphorical mile in their metaphorical boots, but we’ll never truly understand – we can only sympathise because we find similarities. We’ve all done the one-minute-to-midnight deadline rush wielding only a seam ripper and needle and thread, fuelled by curses and coffee/wine.
So, at this transition between this year and the next and beyond, let us be kind and supportive – point out the things that you like in things that evoke a positive feeling inside (be it joy or wow or excitement); give your opinion if asked but phrase it constructively; and support those who reach out for help – even if all you offer is a different way to make something. You never know how you might help, and a single helpful comment might help a creator go from someone on the brink of giving up their craft to being a future inspiration or teacher within the community. If you’ve been helped by others in the past, give back to your community by helping the future.