Costume College 2016 just ended. If you don’t know about it, it is a 3+ day annual conference held in the Los Angeles area and is for all costumers wanting to “up their game” through learning and being challenged by others.
I’ve been attending since 2000 and been teaching since 2004. This year, my plans changed. After 15 years of trying with my husband, I became pregnant with our first child – due a mere three weeks before this year’s event. After vain workarounds I realized I should not attend but instead focus on my new baby and dream of the costumes I want to make next.
So as I sat this past weekend glued to Facebook and Instagram marveling at the wonderful creative costumes I was seeing in gorgeous photos and snapshots, I realized there were a number of things I learned by NOT running around crazy for the month of July in preparation.
Costume College is run on volunteers. They start working on next year’s weekend before this year’s event is over. I’ve volunteered my time over the years by working on the committee and giving of hours while at the event itself.
But it’s my teaching where I put in most of my time. I love it. And I am humbled to be considered one of the familiar faces at Costume College that people look up to and admire.
I compiled this list of thoughts mainly from that experience (of course).
But also now seeing it from the point of view of someone who’s never attended; someone who’s been interested in the event but feels unworthy; a newbie to costuming; or someone simply intimidated by the other attendees despite having decent talent themselves.
– There is an amazing amount of stress that goes into the prep. Like, a ton. Like, where your sleep and eating schedule gets thrown out of whack (aka becomes non-existent).
– If we aren’t continuing to learn, the enthusiasm & inspiration can disappear quickly. Doesn’t mean your talent goes away but rather your motivation for it does.
– Our skills diminish when we don’t challenge them every so often. Aside from the “regular” costumes I make for Costume College, every couple of years I do a BIG project that challenges me. This year, because I didn’t attend, I feel my skills are kinda rusty.
– I didn’t have to scrape up the extra money to both attend the weekend and spend for new costumes. (Cause goodness knows our costume habit is expensive!)
– We need to stay connected to others in the costuming world. Events help us do this. Costume College is just one of them. Others exist too.
– There’s this unspoken hierarchy (at Costume College), and if you aren’t on that particular ladder then your stuff (costumes, crafts, accessories, etc) isn’t good enough for CoCo. (I say “hogwash” to that as anyone can attend no matter their ability…. But I do feel the event is sometimes “clique-ish”.)
– Those with the most detailed or expensive-looking costumes get all the glory and attention. Cynthia at Redthreaded did it this year – and she was all fabulousness for sure! (But what about that person (could be anybody) who spent 50 hours on her costume and is most proud of it yet no one wants to photograph it?)
Edit: I think those with the attention-getting costumes really do inspire us. But there’s something innate in ALL of us that needs to have our work appreciated. To be recognized. Some people take this in stride and others get deeply jealous when someone outshines us. At Costume College this can be especially true… and dangerous. I’m quite aware of this and have seen it even more in depth based on this year’s promotion of a few select ensembles. We need to remember that everyone is on this costume journey at different points and with differing goals. To have “the best” costume at the event, start recognizing others and the efforts they’ve put into what they are wearing. We all have something to learn and something to share.
– Pulling that old costume from the back of the closet because it’s the only thing that fits and you didn’t have time to make something new is perfectly acceptable. 🙂
– For someone just starting out the whole event feels intimidating and they could feel they are not worthy to attend even though the basis of the weekend is to learn more about costuming and improving your skills.
Costume College was founded as a learning conference. A place to expand your skills and knowledge in all aspects of costuming. It still has its three full days of programming. But somehow the finished costumes showing up at the gala, tea and social diminish the true foundation of this unique event.
– You make less sewing mistakes when not pushed so hard for a deadline, you have enough sleep, and don’t feel the pressure to live up to other’s expectations in the costuming world. (But then sewing on the way to an event wouldn’t be as exciting – ha!)
– Repurposing old costumes – either wearing them again with different accessories or disassembling them to create a new costume – is awesome. It should be done more often.
– It’s ok to branch out from the usual historical wardrobe and do something different, fun, challenging and non-historical. Creating my Hunger Games Capitol costume in 2012 showed me that creating something out of your normal zone inspires your creativity even more. 🙂
– Start planning your costumes early. Like now. Like 10 months ahead of time. And include or design out your accessories too. Spend the last three weeks before College finishing your sewing – not scrambling to buy that tiara from China or spending gobs of money for express shipping on a pair of shoes.
– Themes for a costume event – whether a specific topic or decade or time period – really help you plan costume ensembles, especially if you are design deficient (meaning you don’t design well).
– At Costume College you can go “off book” and not follow the themes at all. You’ll still get to have fun.
– When an event has been such a part of your life for so long (for me at CoCo that’s 17 years), you truly, deep down, miss your friends when you can’t attend. You miss the (mostly) annual connection. You grieve a bit for the time away from socializing with those who “get” you; those who are your tribe; those who inspire you from deep within.
– I’ve learned I need to up my own costume skills and depth of projects…. And I kinda thought I was up there for inspiring others in their costuming. I feel unworthy compared to some of the creativity and art that I’ve seen at the 2016 event.
– The Costume College weekend goes faster than you think (or that you’d like). Therefore, make the costumes YOU want to make. Life is too short to follow the crowd… unless that IS what you want to do.
– The learning and making and wearing of costumes brings us together for this marvelous event. The friendships we make keep us coming back. 🙂
For more info on Costume College visit here.