As you may recall, for me the costuming highlight of the past two years has been attending Costume College– not just for the opportunity to meet up with like-minded costumers and learn new things, but because it provides a venue/excuse for me to make and wear some fabulous costumes that would otherwise languish in my imagination. The Saturday night Gala, especially, is the pinnacle of the weekend costume-wise, and I’ve always had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to make and wear.
Not this year. The themes for 2020 have just been released– the Gala will be Titanic-themed– and I’m stuck. While I would have jumped at the chance back in high school when the Titanic movie first came out (and still think the costumes are lovely), in the intervening years it seems like everyone has already made their own versions of the costumes, so a reproduction of a movie outfit would be unoriginal at best. And while I could always just make something Edwardian in style and go with that, I just can’t seem to get excited about it without some kind of inspiration.
Looking back at my two previous Gala outfits (and many of my other favorite costumes), I tend towards very detailed reproductions of instantly recognizable but seldom-made gowns– heck, the Katniss dress was my first foray into blogging, and definitely fit the bill. I think that having a specific point of reference helps me stay on track in terms of figuring out what comes next in a complicated costume, and it’s nice to be able to feel that I’ve gotten things “right” at the end. On the other hand, I feel like I’d like to be able to break out of the box next year by making something original… I just don’t know if I like the Titanic theme enough to use it as my inspiration.
Complicating matters is the fact that I have a bunch of fabric in my stash that I really ought to get around to using, so I feel kind of compelled to at least try to make a Gala gown out of some of it… if only I could figure out exactly what I wanted to do with it!
So what say you, readers? Do I try to find some Edwardian inspiration to go with the Titanic theme after all? Do I dig into my stash (which really leans Victorian in terms of fabric) and try to be virtuous? Do I hold on and hope that a new film or TV series comes out with fabulous costumes I can reproduce in time for next year? Or do I sit here and waffle over what to do until it’s too late and I have to re-wear something from a previous Gala (not the worst fate in the world, but not nearly as much fun)?
So now that things have settled down a bit, I wanted to do a post about Costume College this year! As you may recall, I had a great time last year, so I’ve been excited to go back! You’ve already seen the making-of posts for the costumes I wore, and my favorite shots of the beetlewing gown, but here’s a summary of the rest of the weekend!
Before even arriving at the conference hotel, we stopped by the Fashion District to shop– and when I say “stopped by,” I mean “shopped for five hours straight.” I ended up with 17 yards of fabric, plus assorted other items, that (with luck) will be showing up in future posts!
I had a great time wearing this whole ensemble to the Costume College gala this year– it didn’t fit the theme (“The Opulent Streets of Venice”), but it was indisputably the most fabulous of my costumes, so I had to wear it!
We took a bunch of photos all around the hotel, but it was tough to find just the right dramatic background…
But then darkness fell, and the hotel lit up their outdoor fountain with FIRE! I started off just posing near it, even going so far as to step up against the wall (taking care to keep my long sleeves and wig well away from the flames):
But by the end of the night I’d decided to literally take the plunge, stepping into the fountain itself to get some fabulous photos!
The water in the center was actually a lot deeper than I’d expected– about knee-deep– so my dress got pretty soaked! I wrung it out afterwards before going back up to my room to blot it with towels before turning the hair dryer on it so it would dry out enough to completely dry by morning.
I’m kind of kicking myself, though, because I neglected to remember that the Sargent painting portrays Ellen Terry slightly turned away from the viewer, rather than head-on the way I posed in the photos above. I only have a single photo of me in that position, and I wasn’t careful enough with the placement of my arms!
I’m definitely going to have to put on the outfit again to get better full-length photos at some point. I may even, as I mentioned in my belt post, re-do the belt someday to make the links smaller the way they are in real life. But that may have to wait until next year’s Costume College!
The final touch for this costume was the crown, which Lady Macbeth is shown raising above her head in the Sargent painting.
That being said, the internet assures me that 1) this was supposed to be King Duncan’s crown, not hers, and 2) she never actually struck this pose in any of her performances of the play. But it’s still the most recognizable pose, so I had to make a crown to carry– and also to wear, since I wasn’t about to just carry it around all night.
Since I am not experienced in metalwork, I had three options: First, have a metal crown custom-made for me. That seemed awfully expensive for a prop. Second, make a fake metal crown out of craft foam and gold paint. That was definitely something I considered, but ultimately I wanted it to look really shiny and polished both inside and out, and I wasn’t confident I could do that in the time allotted. So I went with my last option, which was to find a reasonably decent-looking crown online and go with it.
The theme for the Costume College afternoon tea this year is “The Haunted Mansion,” and I wanted something appropriately spooky to wear– but it couldn’t be too involved, since I already had tons of other work to do on my other costumes. After some brainstorming I decided to make a Victorian-ish black outfit with skeleton accents– in this case, a skeleton cameo brooch and a skeleton bodysuit worn under a sheer blouse, so the bones would (subtly) show through.
The brooch, blouse, and bodysuit were easily obtained, but I knew I needed a long, black skirt to complete the look. I considered finding a sheer black skirt to complete the “ghost” concept, but ultimately discarded that idea in favor of something more versatile– a black moiré skirt that I could re-use for other Victorian/early Edwardian ensembles.
I already had the perfect pattern in my stash– Truly Victorian 297, an 1898 flared skirt. I’d used it once before to make a tweed skirt for a steampunk outfit, so knew it was easy to put together.
In case you hadn’t noticed, my recent spate of costume posts was inspired by my upcoming trip to Costume College this year. I went this past weekend and it was fabulous! Also, my daughter sent her Cat-icorn (above) with me to keep me and my tiaras company.
These are totally my people– detail-obsessed lovers of gorgeous and/or hilarious outfits, willing to discuss the intricacies of fabric design or corsetry at the drop of a hat, and always appreciative of the work we all put into these things! I can’t wait to go back next year!
I did take a few photos of randomly beautiful costumes, but not nearly as many as I should have. Also, I was wearing gloves for two of the big events and it’s a lot harder to manage taking pictures with my phone that way. Next year, fewer gloves = more pictures!
Many years ago I was obsessed with this dress by Luly Yang Couture:
I thought it was fabulous, I desperately wanted it, and I went so far as to custom-paint panels of yellow chiffon with diluted fabric paint (stretched over custom canvas stretchers) to match the butterfly-wing skirt panels so I could make one myself. But I never finished it, and I never had any place to wear it anyway, so it languished in the back of my closet, stuffed into a paper grocery bag with my other unfinished projects. And now, of course, replica dresses are available online and Spoonflower is a thing (and has basically the exact design available that I’d have wanted) so I wouldn’t have to hand-paint the fabric anyway. But I still have no place to wear it…
About four years ago I dug it out to use in a Halloween costume, stitching the panels to a red crinoline and painting a black bustier top with a hasty orange/yellow/gold design to tie in the colors and be a butterfly fairy. And then it went back in the closet.
However, when it was announced that the Costume College 2018 pool party theme would be “Realm of the Goblin King” it was clear to me that it was time to revive the costume, at least to give the fabulous skirt another outing. But the bodice would have to be re-done, because my quickie paint job was looking pretty amateurish in the harsh light of day.
As I mentioned earlier, the inspiration for this suit came from these dragonfly hair clips, which I found on eBay. I think they look pretty awesome as-is, but one thing I wanted to change was the transparency of the wings– with the exception of some printed veins they’re completely clear, making them almost invisible from most angles.
I decided to get some iridescent paint to add just a bit more dimension to the wings. I used two thin layers of diluted shimmery white paint– Art Deco Dazzling Metallics White Pearl— to make them slightly more opaque. The paint got a little streaky, to my dismay, but I really didn’t have the time or the inclination to figure out how to fix it, so I left them as-is. I’m going to clip one to my suit lapel and create thread loops to clip the other to my chest.
The most important part of the suit embellishment was the appliqué. To create the design, I eyeballed the dimensions of the suit and started cutting some grass shapes out of paper and placing them on the suit.
I traced the shapes onto tissue paper and numbered the pieces from left to right, assigning them each a color so I could get an idea of how to distribute the four shades of green– I had a light spring green, a medium spring green, an olive green, and a teal, and I wanted to use all of them pretty much equally.
For Costume College I got tickets to the Fantasy Tea, and the theme this year is “Victorian Fancy Dress.” The thing is, I had a hard time reconciling the idea of fancy dress– which was popular for evening balls in the Victorian era and involved some seriously involved costumes– with an afternoon tea, which implies “prim and proper” attire. I couldn’t figure out how to make a Victorian-style fancy dress outfit that was still appropriate for daytime and teatime, not to mention the fact that I didn’t think I could handle yet another elaborate outfit made from scratch (or pack it in my limited luggage)
And then it came to me– I didn’t have to do Victorian at all! Instead, I decided to embrace the “afternoon tea” theme and go with a 1950s-style skirt suit, gussying it up to be appropriate for a fancy-dress event. After some brainstorming I chose to focus my costume on these lovely dragonfly hairclips– I’d had my eye on them for ages on eBay, but hadn’t had any excuse at all for purchasing them. I bought four.