Here is the difference between fashion design and costume design: fashion designers design clothing, costume designers design characters.
One of my favorite places to see characters (and costumes!) is the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, California. I never really thought of myself as the Ren Faire type but I was dragged along by a costumer friend a few years ago and have made a point of attending ever since. The people watching, the campy shows, the greasy food, the merriment. It’s so much fun to do for exactly one day a year.
I didn’t dress up. I don’t dress up. Maybe working in costumes has taken some of the excitement out of it for me or maybe I’m just curmudgeonly, but I don’t even like participating in Halloween so medieval role playing sounds even less appealing. I did however wear a baseball cap which is very out of character for me so who knows, maybe the next step is a hoop skirt and corset and running away to be a professional wench. Maybe that’s how they get you, a seemingly innocent hat choice that leads to a life as a Ren Faire carnie.
I never cease to be impressed with the amount of effort people put into their characters. The details of their costumes, their accents, their lingo. I am even more amazed that despite the desert heat almost everyone there is in heavy, layered, often leathered costumes, and still in good spirits. Even in high-waisted shorts and a lightweight denim shirt I was whining and wilting, a reminder of how grateful I am to be born in an era of air conditioning.
Modern privilege aside, I love costumes and the role they play in telling the story of who we are (or, who we wish we were). Over the years I’ve watched the power that a costume has to transform an actor from himself (or herself) into another person entirely. Costumes are a way in which we explore the complexities and nuances of time, of history, of humanity.
Going to the Ren Faire always reminds me why I fell in love with costumes.
I’m one of those re-enactors at the Irwindale Faire. The first year I went, I wore a loose skirt and a sleeveless shirt. Nine years later, I wear 9.5 yards of linen underneath 12 yards of wool. The heat in Irwindale is a problem; our group has medics who are logically there to help with accidental combat, forge, or kitchen injuries, but in actuality spend most of their time caring for people who overheat. It’s sticky and dirty and makes you think cold showers are gifts from heaven, but it’s the most enjoyable time of the year for me and I’d never, ever trade it in.