attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

It's not a big deal - but it matters

I do have a habit of promising pictures and then not following up, don't I?  It's a good thing you're all patient.

Speaking of all of you, I've seen a bunch of brilliant, smart, and discerning readers sign up recently - welcome to all of you, and I'm happy you're here.  Please excuse me not friending you back automatically, but my friends' list is out of control as it is, and I'm falling behind on my reading (i.e., it's blocked at work, and when I'm home I'm doing other stuff) and feel terribly guilty that I don't respond to even the friends I already have that often.

On the plus side, 99.9% of my posts are public, and the ones that aren't are just personal whines, so you're not missing anything.  Anyway  - I'm super-glad you're here, and I'll try to keep things interesting.  Today, I'm talking about costuming.

On the drive back from Princeton on Sunday, we got to talking about relationships - a fairly comfortable subject, since the three of us in the car are in good, stable ones, and not inclined to bitch about our significant others (I worry about that, btw - when I hear someone really dissing their S.O., I feel weirdly like I shouldn't be hearing about this stuff.  It's so personal).  We were discussing the little things that they do and we do to show our affection, and I said (in my master-of-the-OBVIOUS! kind of way) that it is the little things, not the big things, that make or break a relationship. 

Sure, the big things have an effect too, but it's more immediate - it's the little irritations that slowly erode affection until there's nothing left, just as it's the little nudges of care and tenderness that keep people going at a steady burn for each other for a lifetime.  For example, Bob and I thank each other for doing household chores - yes, we're supposed to do them, but appreciation for taking care of the boring stuff goes a long way towards making both of us feel loved.  In contrast, if all someone ever notices is the stuff you didn't do (or didn't do "right"), the effect is of sandpaper on tender skin - you can handle it every now and then, but a steady abrasion leaves you raw, bleeding, and quite happy to kick the sandpaper-wielder to the curb.

On thinking more about this, it seems like the power of little things applies to most aspects of life.

(See?  I told you.  Master of the Obvious.)

In historical costuming, the big mistakes may make people giggle (though there's a certain awesomeness to the really spectacularly bad stuff on a different level), and it's easy to pick out, but it's the little things that really make or break an outfit.  I'm not talking the obvious, like sunglasses (and let's not get into that debate again, please), but smaller stuff that throws off an outfit.  I've seen a bunch of stuff in my time that almost, but not quite, manages to be good, and one of the things that gets said to me a lot is "It doesn't look right, but I don't know why".  Now, the levels of not-right are infinite, and I can't cover all the things that happen, but I thought I'd indulge myself and give a short overview of the most glaring things I see all the time. 

Keep in mind, I've been guilty of most of these myself, at one time or another - we all have a learning curve, and there's no shame in it.  Getting something wrong isn't a big deal - it takes time to educate your eyes to see what's in front of you, and not what you think you're seeing through a modern/wishful filter.  But it's worth it, and it's the little things that really make an outfit stand out.

1.  Mixing time and place - this is something that is more common for SCA people (because of the wide-ranging period of history we cover), but it happens in all historical groups to a greater or lesser extent.  It doesn't usually happen with the clothes (though it can), but with the accessories - the hat is 100 years earlier than the doublet, or someone is wearing a purse with some weird Celtic-stamped decoration/horn button with an Italian-based dress.  Even forgiving some of the subtler place issues (such as Northern vs. Southern Italy), I've seen some weird combinations of German and English fashion.  SCA people are most guilty of mixing times, though - and I have worn an Elizabethan-style outfit with a stamped D-ring belt.  And Minnetonka Moccasins don't go with anything, even if you cut the fringe off.

I'm just saying.

2.  Keeping modern hairstyles/makeup  - this is more for women than men, since the range of hair/cosmetic options are much wider for us chicks.  What I see most often is women who don't change their make-up style for the event, and wear their normal face, even if that face has blue eyeshadow and bright red lipstick.  Now, I like wearing makeup, too - and it's possible to adjust a bit, especially for later personas.  Ditch the lipstick (or wear a nude colour), ease up on the eyeliner, wear a paler foundation, skip the rouge, and wear less mascara.  Avoid eyeshadow.  Most women look just fine with minimal makeup (or none at all, but that's harder for women who habitually wear makeup to deal with, and I totally get that), and in a pinch, a light dusting of powder (not bronzer!) to take off the shine and a coat of mascara does wonders to give that "I'm not wearing makeup, I just naturally have long luscious lashes" look.

(A note about nails - Yes, I keep my artificial nails on at events.  I have a French manicure, and it looks like what it is.  I have also worn bright red nail polish in the distant past.  I am condoning neither, but manicures are often complicated enough that it's not worth removing one for a single-day event.  However, if your manicure is looking patchy, do consider removing it before the event, and re-doing it after.  Purple nails are jarring.  I freely admit, though, that I do not always follow this advice, and I accept that the effect of my outfit might suffer as a result.  I do try to stay away from elaborate manicures with designs or odd colours, though.)

Like makeup, hairstyles are part of wanting to look attractive.  I want to look pretty, too - I rarely wear a coif without either doing my hair in front or wearing a hat, because I think I look awfully severe and pin-headed with just my coif on.  However, when you put massive amounts of work into an outfit, it seems silly to insist on wearing your hair in a modern style - nothing destroys the effect of an outfit faster than modern hair.  And there are lots of attractive period-appropriate options - braids, rats, false hair, hats - there's something flattering out there, I promise.  I have to deal with this, too - I have short bangs in a very modern style in front (see default icon), and I like the look, but it has to be covered/curled up if I'm wearing Elizabethan.  It's not the end of the world, and it looks better, even to people who are not authenticity mavens - I've had non-costuming people look at my photos of people in costume with period and modern hair, and pretty much all of them say the period hairstyles/hats look better, even if they can't always articulate why.

At least give it a try.  It's not permanent, and you'll live to wear your hair however you want another time. 

3.  Inappropriate trim/beading - this is an odd one, and depends a lot on the maker of the ourfit developing a sense of what decoration in that period really looked like.  The commonest mistake I see in beading is "medallion"-style beading - a small section of a sleeve or bodice has been beaded, but not the rest of the outfit.  I've been looking at clothes (and pictures of clothes) for a long time, and I just can't find outfits where a majority of the outfit is not decorated.  The design aesthetic of beading (especially in later clothing) seems to really trend towards covering the entire damn outfit.  If you can't stand the idea, skip the beading and do something else - there's lots of stuff that isn't beaded.

Trim is a tricky thing - there is a lot of woven trim out there that looks awesome to the beginner, and people have a tendency to slap all sorts of stuff on all sorts of outfits.  All I'd say is that be careful - take a good long look at any sources you can, and see what does and doesn't belong.  Certainly for 16th century clothing, there's somewhat of a tendency to want to slap gold woven trim all over a doublet and call it a day, but there's a lot more evidence for plain trims applied in detailed and creative ways, or lace trim, or embroidery.  Of course, all of these are more time-consuming than buying a woven trim, but if you do go that route, be careful.  And stay away from plastic gold and silver - it always looks cheap.  In the case of braided trims, stay away from the cheap curtain trims.  They look bad, and they deteriorate quickly (and the red stuff I got years ago bled all over my nice white fabric).

Yes, taking more time and money makes it harder, but you end up with something you'll wear a lot longer.

4.  Badly fitted/poorly sewn outfits - Okay, perfect fit is a little hard.  But wearing something that either swims on you or pulls in funny directions isn't going to make you look good, no matter how pretty the fabric.  Plus, it's miserable having to adjust your clothes constantly - you will feel (and look) like you're wearing a stage costume, not clothes.  This also applies to taking short cuts on fastenings - five huge grommets might save you time, but your dress will never lace up properly, and will bunch unmercifully.  Taking time at the beginning means better fit later.  And there's no excuse for not hemming something that needs hemming - if it ravels so bad you're afraid to put it in the wash, it needs to be hemmed. 

Ditto for clipping curves, cutting off stray threads, and fixing drooping linings.  Not bothering is just sloppy sewing.

Some aspects of sewing have a bit of a learning curve - necklines and armholes, for instance.  Most people start out making their necklines too big, and their armholes too small.  Taking the time to put together a small collection of fitted patterns that you can use as a base for other patterns is worth it - and there are lots of instruction books out there.  Being lazy and cutting corners results in a sloppy outfit that all the expensive fabric in the world can't fix.  Conversely, a good fit means that no matter how humble the fabric, you'll look like a million dollars.

5.  "Cute" or "joke" accessories/fabrics - The overuse of this sort of thing is a big peeve of mine.  I assure you, I like a good joke as much as the next person, but a joke is most effective if it is used sparingly.  Your muppet-fur cloak is a scream, but only if you use it at absolutely the right moment, not all the freaking time.  A joke is most effective when it catches people by surprise - too often, and it's just dumb.  Keep the tie-dye kilt for very special occasions.  Otherwise, you're just one of those people that gives the SCA a bad name amongst historical societies.  Honestly - about once every twenty years or so is probably often enough for the inflatable throne.

(Yes, we have an inflatable Coleman armchair, and yes, we used it once in court.  Once. Ten years from now might be the right time to use it again, but we might wait longer - it will be funnier that way.)

(No, you can't steal that joke.  It won't be funny when you do it - trust me.)

That's just some major stuff that I see over and over again - there are a million other little things, but they're best addressed on a case-by-case basis.  The biggest things I see are a lack of headwear/modern hairstyles, modern design sensibilities applied to period clothing, and massive mixing of time/place, especially with accessories. 

Little enough, but they make a big impact when viewed as part of the whole.

Tags: costume, deep thoughts, research, sca, sewing
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