Tag Archives: costume

Hallowe’en: Costumes and Fun

I’m not going to rehash last week’s comments on women’s costumes all being sexy or costumes being politically correct, except to say that where I work three people showed up dressed as Indian (North American First Nations) women. Of them, one woman is Arabic Asian, one is white and one is mixed blood. None of them seem to feel they’re making fun of or disrespecting the historical dress of long ago.

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Kali was a last-minute creation. (no creative commons on these)

So I’m just going to go through some memories of my past Halloween costumes, with pictures. A long time ago a friend sewed me a costume out of pewter satin. It involved a cape with shoulder pads and a skirt rucked up into gathers. I wore green with it and maybe antenna and was an alien of some sort. I’ve been a witch, a fortune tell, which in it’s second incarnation involved sitting at my desk at work and having people pay .25 cents to get a fortune, like those old, glass-enclosed fake tellers. I’m big on theme parties and have done one where it was blues and therefore blue clothes, gods, bad boys and bad girls, fairy tales and a mad hatter party. The Kali costume to the right was last minute. I bought a bunch of dolls from the dollar store and strung their arms and legs around my waist, their heads around my neck and had a spare pair of stuffed arms. Really, I should have had at least another set and I should have been blue but it was good enough.

I’ve been Little Bo Peep, complete with sheep purse, and Sleeping Beauty. I’ve been a pirate, a virgin (as in the Medieval sacrifice style), and a Middle Eastern dancer (which is cheating since I do bellydance). I’ve done Bride of Frankenstein, twice. The second time I used chicken wire to pull my hair up around the frame, already having the blonde streaks. I painted the skin

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Zombies are popular, with or without brains (no creative commons on these)

appropriately, used actual thread that I made into stitches and adhered with spirit gum, and cut a thread spool in half and glued it to my neck. I recycled the cheaply sewn dress into a zombie costume last year. The makeup is fairly time-consuming and can take up to two hours to do. I’ve also made up a few friends as zombies.It’s pretty each to start with white, add blue and black for shading, or even greed. I then draw blue veins over the top, and add fake blood. The good thing about being a zombie is that your makeup doesn’t need to be very precise. Splotchy is okay. Some zombies are with just white makeup and some red blood. Some are greener. It all depends on how you want to do it.

The problem for me is that I never start thinking about a costume early enough and then slapdash stuff together last-minute. This year, I was going to go as fall. I picked up a bunch of leaves of the ground (before the rain started) then dipped them, before they dried out, in paraffin wax. I was then going to sew them into a garment. Well, I couldn’t quite figure out the logistics of waxed leaves and sitting down. Maybe they’ll become a wreath.

Instead I lucked into a costume through a friend who sews for the stage and sometimes checking your local stage production groups might net you a costume for a rental and cleaning fee. I went as Marie Antoinette, and though the costume worked, I couldn’t get in or out of it by myself.

costumes, Halloween, dressing up, Halloween costumes, Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (no creative commons on these)

My sister tells me that in Calgary some religious fundamentalist group was trying to “reclaim” Hallowe’en and call it Jesusween, saying costumes were evil. That’s pretty typical of any fundamentalist religion, where facts aren’t checked and sweeping statements are made. Hallowe’en was never a Christian holiday, though they did adopt the day after as All Saints Day. Something tells me that the stupidly named “Jesusween” is not going to catch on. I think dressing up isn’t just for kids, nor just for Hallowe’en. That’s why I’ve had theme parties. It’s for fun, when life gets too heavy. So here’s to Hallowe’en, in all its connotations, from a time to dress and forget the cares of the world, to a time when the veils thin between the worlds and the spirits step near, and a time to honor the dead who have passed in the year before.

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Are Women’s Halloween Costumes All About Sex?

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A spoof on the STARS campaign by geek of the day

It seems I’ve put my travelogues on hold to comment on Halloween costumes. I already posted this week about whether Halloween costumes are racist or not if you wear one of an Arab sheikh or a Mexican farmer of 100 years ago, brought on by the STARS campaign against racism out of Ohio University. While I agree that some costumes are in poor taste, I don’t agree that dressing up as another ethnic group, in a historical, cultural context is necessarily bad nor disrespecting. Halloween is often about being what you’re not.

As I’m working on my own costume for Halloween (which could offend the French for all I know because of its historical context) I wandered into a Halloween costume shop and was a bit stunned to see what range of cheap costumes they had for women. Going to a few sites supports that the latest greatest fashion for women involves sex oozing out of every woven fiber.

Fairy tales have always been popular costumes, such as the characters of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, witches, fairies, as well as superheroes, pirates, barmaids and fortune tellers. But something has happened to the costumes in the past few years. They’re almost all like hooker costumes (if you’re buying one). Men of course can wear full outfits but look at these following costumes, every skirt is short, stockings and garters and high heels. Tops are tight and cleavage abounding. Go to any major costume site on the internet and these images are there. The percentage varies but it’s as high as 90% sex costumes on some sites. Others might have other costumes for women but they’re still few. Really, if someone went to a prostitute some would have these very outfits for roleplaying scenarios. And I should mention that almost all superheroes are drawn with godly perfect proportions, and men and women are put into skin-tight affairs.

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Even Supergirl now has stockings and garters and cleavage spilling out.

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What happened to the rest of Red Riding Hood's dress?

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Somebody chewed out parts of this queen's costume.

I’m not against sex or sexuality. Sex not only sells but it is indeed part of the human psyche. An animal’s need to procreate is strong in all creatures and we are just the human animal. However, when every costume becomes just another way to oversexualize a woman I do have to wonder. If I wear a full length costume, as I did for Little Bo Peep, am I not sexy? Should it even matter if I’m sexy? We’ve been inundated so much with the sex kitten image that we don’t even blink at it anymore and to me that’s more troublesome than if I dress up as someone from Mao’s army.

But that might just be me and in some ways, none of this is new. Way back when I was still in college and working at a local TV station as a stills photographer one of the directors had a party. It might not have been even for Halloween but it was costumed; you were supposed to come as a movie star. Well, not all the women wore sexy outfits but many of them did. Going against the tide, I donned a western shirt, cowboy hat and eyepatch. I stuffed a pillow in the shirt and practised my John Wayne voice and swagger. Even so, in the very crowded party, women would squeeze up to some man as I tried to get past  and would glare at me as if I was “stealing their man.”

Maybe it really is all about territories. I just really hope that women don’t have to be sex kittens 24/7. But for Halloween, well it really is about what you’re not so there you go, sexy outfits and with the popularity of zombies at the moment I guess some of these will become dead sexy.

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Fashion: How Movies Corrupt History

I’m not talking the thousand dollar (plus) frocks that actors wear during the Oscar ceremonies. I’m talking about historical (or pseudo-historical period pieces). There are a full range of historical movies from the earliest eras of humankind up to World War or gangster films. All of these take a fair amount of research and knowledge on the costume designer’s part to recreate the era and the feel of the time. Sometimes the director and cinematographer may want a particular atmosphere, so costumes might be brighter or subdued in color range. They might be conservative or very outre in appearance depending on that movie’s theme. A costume designer might take some leeway depending on the depth of their research, what is know about a particular period, and what the director wants (which of course can hugely frustrate the sensibilities of the costume designer).

Now I’m not a costume historian, as in I don’t have a degree of any sort in this. However I have a keen interest in historical costume with some 50 books at home. I also love period piece films and will go partly for the historicity of the movie and of course for the costumes. I can usually pinpoint a century, or a decade if in the 20th century, by the clothing alone, if not the story. It gets sketchier the earlier we go but I can still pretty much tell a Roman and Greek era film and know what should be right.

One of my big pet peeves is that should a movie make an attempt at being historically accurate in clothing, that they tend to veer wildly the more important the character, especially if the character is a woman. The earlier the film, the more likely this will be. Here are a few examples of really sad costuming in movies and TV series. Gladiator. You would think with their big movie budget and names they could have tried a bit harder and really how many women were in that film? But in fact both the crazy emperor Commodus played by Joaquin Phoenix and the love interest and only woman in the film with any major part, Lucilla tend to have some iffy contrivances. Plunging necklines and tightly wrapped robes appeared. Some of the helmets for the men became pretty fantastical and veer from what would have been worn for actual combat as opposed to ceremonial helms.

More recently I watched the HBO series Rome. The lot of the average Roman is a gritty existence. It’s mostly about common men but there are the “nobler” groups and their political machinations as well. Though I’m somewhat dubious of the manly armbraces that Vorenus and Pullo wear all the time (as they’re not going to stop more than a light nick with a knife) the men’s clothing seems okay. I’m not very interested in military outfits but given that armies like the Roman legions would have supplied some uniform, they might have asked for the weapons back but let the men keep the basic tunic. People wouldn’t have had many changes of clothing and would have worn their tunics to shreds so it’s likely that the guys left the army with the basic tunic. The show seems to have got right the robes, as well as those of citizens and senate, and who would wear the large red or white togas.

There are many major female characters in this show and the one that probably wears the most historically accurate garments is Lucius Vorenus’s wife Niobe, who must hide her earlier adultery. Her garments are the basic chiton, peplos or stola. All clothing of these early eras still followed rectangular construction. Why? Because everything was woven on looms by hand and was expensive and time-consuming to make. A person would construct their garment, never wasting even an inch. Every scrap was used and before sewing techniques and inventions developed, rectangles were easiest.

I’m more up on women’s clothing and though it’s fuzzier when it comes to Roman I can tell you that almost everything the conniving, amoral Atia wears is pseudo Roman to downright fantasy. Plunging necklines and clinging items bound and wrapped in all sorts of ways defies anything but modern convention. Let’s not even go into the fabric, which would be most commonly woven wool and linen. Cotton and silk would have been rare, imported and expensive in that era so it’s possible the richest people and the emperor would have some pieces of this. I’m more willing to allow leeway in textiles as long as they look right.

Rome tried with the men’s clothing, mostly. It tried with the background and peasant/lower classes but once it go to opulence the centuries flew by. When we followed Mark Antony in Egypt, oh my god. I could not believe the stupidly bizarre take on Egyptian clothing and wigs. What were they thinking? The stuff was ludicrous. Interestingly enough, we’re more likely to see authenticity in later period pieces because when you get to Baroque and Roccoco, the women’s clothing couldn’t have been more extravagant. Still, there are good and bad shows.

Brotherhood of the Wolf, which came out in 2001 took place in the 18th century and had very good costuming. The storyline was equally well done and it’s worth watching. There are a few costume weirdnesses here with the unkempt village folk/cult followers that kind of resemble crazed, Mad Max biker guys and I question that but am willing to accept some of it. But most of the main costuming, including the women’s, was appropriate to the period and well done.

I was going to get into the new series Spartacus: Blood and Sand but I’ll just do that as a review of the first couple of episodes. As for costuming in period movies, it would be nice if directors (and costume departments) could decide to do a piece without dressing every woman like a modern vixen. And in fact, with Roman and Greek clothing, the natural drape of a peplos could have a very low neckline and an open side right up to the waist to boot. There are few movies that would get an A+ in costuming. I’d give Gladiator a B+, Rome a B- and Brotherhood of the Wolf an A.

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When Were Women’s Hats in Fashion?

I’ve been asked this question and let’s say women’s hats have been in fashion for centuries. If I limit this to Europe (because various regions developed headdresses as different times) then we can look at it a bit more specifically. Headdresses might be a better word than hat since what we see in modern terms as a hat is not the same as a head covering. This could cover everything from a kerchief to feather and bone to felt and straw.

If we look at earlier civilizations, head ornamentation covered metal crowns,  coronets and helmets for war. These can be seen in Egyptian, Babylonian, Sumerian etc. eras. Metal working was endurable and saved the head from a Bronze Age sword. But it wasn’t really used in making hats or head coverings so much as showing social class and standing.

The first hats were most likely squares of fabric, just as the first types of clothing (after fur and wool) were squares of woven fabric stitched together. As civilizations evolved into aggregate societies, becoming more sedentary and developing cultures, they also learned to weave, sew and shape cloth. The making of any fabric was time-consuming and no piece was wasted. People either made their own cloth or had to trade with merchants and then sew their own garments. Rectangular construction used every piece even if it was cut first into various rectangular, square or triangular shapes.

The same knowledge and skills for clothing would have been the basis for hats. It is known that Norse women wore rectangles of fabric upon their heads, sewn into a peak or rounded, essentially forming a cap. (many early medieval caps and coifs were worn by both sexes) The veil or fabric (from wool, linen or cotton depending on the area) rectangular headdress was common in European countries, protecting the head from sun, and in some areas as a form of tradition or religious custom. Styles may have been influenced back and forth between the religious customs and the nonreligious. In some cases married women were required to cover their heads and this seems to be more a Christian tradition than cultural.

Fabric became more elaborate and was used in turban like wraps and caps. It’s hard to peg the first true hat but the Phrygian cap (a soft red knitted hat, like the Smurfs wear) was being worn in Phrygia (of course) as well as Greece and Rome as early as the 4th century BCE. The Catholic mitre was being worn by about the 11th century, and was probably an adaptation of the Phrygian cap. But these are men’s hats.

hoodEarly outerwear involved rectangular mantles (the precursor to the cloak) and eventually hoods. These garments were worn by men and women alike. Women’s hats began as elaborately configured and starched veils or fabric. Some were pinnheaddressed into interesting shapes while others were stitched.  There would have been a utilitarian aspect, keeping the hair away from food and fires. As textile weaves became more intricate, so did the headdresses, involving wire, mesh, brocade, velvet, fur, linen, silk, wool, etc.

As the Catholic church’s influence grew, various laws came into effect. Some were sumptuary laws indicating that only a person of a certain station (or nobility) could wear certain colors, fabrics or styles. Others were edicts of the church, that women must cover their hair, or even their ears because Mary had conceived the word of God and the ear must be covered. This brought out more ingenious headdress, often flaunting the church doctrines. Veils so thin they were nearly nonexistent are indicated in some paints, and really don’t hide hair nor ears. Hats and headdress became greater symbols of status, social rank, wealth and fashion.

barbetteAround the 13th century the transition began from coif, cap and headdress to hat. The barbette or porkpie hat was a stiff band of several inches depth that went around the head with a piece of fabric wrapping  under the chin to hold it on. It was hollow on the crown but some began to be filled in with fabric.

The hennin is the big conehead style everyone imagines when thinking of
hat

A form of hennin.

fairytale princesses but had a relatively short life and also had many variations. These began in the 14th century and involved veils as well as hat forms mixed together. Jewels and pearls adorned headdresses by the 1400s and the Tudor headdresses took on a new form, which was not utilitarian at all. The Renaissance and Tudor eras of the 15th century really began the roller coaster of fashion in all senses. Clothing patterns became very elaborate as did hats and by the Baroque and Rococo eras hats and hairpieces were monumental in stature and elaborateness.The ornamentation of the Tudors was just the beginning of hats.

anne of cleves

The elaborate Tudor headdresses were just another step.

So when were women’s hats in fashion? You could say from about 1300 till about 1960. Hats are still worn but not as often. The full evolution would take a lot longer to research and write. As well, narrowing hats by country or era can give more focus. This is a very surface brush with hats and I have not consulted one of my 40+ books on clothing/costume history at home.

But hats have often been worn for fashion and fun, to flaunt status and sometimes for piety. They will always be worn as protection from the elements, whether sun, rain, cold or wind. They reflect the flavors of an era as well as what fabric or trim was newly discovered or cherished. They also indicate the growing sophistication of the human hand and the creative mind. Hats will never quite die out for all of these reasons.

If you would like to more know about a specific era, country or style, then let me know and I’ll see what I can dredge up.

http://m-silkwork.blogspot.com/2008/11/womens-caps.html

http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/content/view/604/75/

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