Dawn's Costume Guide

What Makes "Bad" Costume?

So you're into this historic costume thing, maybe with the SCA or the local Renaissance Festival circuit, and you're interested in making your kit more 'historic' than 'halloween'. Where do you start? Here's a checklist of things to look over, and points to keep in mind the next time you start an outfit.

This list covers a lot of the most obvious mistakes and common offenses that people make in costume, and it's a good place to start if you want to take the road to more historic costume re-creation.

Note that here I am using the word 'costume' in the sense that describes a style of dress, including garments, accessories, and hairstyle, as characteristic of a particular country, period, or people.

Wrong accessories. Most common offenders are faire tokens and dangly SCA favors. Second worst are the fantasy accessories like feathered fans and hair clips. Modern jewelry, esp necklaces.

No hat or headcovering. Wrong headcovering like the ones that come with most commercial patterns. Wrong use of fabrics for headcovering (gold lame veils, for example).

Modern hairstyle, especially bangs. Style it out of the way or cover it.

Modern eyeglasses. Yes, I know you need them to see, but if you are having a picture taken please consider removing them while you pose.

Wristwatches and sneakers. No excuses.

No underpinnings or wrong underpinnings. It just makes the whole line of the outfit wrong, especially if it requires a corset or padding. Wear enough petticoats to get the right fullness to your skirt. The hoops in your fathingale should not show through the petticoat.

Colored underwear: shirt, smock, chemise, partlet, petticoat, braies etc. should be in white unless you are certain of the sources for that era.

Not wearing sleeves with a bodice or doublet. If it's hot make the kind that button on but hang to the back, or hang open up the seam.

Obviously modern fabrics or trim. Stretch velvet, poly satin, shiny satin ribbon, modern polyester lace, gold lame, shiny bright gold trim.

Not using enough fabric in the skirt. Not all periods had very full skirts, but most used more than what the commercial patterns suggest.

Mixing styles or time periods or ethnicities. Mixing fantasy fashion with historical. Harem pants, petal skirts and a corset are one example.

Using an inappropriate fabric, like peasant garb made from silk or velvet. Misusing plaid.

Bad fit. Gaps in the bodice, wrinkles or sagging when the chest area is supposed to be fitted. Hems or sleeves that are too short. Bust not supported enough, or pushed up to your chin. Study portraits for fitting details and buy a sewing book.

Wrong trim. Noble garb without sufficient couching, embroidery, beadwork, jewels, etc. or lower class/ early period garb with too much decoration or wrong period decoration. Study portraits for details.

All text and artwork copyright 1990 - 2003 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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