I’ve always thought there was a need in these mostly settled American late 20th century time for people to dress up and be something else for a while. There are local hard-core historical reenactors who do get very, very deep into this, in part to educate people generally about specific events and times in American history. Then there is the Society for Creative Anachronism, where lurk those folks who do more of the European medieval thing, with jousting and swordfights and all that. And the science fiction conventions, where fans of particular movies and TV shows costume for the duration, and take it all very seriously. My daughter and I had a friend through the Salt Lake City con who routinely dressed as a Klingon. One year he came as a Star Fleet officer, and we didn’t recognize him at all, until he spoke – he had a strong Scots accent. But then there are those who just get into it for fun at a Renaissance fair, where the costumes and gear are required for performers and vendors, and optional for the rest of us.
I only did the full Tudor/Elizabethan costume once – when Mom took us to the original and founding Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Southern California, sometime in the late 1960s. Which was held at that time in a dusty and live-oak grown park in Agoura, a place which so little looked like England that it may as well have been a tropical island in the South Pacific. By which I mean, it didn’t much look like England at all. But the enthusiasts set up booths and pavilions and tents, and there were jesters and jugglers and Queen Elizabeth’s court, all in heavy brocade and velvet costumes, and vendors selling whole roasted turkey legs, and pastries made with whole wheat flour – which tasted pretty much like cardboard. Banners flew in the clear California summer air, there was heraldry everywhere, and some kind of Rennaissance-ish costume was encouraged.
I made costumes for my younger sister and myself. Mom had sacrificed a couple of tablecloths, a sheet or two, and I had bought a couple of packets of RIT dye – my usual raw materials when it came to costumes – and a large roll of gold fabric upholstery braid bought from a small upholstery shop on Foothill Boulevard which was going out of business. Their bad fortune, but my good, for I paid only a couple of dollars for the roll of braid, and it was enough to lavishly trim a pair of Tudor-style gowns – with matching French hoods. I think I drew up the patterns by eye from a costume book, inspired by having watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII on the local public channel. We brought our costumes and changed in the ladies’ lavatory … and then sweltered for the rest of the day. I can only imagine how the performers in heavier costumes with the required underpinnings of corsets, bum-rolls and multiple petticoats suffered in the heat, all day and every day.
This weekend, though – we’re getting back into a little of that, with the Lost in Wonderland event – a tribute to Tim Burton movies, by the look of their Facebook page, but it looks like a gathering for the same kind of fans of the SCA, Ren-Faire and cons. And next month – there will be a local Ren Faire at St. Francis Episcopal Church. There is a discount for coming in costume, but my daughter absolutely refuses to play.