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Putting together an 1800s outfit for a Victorian Costume Contest Part 1 by Madames Mercantile on 02-26-2010


By Sue McDonald from Madame's Mercantile

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Victorian costumesVictorian costume competition

"For a lady, participating in Victorian reenactment events is usually all about the Victorian clothes. Yes, there are those who really love to shoot (and are good at it!) but, for the vast majority, it's about getting dressed up in period attire. It is like stepping back in time to an age when the men seemed rougher and the ladies more feminine than today. Where we live in Prescott, Arizona, it is common to see people dressed in period attire strolling around the courthouse square. The tourists love it, and the local businesses encourage us to linger in or near their establishments.

The day always seems to come however, when it isn't enough just to dress up. We crave a bit more attention and credit for putting together our period ensembles, and a costume competition is the perfect opportunity to show off our outfits. Getting an award will confirm that you have captured the right look for the period.Truly Victorian Hermoine Overskirt

Today we will discuss where to begin:
1. Analyze the event
a. What will you be doing? (Shooting, Singing, etc.)
b. Who are you? (Persona) (May not be applicable.)
c. What will the judges be looking for? (Uniqueness, authentic-ness, trueness to character?)
2. Research clothing from the period
a. Resources, study photographs, museum archives, ladies magazines from the period
b. What is your position in society?
3. Select an outfit
a. Obtaining period-correct clothing
4. Finishing the look
a. Proper undergarments
b. Period shoes, hats, and accessories
5. Develop your Persona
a. What area and date did you live? (NY, NY, 1876)
b. What is your status in society?
c. What activity are you doing today? (Lace making, traveling to town, attending a ball, etc.)
6. Entering the competition
a. Getting dressed
b. Telling your story to the judgesPreparing for a costume competition always needs to start with a bit of analysis. What kind of event will it be? A SASS competition will have different requirements than an RGA-sponsored 1800's event, for example. Usually, you can obtain a costume guide from the group hosting the competition. Go to their web site and see if they have something you can download. If you don't find what you are looking for, send them a note to see if they have competition guidelines available. Pay attention to the details of their requirements. For example, the RGA does not want to see stud earrings. Even though they did have studs- which were actually screws- during the late 1800's, you would be well-advised to ensure that you are wearing earrings with hooks so as to avoid any question in the judge's mind.

When in competition, there are usually two components to the judging, and you will need to take equal care to prepare for both. Part of the judging will be about what you are wearing, and the other part will be about your persona. The approach seems to vary considerably from one competition to another. I have been in competitions that were only about the costume; and others where the persona seemed to be the most important aspect of the judging. At some events you will be asked to give a complete explanation of who you are and what you are doing on this make-believe day, and others only want you to answer whatever questions the judges ask. Your job is to be prepared for both ends of the spectrum; your outfit needs to be able to stand on its own. This means you have researched the period to understand what you need to wear, and have all of the details of the outfit correct. If any components of your outfit are actual vintage pieces, be prepared to call them to the judge's attention - vintage items are nearly always a plus in a competitive event.

You also need to have a story prepared about your persona. Keep in mind that you will probably have a time limit - sometimes as short as one minute - to tell the judges everything they need to know about you. You should be prepared to give your alias, tell what year it is, and convey your social status. Are you married? If so, who is your husband - your status will come from his position in society. Are you single, or a widow? What "errand" brings you in front of the judges today? For example, if you say you are traveling, then the judges will probably expect you to be carrying a carpet bag or other luggage. The judges will not ask to see your undergarments, but they may question you about what you have on under your outfit. They will probably ask you to lift the hem of your skirt so they can see your shoes. To ensure that you are prepared and all is correct, you will have to do some homework."
Our next article Part 2 will talk about research and resources to help you get that period-correct look.
Qeldas and Margaret show off their very unusual, "Victorian Cat" World Con master status award winning costumes.Truly Victorian Hermoine Overskirt

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