Costuming Philosophy 101
article is adapted from my original article of
2009: Preparing for
If you are starting to get into costuming, be it
for a performance or for a party, here are some
of my philosophies on "wearable art" which I
hope will inspire you! My own history with
costuming started in childhood - when I would
rummage through the house to see what I could
create with found materials. Be it
imitating Madonna's "Like A Virgin" look,
creating gelatin-based zombie scars or making a
Snow White outfit - these childhood efforts were
omens of my future explorations. I guess I
never wanted to stop playing Dress-Up!
1) Follow your fetishes and tickle your
own aesthetic: If you are excited to
express through some costuming, then consider what
tickles your fancy currently. Think about themes you
enjoy, archetypes that mean something to you and
even favorite physical aspects in texture and color
to determine your costume repertoire. Choose
something that really appeals to your personal
aesthetic, not because it's a typical "Burning Man"
style or trendy.
e.g. I was wearing
fun fur jackets, tutus and costumes in 2002 purely
for my own enjoyment and my love of dressing up led
me to explore Burlesque that year. I didn't
see people wearing these items at that time and it
would be many years before I knew about Burning Man
What are some of your fetishes?
Favorite characters from books, films, history etc
Favorite archetypes (human or non-human)
Favorite topics or themes
Favorite art forms or art pieces
Favorite colors, textures, materials
Favorite fashions and design styles
2) It's helpful to think in stages for your
costuming. Consider creating a few favored
costumes that you can build upon each year.
Start with a few basic items and each year, you can
add more intricacy and detail. You don't have
to perfect it right away - take time to enjoy the
E.g. I have an 18th century outfit that I
started to build in 2006. Each year, I've
added new layers or pieces to it. The first
year, I began with the skirt and a simple bodice.
Then in 2008, I added layers to the skirt and built
a matching "powdered" wig in 2009. In 2010, I
built a more elaborate wig, added a bustle,
transformed shoes to match and sewed more details on
3) Less is More: Look at Batman,
Superman, Wonder Woman, the Joker... What did they
have in common? They only had 1 outfit that
they wore as their signature costume! You too can
have your own signature outfit(s)! If you really love
it and it represents your personal style, you can
wear it repeatedly and not get tired of it. In fact,
most people tend to have a few favoured outfits that
they wear all the time.
4) Mix and Match: Sometimes, it's
helpful if you have items of clothing that can be
part of more than 1 costume. For example: a silver
scarf can serve as a halter top or a skirt. A
linen sheet can become a toga-style dress, a shawl
or a headdress. A favorite hat may go with
several outfits and your warm coat hopefully fits
over all your nighttime outfits! By exploring the
creative possibilities, you can do a lot with just a
few versatile items.
5) Get ideas from the materials at hand:
If you already have some items at home (like
fabrics, accessories, wigs or hats etc), see what
ideas arise from contemplating them in a new light.
It's fun to look at an item beyond its normal form
and function to see what else it can do or how else
it can be used! It's so wonderful to recycle
an unused or ubiquitous object and turn it into a
piece of wearable art!
e.g. A fork could be the inspiration for a
spaghetti/meatballs hat (with the fork sticking out
of some yarn that is mimicking pasta)
A set of playing cards could be glued onto an old
An old pair of boots can be decorated with
A colorful bedspread could be turned into a super
You can also get ideas by perusing the materials at
a store like Dressew (337 West Hastings).
It's the most popular place in town for gathering
your basic sewing supplies (diverse fabric, thread,
sewing tools, etc) and it also carries a wide range
of costuming accessories (masks, wigs, hats). I like
to look at even the little items like buttons,
special crafting tools, ribbons/lace, metal
fasteners to explore what is possible.
Go to the basement of Dressew
and check out their
bargain fabrics section! Many types of fun
fabrics at hugely discounted prices! As of
2011, most were only $3 to $4 per metre... a superb
deal! You can experiment with these
inexpensive fabrics and base your costuming on what
you find there. It's a huge selection (even
has a lovely selection of organza) so you should be
able to find what you need without going upstairs to
Dressew's regularly priced fabric area.
6) Complete the basics first and then
elaborate if you have time and energy:
If dealing with a deadline, take care of the key items first. Sometimes,
people get frazzled as they try to cover too many
ideas but end up with very little actually completed
or with a costume that was too hastily assembled.