Tales from the Costume Shop Fairy

I have so much to say about costuming. Like, so much. It’s hard to know where to start. Or, I guess to be more accurate, it’s hard to know where to stop. And I’m gonna do it with the use of a lot of pictures.

I started playing dress up as soon as I could make decisions about clothes. My sisters and I had a pair of trunks in the hallway between our rooms filled with pieces of clothing, costumes, crinolines, funny shoes, scarves . . . Stuff found at yard sales, the library fair, or that our parents made for us.


Gypsies. Me and a supportive friend on a very depressed Halloween in the early 90s. Photo by Lou Barranti.

I LOVE to dress up. And not, like, formal wear. I mean, I love formal wear. It’s just that I can’t keep it on for more than two hours at a time before I’m totally sick of it and want to go find a pair of yoga pants to wear instead.

(Our wedding was the sole exception.)

Take our formal New Year’s Ebony & Ivory party this winter. For instance:


New Year’s Soiree


Hostess’ Privilege

These photos were taken a couple hours apart at our house. At the beginning and in the middle of our New Year’s Soiree. Cuz we love dressing up. For a very limited amount of time. That’s my husband all classed up in a tux shirt. With jeans and a hoodie. Hey, at least we kept the color theme!

Still, I do love dressing up. And I always have.


Dorothy Gale from Kansas

Whether as my favourite movie character or a beloved character in one (or seven) of a hundred favourite books,


Nymphadora Tonks playing Guitar Hero. Halloween 2007

Or because we were learning how to sword fight and needed to wear spiffy (and not so spiffy) armor,


Gunther & Ginny. Fighter Practice.

I have always loved dressing up.

So much in fact that despite everyone’s assumptions (including mine) that I would choreograph a dance work for my senior thesis project in college, I chose instead to design costumes for a non-existent production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (to date, still my favourite play, and probably my best sketches as well).


“Was it for this?”

I learned a lot during that project, though I’m not sure it all came out in the final product as much as it sank into my deepest thoughts on clothing and society.

During one meeting, Robert, my thesis adviser – a justifiably pompous designer who had previously taught a workshop during which I cursed his very existence on a regular basis – told me something very very important that reflected what every PART professor had ever tried to instill in us: The concept of CHOICE.

Every single one of us is dressing for a show every day. Every single one of us is making choices about how we portray ourselves to the greater world. Every Day. With Every Choice. We present to the world a very specific vision of ourselves.

It is a choice to spend forty-five minutes styling one’s hair. It is a choice to put on a freshly pressed suit shirt and tie or to stay in your pajamas (guess which I chose today). It is a choice to grab a pair of unmatched socks out of the basket of unfolded laundry (clean or otherwise). It is a choice. A choice of how we present ourselves – the version of us we show the world. No matter how simple or prolonged the decision, every single day, we are presenting ourselves to the world through choice, even if we think that presentation is really only for ourselves. Everything we do on a daily basis, innocuous as it may seem, is still a choice that reflects back upon ourselves (with or without judgement).

I have, therefore, Costumed Myself in a number of different Unacknowledged Productions throughout my life.  Some more obviously fictitious, and many a bit more historical. I was a theatre and dance major in college, and have always loved theatre in some way. I also, I’m sure you’ve noticed, have a propensity for re-enactment and historic recreation.

I started reenactments young.


My First Ren Faire Dress. Courtesy of Mom’s Costume Wardrobe (tm).

The taste for Medievalist & Renaissance learning and recreation has stayed with me for decades. (Check out my Medievalist Blog The C is for Creative in which I go into more detail about that particular hobby.) I have played with the Society for Creative Anachronism in five different Kingdoms, and worn garb borrowed from friends and relatives, made for me (by same), and, more recently, increasing numbers of ensembles I have created for myself, such as the following:


Pelicon Style Overdress. The very first gowns I ever made completely by myself. (Left sleeve tied out of the way of bow string). Georgia, 2005ish

I eventually found a style that resonated more.


Nearly Heraldic Particolored Cote. (Missing the Counterchanged Swan) Photo by Lou Barranti, 2006


same dress, at Pennsic, still not fitted quite right. photo probably taken by Rachel Rosado.

And dabbled in different activities.


Fencing Jacket. Fully functional.

And delighted in new styles for themed events.


Full Norse for Baronial Procession. War of the Wings, North Carolina


Byzantinesque. For Coronation of Val & Arielle.

I have also made garb for other people.


Coptic uniform for guards at Coronation of Val & Arielle, with rendering provided.


Finished Coptic uniform for guards at Coronation of Val & Arielle.


AEthelmearc Crown Tourney


Harvest Raid 2014


Harvest Raid 2012


Ice Dragon


He extolled a passion for cloaks coming back into vogue, so I made him one for our first Xmas together.


Norse Set. For Sister, Nephew, Dolly

I didn’t stop there, of course. I have a love for the subcultural style of Steampunk, which I discovered by accident while searching Flickr for something unrelated, and completely forgotten, back in 2008 or so. I started creating my own steampunk wardrobe which naturally took on a rather bookish theme.


GOGGLES OF FAME (+10) Carolina Ren Fest Photo by Lydia Towery


The Librarian photo by Lou Barranti, who insists on noting that I did all my own styling, as he is a more naturalist photog. Who would probably hate being called a photog.


Gloves made by noirknits


Because Steampunk Hermione is the Best.

Halloween Parties? Always Themed. In 2013 we had a wedding instead, but here are images of the costumes I made for our parties in 2012 (Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass) and 2014 (Wizards, Warriors, and a Word from Our Sponsor):


The Queen of Hearts & Alice Through the Looking Glass, complete with Pepper the Pig. (I really wanted cap sleeves but ran out of time and patience.)


Danny Vasquez & Beth Tezuka from Bravest Warriors. Costumes mostly from found clothing, pieces together, stitched up, decorated, and worn with great style and enthusiasm.

Remember what I was saying about Robert’s amazing pronouncement about clothes and choice in Everyday Life? Thinking about it I decided to include here some examples of how I costumed my every day life, most of the time without even realizing it.


Vintage among my Popular New Style clad classmates, 10th Reunion, Class of 99.


Goofing off at Pop Killer in Los Feliz, 2011


A confidently stylish & self possessed me. First date. 2011. Photo by the (now) Mister.


Them: Why aren’t you wearing a dress? Me: I don’t wear dresses. Them: It’s the SEMI-FORMAL, You have to wear a dress! Me: Fine! Here’s your fucking dress! Main, 2nd Floor, on way to Wells College Semi-Formal, December 2001.


Emergency Adventure 2012. Sometimes you just gotta grab a scarf and hat and hit the road.

If this last photo isn’t a solid piece of proof of my love of dress up combined perfectly with what Robert told me all those years ago, I don’t know what is.


Sometimes You gotta Be Your Own Hero. Tonksified KJ, Fountain Inn, SC, 2008 (featuring costumed images from Wells Dance Department, 2004 & Ulster Ballet Co, c. 1993)

Every day I’m making choices about how I dress and pretty much every one of those days I’m also plotting our next theme party. Whether it’s going to be a 1920s birthday speakeasy next month . . . Or a Lord of the Rings Halloween gathering next October . . . Or a party with costumes based on paintings or other works of art . . .  Or the Old West . . . Or Doctor Who . . . Or . . .

Gah, I gotta go write down some of these ideas!

How are you dressed up today?

Sophomore Remembrance

Sophomore year of college. A short and conglomerate remembrance.

Great and a little crazy.


I transferred into a four year college heavy with freshman tradition a year ‘late.’ I learned that sometimes being really good friends with someone means that separating your two personalities can get a little difficult and when you need to do just that, things get a little uncomfortable. That people will try to split you up from your best friends because they are jealous and want to be the most important person in everyone’s life. I learned what utter betrayal feels like. I learned that staying up all night playing an online RPG is really fun, as long as you have someone to stay up with. I learned that coffee mixed with hot cocoa mix makes coffee almost tolerable. Especially after a just-for-fun all-nighter playing the online RPG. I learned just how wonderfully creative collaborative writing projects can be. I learned to sew. I learned what Modern Dance is and that it can change lives. I learned that terrorists can destroy part of your childhood. I learned what grief sounds like. I learned what dancing in the summer breeze on a dock for a grade feels like. I learned that not everyone gets my sense of humor or my writing style. I learned what getting a D on an English paper feels like. I learned that hiding away in the weirdly shaped library can be fun and disconcerting. I learned that honor systems can allow for really great adventures.

Portrait of a Transfer

When I arrived on campus in August 2001, the first thing the administration told me was that I wasn’t supposed to be there.

ImageThe Sycamore, Fall 2001

“O! You weren’t supposed to arrive until next week!” the woman under the welcome tent told me. “We put the wrong date on your letter.” But of course, they’d never corrected it, so there I was, along with a dozen other transfer students, who were not supposed to be there. There were no Transfer Welcome Activities. Only Freshwoman Welcome Activities.

So, we figured out a few of our own, the bunch of us who would be living somewhat together in Main Building. We named ourselves The Main Transfers From the Future ™. We joked about getting t-shirts, which we never did, regrettably.

Scan11284Main Transfers From the Future ™ and Friends, Ithaca Commons, 8 March 2002


Wells College is almost famous for its traditions. It’s known for them. And most of these traditions start your very first day on campus. Provided it is your first day of college Ever.

421275_10150823442053761_208371865_nFail. I can’t even do Sophomore Year right.


I didn’t get a Freshman Sign.

I wasn’t a Christmas Elf.

And I didn’t get to dance around the May Pole or be named the Queen of the May.

ImageClass of 2005. Suckers.


As a transfer student at the four year liberal arts college, there were, in fact, very few traditions that I was able to participate in at all. Primarily only those that made the school what it then was: A shining haven for extraordinary women.

ImageGraduation Day. May 2004.


I was a PART (Performing Arts) major, concentrating my energies between the theatre and the dance studio. The traditions that my years at Wells encompassed were mostly department traditions, not school traditions.
As a transfer, there were a lot of things that I wasn’t allowed to do. But as a theatre major, the clouds weren’t even the limit.

ImageBuilding the Raked Stage for our production of Moliere’s The Schemings of Scapin, directed by Susan Forbes. 2001-2002 Production.

102_0224Goofing off at the American College Dance Festival in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, with members of the Wells College Dance Collective. Spring 2004.


As a PART major my traditions were more appropriately focused. And perhaps almost entirely self-made.

ImageWe also made Pies. (with Lau at thankgiving. we did not throw it at anyone. because you do not waste pumpkin pie in real life.)


I might as well have lived in the theatre for all the time I spent there in rehearsal, doing my work study, and taking classes.

I think Theatre was my Wells tradition.

And I believe my fellow students and even my professors from various departments might tell you that I tended to have a flair for the dramatic.

Image (In the Poetry Room, waiting for rehearsal or performance of the Student Dance Concert my senior year, demonstrating my Love/Hate relationship with Pointe Shoes.)

Scan11287(In the dressing room post-makeup/pre-costume for Scapin. 2001/2002.)


Senior year, at the awards ceremony, I stood and walked across the stage to accept the dance performance award wearing a pair of white sparkly fairy’s wings. At opening convocation, senior year, when we were supposed to wear hats, for whatever traditional reason, I wore a large piece of red lace fabric as a veil. I usually made my way down to these sorts of events from the stage-house, wearing whatever I had recently discovered in a box, or under the cutting table in the Costume Shop.

Image(photo courtesy of Rebecca Miles-Steiner. The PART department gave that jacket to me as a graduation present after I asked if I could buy it, since I hadn’t taken it off since I found it while cleaning.)


One afternoon while organizing the CS, I moved a box from the top shelf, only to lift it away from the shelf trailing a wild spray of bright glitter from an upturned open jar inside the box. I carefully climbed down the ladder, grabbed fistfuls of the stuff from where it had landed on the floor, ran down the three flights of stairs, shouting, THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS!!! and throwing handfuls of the stuff at anyone I met. I’m pretty sure our tech director, Joe, still curses me over the pool of fairy dust I left near the apron just outside the stage-to-house door where I met Miles-Steiner as she started in horror at my jubilant pronouncement, getting a faceful of glitter.

Image(the infamous ladder, several days post fairy dust explosion. by Miles-Steiner.)

If you have ever heard whispers of the CS Faerie . . . that was me.

Perhaps cursing the CS Faerie became a Wells tech tradition.

I hope not.

(Paris courtyard in the snow, January 2003.)


Our PART professors’ encouragement to birth guerrilla theatre found us infiltrating the dining hall at lunch time, standing on tables reading monologues, and fencing in front of the fireplace. One rainy night found a few of us running about campus having an impromptu costumed photo shoot and another occurred in the middle of a brightly lit day two years later (which later turned into the greatest prank in the history of my entire life but that story must be told separately as it deserves a lot more than a paragraph).


Image(Becca Cooper & me, looking out over Cayuga Lake. Photo by Bella Tschinkel. 2004.)




Our experience wasn’t necessarily the experience of the rest of the college. I’m sure other majors could say the same about their experiences. But as a transfer, I think this is especially true. Where there wasn’t a tradition to fit our circumstances, we built our own. I guess that’s an important life lesson, and I think that’s what college is really supposed to be about. I don’t use my Bachelor’s Degree professionally. I only use the experiences I had in getting it. And I think, maybe, that’s the way life is supposed to work. It’s all built on experiences.




Minerva. A Wells tradition we can all agree on.


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