I know it’s been a long time since I put up a Fashion Friday post, and this is one I’d thought I would publish earlier this year. But I didn’t have all the pictures yet — and I’m actually still waiting on the professional shots — so it all had to wait.
Fashion Friday: Costumed Freaks Edition
I love dressing up in costume. The school where I teach has a lot of dress-up days during the school year to celebrate various things and events and to give the community a chance to show off their school spirit, and I frequently take advantage of these days to express myself through my clothing. I may not go to football games, but I do care about the students who play on the team and who are our cheer athletes, and I care about the school, so I show my school spirit in this way.
But these themed days and Halloween and dressing as a literary character for Book Fair and things like this, while fun and wonderful, are just not enough for me.
In our twenties, my friends and I used to have costume parties at the drop of a hat. It’s New Year’s Eve? Let’s make it a costume party! Someone’s birthday falls in the same week as Bastille Day? Get a powdered wig and make a giant dress out of upholstery fabric––the birthday party will be French Revolution themed! July 4th? Let’s see who can show up in the most creative interpretation of red, white, and blue!
Then lots of us had kids and were too worn out to sew elaborate costumes for three or four occasions a year. But just because we ran out of disposable time, income, and energy doesn’t mean we completely gave up on the things we liked.
Every summer, my sister and I attend a large costume ball out in Los Angeles. It lasts two nights over the course of a weekend, and one of the requirements for attendance is a costume. And not just any plastic and polyester sack cloth you can buy at the grocery store for Halloween, either––the costumes at this event go over the top. At the very minimum, to get into the party, you need formal wear and a mask, but the vast majority of people do much, much better than that.
Sometimes I like to wear extravagant outfits that I can’t wear anywhere else. Clothes that make me feel beautiful, that put me into the spirit of the fantasy theme of the masquerade ball. As costumes go, I admit they aren’t super creative, but I like wearing them. This year I developed one that was unfortunately more difficult to dance in than I expected, but it was really lovely.
I started with a plain red, strapless, taffeta gown that I ordered on sale from Victorian Trading Co. To see what it looked like before I got ahold of it, click here to be taken to their online catalog.
Some of the attractive features of the dress included a layer of red lace in the skirts and ruching all the way across the bodice. The reviews of the gown said that it ran a little small, so I ordered a size up. Unfortunately, when it arrived, it was still about three sizes too small! So since the shipping was going to be crazy expensive anyway, I took it to a tailor and had the back zipper removed and corset lacing installed, which made the dress prettier and adjustable, as well as solving the fit problem completely.
I was trying to figure out how to bustle the very long train so that I could dance in it, but then a domestic mishap involving my husband’s cat solved that problem for me. Without getting into the grisly details, I’ll just say I had to cut off nearly all of the long train (several feet of fabric). I took several yards of black lace––it had a bas-relief rose pattern on it to echo the red taffeta rose at one hip of the gown––and made a new train for the gown and two shorter lace falls for the hips. I added a black lace top underneath.
I considered adding wings or an Elizabethan stand-up collar or something to the top half of the dress to balance the volume of the skirt/train situation, but those can be unwieldy, especially in a crowded ballroom or on a dance floor, so I opted for an elaborate headpiece instead. Enter this cage fascinator, made by Enchanted Dream Wear.
Not too tall and extremely lightweight, it’s comfortable and easy to wear all night. The cage has several decorative bands which wrap around my head and attach to each other with elastic under my hair. On top sit various embellishments, including some brass gears and butterflies, some feathers and flowers, and a tiny animal skull.
This piece incorporates both the Gothic and Steampunk flavors I wanted.
I also went for an unusual manicure treatment to go with the outfit. It’s all in the details, right? This look was created by first brushing on two coats of black, then adding white stripes and silver glitter accent stripes, and then painting a garnet-red French tip across the top.
If I were going to do this again, however, I would make the base coat white and the stripes black, so that the red would show up better.
I wore only slightly more dramatic make-up than I would for going out to dinner (though I could have done much more and been well within bounds for this outfit and event). My hairstylist (the awesome Kevin Roberts) updid my hair with pin curls and added some dark red extensions to simulate roses.
Finish off the look with a sparkly lace fan––because dancing all night is a warm activity, yo––and we’re done.
The kinds of costumes that show up for this event range from extravagant…
…to maybe a little scary…
One guy out there this year spent a couple of hours the afternoon of the event and about six dollars at Walgreen’s and made a strapless ball gown and beehive wig — think Marie Antoinette as a funny arts and crafts project — out of colored duct tape and wrapping paper.
Another guy had dressed as Jon Snow in an enormous fake fur greatcoat; he looked miserable on the dance floor, as if he might spontaneously combust at any moment. And then there are those who spend months and hundreds of dollars on their elaborately detailed and drool-worthy outfits, and all of us who are costume geeks take pictures of them all night. One woman out there this summer came as a fiery dragon, resplendent in a multi-layered and complicated chiffon gown and real metal-scale armor.
To offer a comparison for how extraordinary and creative a lot of the costumes out there are, I’ll just say that my own costume was of the type to render me nearly invisible at an event like this––perfect for when you just want to blend into the ballroom’s shadows and people watch.
Because the people watching at an event like this? Wow.
If you’d like to be a guest contributor to our Fashion Friday series, click on the Fashion page and follow the guidelines to contact me with your idea.