Interview: Costumer's Guide

The year was 2003, and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King had just come out. I was in love. Ngila Dickson had designed the shieldmaiden Éowyn a gorgeous wardrobe, and I wanted it all. I begged my mom to teach me how to sew...but of course, couldn't sit still for five minutes so she could show me the first thing about threading a needle. Nonetheless, in the years following, I dialed-up our internet probably hundreds of times just to ogle the costumes and try and figure out how I could someday (when I was grown up) make them.

Ten (TEN!) years later, I interviewed Maggie from Costumer's Guide - one of the very sites I used to haunt. Maggie herself is a costumer, but on her Facebook page, she's also a curator of film and historical costumes in general. She shares news about new and old costumes, helpful tutorials, others' work, and a host of costume-related tidbits.


Read all about the evolution of Costumer's Guide in my interview with Maggie below!


C: What's the earliest costume you remember falling in love with? Did you end up making it?

M: When I was younger, I don't think it ever occurred to me that I could actually make my own version of a movie costumes.  I think that was partly the appeal once I started costuming - that this was something I could actually do.  As a kid I always loved Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and I dressed up like her for Halloween but obviously it wasn't even close to screen accurate - it was a blue dress and white shoes covered with red glitter. I did much later on make a real Dorothy costume and it was kind of funny because I would have been so thrilled to have had that costume as a kid!  When I was a little older, I really loved Princess Leia's Bespin costume - I did actually make my own later on (hand-embroidered!), and it was a bit of a dream realized to have actually done it.  It was the Episode I Jedi costumes that drew me into costuming, when a friend and I decided we wanted a really good Jedi costume for a Halloween party.  The web was so much younger then and resources were few - and I think I was drawn into the research angle of it - and the fact that this was something that was within my ability to do.   After that, I fell in love with the movie Ever After, and that's when it occurred to me that I could do things other than Jedi costumes.

C: Do you have a favorite time era when it comes to historical costumes? What about a favorite genre of movie costumes?

M: I think I've always been drawn to historically-inspired movie costumes so it wasn't too much of a jump to go from there to historical costuming.  I pretty much adore anything 18th century, and costumes like those from Sleepy Hollow and Marie Antoinette have always been favorites. Although I want Kate's entire wardrobe from Titanic. Non-historical movie costumes? I love Colleen Atwood's slightly gothy aesthetic, with the cut-out motifs she tends to use.  I really did love the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars prequel costumes as well.   

C: How did Costumer's Guide come about, and how have you seen it grow/change since its conception?

A peek at Costumer's Guide
M: Costumer's Guide came about because I discovered that I was suddenly interested in other costumes than just Star Wars. Ever After was really the first of those and is the reason it has its own separate website (everaftercostumes.com) - because I thought it would be a one-off.  But then suddenly I was finding that I was wanting to try new sewing projects and wanting to study other costumes. It seemed like keeping it separate from Star Wars was the thing to do.  The site really grew, to the point where I was spending nearly full-time on it after work. That really wasn't sustainable.  Especially since when I started the site, there really were a finite number of resources. Costumes exhibits were almost non-existent, and so were high-res promo pictures. Slowly but surely, the studios began releasing promo pictures and all of a sudden costume exhibits were popping up all over.  So it became impossible for one person to archive every picture for every costume for every movie let alone ALL the movies.  Same goes with exhibit pictures.  With the advent of digital photos especially, now there are thousands of photos from exhibits out there. More than one person or one site could possibly catalog.  

So things just have changed - the costuming community is huge now, especially now that cosplay is so popular, and the internet is a bigger place than it was at the end of the last century! And my life has changed as well - I don't have the time to spend hours every night resizing images.  It's left me struggling a bit with how the site can best be useful without it sucking up a lot of time - and also what place websites still have in the era of Facebook.

C: What's your favorite kind of event to wear a costume to?  

M: It used to be DragonCon - that was the big event everyone sewed for -  but it's so crazy crowded these days that I just don't enjoy wearing costumes there anymore unless they are easy to wear.  I've ended up making a lot of historical costumer friends who throw parties and dress-up events.  And sometimes we go to balls at historical houses.  I really enjoy going to these. We're actually throwing a big Francaise dinner on Saturday (and even have a site for it!http://francaisedinner.blogspot.com/) and I'm really looking forward to that.  But there's something special about going to an 18th century house in a period costume and feeling like you've slipped through time.  I've been to regency and 18th century balls at Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria and at Riversdale House and they are all really special.

C: For someone wanting to get involved in the historical costuming community, what's the best place to start?

M: I think the best place might be checking out the blogs of various costumers. There are so many out there now. It used to be that many costumers (both historical and movie) were on Livejournal (and a few diehard of us still are). But now it seems like Blogspot (or one's own website blog) is the most popular thing. So I think just aggregating costumer blogs and seeing what people are working on, and interacting with them, getting to know them, is a good way to go. If you can find bloggers in your area, you might get clued into local events where you can meet people.  I think blogs (what we used to call dress diaries back in the day!) are a great way to learn too.  I have a list of some of my fav costume blogs listed on the sidebar of my own little personal costume blog: http://costumersguide.blogspot.com/ There is also Facebook too - many costumers are on there and have communities or pages where you can get to know people.  I have too many work people on my Facebook so while I have a public page for Costumer's Guide (https://www.facebook.com/costumersguide) and one for Padawan's Guide (http://facebook.com/padawansguide), I don't post about costumes on my personal account.  But many of my friends do. 

C: Is it hard for you to watch a movie for the first time and not check out or make note of the details of the costumes? 

M: Oh yes, definitely! I'm definitely all about the costumes.  Especially the pretty historical or fantasy inspired ones! But again, there has been such an uptick in other people interested in costume design, that I feel like I learn new things about design in general.  Like fashion bloggers Tom & Lorenzo, who analyze the Mad Men costumes! It's one of my favorite things. They're not looking at how the clothes are made so much as how they are used to tell the story.  Which of course is the point of costume design. It's a nice thing to appreciate since I'm usually so entrenched in "how could I make that?"

C: Do you plan on updating Padawan's Guide, what with a new era in Star Wars films approaching?

M: That's an excellent question and something I have thought about.  Like I said above for Costumer's Guide, I'm really not sure the best way to do this.  There are new ways to do things online, like Pinterest, or Tumblr, or Flickr albums or blogging - but the question is, how permanent are these platforms? If they fold up and go away, how do I retrieve that work? Are they good ways to archive information? It's much safer to have everything on your own server - but then are you in for more work that way?   I very much like the website format of having a gallery of sorted images and then write-ups about the costume, but it's so much work and time.  So the answer is I'm really not sure.   Posting news about things on my Facebook feeds is easy so I'll continue that - but that's not really a great way archive or organize things. If anyone has any suggestions I'm open to them! :-)


C: Lastly, are you working on any of your own projects at the moment?

M: Yes! I'm trying to finish my 18th century Francaise for the party this weekend!  And I've got a whole slew of other projects in the queue - I'm really trying to work from my existing stash of fabric!  One movie costume I really want to do is the Sleep Hollow "windmill" costume.  It's the one project that keeps following me but never seems to get done.  It's definitely on the list! 



Don't forget to visit Costumer's Guide on Facebook, and check back for next week's interview with photographer Katelin Kinney.