Friday, May 13, 2011

It's Not a Costume

Over the past season I’ve noticed that I have a growing sensitivity to the use of the word “costume” to describe the historical clothing that I am re-creating. True, it is not the clothing that I wear on a regular basis, and only wear on special occasions; but the folks who originally designed, made, and wore the styles did not consider them special. They considered it clothing. I am not re-creating the special occasion clothing, I am trying to get as close as possible to the every-day wear.

There are certainly tons of folks dressing up in historical styles that I do consider to be wearing costumes. Folks who are clearly dressing up in something they are not used to can be considered to be “in costume”. Clothing that is made of the incorrect materials: polyester is the worst, but I consider even modern cottons to be more of a costume, and not really clothing.

I understand that the folks who say: “what a cool costume!” are trying to compliment me, I promise to take it as a compliment as long as I can say in response: “Thanks but it is not a costume. It is clothing.”


  1. Blood oath.

  2. Let me offer a thought from a different prospective... Within the anthropology community, a "costume" is a specific type of dress for a particular occasion. That's particular, not "special." I have a closet full of costumes both for living history...and other portions of my life. And yes, I do have both "lecture," "interview," and "lounging around the house" costumes.

    Dr. Mark L. Shanks
    mlshanks (a)

  3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art calls all their clothing collection the Costume Institute. So I do understand that is an academically acceptable term. I am probably oversensitive because there are so many bad Medieval and Renaissance "costumes" out there.

    Thanks for all the comments!