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Etiquette for costumers: how to behave when out and about

There has been a bit of a brou-ha-ha in costuming and re-enacting circles over the last week over how to behaving in public while dressed up, and how much we should expect from the public to accommodate our particular needs due to our lifestyle choice.

I don’t want to get involved in the specific drama that has triggered this, but I thought that a bit of a guideline of the things that I keep in mind, and the things that I warn models and friends dressing up with me to be aware of, when dressed in costumes of period attire, might be helpful.

These are rules of etiquette I stick to when I’m out and about in costume or historical dress, whether it’s just having fun wearing a costume for a day, being in a public space for a photoshoot (formal or informal), stopping at the supermarket on my way home for a talk, or living as much as possible in the past for the Fortnight in 1916.

My goal is always to be as courteous as possible to the general public and the businesses and institutions that generously allow me to use their facilities, and to give people a positive impression of costumers.*

Courtesy of Tony McKay Photography and Glory Days Magazine

Courtesy of Tony McKay Photography and Glory Days Magazine

1. When you’re in public in a costume or historical dress, you’re an ambassador for all costumers and re-enactors.  

Most of the public don’t encounter a huge number of costumers or people in historical dress.  So whatever impression you give will be the impression that they take away of costumers.  If you are kind, welcoming, and polite, they will assume we all are, and will treat us in like manner.  If you’re snobby, and demanding, and a know-it-all, the next five costumers who encounter this person will pay for your rudeness.

So when people say ‘Oh, you look just like Belle from Beauty and the Beast‘ when I wear Ninon, I smile and say ‘thank you!’ and take the compliment in the spirit it was intended, although I personally do not care for Disney princesses.  Then, if they seem really interested, I may tell them my dress is actually based on a 17th century portrait of the French kings cousin, wearing a style of dress that did indeed influence the design for Belle’s gown (via Robe de Cour).  But I do this with enthusiasm, and a smile, so they learn something, but don’t go away feeling that historical costumers are snobs, or that all I did was correct them.

I try to behave well in public at all times, but I try particularly hard in costume: I’m less anonymous, and I represent a group.  Unless it’s for a large public event where lots of people will be in costume, or I’m feeling particularly and unusually extroverted, I do find it a bit hard to be so noticeable, but I smile and respond to comments, and be as outgoing as I can, so that people don’t think costumers are mean and cliqué-ish.

2. If you assume that people will react positively to you in a costume, 99.9% of the time they will.

If you go out assuming you will get a positive reaction, and treat people well, in my personal experience, people will react positively.  I have never encountered a negative reaction to going about in costume or period dress.**

I have met dozens of little girls who asked if I was a princess, delighted hundreds of tourists who asked if they could take my picture at scenic spots, been told I ‘looked just like my wife did when I courted her’ by an elderly man, complimented on how elegant I looked by staff in stores, and asked if I was dressed for an event, or where someone could get a similar outfit.  Dozens upon dozens of people have said I looked like (insert current most famous period drama here).  Most often I’m given a slightly startled look, and then treated exactly as I would be in normal clothing.

The many people I know who costume report the same experiences: people either like (or love) seeing something a bit different, or don’t mind, as long as we don’t interfere with their life and rights.

3. Always check ahead to ensure that the event or place you are going to is OK with your outfit and event plans.

When I’m in outfit I’m usually planning to do something: have a picnic or high tea, give a talk, take photos, go to a movie or a museum exhibition, etc.  I’m familiar with most venues in my area, and what their rules are, but when going somewhere new, or somewhere that might be different than usual (a particularly popular film or museum exhibition, for example), I always check to make sure that what I plan to do is acceptable to the venue.

Some venues do not allow costumes.  I have found that with some venues that don’t allow costumes, if you call and manage to speak to someone a bit higher up, and explain your situation if it’s a bit unusual, and if you’re extremely polite and charming, you can be given an exemption (and sometimes venues say ‘oh, we’ve been thinking about changing that, why doesn’t your group come as a trial, and we’ll see how that goes’, in which case your group should try exceptionally hard to behave exceedingly well so that other groups can have the privilege).  Most of the time though, venues have chosen a ‘no costume’ policy for really good reasons, and that’s that.

If you do happen to get caught at a venue or event in an outfit that is deemed a costume (after all, I wear a lot of ’20s & ’30s, stuff, complete with hat, as normal attire) and not OK, ask if there is anything you can do to tone down your outfit be allowed in.  Be polite, and work with the venue.  If you’re apologetic and courteous and willing to compromise, I’ve never encountered a venue that won’t try to make it work for both of you.  You may have to take off your hat and most of your accessories, or put someone’s cardi on to tone it down, but you’ll get to be where you want to be.

Checking ahead applies to talks and movies and shows and museum openings, unless the host/business has specifically indicated that costumes are OK.  People often ask me if it’s alright to dress up for my talks, and while I’ve always been delighted to say ‘yes’, I really appreciate that they ask.

If you’re going to an event specifically to outshine the show.  Don’t.  That’s just another level of rude.

4. While we may be dressed for another timeperiod, in public we’re still in the 21st century, and need to behave according the rules and mores of this time.

You may be doing extremely serious re-enacting, following the social rules and mores of another timeperiod in every way for days on end, but once you leave your reenacting area, even if you’re still in costume, you’re in the 21st century and you need to act like it.  You can’t expect men to open doors for you as a lady (unless that’s still the standard where you are), or that you should be able to make decisions for women if you’re a man.  Continuing to act in period, and expecting the world to act along with you, and to be aware of the dictates of polite society that ended decades or centuries ago, is rude, selfish, and frankly, incredibly immature.

Remembering that we’re still in the 20th century includes things like taking off hats if you have to go into a bank, and removing masks and any weapons (even peace bonded ones) for any business.

And finally…

5. Our needs in costume or historical dress are not more important than other people’s right to use a venue, and to go about their business in normal fashion.

Whether we’re cosplayers, re-enactors, or social historians doing living history experiments, we’ve chosen to wear the clothes we’re wearing.  And it’s a lifestyle choice, not a religion, so we don’t get the same rights and allowances as people who wear clothes dictated by their faith do in most Western countries.  We can’t expect society to rearrange itself to accommodate our needs in costume.

Remembering that we only get the same rights as everyone else can include things as simple as not hogging a desirable photo location.  Most people will give you right of way, and more time at a pretty spot, if you are particularly dressed up, but you have to be very, very careful not to take advantage of this.  Tourists in pants-that-unzip-to-shorts have just as much right to get their picture taken as a group in historical dress.  Step aside, give people time, be quick, don’t take more time than anyone else if there are others waiting.  Costumers hogging spots is a good way to get costumes banned from a venue permanently (I’ve seen it happen).

If you’re going to the theatre, make sure your hairstyles aren’t going to get in anyone’s line of vision.  Make sure your skirts aren’t so big they take more than your chair space at a restaurant.

If you need to be sure you won’t burp while wearing a corset (yes, this is a problem!), call ahead to a dinner event and make sure that there will be non-carbonated options, and that supplying them isn’t too much of a hassle for the venue.

Just be aware that there are other people in the world, and they need to get their business done.  Don’t make your choice a problem for them.

A 1900s Anne of Green Gables skirt thedreamstress.com

* For the purpose of simplicity and brevity I’m going to use costumers as a general synonym for anyone in non-standard, non-period to the 2010s attire.  I know that not everyone feels it is the most technically accurate term for people in period dress, but in this case I’m sure you will all understand the intent of my usage.

** For the purpose of honest, I suppose I should acknowledge that I was once yelled at by men driving past while taking photos near a road, but since I have been yelled at by men dozens of times while in modern clothes, I think we can safely (or un-safely, as it were) say this is about men who feel they have a right to yell at women, not about whether I was in a costume of not.

69 Comments

  1. Elise says

    Thank you for this. Funnily enough, your thoughts are exactly those of my husband when in uniform: that you must not outshine the star, to listen politely if someone speaks to you with kind intent, and to be thoughtful of context.

    This Arizonan especially appreciates your thoughts on weapon-carrying. Just like money, politics, and religion, it is simply impolite to force something uncomfortable onto others. In this case, other people’s sense of safety is just more important that brandishing a toy or a tool.

    While many people cite a misremembered “Wild West” ethos, the truth is much more in keeping with gun-control: guns had to be checked into the sheriff’s office before going into town. The OK Corral shootout was famous because having guns in town was so unusual. In this century–and in this particular discussion–it should be an easy choice to be polite. Battle reenactors especially are charged with education of the public. Safety is just as important.

    Stepping down from my soapbox. Open-carry makes me furious when “historical accuracy” is inappropriately invoked.

    • Historical accuracy as an excuse for open-carry is something I have never thought about! I don’t think I’ve ever been in a state or country where open carry was allowed!

      Your husband sounds like a credit to his country and to his family 🙂

  2. There are places where they won’t let you in wearing historical costume? That had never occurred to me, although I could understand it if it breached a pre-existing dress code (somewhere like a black-tie restaurant, mosque, the Vatican…).
    Your mention of toning down the outfit to find an acceptable middle-ground immediately made me think of Nan Kempner at La Côte Basque, taking off her trousers to suit their dress code.

  3. Lynne says

    My open-mouthed moment from this is that there might be places where it one is not permitted to wear costume! Even 1920s? Goodness me! What could there possibly be to object to? I can see that a smart restaurant may want people to appear well-dressed (and not arrive in a zebra onesie, perhaps) but costumers almost by definition are well-dressed. And decent. And seemly.

    And this point is a life statement – “2. If you assume that people will react positively to you in a costume, 99.9% of the time they will.” If you assume people generally are going to react positively to you, they will!

    But the not being allowed? Huh? Is this something I have missed by being out of circulation? A by-product of this ‘no burkas’ nonsense?

    I think it is exhilarating to see people out in public in costumes they have obviously worked so hard to make – or someone has!

    • To be perfectly honest, I don’t know of anywhere that specifically prohibits 1920s. Most places have a more general ‘no costumes’ policy, and interpret it as they see fit for each occasion, using reasonable common sense. I suspect that most actually period accurate daytime 1920s stuff would be just fine, but if you were more along the lines ‘electric purple fringe with a feather stuck to a sequinned headband’, or ‘super themed Egyptomania’ 1920s it wouldn’t be acceptable. Many indoor places don’t allow hats, and many places don’t allow parasols.

      The no costumes rules are usually about avoiding confusion between costumed staff, and costumed guests (Disneyland, and many historical houses and villages in the US, Europe and UK), avoiding distractions and potential hold-ups in a hugely popular spot (Versailles). I do know of at least two instances where museums ended up implementing a ‘no costumes’ rule after large groups showed up in costume and proceeded to sort of ‘take over’ and use it as a photoshoot locale. Both of these were years ago, but the rule is still in place. It’s part of why being so polite and considerate is important to me.

    • Buzz. Mooney says

      Ms. Lynne: unfortunately, some sites have had problems with costumed visitors who assumed that the effort and expense they had put into their preparations , bestowed upon them special priveleges, while other sites are very particular in their historical interpretation, and so they’ve banned costumed visitors, or imposed restrictions, like pre-approval of the outfit to be worn. I hope my response has been helpful, and not presumptuous?

    • Lynn says

      Yes, our local movie theatres now prohibit costumes after the shooting by a masked/costumed man in Colorado. Our group called and received special permission to dress in our 1860s attire to see “Lincoln” but that was an exception.

  4. “** For the purpose of honest, I suppose I should acknowledge that I was once yelled at by men driving past while taking photos near a road, but since I have been yelled at by men dozens of times while in modern clothes, I think we can safely (or un-safely, as it were) say this is about men who feel they have a right to yell at women, not about whether I was in a costume of not.”

    This made me laugh as the one and only time I was yelled at while in costume was by men driving past too! There seems to be a certain segment who thinks this is ok – costume regardless.

    • Theresa says

      As the other person who got yelled at by the men* driving past, I’d like to say that while it was annoying at the time, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of wearing Leimomi’s amazing costume one jot.

      *more like ‘dudebros’, amirite?

  5. Many years ago group of wanted to go to a historical event at a state park in Northern California once. We had been doing a Californio impression plus one of our group was doing Russian (the Russians used to own a portion of Northern California, hence the Russian River, in Sonoma County). We were denied permission because they didn’t want the public to confuse us with the official historical re-enactors.

    It was disappointing, but understandable. Our costumes were based on the ones in their guidelines (which I bought at the bookstore at another site).

    regards,
    Theresa

  6. Hayley says

    “Just be aware that there are other people in the world, and they need to get their business done. Don’t make your choice a problem for them.”

    Good general life advice!!!

  7. Very true that the actions of a few can affect the many. Lovely article!

  8. Tina Roneklint says

    Hear hear – Great advice. I get mistaken for wearing a costume a lot and its all good fun. I love the little kids and their compliments. Like you, I never had any negative feedback. I had an elderly guy crying because I looked like his mother but we spent some time talking about her and it ended up being all fine.

  9. Mackenzie says

    I have one other experience to add to things that happen when I’m in costume in public: questions about my religion and/or country of origin. Unadorned middle-class 16th century Italian apparently reads as “clothing, but I’m not sure from where” to many people.

    • Lol, Mackenzie. That happened to me once (I’m only a casual costumer) and I wasn’t even IN costume!

      I was actually in the cafeteria at my job (the building was host to several companies who all shared the dining room) and was wearing a white button up shirt and denim skirt. I also happen to have VERY long hair. A woman stopped and asked me if I was Pentecostal.

      I suppose I *did* look the part, if unintentionally, but I just thought it so odd that despite my many treks in public in Renaissance garb…that’s the only time anyone has ever actually asked me about my clothes! (I just laughed and politely told her no, that I just happened to like that particular outfit.)

  10. I think these etiquette suggestions are very geared towards the US situation, we may be a little more relaxed about such things here in Europe, I’m not sure, but I wear vintage apparel 24/7 and have been doing for over a decade without ever having any issues visiting locations.
    I wear my clothes not because of my love for fashion or because I want to stand out, it is part of my life style, my life conviction and is strongly linked to my ideals and way of life.
    I have no items of modern clothes, the objects in my home that are post WW2 can be counted on the fingers of one hand, that includes this computer.
    Bear that in mind while I respond to your article.

    1. When you’re in public in a costume or historical dress, you’re an ambassador for all costumers and re-enactors.

    When I am out in public in my own daily clothes, I’m ambassador for me and nobody else.
    These clothes happen to be 1930s-1940s clothes, but if I represent anyone, it is me and the generation that wore those clothes.

    “Most of the public don’t encounter a huge number of costumers or people in historical dress. So whatever impression you give will be the impression that they take away of costumers.”

    I don’t consider myself to be a costumer.
    Just because I wear historical clothes doesn’t mean I’m a re-nactor, costumer or as some people sometimes ask me, someone Amish.
    I respond to someone depending on how they address me, I will not be friendly and patient to someone who mocks me or who is rude.

    2. If you assume that people will react positively to you in a costume, 99.9% of the time they will.

    I expect that people will not react to me at all and simply leave me be, if they do not, I do at least assume they do so with proper manners, respect and decency.
    I receive both positive and negative comments and react accordingly.
    I will not tolerate rudeness just because of my lifestyle.

    3. Always check ahead to ensure that the event or place you are going to is OK with your outfit and event plans.

    That depends on the event or place.
    When visiting an Open Air museum where staff walk around in costumes, I of course check.
    But the supermarket, library, public transport, fast food restaurant, hot dog stand…. a garden?
    I only check if I think the location has a reasonable reason to have an issue with people in costume.
    And if I do check I expect their website to at least be clear about their dress code and explain their position.
    Again, I dress this way ALL the time.
    I do not have any modern clothes.
    So I wear vintage everywhere I go, I am really not going to check and plan every step I take.

    “Be polite, and work with the venue. If you’re apologetic and courteous and willing to compromise, I’ve never encountered a venue that won’t try to make it work for both of you.”

    Of course you should be polite and see if you can compromise, but only if the staff are also courteous and polite.
    They should remember their place, they are staff, you are a paying visitor.
    There is no excuse for them to be rude, if they are you should adapt the way you respond.

    “You may have to take off your hat and most of your accessories, or put someone’s cardi on to tone it down, but you’ll get to be where you want to be.”

    You may be asked to do so, but many of us would of course refuse, I know I would.
    Just like modern women would probably refuse to wear a cardi because they are showing too much cleavage to visit something besides a house of worship or something.
    They need a very good reason to ask a visitor to change their appearance, it is a very intrusive and intimate subject matter if you’re not just dressing up for fun.
    If I am asked to remove my hat, in many cases I’d rather remove myself completely.

    “Checking ahead applies to talks and movies and shows and museum openings, unless the host/business has specifically indicated that costumes are OK.”

    If you’ve been invited, those who invite you already know how you dress, or should know.
    If an event is open to the public, I wear what I like, just like modern people do.

    4. While we may be dressed for another timeperiod, in public we’re still in the 21st century, and need to behave according the rules and mores of this time.

    21st century people don’t even behave according the rules and mores of this time.

    “Continuing to act in period, and expecting the world to act along with you, and to be aware of the dictates of polite society that ended decades or centuries ago, is rude, selfish, and frankly, incredibly immature.”

    I never act in period, I am me, and I just happen to have old fashioned morals, just like many elderly people and those who’ve had a half decent upbringing.
    But I never expect anything of anyone else except one thing; that they do not bother me.

    “Remembering that we’re still in the 20th century includes things like taking off hats if you have to go into a bank, and removing masks and any weapons (even peace bonded ones) for any business.”

    Never heard of removing hats in a bank, that might be an American thing, like the weapons.
    I very rarely remove my hat, will not do so in a bank or any public building unless I plan to stay a little longer and have the opportunity to visit a cloakroom.

    5. Our needs in costume or historical dress are not more important than other people’s right to use a venue, and to go about their business in normal fashion.

    Nor are the needs or rights of other people more important than ours.

    “Whether we’re cosplayers, re-enactors, or social historians doing living history experiments, we’ve chosen to wear the clothes we’re wearing. ”

    Just like everyone else.

    ” And it’s a lifestyle choice, not a religion, so we don’t get the same rights and allowances as people who wear clothes dictated by their faith do in most Western countries.”

    What is the difference?
    Where I live religion has the same anti discrimination protections by law as ‘life conviction’.
    Why would my lifestyle have less value than someone else’s lifestyle just because theirs involves a deity?
    I don’t see why people with a religion should be allowed to do things I am not allowed to do.
    Then again, I live in a country where religious people are a minority.

    “Don’t make your choice a problem for them.”

    As long as they don’t make your choice their problem.

    • Deanna says

      May I gently suggest that you familiarize yourself with Leimomi’s site a little more? From some of what you wrote, it seems that you may be quite new to it. There is so much wonderful information here. And I would just mention, that she has lived in New Zealand for quite some time, so it would seem that some of the issues must not be confined to America.

      “Of course you should be polite and see if you can compromise, but only if the staff are also courteous and polite.
      They should remember their place, they are staff, you are a paying visitor.”

      Goodness gracious, why on earth should we allow our *own* behaviour to be dictated by other’s?! I am sorry if that sounds very strong, but I found that statement startling.

      Kindness and consideration can be in short supply. I believe that applying them in these situations could be most helpful.

        • Deanna says

          You’re welcome, Leimomi. I learn so much here, and I appreciate your carefully considered positions regarding so many subjects, whether historical or current.

          Also – there’s so very much *pretty*, which just brightens my day. 🙂

    • I second pretty much all of this.

      Jo, in the US, the only time hats are expected to come off are for the national anthem and if the hat will be somehow obtrusive, such as a large Edwardian hat that may block the view in a theater. In banks? They can stay on.

      • Terry Callihan says

        Largely true, but clothing that could prevent identification from security cameras in the event of a crime is not acceptable in (many? most?) banks or similar places. This would include those large Edwardian hats you mention, and even baseball caps, if drawn down over the face.

      • Anita says

        Women’s hats may stay in place during the national anthem, assuming we are talking about fashion hats and aren’t talking about baseball caps, ski caps, cowboy/girl hats, rain hats. Women’s hats come off when they are at work, at home, or at a friend’s house. If the hat’s being worn because of hair loss and therefore taking it off would cause embarrassment, it’s OK to leave it on (Why it’s a good idea — if you experience hair loss — to have a subtle daytime-appropriate fashion hat to wear).
        In banks, security checkpoints, and courts, follow their protocol for women wearing fashion hats. Some places, no problem. Other places, you may be asked to remove your hat when going through security or get additional screening, but may be able to put your hat back on once you’re through the checkpoint. In other places, such as the US Supreme Court, hats are not allowed.

    • Strawn says

      I was about to say, this “I am me and my life doesn’t hurt anyone so their opinion is simply an opinion” attitude seems very German to me… Then I saw who it was. Geographically a bit off, but that “German attitude” is rather broadly European.

      I think a big split is because Jo, like myself, is a lifestyler – not costumer. I am in post-war atomic utopia, so I don’t key as “costume” for a lot of people but I’ve gotten shouts of “WHERE’S THE SOCK HOP” (or, more amusingly, “Paul is dead” is also common)… Which, frankly, is street harassment and at that point yeah, I’m nobody’s ambassador.

      • Elise says

        Strawn,

        This is so funny because my first thought was “Where in Europe does she live, so that such an attitude prevails? Certainly not Germany!” I say that because I have memories of manners being enforced so that such an attitude would be impossible.

        I am sorry about the street harassment (although I also remember that being much more mild that state-side).

  11. Usually the only comments I and others dressed in Regency attire for our local Jane Austen Society events receive are either favorable and positive–or confusing us with Amish people….. :-/ Clearly those are folks who have no idea who the Amish actually are and how they dress; they just see long dresses and bonnets and think “Amish” for some reason.
    We’re always very aware that WE are the weirdos in these situations, NOT the people wearing 21st century jeans and T-shirts, and commentary and questions are to be expected. It’s usually great fun and we’re happy to explain what the heck we’re doing to people who are curious and of course to encourage interest in historical costuming and Our Jane.
    When our group recently went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to see the Vigee Le Brun exhibition, we made sure to let the museum know we were coming and that we intended to be in costume, and we got the OK. Other patrons LOVED seeing us there in our Regency gear. We tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and not block any of the exhibits. Other patrons outside the exhibit snapped photos of us as we passed by. We did ask another patron to take a group photo of us under the exhibition sign in the gift shop, and they were very happy to oblige, even if we did clog up the doorway for a couple minutes. Generally the museum staff were happy to see people who took such a keen interest in history.
    And then we went out on the street and weirded out weatherman Al Roker. Not on purpose. But we did get a photo with him.
    It was a good day for historical costumers, I think, because after we had tea at a local tea house, a group of Girl Scouts at the same tea house asked us lots of questions and we were happy to oblige.
    Anyway, polite, open, and welcoming of curiosity is really the best way to be out in public in historical dress. Most people really are just curious. And while historical dress may be de rigeur for us, it is not for the rest of the world. They are the majority. And they are not obliged to play along with us. Those institutions that have rules against patrons in costume have instituted those rules for valid reasons, even if we as the costumed parties would prefer those rules not exist and that they should not apply to us because “we’re different.”

    • I get asked if I’m Amish even in my everyday clothes – long skirt, yes, but not a bonnet in sight. (Maybe it’s my husband’s beard?) This is all the more weird as I’m pretty sure there are no Amish in New Zealand.
      Perhaps “Amish” is some people’s shorthand for “you’re conservatively dressed but don’t look Muslim”?

  12. Mackenzie, wearing 16th century Italian middle class sounds wonderful. I am not a highly skilled seamstress but I do wear.Victorian/Civil War Era styled day gowns. They make up my entire wardrobe and I feel the most comfortable wearing that style. Of course I don’t wear the hoop slips, corsets, or large crinoline petticoats. I have never gotten stopped or turned away from any establishment. I even add a historically accurate Victorian bonnet, even at Disneyland and have never been denied entrance. I simply explain that this is my chosen style of clothing and not a costume and the establishment lets me in. I get lots of complements.

  13. This is excellent and hits the nail on the head for the issues. Individual preference is important, but we live in a social world, and being responsive to the cues around us is essential to civilized life!

  14. Buzz. Mooney says

    Another consideration which I try to keep in mind, is that when I am in historic clothing, (generally Georgian era) I am teaching history, whether I intend to, or not: for this reason, I try to maintain manners consistent with BOTH the 18th and 21st centuries, but when I’m off-site, modern etiquette takes preference. Terrific article: thank you for it, Madame!

    Yr obed’t serv’t,
    Will’m Mooney
    😉

  15. Deanna says

    You are so sensible. I admire how you both addressed this potential problem, and stayed above the fray! 🙂

    I agree wholeheartedly, that if we treat people well, they will usually respond in kind.

  16. This is wonderful, and like you, I too always use these guidelines when out in public in other-era attire! We should always be open to educating the public about the particular era we’re representing, especially because their impression of re-enactors could be radically altered otherwise! Thank you for sharing!

  17. Rob Barnes says

    Just a question from Blighty, could you please define “costumer” and how it differs from Living Historian? Many thanks,
    Vic.

    • There are many different answers to this questions, but for me I’m a costumer when I make and wear a garment predominantly for aesthetic purposes, regardless of how historically accurate it is or isn’t. I’m a living history practitioner when the process of making or wearing a garment is intended to help me research and understand the past.

      For example, of the times I have spent in period dress recently, I was a costumer when making and wearing my 1914 Cobwebs dress, and a living history practitioner when making and wearing 1910s garments for my Fortnight in 1916.

  18. I attended a SCA event in a very small east Texas town known to be the KKK headquarters at one time. My costume didn’t have a problem but theme folk were given special attention

  19. An excellent post, with many points that are as relevant to people who choose to dress in vintage or vintage influenced clothing as they are to historic costumers. I’ve found the vast majority of people who dress in vintage clothing, or who incorporate vintage clothing into their wardrobe and mix and match original with reproduction or era-inspired pieces, do so as an expression of their personality and preferences, including aesthetic preferences. Unfortunately, there is a small minority of insufferable vintage wearers who believe that their clothing choice is intrinsically tied up with a moral superiority – there’s something skin-crawling about being with people who, while celebrating their own individuality, are smug and self-satisfied, disdainful of contemporary clothing choices, all the while expecting to be acknowledged special snowflakes, with rules bent to accommodate their preferences as others admire them.

    They are fortunately a minority – even those who do think their adoption of selective elements of an anachronistic lifestyle reflects superior taste or values are rarely so crass as to say it out loud to people’s faces (sadly, I’ve met a few, but they usually only indulge in that behaviour when they are with others they think share their viewpoint). Your points here about good manners should be kept in mind when interacting with others who don’t share those lifestyle/clothing choices. Like you, I’ve found people are overwhelmingly positive in response to my vintage clothing choices – warm, curious, upbeat. Unless it’s a more theatrical or extravagant outfit, they are usually too polite to comment. Even those who obviously thought I was a bit of an oddball weren’t hostile. It’s the people who are cold, condescending and who act in an entitled manner who create the perception of elitism/snobbishness among costumers and vintage wearers. Wearing vintage as an extension of yourself rather than as a statement helps.

    We are extremely fortunate in many ways that our alternative lifestyle and/or clothing choices are as welcomed as they are. Vintage looks may receive a curious look and a question as to whether one is dressed for Halloween, but are largely accepted and even admired. I wear 1920s inspired clothing to work often with my 1920s bob, and it doesn’t cause a ripple (I did have one member of the public say how much they loved my 1940s style, though!) – they are simply part of how I physically express myself and not a statement. A person in the 1920s or 30s wearing the dress of 80 years before would be assumed to be, at best, highly eccentric and questioned as to what play they were acting in. I certainly wouldn’t have been wearing 1840s to work! A Victorian wearing the attire of the 18th century in a public space would be looked at as an oddity, regarded as an attention seeking aberration (if not rather mad), and would have found themselves barred entry to many places. We might still raise eyebrows, but I do like the luxury of today’s world in which those of us in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle can indulge in the clothing that expresses our personalities (not unfettered, of course, but every age has restrictions on dress).

    Thank you for the clearly stated, thoughtful and diplomatic post addressing etiquette and the nuances of interacting in our social world – I imagine I’ll be referring many people to this blog when discussions about good manners and wearing anachronistic clothing in a public setting arise. If you act respectfully towards others, you will generally find that courtesy and respect are offered in return.

    • Jasmine says

      Inger, what an elegant response to an elegant article and the discussion in the comments.

    • Trystan says

      gothic-charm-school.com”A Victorian wearing the attire of the 18th century in a public space would be looked at as an oddity, regarded as an attention seeking aberration (if not rather mad), and would have found themselves barred entry to many places. We might still raise eyebrows, but I do like the luxury of today’s world in which those of us in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle can indulge in the clothing that expresses our personalities (not unfettered, of course, but every age has restrictions on dress).”

      This right here is probably the most insightful & relevant thing I’ve read concerning the entire topic! Thank you.

      It underlies the privilege we have to be able to wear vintage / historical / costume / gothic / punk / non-mainstream clothing in public 24/7 without fear of retribution (I include gothic & punk because devotees of many alternative lifestyles & fashions encounter these issues; see also http://www.gothic-charm-school.com/ for very similar etiquette advice). We are able to wear these things because we have the time & money to do so, & we are allowed by our social class to do so with minimal adverse reactions compared to what would have happened in earlier eras.

      • Elise says

        Excellent addition to the discussion. I was definitely thinking of privilege throughout. It’s a great reminder that costumers have more privilege than African American children wearing hoodies, or poor persons who don’t have the funds for nicer clothing.

        And I adore the link you posted!

  20. General public places that don’t allow costumes must be specific to New Zealand. In the US, I’ve NEVER heard of anywhere public that specifically disallows safe costumes that don’t prohibit others from using a venue. Don’t expect to wear a large Edwardian hat if it may block the view, just the same as don’t expect to wear a large modern hat that may block the view. Don’t expect to wear a period costume to a black-tie restaurant just as don’t expect to wear modern jeans to that restaurant.

    I’ve been to many museums and professional productions, tourist areas, etc., and have never once encountered a problem, whether in a regency dress or in a big, fluffy ball gown. Places that may disallow costumes are places like mosques and perhaps some churches, and places of worship are hardly seen as public places, and places where costumes may pose a safety risk (Disneyland disallows adults dressed as Disney characters to prevent lost children from seeing, say, a princess or Aladdin, and thinking that person is safe to go to for help when that person is not vetted and may not be, though you can Disneybound or wear period costumes). More movie theaters are allowing mind costuming that don’t have masks or weapons.

    And as long as take-overs aren’t obtrusive to others or hinder their use of public places, they those are allowed as well.

    Basically it all boils down to don’t be a jackass or endanger safety. I think more venues would rather have people in period dress that people wearing modern clothes with vulgar things on them.

    • Sadly we live in an era where you’d be welcome in jeans in many restaurants and theatres yet a proper evening dress would be frowned upon.
      The world has turned upside down.

      • Elise says

        A smile is more beautiful than any evening gown. And I smile is rarely inappropriate.

      • Jo, I would say that luckily we live in an era when a huge amount of people, with a little bit of common sense, can wear almost whatever then want, whenever. That’s a huge privilege, and this is one of the first times in history when there has been so much leeway in dress in so many ways.

        We are so very, very lucky to live at a time when we can wear vintage or period clothes almost everyday without being social pariahs or freaks.

    • Elise says

      Thank you for mentioning the safety of children at Disneyworld or living history museums. Those professionals are safety guardians along with being entertainers and educators. They and only they should be visible to children by wearing a costume. As a mother and someone generally concerned with public safety, I appreciate your comment.

      (the same argument for open carry: how does a stranger know that a person flaunting a gun is ‘a good guy with a gun’? We have badges and uniforms to designate our good guys. In the theme park world, they have costumes to designate the good guys)

    • Actually, the vast majority of the museums, parks, gardens, and other venues that I know of that don’t allow costumes are in the US and Europe. I started my career in the museum sector in the US, and encountered many museums that were developing their guidelines around costumes. The two examples I mentioned where museums banned costumes due to selfish groups were both US based.

      From what I have seen and heard of the US in my recent visits, there are MANY other businesses that don’t allow costumes. Every bank I was in in Hawaii and CA had a ‘no hats’ policy, and I noticed at least three movie theatres with ‘no costumes unless specifically allowed’ type policies, which were clearly in reaction to shootings in the US.

      It’s lovely that you’ve never had a problem, but I’d still strongly recommend starting to be aware of it, and to be aware of courtesy around your dress, because more and more venues are tightening their policies, and it only takes one inconsiderate person to ruin it for everyone 🙂

    • Many national parks and monuments in the U.S. do not allow costumes any longer and have not for a long time – at least two decades. It began as a way to prevent people from dressing insensitively – I was pulled gently aside by a ranger at the Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico to have it explained why my “Indian headdress” was not allowed. Historical dress can have a lot of meanings and connotations, so it’s one of those things that is best to check before visiting.

      • Elise says

        Very important perspective–thanks for posting! Sounds like the Park Ranger was very kind and correct during the conversation–and that you were very kind and correct in your response.

        It reminds me of a time when we went to Tent Rocks (on a reservation), and came across a tourist wearing a WASHINGTON REDSKINS SWEATSHIRT!!!! (for those out of town, such a term is a racial slur outside of baseball–and should be a racial slur inside of baseball, so there is a movement to rename the team) It was incredible to think that someone would be so callous as to wear such an item in that location.

  21. I enjoyed your comments and found them, for the most part, to be accurate of other places I have been. However as a New Orleans resident the world here is just a bit more accepting of those in costume in public. Historical, fantasy, outrageous, comical, or risque being a character out of time here is quite enjoyable and garners a very different response then I have had anywhere else.
    Come try it!

  22. Thank you for this post! So well written and excellent points to remember. Having read the original post and additional comments, etc. that started this particular topic recently, I thought about writing something similar on my own blog. I have visited many historical sites, museums, etc. in both historical and vintage attire and never had a problem. I remember the first time my husband and I visited Colonial Williamsburg and wanted to wear our 18th century clothing. I didn’t see anything on their website so I called ahead to find out. I was told it was OK as long as we let other visitors know we were not staff if asked questions about the site.

    It’s so important for reenactors and costumers to remember that even out on our own we are representing a larger group and how we choose to act reflects on all of us. Thanks again for this!
    -Emily

  23. Very good point about being an ambassador for costumers and reenactors. Being a bad representative causes too much drama and gives us a bad image.
    I’ve been asked if there was a Renaissance Faire around, while wearing an 1860s hoopskirt, or was I a Disney Princess, by a little girl. It’s a good opportunity to share some history, or nuture an interest in costuming to young people. I’ve found men get extremely gentlemanly when around me wihle in costume, and go out of their way to show it.
    And I love how many people try intentionally not to notice or look at you. Like, we see this everyday.
    Val

  24. ceci says

    I have just recently seen signs in a public garden and two historic cemeteries saying that bridal parties are not allowed to take pictures there…..in the case of the cemeteries perhaps it could seem discordant to be celebrating a happy event in a place where people are sometimes quite sad?

    The zebra striped once sounds intriguing, sadly no sightings of such a thing in my little corner of the US….

    ceci

  25. Sovereign Hill in Ballarat Australia doesn’t allow costumes. ..presumably because all staff wear costumes. It was disappointing but made packing easier!

  26. Ivory says

    Thank you for expressing this opinion, but I have to respectfully disagree with some points. What happens if you don’t want your picture taken by strangers? Even if you politely decline? I don’t think costumers should have to be on their best behaviors and accommodate to every request from others simply because they are wearing clothing that stands out.

    • I think characterising my advice as ‘accommodating every request from others’ is stretching it to the point of breaking 🙂

      Naturally if you don’t wish to be photographed you can say so. I’m not sure where you got the idea that I would think anything else. Perhaps you should have a really good read of the post again? You don’t quite seem to get what I’m saying.

    • Anita says

      In the US, generally if you are in a public place — especially out-of-doors — that lacks any “no photography allowed” sorts of signs, anyone may reasonably take your photo. It doesn’t matter whether you want your photo taken or not. In private venues, it depends.

  27. This is an excellent post, and I really admire how calmly and reasonably you react to things like this!

    I haven’t been out and about in costume much, so this was really informative. I’m not sure it would have occurred to me that just visiting places like museums in costume might be a problem, but having read the explanation it does make sense.

    I wear somewhat unusual and historical-ish clothes for everyday, and getting occasional comments or weird questions (from people who know nothing about historical clothes) is just something that goes along with that. I can’t imagine wanting to react rudely to them! What good could possibly come of that?

  28. Amanda says

    It’s not about you. The important thing is to consider the purpose and goals of the event you are attending and its hosts. When a costume is requested, follow the theme. When you are wearing a costume to a non-costume event, make sure you are supporting the host rather than competing. In many cases a costume can show your enthusiasm for the theme, and your costume may effectively become an additional prop that enhances an event — these are things most hosts appreciate and welcome. But it’s not about you. If your costume conflicts with the theme, that’s rude. If your costume steals attention away from your event host, that’s rude. If you cause other guests to mistake you for an employee or a performer when you’re merely a guest, that’s rude. If the host called for costumes, it’s also rude NOT to wear a costume.

    • Elise says

      Thank you for saying this: it’s not about you. And thank you for thinking of the context, too. I hope that you don’t mind me providing an example to your point.

      The husband is military. So sometimes he is required to wear his uniform. Other times, he has a choice, although he could still wear it. Some places (for example our hippie-dippie farmer’s market), wearing a military uniform would make everyone uncomfortable. So he doesn’t wear it.

      Another time, at a military-themed wedding, he was the only officer. The groom does NOT need to salute someone else on his own wedding day, so Chris went without uniform so that the groom could rightfully be the star.

      Also, I adore my husband.

  29. Pippin Sardo says

    By now I am sure most have heard that Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC bans wearing any period costumes, as two visitors from Port Townsend found out when they went to tea dressed in real vintage Edwardian clothing.
    Also, many, many, many years ago I was promenading with a friend on the waterfront of Portland, OR during the weekend that the Navy has their ships in port. We got this very amusing comment shouted at us from a ship,
    “You’re kind of cute, but your mother dresses you funny!”

  30. kjml says

    I have volunteered in a number of different venues where either a costume or a uniform is required. One such was Sharp Hospital in San Diego. I remember, in training, we were encouraged to think of ourselves as “on stage” whenever we were in uniform. (Similar advice is given to Disneyland employees.) This article is “right on”. We don’t dress in costume or period attired because we are trying to fly below radar! We know full well that we will be noticed, stared at, admired and/or ridiculed, and that people will ask questions want to take pictures!! My thoughts are these:
    1. However you are dressed, you are ALWAYS an ambassador for something! Yourself, your family, your school, your faith, your employer….Why not just plan on being polite ALL the time.
    2. If you are out and about looking like Scarlet O’Hara or Jane Austin or Doctor Who and you REALLY don’t want your photo taken (seriously?), beg off POLITELY–regardless of the manners of the person or persons who asked. (See #1) Sometimes nervousness plays a part in these requests and they may come off as awkward or rude unintentionally.

  31. Thank you for this. I can wholeheartedly agree with you opinion. Maybe in Austria (or Germany as well) people are not yet that used to people dressed in such a very different way.
    Nevertheless I think that you text might be summarised by somple using you “Hausverstand” (i.d. sanity und reason).
    Yours Gund.

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