Costume College 2016 – I’m going! And need ideas!

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As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I’m going to Costume College 2016.  CoCo (as it is called) isn’t actually college – it’s pretty much the biggest conference for costumers (particularly amateur-ish, historical-ish ones) around.

I’ve wanted to go to CoCo for years, but I’m in New Zealand, and it’s in LA, and that’s a long (aka expensive) way to go.*  This year I was privileged  enough to get a full scholarship to Costume College, and a really good deal on airplane flights to the US, which has made it possible.**

In addition to going to CoCo, I’d actually like to teach a couple of classes.  I’ve brainstormed a few ideas, but I’m having a combination of tall-poppy-avoidance panic and ‘let’s have a brilliant idea’ induced brain blank (my brain is like a cat.  Tell it to have a brilliant idea and it glares at me and turns its back and proceeds to wash between its toes with great dedication).

So, if you were going to a big Costume themed conference, with a variety of choices in hour-long classes, both large lecture-y ones, and small group ones focused on techniques, what, of all the things I’ve made or blogged about or mentioned or seemed to teach, would you most like to hear me talk about?

If you’ve been to CoCo, what are your favourite types of classes?  What are you most likely to get excited about, or find useful later?

Some things I’ve thought about or have had suggested:

  •  Fabric Identification (including burn tests, if we’re allowed to do them in a hotel conference room!)
  • Costuming & Cultural Appropriation: the fine (and not so fine) line between preserving & pillaging
  • Fitting bodices
  • Fashion in the furthest flung empires: making do without the mode in Colonial New Zealand
  • Costuming groups: how to do it, and what to bring
  • Living in a longline corset: what it’s like to be a WWI era housewife for a week.

Clearly I’m a bit all over the place at the moment!  These ideas are all pretty rough, and need refining.  I do have to keep in mind that I’m travelling and have a luggage allowance, so can’t do some of the classes I might do simply because I can’t bring 6 sample corsets.

I’d really love to hear your thoughts: people are often interested in things that I do so much that they are  quite mundane to me.  And I’d especially love to hear your thoughts if you’ve been to CoCo

And if you’re also coming to CoCo: YAY!  Can’t wait to meet you there!  Please come say hello!

*Also, it’s in LA in late July/August, and I’m not very good at heat, but that’s another story.

** Though I’m not totally out of discretionary income for the year, but hopefully it will be worth it!


  1. Libby says

    Um, can you do ALL OF THOSE PLEASE? 🙂

    More seriously, I think the New Zealand fashion and longline corset ones are more specific to you, and I’d love to hear your take on cultural appropriation issues. I mean, I’d love to hear your take on ANY of these topics, as I said up front, but the others feel somewhat more like “anyone could teach that”…

    • D’awww, thank you! The three you mentioned are some of the ones I’m most excited about, so it’s good to know other people are too!

      It’s interesting though, because I do most of my conference teaching and talking in a very academic setting, where they are always super impressed that I can do practical things, whereas I think everyone at CoCo can do those!

  2. Libby says

    Although, on the other hand, the corset talk might yet be too soon after the Chrisman hullaballoo, just for your own comfort as the (soon to be mobbed) speaker….

    • Hehe. I’m not too worried about that! I come to period dress from a radically different background and perspective than Chrisman – I may get criticism, but it won’t be for the same mistakes, that’s for sure 😉

  3. Elise says

    First of all, congratulations on the scholarship! Well deserved.

    I was going to suggest clothing in the far-flung places, along with cultural appropriation. I don’t know about you, but I find it maddening when someone indicates an old portrait as “American”, without explaining why. If I were there, it would be the first place. Cultural appropriation is something important, too, and also personal: I’m a straight ally to the LGBT movement and an outspoken light-skinned ally to the #blacklivesmatter movement. The point is this: We must all work together to bring awareness and equality to minorities, but it’s hard to know how. It would be so interesting to bring that discussion to the realm of costuming: How do you celebrate the neat things about a culture without…taking it over?

    • Thank you! I’m both excited and scared about the idea of teaching cultural appropriation. I’m not an absolute expert by any means, but it is one of the topics I taught in Textile Studies, and it’s certainly something that’s not discussed much in the costuming world.

  4. Tegan says

    I think all would work, but what can YOU specifically do that someone else couldn’t? So I’d not do the bodice fitting, simply because a lot of people COULD theoretically teach that. I’d definitely vote for the cleaning in a long-line corset discussion. I’d vote for the far-flung fashion forward. And cultural appropriation is always a useful one.

    • In brainstorming ideas I assumed people would be more interested in hands-on practical stuff, so I’ve come up with a couple of those. I really am very good at fitting bodices and teaching it, but I’d rather teach academic stuff. So, yay! 😉

      Have there been courses on cultural appropriation at CoCo?

  5. Here’s an easy way to decide which ones to do. Decide what items you’d need to do each idea. Figure out how much space the items would take up in your luggage. That way, you”ll know which ones won’t be doable this time around.

    • I like this idea.
      Also, maybe try to stop and think which ones of those are realistically possible to do in an hour and which ones aren’t… Costuming & Cultural Appropriation sounds great to me, but on the other hand, if it incites a discussion… is an hour enough? And do you have the nerves to preside over such a discussion? 😛

  6. By the way, I wouldn’t worry too much about the LA heat; the hotel likely will be air conditioned within an inch of its life, and you may not have much time to venture outside of it.

    • This was my biggest problem during my time in the US: the big difference between the indoors and the outdoors! If the hotel is anything like some of the places I’ve been in, you just may have to actually bring a good shawl or something…

    • That’s actually a huge part of the problem. I’m really, really bad at AC – and hot in LA means too much AC. Plus, it won’t just be CoCo. So it’s not stopping me, but it certainly made it less inviting for quite a few years 😉

  7. Big congratulations! One day I will go to CoCo as well, and then I would love to go to a talk about fabric identification.

    • Thank you! CoCo is really hard for those of us out of the US isn’t it? It sounds so awesome, but getting there is so massive!

  8. Congratulations!
    I would LOVE talks about Cultural Appropriation and the Far-Flung Colonies. At the museum I work at, Cultural Appropriation is an ongoing conversation as we wrestle with how to present the story of the Trail of Tears in the United States and Georgia. It’s especially appropriate to discuss it these days, in a society that seems to trample over minority or foreign cultures.
    As for the Far-Flung empire concept, I just want to nerd out. 🙂

    • I LOVE people who just want to nerd out! Total nerd-out stuff is what I’d be most excited about teaching, so that’s what I hope a lot of people will be interested in taking!

  9. So, this just reveals how much I don’t know, but my first thought was hand stitching. I know you do a lot of hand sewing and I prefer sewing by hand but I have wondered which stitches are historically accurate for certain places and times. I have looked online for information and have read at least one scholarly paper on the subject but it didn’t easily translate for me. Since you will be there in person perhaps it would be useful to teach a hand skill that might be hard to put into words. ( Although I do feel I have learned and enormous amount from your excellent writing and photos. ) I also know that certain handsewing techniques that I use and are second nature for me are ones I learned from mentors and have not really read about.

    • I am poking around online now that I’ve made this comment and am reminded that you have excellent tutorials on hand sewing. I had been looking for info on viking hand seeing or some such and not found much. I do realize that isn’t your period… It was mostly the sense that whatever aspect of costuming whether draping or sewing or …? there are always little things that come across so clearly in person. Is avoiding cultural appropriation ever possible? I think perhaps not. It is a rich topic certainly and I agree sith an earlier commentor that it would be difficult to confine it to an hour. If I were able to go I would take just about any class from you but technique would be my first choice.

  10. Congratulations on getting to go to CoCo – sounds like fun and hopefully a stop over in Hawaii on the way back would be great for you!

    As for topics I like the sound of Fashion in Far flung outposts – you could always bring in aspects of your wearing a long corset as well. My grandmother quickly discarded all these and took to wearing her husbands army trousers to milk and farm in! The army trousers were amazing – straight fabric pleated into a waist – so called “Tropical Wool” heavy as and I imagine not much more comfortable than long skirts!

  11. Congrats on the scholarship! I went to CoCo last year for the first time (but sadly won’t make it this year). The heat actually wasn’t that bad, and I’m bad at heat. The hotel is well air-conditioned. And if you want to hang out outside by the pool, it’s not very hot in the shade, even in costume. The place that it gets seriously hot is in the Garment District, if you are planning on going there. Most of the stores aren’t air-conditioned and the fabric just seems to act as an insulator keeping in all the hot air.

    With regard to your potential classes, I think that Costuming and Cultural Appropriation sounds really interesting and would be different from other things offered. It might be a bit controversial though. Maybe consider looking at a specific time period or something to limit the topic and not offending people. Classes that teach a skill or give you a finished product at the end are also popular. Good luck deciding!

    • Thank you! Lots of good advice!

      I don’t think I’m worried about offending people teaching Cultural Appropriation. I’m pretty non-accusatory, but I do think those who might be offended, well, maybe it’s a clear sign they need to look at their attitudes and understanding and give them a serious re-think….

      • Good point! I’m sure it would be interesting and educational and it really isn’t something that is brought up a lot in the context of costuming, maybe because so often our costuming is historical and that somehow normalizes it because the clothing is already temporally foreign. I don’t know, but it certainly gets me thinking!

  12. Carol says

    Someday I will go to CoCo but it won’t be this year.
    The talk I hope you come back and give when I am there is making and adapting the ribbon corset pattern.

  13. Yay CoCo!
    First off, I wouldn’t worry about the heat. Everything is indoors or by the pool, so it’s cool anyway (you’d think, but surely I won’t stay the entire time indoors! But there is SO much to do, my friends and I really only leave to eat). This last CoCo was the first time I was remotely warm and I’m sure that was due to the layered vinyl thing I was wearing rather than the actual temperature.

    As for classes! Practicality wise what Catherine said. And I’d say not fabric identification because I feel like I see that on the roster every year, so someone will likely be teaching it.
    But I would be keen to hear your thoughts on cultural appropriation and Colonial NZ.

    My favourite lectures are always the ones about technique, definitions, and historical context, so I feel like I’ll probably be in one of your classrooms should you end up teaching something!

  14. Abbey (abbey sews) says

    Hi, not sure how coco is set up but the historical conferences I attend usually have panel discussions. A panel on cultural appropriation that includes someone who works on North American indigenous cultural appropriation might make for good discussion.

    • Cultural appropriation is definitely something that would really, really suit a panel setup. The drawback to panels is that sometimes you miss getting an overall viewpoint, or just a basic introduction. Cultural appropriation hasn’t really been a talked about issue in the historical costuming world, so for many people, a basic introduction would be a really, really good idea, which is what I was going to give.

      I also have the opportunity to come at it from a different angle: Maori culture is a much bigger part of overall life in NZ than Native American cultures is in most parts of the US, and there is a lot more government protection for Maori culture – though, of course, we can’t prevent overseas designers from appropriating designs willy-nilly.

      It’s on my list of possibilities because it’s something that hugely isn’t addressed enough in historical costuming, and it should be. I don’t think I’m the most qualified, but if no-one else is, someone should, kwim?

      • “I don’t think I’m the most qualified, but if no-one else is, someone should, kwim?”

        You can *get* to be even more qualified, though — you have time to study up, and resources at the university to help. Love the idea!

        • It’s not that I’m not qualified and don’t know the topic – it’s that the most qualified is someone who did their PHd on it, or regularly lectures on all aspects of cultural appropriation, and while it is a very important topic, that’s not where my studies have been or are aiming, and no amount of swotting up will give me that immersion.

          • Elise says

            I think it’s important to show that respect for other cultures is part of what cool people do. We don’t have to get permission (through in-group, or marriage, or a PhD) in order to talk about it. We should all talk about it!

      • Abbey says

        Makes sense. I was thinking about it from a Canadian angle, but it’s not actually my field and so I’m not sure who is working on it these days 🙂

      • Abbey says

        Makes sense. I was thinking about it from a Canadian angle, but it’s not actually my field and so I’m not sure who is working on it these days 🙂

  15. I received a scholarship as well! I’ll be coming from the Eastern US and this is my first time, also.I look forward to meeting all the costumers I follow online.

  16. I won a scholarship as well. And got a deal on flights. I’m travelling from Canada and the biggest difficulty was getting murdered on the exchange rate. The scholarship will help a lot. If I really love it though, I don’t know what I will do to arrange it so I can go again!

    I don’t do heat either. There have been a few non authentic ice packs stuffed in a bonnet or two in my costuming life! I do do well with AC though!

    I’m also struggling with what to bring because of baggage restraints. Hoop dresses are out. I don’t think packing 4 petticoats is going to be good either! Mostly bustle era it is! Then have them fit the themes and not involve to many projects and expenses leading up to it! And those projects have to fit in the suitcase! I’m facing the fact that if the airlines allow it, I may have to have two suitcases!

    I’d go to anything you had to teach. I’m sure you’d knock it out of the park! See you there! And I will say hi first. Will you forgive me if I murder the pronunciation of your name?

  17. Elise says

    Maybe you can frame appropriation with: You don’t need a PhD to celebrate other cultures in a way that is respectful. Kindness for others is everyone’s business.

  18. The longline corset one and the colonial New Zealand one are the two I’d love to hear – if only I could be there. I’m in the UK and an impoverished historical costume maker who can only dream of it. I hope you have a great time! x

  19. Kristine says

    I would love to learn about costuming groups! I really want to start one in my area. Have a great time at CoCo, what a treat for you and everyone there!

  20. Grace Darling says

    It would be really interesting to look at how clothing in Colonial New Zealand up through
    to Borneo was changed/influenced by the influx of Western modes by the advent of war
    in the Pacific 1941.

    Borneo/PNG etc are “furtherest-flung” as their cultures get very little attention (even now) despite being
    among the richest resources for minerals, natural gas, and missionaries.

    • Grace Darling says

      PS: Apparently, parachute silk was ‘on trend’ in the Pacific Theatre of War.

      • I’m afraid WWII in the Pacific doesn’t hugely interest me, and it’s not something I’ve researched, so someone else will have to focus on that. 🙂

  21. Lylassandra says

    You’re going to be at Costume College! And I’m going to be at Costume College! If I faint upon meeting you, please do not laugh too much.

    I think the cultural appropriation class is a huge need in the costuming community, especially in light of the puzzling and/or inappropriate blurbs for some of this year’s CoCo events. I would also love anything you’d like to do about NZ or Hawaii, as both have fascinating histories that we don’t hear anything about here in the mainland US. My only idea that you haven’t mentioned would be doing a class related to the 1600s. Lots of the costume community tends to skip from the Renaissance to the Georgian, and I’d love to learn more about that missing era. And to me, Ninon is your most iconic work.

  22. I’m so excited to see you there!
    I like Costuming and Cultural Appropriation and Living in a Longline Corset.

  23. Congratulations, that’s awesome! Any of those sound fantastic, and I will be there also (only my second time ever, last time I attended was 5+ years ago), hopefully we can meet & good luck with CoCo sewing & teaching plans!

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