Whether you’re into cosplay, reenactment or simply dressing up for the sake of it, you probably want to look more like you’ve stepped out of a costume drama than out of a fancy dress shop. This is an issue that confronts every costume fan at some point and can be a “rookie error” that never quite goes away. Fortunately understanding how to sidestep the dressing up box and enter the Rococo dressing room – besides the most important step of actually researching period-accurate looks – can be broken down into some simple hints to guide both your purchases and how you wear an outfit. These also apply to making historical costume, especially if you are dressing a cast without falling into a pantomime trap.


fabric, red, wool, twill

Wool twill from Minerva Crafts

From high fashion to historical costume fabric is everything. That means its a good idea to invest well here. Goths and Steampunks especially suffer the torment of amazing garment designs that have been made in horrible synthetics. Forget Camden maket and – sadly – the majority of Goth shops and find more crafted pieces like on Etsy. If you can sew then you have full control over what you decide to use.

Dress Down

The proletariat represents the biggest demographic in every society while the bourgeoisie is the smallest.  But history has a habit of focusing on the victors and their opulence. While we all love dressing to the max and celebrating the fact we can wear the image of an aristocrat with none of the background this is not a way to create an authentic look. Instead look into what everyday people wore – honest and functional clothing with patching and heavy cloth.

Dress Earlier

Hogarth 18th century print authentic historical costumeThe reenactor’s favourite past-time is critiquing depictions of precise dates, differenciating between decades. The important thing to remember here is that clothes can be handed down from the past but not brought in from the future. Indeed throughout history there has been a trickle-down effect of poorer classes inheriting the higher fashions of the generation before. “Vintage” is nothing new and the modern fashion represents the same concept of old clothes becoming fashionable in times of economic hardship.

Dressing from paintings of aristocrats or fashion plates is equal to copying today’s catwalk with sensational outfits that could hardly stretch to the everyday. On the other hand look how effective recycling an older garment can be – like Thenardier in Les Miserables.


Dress More Often

Fashion has always been expensive. Producing garments is time and labour-intensive from growing fibres and spinning them into thread, weaving them and finally cutting and sewing them. New clothes have therefore always been a luxury and so you should get your costume as worn-looking as possible – something Dr Shaz Ney explains regarding American Civil War uniforms. Wearing your costume more often also fulfils another suprisingly important aspect of costume in being comfortable in your own skin. Most people can’t and don’t wear costumes all the time – it’s why they’re called costumes. That means they feel self-concious when they do dress up because they are made very aware of how they look. Incoporating more elements of dressing up into everyday life can make this less of a drastic change and you grow used to drawing people’s eyes.


Consider Breaking the Costume Down

Deliberately putting years of wear into a new garment is a real art with film productions recruiting career ‘breakdown artists’ to skillfully attack costumes to look realistic. While these skills take years to perfect we’ve compiled some top tips to ageing your outfit with simple tools.

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