This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Beginner's Guide for Fashion Shows, Part 1

Earlier I’d mentioned I would write up a guideline for putting on a fashion show, in my case historical costume. Some of that has already been written in a previous post but as I’ve gotten closer to the date this next show is, I’m fine-tuning some of the details of how to put this together. Some of this may be repetitive but at least it all in one place now. And I included photos so you don’t feel like “oh my gosh, I’m back in school again”. Since I don’t have any sewing to report on because of *real life* stuff lately, this seems to be a good time to write this puppy up. *Oh wait, yesterday I started finishing those little girls Civil War dresses I started in March! Finally broke through that wall.*
This will actually be the second show I’ve put on but the first was a “show within a show”. That was my "One Hundred Years of Mourning Fashion" that was the second half of the Riverside Dickens fashion show. It was by no means a lesser scale of work though. I’ve been a backstage manager at the same time as being a model so I have that experience under my belt too. I’ve yet to be a narrator because I want to play dress-up with everyone else so I have my favorite narrator, Nancy, to do that for me. J  But she likes to play dress-up too, so along with her husband Russell, they look awesome along with the rest of us. I also want to give a shout-out to said Russell, our gentleman escort, who has so many times helped us up and down stairs in our long skirts so we don’t fall flat on our faces. We’ve come close a couple times though. I guess that fits into the cheer of “Break a leg!” when you’re going on.

 So what do you need to start? First, a request to do a fashion show. Our costume guild has been contacted a couple times by different groups, such as women’s clubs and historical societies, to provide a fashion show or at least show up in costume suitable to the event theme.  We don’t charge for it but we do like to be fed a bit if possible. At the least, the director/you should provide water for your models, and something to nibble on.
Second, you need a theme for your show. You may be asked to do a specific type or time period by the requester. We seem to be asked just to do a show and the theme is left up to us. The easiest is to do a time line showing a progression of the changes in fashion. Or it can be a creative theme, such as women’s /men’s recreational activities; famous authors and characters from books; or famous people in history. You can do fun ones such as a couple vignettes onstage, like a group of ladies sitting around a table having tea or playing cards, and each one gets up to walk around in her dress.  Then a lady’s dressing room or dress/millinery shop, and showing different ladies being dressed or arriving to shop or visit. Instead of just writing a description of what the model is wearing, you can weave a story around it. One of the shows I’ve been in is in a historical town and I thought having each of them walking down a well-known street or visiting an historic building in the area might be interesting, and adds some familiarity.  The point is- you don’t have to just walk out on stage. You can do things to make it entertaining. So far is it sounding like YOU are doing the writing? Most likely, yes you will.
 Music isn’t necessary but can enhance the show if you use it at the beginning. But keep it soft and not when the narrator is speaking. Some sound systems don’t work very well and you don’t want someone in the back yelling, I can’t hear you! 
Third, you need some models and costumes. You can either put out a general request to your costume group, or contact specific people and see if they’d be interested. Make it clear what you’re looking for as to the dress, and the date, times and location of the show. Keep a file with all emails coming in for reference. I also cut and paste information given to me by prospective models onto a document to work with.
You may have to be flexible so that if you lose a model or they back out, you can smooth over that gap. In a chronological time period-type show it wouldn’t hurt to have duplicates, like two 1880s, in case one has to back out and you still have one for that spot. Smaller groups are easier to work with when you’re just starting out because when you get to where you have to wrangle 20 or more models, it becomes major work.
Fourth, if you’re unfamiliar with the location, and possibly can, see if you can visit the location. See what the layout of the stage and dressing rooms are, and how you will enter and exit, both on stage and afterwards. Take photos if you can, and do sketches of possible routes of where the models will walk. Check out bathroom locations and note them. Sometimes we need to use those restrooms as our dressing rooms. Walk through yourself where the models will enter the building when they arrive, and where they will enter and exit the stage during the show. One of the stages I’ve been on in a church has a big podium in the center so the models need to know that they should walk to both ends of the stage so everyone can see them.  And check out the parking situation for them. Make note of all available areas that they can park. In some cases, this pre-visit may not be possible, and you’re just going to have to wing it when you arrive. But try arriving a little earlier to get the lay of the land  so you can share it with your models when they arrive.
Find out if the venue or event coordinator has any stage decorations that can be used, such as greenery, flowers, trellis’, tables, chairs, etc., or if they have their own stage decorator they’re using.  Be sure not to distract from your models though. They should be the centerpiece. You may be lucky and already have a natural background you don’t need to mess with. But let me give you a photographer’s tip I learned while taking my photography classes in college: greenery brings out colors better in your photos. So if you can have plants, etc., on stage, the dress colors will look brighter, and skin tones are greatly enhanced by it. I always try to take photos of people outside next to plants or trees.  Look how bright and colorful we all are after our show outside.
I still have four days until my show at the women’s club on Saturday so I’m still finalizing all the narratives, floor plans, and programs. As soon as those are done, I’ll write Part 2 for this, and it will probably be much shorter than this was. Promise!

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I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!