madshutterbug (madshutterbug) wrote,

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Enquiring Minds

When is it clothing, and when is it costume?

This occured to me yesterday or day before, while browsing through a group on Flickr for Dragon Con 2006. Most of the photos are of the outfits which people wear (yes, I'm avoiding the word 'costumes' just yet). Looking at them is an exercise celebrating ingenuity, creativity, humour, drama, and humanity. With the word 'costume' being bandied about I felt somewhat out of sorts thinking of many of those outfits as costumes. The air of durability, and the attitude/expression/stance of the people wearing them, gave the lie to the word as I may frequently think of it. A costume is intended to disguise or delude and do so for a fairly inexpensive outlay of time and funds. It is for a short-term use, and hence the low investment is a good thing. I saw some of those. I saw a great deal which did not fit that description.

I've been to a few Cons. Long time back, only a few, and I did not wear anything other than, say, civilian or street clothing. To Cons. I also played for quite a while in the Society for Creative Anachronism (henceforth SCA if mentioned again), so did wear something other than civilian/street clothing. (Yes, I'm avoiding another word here, because I am somewhat unhappy with the means I've seen it used in similar discussions.)

I'm also preparing to travel next month to a Nursing conferance I've attended three years running in October. One of the social events at this weekend conference is a Halloween Ball, Pumpkin and Costume Contest. It's great fun, I enjoy it, and I've even dressed for it twice. Some of the folk get very involved in what they create, just as for Dragon Con and other Cons, but most of them aren't travelling across a continent to get there. It's somewhat easier to bring, for example, a 'table' which will feature one's head as a dining selection if one is driving to the location of the event rather than flying.


Those three general event descriptions (Con, SCA, Party), as well as my approach to one of them and some of my background, got me to thinking. When is it clothing, and when is it costume, what one wears.

From September 1970 to May 1972 my life comprised being a student at Thomas Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is an excellent academic institution at least in my estimation. I say that because to this day I am often amazed at what I pull out of memory in various situations, being things I learned at AQ. I know a few of my teachers there despaired of me, since after all they dealt with a young man muchly interested in "Beer, Betting, Women, and Work"; in that order, and perhaps substituting something else for Betting.

Still, AQ is an excellent academic institution. It is run by the Dominican Order of the Roman Catholic Church, which may or may not give you a clue to my background. AQ does not require one to be a Catholic to register for classes, nor to be employed. It does provide an excellent Theology/Philosophy department and Masters degree programs in these areas. I took several philosophy courses there, in fact.

I also took Theatre Arts classes; Acting, and Movements Lab. Well, it may of been one class and covered both parts. I'd need to look at the transcript to get definitive. Whatever, here's where we get to one of the first points which perculated up through my consciousness about this question. Miss Donna taught the Acting class, and is one of the teachers who probably despared of my focus. One of her comments in class discussion though, when we were reviewing the clothing worn while portraying a part, is this:

Don't think of it as a costume. That distances you from the character. This is the clothing you (your character) wears in the course of your daily life, and that clothing tells you something about you (your character).

Hence, when I became much interested and involved in the SCA, I did not make costumes for this fellow Tsuji, I made clothing. I'll accept the word garb, because that carries some of the greater permanence, greater wear characteristics as does clothing. Most of that clothing is still in my possestion today, and in fact when invited to a 'costume party' I may well wear that clothing.


People who knew me in the day often commented, particularly if they were able to watch me dress (and Oh My Readers, it is very possible to dress in Japanese clothing without violating any cultural mores about nudity or underclothing exposure), that they could see the transition from Mad Shutterbug to Tsuji as I dressed. Actors of various eras and genre's are known to be quoted saying the same thing, as they dress for work they feel the character becoming more than the words on paper.

I expect that many who attend Cons regularly (from reading and visiting here, I presume the word to be Fen?) and who do so dressed in any of the many roles from their various favorite stories will exhibit the same type of transition from their daily self into their character for Con. And, from talking with someone on my Flist who does this I also know that some of the outfits put together for this are rather more permanent than others. Which is where I come to my question.

When is it clothing, and when is it costume?

When I serve in my role as Registered Nurse at Hospital, I wear surgical scrubs, a hat, and often a mask. If I am also scrubbed in at the sterile field, I wear also sterile surgical gown and gloves over that. It defines who and what I am, a Registered Nurse providing Nursing care. Clothing, or Costume?

When I served in my role as elected officer of AORN (my professional association), I wore a business suit. I don't always, and in fact often prefer something less formal. I like vests, as they provide additional pockets. I tend to dress in what is considered a Western US style, because I like it. I won't deny that it's got some relation to playing Cowboys growing up. So even my business suits are a Western style of jacket. Clothing, or Costume?

In fact, I like Western styling so much that my very formal wear is a Boise jacket and trousers suit, and I mention that because some of you who've seen me, or photos of me, in that suit say I look great in a Tux. Thanks, I appreciate that, but Tuxedo actually is a specific cut of jacket and trousers. What any of the actors portraying James Bond in big formal party settings wear is indeed a Tux. I, however, didn't wear a Tux even at my wedding. I wore a Morning Coat. Clothing, or Costume?

Look at the icon associated with this post, please. That's Tsuji. He's wearing a kamishimo, a matched kataginu and hakama which essentially equates to that formal Boise or Tuxedo discussed above. Most photographs of people wearing kataginu these days show them with these wide 'wings' at the shoulders, something extending past the shoulder joint quite some distance. This is a style from the middle to late Edo period (late 18th through middle 19th C.), a style encouraged by the Tokugawa Shogunate for two reasons, enforced conspicuous consumption diverted funds to clothing which might otherwise be spent on rebellion, and the extension of those shoulders restricted shoulder/arm movement which made swordplay more difficult (though this is easily avoided through the simple expedient of sliding one's right arm through the front of the kataginu thus dropping the wing behind/alongside oneself). The version seen in the icon is a very early rendition of this style, from a time period when swordplay without notice carried a higher probability and helped ensure longetivity.

That particular garment is now about 13 years old with fairly regular use during those years, though not daily by any dint. And, what I've just represented to you lets you know approximately when Tsuji lived, and things he'd need to consider getting through the day, as well as that he had occasion to need to wear something for fairly formal reasons. So, Clothing, or Costume?

Familar with Firefly or Serenety? Same thing really, but there will be folk who may've seen the latter without benefit of the former. Look at that brown coat Malcolm Reynolds wears. Sure, looks rather much like a Duster, another Western style of coat. Looks a bit like one, yup. But look closer, and maybe not so much, or because hey, a Duster is a very durable and versatile coat to wear. In fact, that brown coat looks a lot like the uniform coat worn by the Independants. Tells you something about Mal, neh? Good servicable coat, happen to have it, wear it when needed... and happily, too, letting you know yup, he's a Vet, an Independant, and not so much with a concern you might figure that out. Clothing, or Costume?

And if I put together an outfit, not so much a Captain Mal outfit but something kind of like, which when you might look at it at a Con and say, Yup, he's a Vet, and an Independant, and not so much to be bothered about that particular fact, would it be Clothing? Or Costume?

'Cause, yanno, sometimes it is fun to dress up.
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