Hi, everyone. My wife Veronica is crazy busy this week, so I offered to write a guest blog to keep things alive around here – “I” being her husband Mike, her chief supporter/enabler/idea sounding board.
Because Veronica is hip-deep in costuming the cast of the Connecticut Renaissance Faire’s Robin Hood Springtime Festival, she had planned to write a little about the process of creating interesting and meaningful outfits for characters. I am totally stealing that topic, since I can’t think of a new one.
The name of her company, Storied Threads, reflects the fact that Veronica adheres to the principles of costuming extolled by Academy Award-winner Ngila Dickson, who was the costumer for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Dickson put a lot of thought into creating the characters’ and races’ looks in those films, striving to give their fashions and individual outfits little details that reflected their respective backstories. Take a close look at anything a Rider of Rohan is wearing, for example, and you’ll see design elements that reflect the fact their culture is steeped in equestrianism.
The first time Veronica really put this theory into action in a show – to my mind, anyway – is when she costumed Pastimes Entertainment’s King Arthur Festival in 2005 (her first time costuming that particular production). Her friend and assistant costumer Kate (of the blog Time Traveler’s Wardrobe) played a character named Twitch, who was supposed to be a batshit-crazy mercenary. Twitch had previously appeared in KAF 2004, and looked – well, normal. She had on a nice shirt and skirt combo, and if you took the daggers out of her hand she could have passed as a typical medieval woman.
In 2005, Veronica gave the character a radical overhaul. The skirts were ditched for pants. The nice shirt was switched out for a ratty one that looked like it hadn’t been washed or repaired in months. Veronica then added a single leather pauldron and a mismatching leather waist cincher with some chunks of chainmail hanging off it. The end result was strikingly different. Twitch now looked dangerous. She looked like a rough-and-tumble brawler. Her clothes had a personality of their own that enhanced the character. It remains one of my personal favorite character designs.
That was also the same year the knightly characters stopped wearing whatever surcoats they had handy in company stock and started wearing surcoats with very deliberate color and heraldry choices, most of which were drawn directly from the Arthurian legends. King Arthur, for example, ditched the drab yellow surcoat with dragon device and gained a royal blue job sporting the three crowns representing the three major kingdoms within his authority (North and South Wales and Logres).
When the New England Pirate Faire took over as Pastimes’ main show, Veronica got a lot of opportunities to get creative with costuming. The year Pastimes presented a storyline based on the death of Blackbeard, she got to play with the imaginative concept that Blackbeard’s victims haunted him as ghosts.
To sell the idea that some of the actors were spirits, they wore make-up and carried lanterns, but Veronica added a subtle costume touch that, sadly, may have gone mostly unnoticed by the audience: the color red appeared only on ghost characters to indicate how they died. One had a red broach on her sash to mark where she’d been stabbed; another, who had been strangled by Blackbeard, wore a choker of red stones.
Each year Veronica took steps to make sure characters belonging to the same group (i.e., specific crews) had unified looks, but the year after the Death of Blackbeard year she got to create a very unusual group costume concept.
The plot involved Sadie the Goat, a real-life New York City street gang leader, and her all-female crew. In history, Sadie and her gang at one point attempted to launch a career as river pirates, and Veronica played with the concept of a group of post-Revolutionary street toughs masquerading (rather badly) as pirates. Elements of city street thug and stereotypical seafaring pirate were mixed and matched to create a very eye-catching group aesthetic that hinted these people were of two worlds, but suggested they didn’t quite fit in either.
I could go on and on because Veronica has created a lot of really memorable character-based costumes, but instead I’ll end with a shameless plug: if you want some advice on how to create your own unique outfit that tells the story of your character, contact Veronica. She’ll be happy to help you out.