Written by Sue McDonald


I have written before about plans to go to this year’s Costume College, and now I have been there. Even two weeks after the fact it is hard to express how joyful, exciting, and inspiring the weekend was. Costume College, sponsored by Costumer’s Guild West, has been going on for may years now, and clearly they have used the years before to anticipate and solve every possible need and situation, so that the entire event runs like clockwork.


This year’s Costume College started on Thursday, July 31st, and events ran through Monday, August 4th. The venue was the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills, California. The Costume College – CoCo to those who have attended before – has been held at this hotel for several years now, and the staff seemed well prepared to handle this huge group. Without exception, all of the staff I interacted with were very polite and extremely helpful. Some 450 attendees nearly took over the hotel, including using up all of the conference and banquet rooms for lectures, demonstrations, and workshops.


In addition to the mind-boggling number of classes (103 – I counted them) offered on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the College also included many opportunities for social time (and costumes!), including a Thursday night Pool Party, themed “Tiki Chic Darlings!” complete with lots of ladies in spike heels, retro prints, and big floppy hats – and a Friday night Ice Cream Social. Saturday saw the Time Traveler’s Gala, themed “If the Shoe Fits”. As attendees donned their most fabulous costumes and walked down the wide hall to the gala, both sides of the walkway were lined with enthusiastic spectators – mostly armed with cameras. This tradition of arriving at the gala while in view of everyone is called “The red carpet”. Even those who were not attending the gala dressed up to take the stroll. Sunday morning saw the “Sunday Undies Redux!” where many attendees enjoyed breakfast wearing their undergarments. One intrepid time traveler was arrayed in her chemise, corset, pantaloons and enormous hoop skirt. You didn’t think this was an x-rated breakfast, did you? Running the entire time was the fabulous “Cavalcade of Costume Exhibit” with truly wonderful examples of all types of costumes displayed on beautiful manikins and an extensive display of period accessories which included shoes, reticules and purses, and fans. Lest I forget, there was also a Marketplace with many vendors participating, as well as a Bargain Basement, with proceeds from the latter going toward Costume College scholarships.


Costume College is for all types of costumes; theatrical, periods from Regency to the 1950’s, movies, steampunk, and cosplay were all well represented. I was unable to categorize the attendees, as they certainly could not be described by age, ethnicity, income, or size – as all were well represented. The most dominant characteristic was that all of these folks – both ladies and gents – were wildly creative and not afraid to express themselves. Several were in costume for the entire college, displaying fabulous costumes every day and evening. Everything from a lovely silk Regency-period ensemble – complete with tiara, to a hula skirt, lei and pool-toy-around-the-waist were on display from the first night.


Costumer’s Guild members – volunteers all – kept everything running smoothly. There were operations people who spent the entire time helping to set up classrooms, sound systems, and video projectors for each class. They also delivered things like irons and ironing boards, power strips, and whatever else was required for a particular session to run smoothly. An information desk was always manned by one or more members to help anyone who needed directions or information, and a hospitality suite was always crowded with both CGW members and first-timers like myself. This room was constantly supplied with homemade goodies and non-alcoholic beverages – again courtesy of the Costumer’s Guild. There was even a “panic room” staffed with folks who were there to help with costuming “snags” or unfinished projects.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the many talented instructors who came to the College to share their expertise in every aspect of costuming. Since this year’s theme was “Accessories”, there were several classes about these fun additions to one’s costume. For example shoes; from making your own to covering a pair of store-bought ones. There were classes in period hairstyles, hats, and undergarments. Classes in ribbon-work, fabrics, swords, and social media for the Costumer. You could make a Mucha-inspired floral headdress, wrap a death’s-head button, or learn how to use your modern embroidery machine to embellish your historical dress. The quality of the instruction was uniformly great, and even topics that I thought I already knew brought fresh insight and techniques.


Monday – the final day of the Costume College – brought a day-long tour of the Los Angeles fabric district. An air-conditioned bus picked us up at the hotel and brought us to what seemed like another world. Upon arrival, we were divided into two groups; “Veterans” who had done this before, and us “First-Timers”. I was with the latter group, and we were had a guide who took us to about four of the larger shops in the area. After we had stopped for lunch, we were turned loose with maps of the area to shop on our own until meeting back at the bus about 4 o’clock. The bus remained in place – with the AC going – all day, so if we needed to drop off purchases, which were stowed fore us in the undercarriage, or get out of the heat for a bit. On the way back to the hotel, our Costumer’s Guild Person was still offering cold water and sodas and snacks. As we exited the bus, she stood at the door with a bag of what she described as “random bling”. Each of us reached into the bag and pulled out one item. Mine was an appliqué with gold thread in it.


As I was waiting in the lobby on that last morning, one young lady was all set to leave. She had checked out, and was exiting the lobby pulling her wheeled suitcase. As she reached the main doors, she turned back to the lobby, waved, and yelled “Goodbye Costume College!” She was answered by people all over the large area, saying “Goodbye! Have a safe trip home!”


To say that I can hardly wait to go again is an understatement. I want to take more classes, volunteer to help out, and even offer my services to teach a class or two. As added incentive, the Costumer’s Guild West has already announced Costume College 2015, scheduled for July 30th until August 2nd. The theme is “Plucked from the pages!” and includes a Nancy Drew Mystery Tea, Breakfast with the Bennetts” (note to self – make a Regency-period costume!) a poolside “Journey to Atlantis”, and “Around the World in 80 Days” ice-cream social. The theme for the gala is sure to bring out fabulous costumes with the title of “Handsome Heroes and Legendary Ladies”.


If you are interested in attending in 2015, I would recommend that you join the Costumer’s Guild West (note: You don’t have to be a member to attend) so you will get their lovely newsletter and be kept abreast of preparations for Costume College. If you go to the web site www.costumecollege.net , and then click on “Costumer’s Guild West” you can see how to join, as well as see pictures – lots of pictures – of the 2014 Costume College.