For these local fashion historians, playing dress-up is serious business.
As a rule, Laura Proctor would consider it disrespectful if someone catcalled her as she walked down the street. But on one recent occasion, she didn’t mind the whistles at all.
Laura and a group of friends from the Central Florida Costumers Guild had just finished touring Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition in Orlando. But instead of wearing typical tourist attire, the group was dressed to the nines in outfits reminiscent of 1912 – the year the infamous ship sank.
“We were getting catcalled as we were leaving, but they were being really polite about it,” Laura says with a laugh. “Somebody honked a car horn and called out, ‘I just wanted to let you know, you guys look great!’”
Laura, a Longwood resident, founded the Costumers Guild in 2011 and is its president. The guild has nearly 40 dues-paying members, plus hundreds more who follow it on Facebook. For the most part, the members are hobbyists rather than full-time, professional costumers.
Some guild members enjoy dressing as their favorite movie, TV, or book characters at cosplay conventions. Others gravitate more toward historical events and costumes. Many make their own outfits, but others shop for that perfect look online or at thrift stores.
“The guild is for anyone who is enthusiastic about wearing or making or preserving costumes,” Laura says, regardless of a person’s sewing ability. “We’re here to support the educational and social aspects of costuming.”
In addition to the Titanic excursion in October, the group’s social outings last year included a Regency-era picnic in Apopka and a Time Traveler’s Tea in Mount Dora.
Although guild members often dress up just for fun, they also want to educate the public about the group itself and the diverse world of costuming. The guild has participated in quite a few community events, including programs at the Orlando Public Library and the Central Florida Fair. In November, Laura spoke to students at Lake Howell High School as part of the SCPS Teach-In program.
Laura donned her Titanic dress for the occasion and also brought theatrical and cosplay costumes she has made, including undergarments. The most frequently asked question that she fields – especially when wearing a dress with a big hoop skirt and bustle – is how did women use the bathroom when wearing clothes like that?
“People are curious about historical fashion and will engage with you,” Laura says. “They get really excited about it.”
When she and two other women went to see the film Suffragette, their period appropriate attire caught the attention of several fellow moviegoers, including members of the League of Women Voters. After the film, they posed for pictures together.
Laura, a stay-at-home mom, builds elaborate costumes for herself, complete with just-right accessories. She loves doing historical and fandom mashups, such as her 1870s-era ballroom gown with a Captain America theme. Laura also builds custom costumes for a rather unusual client: an entertainment company that employs stilt walkers.
Although the Costumers Guild doesn’t give actual sewing lessons, its members gladly share costuming tips, tricks, and techniques with each other. That has been a bonus for Gracie Parker and Brigitte Stephenson.
Gracie, a Winter Springs resident, enjoys learning new costuming techniques in a nonjudgmental environment.
“The guild members are very understanding about the differing levels of talent and experience, and they never make you feel less than,” she says.
Brigitte, who has a keen interest in historical fashion, concurs.
“I enjoy this group of like-minded individuals who help me with the puzzle that is sewing, especially historical sewing in my case,” says Brigitte, who works at the Sanford Museum. “Making historical dresses has allowed me to understand how people from the past moved and interacted. It also gives me a glimpse of their personalities.”
In October, Brigitte’s museum and guild worlds intersected when she gave a lecture about 19th-century mourning attire. The lecture, given at the museum, was co-presented by the Costumers Guild and the Sanford Historical Society. Brigitte’s costume for the event was a jet-black 1885 mourning dress that she made.
“I love giving back to my community by showing historically accurate clothes and dismissing some of the myths associated with historical fashion,” Brigitte says.
Ultimately, costuming is an infinitely creative way for guild members such as Laura, Brigitte, and Gracie to step into the past – or leap into the future.
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“The thing I like most about making costumes is you can put your own interpretation on a pattern, making something that is uniquely yours,” Gracie says. “With some fabric and time, you can transform yourself into a different era or a different plane of reality.”
The Central Florida Costumers Guild meets for lectures, demos, and workshops at 1:00 p.m. on the first Monday of the month at the Jo-Ann fabric and craft store in Altamonte Springs. Membership dues are $15 for individuals and $20 for families. For details about the all-volunteer group, visit CFLCostumers.com.