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Archive for November 21st, 2008

It’s National Historical Costumer Appreciation Day!*

People are nuts about Tolkien. They love the empowerment of the individual, the watermark of his tales. No hero embarks of a quest whose outcome he or she knows. But they fight anyway, willing to stare into the abyss, and with the ever present jugdement and threat of self-death above their heads. Their determination is glorifying and magnificent. Their heroism and actions are not made after a favorable calculated risk of return or conversely out of recklessness. They are made in transcendental hopefulness, assigning a greater value to individual power than to mere existence and treasure . It is self affirming, when one fearlessly affirms that the quality of their life is more important than mere living and glittering treasure.

It is relieving and uplifting to unquestionably assign importance and power to something greater. Our spirits lift as Aragorn places his lineage above his life, or Frodo the shire, or when Boromir dies honorably. We seethe at the sight of the Denethors and Wormtongues, who cause only harm in their self-interested, animal-like pursuits.

Historical Costuming – bear with me here – is something like that. When you make a gown or costume, you impart into it your beliefs and knowledge about an age, an ideal you have in your head, that you make tangible to the best of your ability. It’s the progress towards the ideal that really matters.

Art is heroic, and heroism can not exist without a belief in an ideal. Though there may be mistakes and accidents made in a hero’s epic, a painting or a costume, they are forgivable so long as the artist does not become disenchanted with the original ideal. A hero who sticks to the cause is admired. A painting that most closely resembles ‘the style’ if an artist is most valued. If a historical costume does not turn out perfectly, a historical costumer must remember that it is the process of self-discovery that really created the transformation, and not the gown itself.

A work of art is a magical item. And just as Sauron transferred his power into his ring, so a painting or a costume is a power transfer, where both the craftsman and the item are enhanced and empowered by the craft. Appreciating great works or art – or great heroism- requires faith. One can only see the immortal beauty when one understands and believes and conceive that immortal beauty exists. This is what separates man from beasts (though I think my cats can know what’s beautiful…), the heroes from the villains.

This is why we associate such a great value to antiques and originals. A antique gown is perceived to be the closest to the platonic ideal we have in our heads for the era it represents. This is somewhat of a fallacy, for an age is highly dependent on context. Logically, it would seem that we could understand the past better by recreating it, not putting old, unrelated objects in a room together and calling it an era. And most of those objects are old. Their chemical compositions have changed. Their smells and appearances are different.

This is not an attempt to poo-poo antiques and antique collectors. On the contrary, I have plenty of them myself. This is attempt to explain the source of their power and value. They are unique and they are old. They seem a better investment than something mass produced. But I am making the argument that creation is far more heroic. And by this logic, a historical costumer is just as heroic as Indiana Jones.

Time to go to sleep.

*There really is no such thing as a National Historical Costumer Appreciation Day.

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