Posts Tagged ‘costumes’

After four months on the Ren faire circuit, I’m finally home.

It’s been a while since my last post because, frankly, I haven’t had anything nice to say. Living in a tent at the Colorado faire was much harder and more frustrating than I could have imagined. Everything was inconvenient. Take the shower, for example. It was pretty far away from our camp. You could walk to it — but by the time you walked back, you’d be covered in dust from the road. Or you could drive to it — and risk losing your parking place. I kept making the same stupid mistake over and over again: once I arrived at the shower, I’d drop my loofah in the dirt. Or I’d realize I’d forgotten my shower shoes and have to stand barefoot in the slimy grey-green shower stall. And then I’d lose my temper and spend the rest of my day trying to make everyone else miserable.

I’m pretty small and usually sweet, so my family thinks it’s kind of funny when I lose my temper. They call it “Hannah SMASH!” because I basically transform into the Hulk and wreak havoc upon the streets of New York. I used to be proud of my temper, as if it were a mark of strength or something. I’d think, I may be small and weak-looking, but you sure as hell don’t want to make me mad! This summer, though, I realized how exhausting it is to hulk out all the time. It’s not funny or endearing. I got tired of being constantly angry over ultimately small things, like buying canned soup but no can opener. I realized that everything was going to suck and be difficult and inconvenient for the next two months, and I could choose to get righteously furious about it or try to make peace with it. It’s more fun and more gratifying to hulk out, but I learned I have to let that go if I want my life to be easier.

But before I get carried away recounting all of the different things I hated about living at the faire and how I learned to deal with them, let me tell you about one thing that kept pissing me off over and over again at my job at the costume booth. My job was to help women dress up in corsets and skirts and feel totally fabulous. So what made me mad? Here’s what would happen: the lady would get all dressed up, look in the mirror and fall in love with the outfit, and then step out of the dressing room to show her husband. She’d ask what he thought, and he’d invariably reply, “Um… I like it!”

Then she’d say, “That’s it? You like it?!”

And he’d say, “Yeah, it’s… great!”

“Well, what is it you don’t like about it?”

“What? I just said I liked it! I like the way it makes your waist… and your boobs…”

“Well, but you don’t love it. I can tell.”

You see where this is going. I got so mad at this whole situation. First, I got mad that so many grown women needed man-approval before they felt like they could buy something for themselves. I’m totally in favor of collaborating with your partner before dropping a bunch of money — but it was like these women thought the outfit was only worthwhile if it got their man really excited. As if it wasn’t enough to just love the outfit and buy it. And here’s the thing — the men always did get really excited. (I can tell because I speak Man.) They’re just not usually equipped with the vocabulary to express what they love about the corset. I could say something like, “I think the warm hues in the outfit make your skin tones look golden, and the cut of the corset frames your bust without compressing it.” But Average Joe just gets a little flabbergasted when he sees his woman walking around in a garment that looks like it belongs in the boudoir. Then, of course, she takes his hesitation to mean that he thinks it’s ugly or silly or something. And then none of his backtracking or explaining can change her mind — she’s convinced she’s made a fool of herself by even trying the damn thing on and we are certainly not buying it now!


I started asking the women, before letting them out of the dressing room, if they felt fabulous. Then I told them that if you feel fabulous, you’re going to act fabulous, and your man is going to love it, whether he knows anything about corsets or not.

Gents, am I wrong? Isn’t confidence the sexiest garment?

I got so mad at the women who wouldn’t let themselves feel fabulous, and the women who picked a fight with their man over their own insecurities, and the women who dug their heels in and told everyone that they look fat and stupid and no corset or salesgirl in the world can change their mind. Ladies, if you’re one of those people who does shit like this, let me be undeniably clear: being a strong woman doesn’t mean stubbornly beating yourself up, and it doesn’t mean passive-aggressively bullying men. Why don’t we try loving ourselves, and seeing if that makes it easier to love our partners.

Ahem. So that’s how I feel about that.

I spent most of my summer finding ways to deal with being angry, which amounted to spending all of my time daydreaming about how wonderful it would be to have a refrigerator again. Amidst the record-breaking heat, the bears wandering into camp, and the hippies sing-shouting into the wee hours, I would take a deep breath and remember that I’m going back home to live in civilization. And now that I’m back, I have to say, it’s glorious to have a bathroom that’s inside the house, and a stove that works, and a real bed and a vacuum cleaner…

After all of the adventures I’ve had this year, I’m not keen on going back on the road any time soon. I’ve had a lot of fun, seen some beautiful new places, and made new friends, but for the foreseeable future, Lacewing Costumes is going to be a stationary enterprise and I’ll adjust to my new role as a non-traveling seamstress. Farewell, Ren faire circuit, and thanks for teaching me all of these crappy lessons.


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After a hot, frustrating season, Scarborough finally ended.

I think I finally figured out exactly what to say to people and began to feel comfortable selling my wares at the very end of the faire. I learned how to be positive and flexible carrying on whatever strange conversations customers wanted to have. One guy asked to see my stomach to check for tattoos or piercings.  Two twins said that they weren’t surprised my name was Hannah because all the Hannahs they know are pretty. A family asked if they could take a picture of me with the “traveling monkey”, which, to my relief, ended up being a stuffed animal and not a real simian.

I learned to gauge whether a parent would give in to their child’s pleas to buy a costume, and to nip the interaction in the bud if the parent wouldn’t budge. One little boy cried when his mom told him he couldn’t have a costume, and I wanted so badly just to give it to him. But that wouldn’t teach anyone a lesson, and I was thankful they walked away quickly.

I learned that drunk college students buy a lot of things they don’t need, and thirteen-year-old boys don’t like anything. Oh, and if you are a kid and you want something expensive, ask your dad, not your mom.

Closing weekend was a much bigger success, both monetarily and emotionally, than all of the other weeks. I was glad to leave Scarborough on a high note.

Then we packed up and left Texas, because Travis’ next jousting stop is the Colorado Renaissance Festival. Unlike the other faires we’ve been at, we’re camping at this one, which means eight weeks of living in a tent. I don’t have a booth at this faire, so I found a job selling corsets on faire days, and I have the rest of the week to myself. It seems completely ideal, but I’m kind of like a border collie – I need to have something to do constantly or else I go a little crazy. I’m trying to fill my days at least somewhat productively with sewing, sketching, research, and exercise. My weekend job is easy and fun, but it barely pays anything. I’m beginning to realize how much I equate my self-worth with making money, and I’m trying to learn to let it go. I have made money before, and I will make money again, but right now is my time to focus on other things.

I definitely feel like I’m getting the authentic Ren faire experience here. The only running water is from a hose, and the showers are the kind where you see everybody naked. (Despite the many saggy booties and unfortunate tattoos I’ve seen so far, the facilities are at least nicer than the ones in my college dorm, where an unidentified culprit periodically smeared poo all over the stalls and mirrors.) There is a constant waft of… ahem… herbal remedy smoke coming from somewhere on site. There are also a lot more unshaven legs, missing teeth, and faded tie-dye here than I’m used to. And ugly beards! Can anyone explain to me the correlation between Ren faires and really, really bad beards?

I haven’t seen one yet, but I’ve been warned that bears live in the area and wander into camp every now and again, so we have to keep all food in a cooler in the car. I have seen a bunny that lives under a wooden platform one campsite over from ours, and I just hope that if the Adventure Dog kills it, he eats the whole thing so I don’t have to clean it up. There are lots of spiders, moths, wasps, and weird orange bugs I’ve never seen before, and they have no regard for your territory.

On the positive side, the Colorado Renaissance Festival is really pretty. It’s on the side of a mountain, and there are lots of trees and mountain flowers and outdoor things to do. You get plenty of exercise and fresh air walking around the grounds, and it’s amazing to watch giant clouds build up around the mountain. The nights are cool, the days are warm, and so far our tent has not been destroyed by hail. But I certainly wouldn’t complain if the rest of my life after this faire season is utterly luxurious. Or, if not utterly luxurious, then at least maybe it can have flushing toilets and fewer spiders in the bed.

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There are some days where I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be — doing positive work, building my career and my skills, connecting with family and friends, spending time outside.

Then there are days when I wonder what the hell I’m doing.

The opening of Scarborough is proving to be as much of an emotional challenge as the opening of the Pennsylvania Ren Faire was.

As it turns out, my costume booth is in possibly the worst location in the entire faire. It’s tucked away in the corner of the tilt yard, and no one walks past it. You can’t see it at all from the main path, and you can barely see it from the joust audience seats. It’s next to the petting zoo, so the bleating and braying of farm animals drown out all of the other sounds of the faire. It’s also next to a bush that spews pollen into your face every time the wind picks up.

We have had some pretty foul weather (including a tornado!), which means no one comes to the faire and I end up with mud all over my dress. On Saturday, fewer than two dozen people showed up to the first joust, the sheep got vociferously irritated at being wet, and I had to figure out how to use the port-a-potty without trailing my gown through any unsavory substances. At that point, I had a very strong desire to go home and rethink my life. I don’t know if I’m the type of person who can handle not knowing if the weather is going to completely sabotage my entire week’s income. Or, for that matter, if I can even handle being hot/cold/wet/windblown/dirty/stinky all the time. Why didn’t I choose a nice, clean, safe field like accounting or mail sorting? Why do I keep thinking this gypsy life is so rewarding and romantic anyway? I know I’m trying to use my passion and my skills to make the world a more magical place, but I have to wonder if sitting around in the rain with the sheep and the hippies is really the best way to accomplish that goal.

Selling my wares has been alternately rewarding and frustrating. Kids seem to really love the knight costumes. It’s great fun to watch them try on costumes and talk to them about the joust, the horses, the faire, Zombie Dice, dinosaurs, and whatever else their brains associate with polite conversation. I get really discouraged, though, when the sunburned, cigarette-smoking, bleach-blonde or buzz-cut parents snap, “You don’t need that!” (insert stereotypical NASCAR-crowd Texas accent* here) and drag the kid away by the wrist. I wonder why parents even take their kids to the Ren faire if they won’t let them get a souvenir. Isn’t that just a day-long cruel tease? But then there are the parents who walk into the booth saying, “My son loves the black knight. I want to buy EVERYTHING.” (Actual quote.) So I’m trying to focus on the customer interactions that end like this:

Another discouraging thing that I forgot about over the winter was the very odd, contentious communication style among the faire folk. A lot of people out here (not everyone, mind you) can’t have a conversation without trying to one-up you or belittle you. I walked in the first weekend carrying a big Rubbermaid tub of knight costumes, and one person asked me what was in the bin. When I told her it was full of costumes, she replied, “OH. I have THREE bins of costuming.” WTF? Lady, I’m not impressed. I’m not even the slightest bit interested in having a geek contest with you. I’m trying to sell these things because it’s my job. Yes, I’m proud of my work. Yes, I think what I do is pretty cool. But it’s just work — not my identity, not my insecurity-pacifier, and not something I’m trying to use to outdo anyone. And no matter what you do or how good you are at it — costuming, fencing, horseback riding, anything — somebody at the faire is going to try to prove that they’ve been doing it since before it was cool, and they’re much better than you’ll ever be. I’m just not interested in having that conversation. All I want is to make costumes and try to get along with everybody.

Last Sunday was more encouraging than the rest of the faire has been so far. The sun came out (symbolically!) and business picked up a bit. I finished the weekend by sending an awesome kid home dressed as his favorite knight, which, simple as it may be, reaffirmed my faith in my work and boosted my mood exponentially.

I think the two-week hump at the beginning of the faire is over, and I’m ready to see what the rest of the season will bring. It’s going to get better. I just have to keep going. Because:

*Texans, don’t get mad. I’m from Texas, and I illustrate this stereotype with all the bluebonnet, sweet tea, stars-at-night pride in my heart while acknowledging that most of us aren’t that way.

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