There’s been some interesting posts about Costume College lately, mostly directed at newcomers or potential attendees. I thought I’d add my own insights after having just marked my 10th consecutive CoCo. Because, you know, life is not complete without Sarah’s over-sharing commentary about some type of costuming activity. I think it does help to see that there’s a lot to take in, emotions can be running high, expectations might not be met, and how to be prepared for utter chaos. So without further ado…
Sarah’s Unsolicited Advice On Potential Pitfalls At Costume College:
Costume College is The Death March of Fun.
Kendra came up with this term a few years back and I think it’s probably the best description I’ve ever heard of what it’s like being at Costume College. For me, it begins about two weeks before CoCo and runs 24/7 until late Monday night after we’ve spent at least 6 hours driving on Hwy 5 with an overpacked car and no less than three cranky and exhausted costumers stuffed inside. It is a ton of fun, but dear god, it is exhausting.
- How to combat overstimulation: Don’t feel bad about taking time to yourself, even if it means just sitting in a dark hotel room for an hour, or reading by the pool. I always need a place to retreat to, which can be challenging when the Pretty Pretty Princess Party is being hosted in my hotel room and there’s ten drunk women bouncing on my bed, singing “I Touch Myself” at the top of their lungs. I have been known to lock myself in the bathroom for ten minutes just to catch my breath. Every little bit helps, trust me.
There is SO MUCH TO DO and NOT ENOUGH TIME TO DO IT ALL. For me, it usually boils down to three questions:
- 1) Do I want to teach?
- 2) Do I want to take classes?
- 3) Do I just want to hang out with the friends I only get to see once a year?
I need to be really honest with myself about my limitations, and this debate rages on well into Friday afternoon of CoCo before I realize, to hell with it, I just want to enjoy my friends as much as possible. I don’t think I’ve managed to sit through a single class in at least five years because friends > classes. I do try to teach every other year, though, because I do enjoy it, but that brings me to the next point…
Teaching is HARD WORK. I used to teach fashion design for a living, but even that was no where near as labor-intensive as it is to teach at CoCo. There’s a limited amount of time you can realistically ask people to commit to your class, and a limited amount of time you can realistically teach without it impinging on your enjoyment of the event itself. It’s self-determining, so I can’t give any sure formula for figuring it out, other than I know it’s about 2 hours of class time per day for me. Any more than that, and I start getting that thousand-yard stare and flashbacks of CoCo 2009 when I taught an advanced limited class on drafting an effigy corset and it nearly killed me.
- How to stay sane when teaching: Remember that you’re teaching a subject that YOU are excited about! Otherwise, why would you bother teaching it? Getting enough rest is difficult (see above, re: Death March of Fun) but at the very minimum make sure you remember to eat. I’ve had to go so far as to designate someone to come and shove a plate of food under my nose because if anything is a given in this world other than death and taxes, it will be that I have forgotten to eat and am about to have an epic blood sugar crash. It’s not pretty, folks.
Classholes. You know the one person in class that has to prove they are more knowledgable than the teacher? You’ll get a few here and there and you will develop a noticeable tic when you hear any sentence that begins with “Well, actually…” Being gracious to these people when you’re the teacher is probably the biggest accomplishment you’ll ever make, because you will reach a certain point where you have a sudden, overwhelming urge to throw the laptop at their head (please note: this is generally frowned upon and damages the laptop).
- How to deal with intrusive or rude students: I’ve developed a couple of tricks in dealing with these lovely people — the most important thing is to set firm ground rules in your class. Before you get into the lecture or demo, tell everyone to please hold their questions until the end. Normally this is all that’s needed, but if not and you find you are dealing with the dreaded classhole, the trick is to respond to any challenge with a smile and calmly say, “I’d love to discuss this more with you after class. Now, moving on…” It’s the civilized version of pistols at dawn or screaming “Let’s take this outside” while tearing your clothes off and leaping over chairs to tackle them. (See above, re: Blood sugar crash.)
Teachers are virtually uncompensated. Yes, CoCo is a volunteer organization, and teachers are an integral part of things — it wouldn’t be a “college” without them! However, remember that while you may have spent $50 to cover the cost of the kit you received as part of your class, the teacher has easily spent several times that preparing that kit and all the ones for the other students, making the handouts, creating the lecture deck, etc. And at most they get a few bucks at the end of the month from the org, or maybe a coupon for a certain percentage off in the Dealers’ Room. The featured guest lecturers have their attendance fees and travel comped, but the rest of us
peasants instructors have to pay full price for the membership, plus any of the usual extras like Gala tix, tours, the Tea, on top of travel and hotel expenses. It ain’t cheap.
- How you can make it worth it: Be nice to your teachers! If they seem cranky, just tell them “thank you for teaching” and offer to buy them a refreshing adult beverage at the bar, particularly if their name is Sarah Lorraine. Seriously, though, just saying thanks goes a long way to making the effort of teaching worth it.
Determining skill level. The biggest challenge I’ve experienced being a CoCo teacher is not the classholes, it’s not the stress of the prep or the actual teaching itself… It’s having a student who is a rank beginner in a limited class for advanced students. It happens at least one time in every limited advanced class I teach and is part of the reason why I no longer teach advanced limiteds. I do not blame the student because I think a large part of this mix-up is to do with the fact that there’s really no official Costume College standardized rubric for students to self-evaluate their skill level. My “intermediate” could be someone’s “advanced” and there’s no real way to know ahead of time how to account for that. It is highly frustrating for everyone, however. Below is my general breakdown on sewing skill level. The years of experience are highly variable, of course. Someone could be sewing for 2 years but already be at an advanced level because they’re a quick study. Alternatively, someone could have been sewing for 20 years and never really progressed passed the beginner stage, so it’s by no means an exact science:
- Beginner = 0-2 years of sewing, using only commercial patterns. Needs a lot of hand-holding and supervision.
- Intermediate = 2-4 years of sewing, some drafting/draping understanding, can modify/hack commercial patterns, has basic understanding of tailoring techniques. Is pretty self-sufficient, but may need limited supervision.
- Advanced = 4+ years of experience, primarily drafts/drapes own patterns, is/has been in a profession where sewing/drafting/draping is a main component of their duties or is a Serious Hobbyest, understands tailoring principles and techniques. Can essentially take a project and run with it without supervision once they understand the parameters.
- If you’re unsure, round down or contact the instructor ahead of time: Finally, it’s better to round down your skill level to be on the safe side, if you’re not sure into what category you would fall. Or, you can even contact the teacher ahead of time (most of us are pretty easy to track down) and ask them whether or not they think you would be a good fit for the class.
The Red Carpet is traumatic for some of us. The Red Carpet used to be very informal — people would line up to see/take pics of the Gala attendees as they came down the hall all fancied up. You’d pause, pose for a photo, a couple of nice ladies in bathrobes would compliment you on your outfit, and basically that was it. In 2015, however, it was changed into a more formalized event, with an emcee and music and seating for people to sit and watch as people filed past. We thought we would be smart and come down 45 minutes after the Red Carpet start time because we didn’t want to be rushed, only to find the line stretched back into the lobby (which is a long way away from the banquet room/end of the Red Carpet) and the hall that lead to the banquet room was packed on either side with spectators. Cue immediate claustrophobic/social anxiety panic attack.
We didn’t want to get in line, we just wanted to find a way through to the hall, but in the process we had to squeeze past both attendees and spectators to find that there was no alternate route around the line. Some of the spectators yelled at us for blocking their shot of a costumer or “cutting in line”. It was awful, it left a really bad taste in my mouth, a couple of us ended up in tears (my eternal thanks to that helpful staff member who kindly gave this weirdly dressed woman who was sobbing uncontrollably a bottle of water and let her get back to the elevators safely and unobserved by the hoards of people who had just been yelling at her). I vowed never again would I do a Red Carpet walk. Since this year was a similar set-up, albeit with an exit route clearly marked this time, it looks like the new Red Carpet is here to stay. Not a fan, but what can you do?
- How to make a stressful situation a little less stressful: We were completely blindsided last year by the change in Red Carpet procedure, so that definitely played a part into how poorly I handled it. I don’t really like surprises, especially panic-triggering surprises. But honestly, this should be pretty straightforward: Don’t be rude to people by default. If you think someone is doing something like cutting in line, they may actually be having a panic attack and be looking for a way out of the situation and screaming at them is NOT HELPING. If you’re the unfortunate one who is having the panic attack, try to find a quiet place to retreat to, even if it means flagging down a hotel staff member and asking if they can help you get to somewhere where you can calm yourself down.
You win some and you lose some. I think everyone has a CoCo experience where things could have gone better, be it as a teacher, a student, a Gala costume that didn’t quite work out as you envisioned, or forgetting a key piece of a costume which renders the outfit unwearable. That’s life, and it’s bound to happen to all of us at one time or another. And annoyingly, there will be pictures EVERYWHERE online of you looking like a hot mess in a bad wig. Sigh.
- How to persevere when things don’t work out quite right: Take a deep breath, pour yourself a cocktail or grab a piece of good chocolate, and focus on the real reason you’re here — to see your friends and have fun. So what if you look like a hot mess? Work it baby! There’s always next year!
And finally, the one thing I learned this year that surprisingly took me 10 years to figure out is that if I go into Costume College with a relaxed and positive attitude, I will have a relaxing, positive time. All of these experiences I just outlined above were avoided entirely by simply deciding that I was just going to enjoy myself, rather than stress about a party, or teaching, or classes, or my Gala costume… And whaddya know? I had the best CoCo yet.
Do you have any questions about attending or teaching at Costume College? Share them in the comments!