Hi there, friends!
This post is LONG overdue as I attended Costume College in July and it is now October…. However, I thought it would be valuable for those considering going to CoCo to share my experience.
Costume College is a three-day costuming conference put on by Costumer’s Guild West down in LA (Woodland Hills) every July. I have been reading bloggers and following costumers who regularly attend CoCo (their acronym) for a while now and I am always amazed how wonderful it looked and have wanted to attend for ages. However, I was not really a costumer. I had been yearning to sew and wear historical costumes for years and although I’ve been researching and collecting patterns, I did not jump into it mostly because I didn’t have any where to wear such fabulous frocks and I don’t sew garments to have them languishing in a closet. After some online searches, I joined the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild a year ago, and have attended a few events since. I now know that if there’s a costume that I want to sew, that I can find somewhere to wear it. This has me stepping out of costuming light (my 1920’s garb that I’ve been sewing for years) into the costumes of my dreams. My favorite era being the La Belle Epoque and especially the 1910’s. Now, I can sew the outfits that I’ve been pining for YEARS and actually wear them! And for someone with a background in history and who is a trained archaeologist, actually wearing replicas of garments I’ve studied in museum collections is the ultimate dream.
As I’m talking of costuming, I thought I would share pretty much the first historical outfit that I made in 2003. I used the Buckaroo Bobbins Wyoming Ranch Skirt (my first indie!) along with a McCall’s (I don’t know where the pattern is….) banded collar shirt and a Vogue (8497) vest. I wore this outfit a few times and still have it in my closet. I also wore that shirt a few times when I used to rope and do team penning, so none of that sewing went to waste. I couldn’t actually wear that split skirt for riding as I sewed the buttons on the front placket down , so it’s not removable.
Anyway…. back to CoCo.
I purchased my tickets as soon as they went on sale (November/December?) last year. Along with the conference registration, I also bought tickets for the Gala. I was on the fence about buying tickets for the Sunday Tea, and in retrospect, wish that I had. We decided not to make a reservation at the host hotel (Marriott) as we figured we could get a better deal elsewhere closer to the conference. We stayed at the Best Western “down the street” (it is not as close as it looks on a map…) and the price was not too much different than the Marriott. We will definitely stay at the Marriott the next time I attend CoCo!
Oh yes…. my husband also went to CoCo, although just to the evening events. He went out while I was in class perusing record stores and thrift shops and would come back at noon to pick me up for lunch and then again in the afternoon. When my classes were over we would come back in the evening for the events. Do you see how much easier this would be if we stayed at the host hotel? Lesson learned.
Before I get into my experience at CoCo, I wanted to let you know how I prepared for it. I read EVERYTHING on the website and talked with people who were regular attendees for months before the class descriptions were even sent out. I joined the CoCo FB group and poured over everything in preparation for it. When the registration booklet came, I read it from cover to cover. That’s just me…. but I figured that I was versed in as much as I felt I could be before arriving.
Also… I had never met anyone that was attending CoCo in person and there were only a couple of people who I had talked to regularly online that were there. There were many people who I had followed (either on IG or through blogs) that I knew were attending.
The main focus of CoCo is the classes. I mean, it is called Costume College. I was going to learn and really excited about taking the classes. Most of the classes are lectures and have “unlimited” seating, but the much vied for classes are the ones with limited attendance that are basically workshops where you learn to make things. Of course, those are the most exciting classes to take, aren’t they? Apparently in the past it was “first come, first serve” for those classes, but this year they did it differently and you chose which classes you wanted to take and ranked them in order of preference. They were then more equally doled out to attendees. I am very much a DIY person and I have learned most everything I know on my own, either through trial and error or from books and videos. Because of that, I was very particular on which classes I would take as I both did not want to spend extra money (these classes have extra fees for supplies and such) on a class that wasn’t valuable and as I didn’t want to be in a class that wasn’t useful when I could be in a fabulous lecture learning something. I picked four classes and got three of them, but ended up dropping one as when I read more about it (I was unfamiliar with the technique), I found that I didn’t need to take a class to learn how to do that.
I went through the class book which they send you a few months prior to CoCo, and put a star next to every class that seemed interesting to me. Then, when I received notification of which limited classes that I was taking, I made a schedule in Google Drive. I made sure that I scheduled in lunches and gave myself enough time to get ready for evening events. I also made sure I had some slots to do volunteer time. CoCo had a new app this year for just that, so when the app was open, I put the schedule that I made into the app and then I was ready for my classes.
I figured that a good way to get to know people was to volunteer. I signed up to volunteer many months before and scheduled times in my schedule when I was free to do so. There’s a check-in table for volunteers and you can basically volunteer as much or as little as you want to. There is also a daily prize raffle for volunteers (I won one!!!) and at the end of the conference, one volunteer wins registration for next years’ CoCo.
The theme this year was the 1960’s. I was not initially enamored with it as I often sew early 60’s style dresses for my everyday wear. However, some people really got into that theme and came up with some amazing costumes. I was informed by previous attendees that you don’t need to follow the theme and many people just wear what they want, which is what I did. The only 60’s outfit that I wore was on Thursday night. There are themes for every event that they tell you in advance (2018 themes are already on the CoCo website) so you can plan for them. I had already planned to wear my 1920’s Egyptian Revival gown that I wore to the Deco Ball, so I just had two more costumes to make. Many people wear costumes that they’ve previously made and others make brand new ones. There are also many who wear costumes during the day to classes.
We arrived Thursday afternoon and got settled in. Only a week before we were evacuated as our ranch was on fire, so it was up in the air whether we would even be attending CoCo. However, things settled down and we were able to make the trip to Southern California and have a much needed respite from smoke and ash and worry. I was still working on my dress for the Friday night event on the drive down, but I wasn’t stressing out about it. I was actually just happy to be on a trip somewhere and to finally attend CoCo!
Thursday night was the Pool Party with a vintage Disney theme (The Happiest Pool Party on Earth). I didn’t do Disney, although I did consider finding my childhood Minnie Mouse ears from the 80’s and wearing them along with my Disney charm bracelet. Neither of those things were accomplished and I went Tiki instead. The Pool Party was very overwhelming for me. I did meet Leimomi, which I had been looking forward to, but meeting her was definitely the highlight. I imagine the event was meant to be a casual mixer, but there was no one greeting us at the entrance and everyone just stood around in their groups talking to people they already know or standing in line to get drinks. I am not one to walk up to strangers and introduce myself. I was versed in such things when I held leadership positions or went to political functions, but I’m doing neither now, so I don’t have to put myself out there like that. Being a wallflower wasn’t interesting, so my husband and I left. In my experience with planning conferences and events, things like this are better for introverts like me when there is: a) a greeter at the entrance to make you feel welcome and b) something to do. When I say “something to do”, it would be something to keep you occupied like entertainment, a game, dancing or even just eating. There’s nothing more overwhelming for someone like me than to initiate a conversation with a stranger or to stand around on the fringe not being involved and feeling like I’d rather be somewhere else.
Early Friday morning I arrived at CoCo to attend the Freshman Orientation. I didn’t really learn much as I had already read everything, but it was nice to be around other first time attendees. After that, I went to the volunteer desk, checked in and scheduled my volunteer hours. I went to two lectures that morning, the first of which (Undressing Edmonton: Designing for Remote Locations by Meg Furler), I found to be very interesting. I sat there through two lectures and finished up the beading and hemming on my 20’s Mata Hari dress and found that I wasn’t the only one. I guess a group of sewists/costumers is going to have a lot of people doing handwork whilst sitting for a lecture. 🙂
I then volunteered at the Bargain Basement, went to lunch and then attended my first limited class. I happily learned how to make chandelier earrings with Tracey Gorin.
After that, I volunteered at the Hospitality Suite and then went to Historical Dancing 101 with Darlene Hamilton. Even though I pretty much have two left feet, I immensely enjoyed the dancing class. More experienced dancers thankfully helped me out and I would really love to do that again! There are PEERS balls in the Bay Area once a month that I’ve wanted to attend, so perhaps that class might have helped me out with some historical dancing initiation for when I finally go to one of those balls!
Friday night was the Casino Royale: Our Favorite Spies theme. Apparently, this event is known as the “Ice Cream Social.” That title was not written on anything that I read, so if I would have known that it was a dessert thing, we would have gone to dinner prior to it. Because of that, we left a bit earlier than planned and had dinner (my husband will not live off dessert for dinner).
I met up with Leimomi again and took a photo with her. I am terrible at taking photos at events with other people (or of other people) BTW. That’s definitely another thing I want to work on! Isn’t Leimomi’s dress gorgeous? Also, I would have generally worn stockings with mine, but it was too hot for me to care much…. Another advantage with staying at the hotel would be not having to go out in the heat. There were more superb costumes to enjoy gazing at. Obviously, the finery one sees at CoCo is neverending.
I did feel a bit more comfortable at this event than the one the night before. I think it would have been better if they would have had a small ticket price for this event and hired a gaming company to bring in roulette, poker, blackjack, etc. It was the perfect theme for that and having organized such events, it’s a really fun icebreaker, especially for those of us who are not ones to mingle. They had more historical dancing after that event and I would have loved to stay and would have if I was staying at the hotel….
They opened up the Marketplace that evening and I was really excited about that. I went back to go shopping several times during the rest of CoCo. 🙂
I wasn’t thrilled with my first class (it didn’t quite cover what was written in the class description), but I loved my second limited attendance class. I learned how to make this Edwardian hairpiece (Ringa Ding Ding, My Hair Thing with T. Lynn Gomez) which I’ll be wearing next weekend. It gives you that Gibson Girl -esque hair without a bunch of ratting.
After that, I went swimming at our hotel with my husband and then got ready for the big event — the Gala!
I walked the Red Carpet first. My husband decided to walk at the last minute, too. I enjoyed walking and even more so enjoyed watching everyone else walk down it. It was definitely a highlight. In retrospect, I should have paused to take photos and it would have been even better if I had worn my black velvet Sugar Coat with this, had it draped over my shoulders, and taken it off halfway through. Of course, I’d have to have a drink or two if it was going to come off in real life like I imagine it in my head. 🙂 I did seriously consider bringing that coat with me to CoCo, but it was just too hot that I didn’t think it was practical.
Yes, I wore my beloved 1920’s Egyptian Revival gown to the Gala. The theme was Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I regardless of the theme I was going to wear that gown. Hand beaded by me, it’s the most elaborate and time consuming costume that I’ve made thus far.
I very much enjoyed the gala. There was good food and drinks and we had some wonderful people at our table to talk to. I would have loved staying for the dancing, but my husband wasn’t feeling well, so we left not long after they opened up the room for everyone to come in. I would probably have stuck around a bit longer if not for that. Once again, I can’t reiterate enough on how much better it would have been to stay at the host hotel.
On Sunday morning I came early to shop at the Bargain Basement. As a person who loves thrifting, I had a great time shopping. Of course I had volunteered there on Friday, so I did see a lot of what was going to be for sale. I picked up some treasures for both myself and my MIL. I planned to go back again for the half price sale at the end, but I didn’t make it in time. I did have a chance instead to check out the costume exhibits before they were boxed up.
That morning I attended a really good lecture — Tapa Cloth & Tiki Attire: The Pacific Influence on Fashion by Leimomi Oakes. As I’m of Polynesian descent, I really enjoyed a lecture that focused a lot of peoples from my ethnic culture. I also enjoyed Costuming in Color: A Brief How-To for Woman of Color by Kristen Darville-Foggie later in the day.
Although it was unsettling and a bit overwhelming to attend the Thursday and Friday night events, which equated to not having much (if any) fun, CoCo is about the classes and the classes — for the most part — are exceptional. I really enjoyed learning new things and being around like-minded and super amazing people. I have heard that CoCo is very clique-ish. I’m wouldn’t call it that, but a lot of people do spend a lot of time standing in groups talking to people they already know. I understand that in some ways as many of these people have been friends for years and this is when they get to see their friends. Also, others may be introverts like me and these events are less overwhelming when you’re in a small group. However, it’s difficult for someone who is new and doesn’t know anyone to break in. That’s why it was better for me when I had something to do like volunteer or attend a class. I have been trying to make an effort recently to introduce myself to people, which is especially easier when I have followed them on IG or their blog and know a little something about them. It is worse for me as an introvert to stand on the sidelines feeling awkward and wishing I was at home while at an event, when in actuality, I would not have made the effort to sew a costume and attend if I did not want to be there.
I REALLY loved being around so many talented people. These people did not think I was odd because I spent four months beading my Egyptian Revival Gown. I really did feel like I was among my people. I was endlessly amazed by all of the fabulous costumes and attention to intricate details. It inspired me so much. It’s a feeling that you don’t get from a photo. To actually see their amazing works of art in person is phenomenal. Because of this, I felt ready to finally delve in to the earlier time periods that I’ve been wanting to sew and I just finished my first historical corset with all of the underthings and am in the midst of working on a late-Victorian costume.
One thing that I loved about CoCo was how free everyone felt about wearing the costumes of their dreams. At CoCo there weren’t a bunch of leering strangers like at a Con and it just seemed very comfortable on that aspect as the looks were admiring ones which was very refreshing.
There were several people there that I heard were attending and sadly did not run into. Sometimes it was difficult for me to recognize people in costume. I am also terrible with names….. I am working on that!
Also, this isn’t something that you read either on the CoCo website or in the registration book, but collecting badges is a thing. It’s a very fun thing and there were a few that I was eligible for that I sadly didn’t get.
Will I Be Going Next Year?
Sadly, no. Costume College is held at the same time every year and it won’t work out for me every year. My husband is a teacher and lately has been teaching summer school in addition to the regular school year, so basically we only have July to go on our vacation trips. As much as I love CoCo, I don’t want to spend every summer in SoCal. Our summer trips plans were impeded by the fire, which was unavoidable. If CoCo was held at any other time I would be down to go every year. I do plan to go in 2019, so I look forward to that! It was a great time and I learned so much. Next time I will know what to expect and have an even better experience. I may even sign up to teach a class. You never know. 🙂
- Buy your tickets early
- Stay at the host hotel (and get a roommate!)
- Sign up to volunteer
- Make a schedule
- Remember to eat
- Give yourself plenty of time to get ready for evening events
- Get enough sleep (important to ME!)