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It’s All Costume

Costume is used as a synonym for dress by those who work in the museum field and by many scholars who study historic dress.

Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis G. Tortora & Keith Eubank

All fashion/style is a costume.

Thinking of what you wear as a costume is a powerful distinction. It gives it a purpose and a meaning. In Style As Linguistics, Poetry & Philosophy I discussed a number of ways of looking at style, but thinking of them as costume helps combine those aspects into a practical framework you can use day to day.

But what is a costume?

“Some scholars prefer the use of the word dress because to many people costume means dress used in the theater or in dance or for masquerade.”* But to me that is what makes the term useful.

In theater costume does all kinds of things. It tells you who a character is. It is an expression of their personality. It shows how they fit in to all the other characters they are on stage with. It changes from scene to scene as needed to communicate their changing role. It adds to the overall feel of the whole production, like the set, music, and production design. It intentionally draws your eye, or avoids drawing your eye.

That’s an important word intentionally.

Intentionally Pick Your Costume For The Day

A costume designer is very intentional about every costume. They are looking at all the things that costume has to do. All the meanings it has to accomplish. How it fits into the broader play. Nothing is left to chance. Even when they have to make compromises because of constraints, those compromises are thought about and done intentionally.

Your costume selection should also be done with intention. There are some hacks that you can do to make this easier, but you need to actually think about your costume before you put it on.

Let’s talk about a few aspects that affect daily costume.


There is a joke/troup that goes something like this, “Future Ron is going to be pissed at me now for being lazy about this.” We snort at the irony, but all of us understand there really is a difference between who we are one day to the next, and that difference gets bigger over time.

We all also understand on a daily basis we may be in different contexts that require us to be different people. You have to act differently at work than at the bar on Friday night. There are things you can say on Friday you can’t say on Monday morning. There are things you can do at a bar, you can’t do at an office.

And you wear different clothes at a bar and at the office.

One of the things you must ask yourself in the morning as you dress is “Who do I have to be today?”

In some cases your costume will be dictated by outside constraints, but even when it is you can still vary it to accomplish other goals.


What do you want to accomplish with your costume today?

If you are going to work at an office, do you want to not be noticed? Do you want to seem like the guy in charge? Or maybe you just want to be seen as competent.

If you are going out in the evening, what’s your goal? Do you want to attract a potential partner? What kind of parter? This a quick hot hook up? Then dress for sexual attraction with little worry about subtlety. Want to attract a boyfriend or girlfriend? Then while expressing your sexual qualities add some subtlety that explains you aren’t just looking for a one night stand.

What you want to accomplish in a given context and on a given day makes a big difference to your costume.

Those are a couple of things to think about when considering your costume for the day and I’ll have many other distinctions related to personal style and costume in the future, but they all fall under the idea that it is all a costume, so I’ll leave you with a quote from Rush or Shakespeare, you decide.

All the world’s indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience

Limelight Rush

*Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis G. Tortora & Keith Eubank

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

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