A CLOSET FULL OF COSTUMES & A CUPBOARD FULL OF TEA:
MEET VALARIE LABORE
Continued / Part IV
Goose Mother: I’ve done a bit of research on your history with the San Diego Costumer’s Guild. That you were president of The Guild is a bit modest. You were president of The Guild for three consecutive years!! I’d say that speaks volumes about you with regard to your diplomacy skills and organizational skills. Further, membership soared during the period of your presidency. How do you account for this?
Valarie LaBore: (she laughs) Becoming President wasn’t all that hard! The previous President nominates a member, and if everyone believes that member is a good choice that member is voted to the Presidency. At the end of each year, if the President would like to remain, it goes to vote again. So, I guess they liked me, or no one else wanted the position. (she laughs) But, we do have a three year limit.
I guess I do have good organizational skills, however we’re not a structured guild, nor do we have any written rules; just guidelines. Our membership more than tripled during my terms. I had lots of contacts, and it was like a pyramid. Each new person had a friend who had friends, and so on. And we wanted to attract a younger crowd since the original group was getting older and more tired; which I often relate to. (she laughs again)
Goose Mother: How were you able to attract a younger crowd and what types of costuming are the younger generation interested in from what you’ve observed?
Valarie LaBore: I think the biggest draw for any age group is seeing us. Someone who has never seen it or is at the beginning of their interest in costuming will be seeing some really good stuff and that inspires them to want to find out more about it. Since we do a variety of types and eras of costuming, there’s something that could appeal to almost anyone. Steampunk seems to have been that link to bring in a lot of new and younger people.
In 2007 during my first visit to the San Francisco Dickens Fair, I came across some curiously dressed women in the Adventurer’s Club there. I found out they were called Steampunk, and this lit a fire under me. It was a blend of science fiction and the Victorian time period. They wore bits and pieces of Victorian and modern clothes, had men’s or women’s hats on with goggles, and they had rayguns! I’ve always been attracted to rayguns and sci-fi. And you made things; not just clothing. I came back home and prattled on about it to our costume guild. The following year when I went to Costume College, I wore my first version of Steampunk using one of my bustle skirts and tailored it up a bit. I covered a top hat with fabric and a clock, had a leather ammo case on my belt for my cellphone and knick-knacks, and I carried my big ol’ raygun under my belt on my back. It kind of became my signature. Along with a couple other people who showed up in their Steampunk outfits, it really got people’s attention. Back home again I started offering workshops on painting and aging plastic dart and water guns, and decoupaging wooden cases for travel bags. I eventually came up with a character I dressed for; a Time Travel Agent. I could take you anywhere, anytime!
I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to find out more about this, and in doing so, came across a local San Diego Steampunk group. After I introduced myself, they invited me to their Steampunk picnic by the Star of India ship in the San Diego bay, and in return, I invited them to our guild meetings. It set off a great friendship. I learned more about Steampunk from them, and loved the way I could combine my historical Victorian costume with some tech gear and have fun with it. This is where I met Cindy Piselli, who is currently our President of the Guild. Steampunk really took off about this time with costumers and then we started getting together to have more picnics, mixing historically dressed folks with them, going to movie premieres, historical home tours, festivals, Comic Con, and of course going to tea; just about anywhere a costume would fit into. We would dress in Georgian, Edwardian, Regency, Renaissance, and Steampunk, either following a theme, or mixing them up. However, and most importantly, having the younger generation included often offers a new or fresh perspective on matters. Further, for the past couple years we’ve even had a Steampunk convention in San Diego known as Gaslight Gathering. This group combines Victoriana and Steampunk.
Goose Mother: As a three-term President of a costume guild, what do you feel you took away from that, or what did you learn?
Valarie LaBore: It helped build my confidence in what I was doing and wearing, and I made a lot more contacts with other costume guilds. I enjoy learning and as our guild grew, we had more input and ideas. Also, as a group, we discovered some perks to doing benefit fashion shows and this gave many of us a chance to show off all of our hard work, especially for outfits that we don’t often have events to wear them to. During the last five years we’ve also done Costumed Walkabouts at the Del Mar Antique Show and we often dress in some great costume themes. So much to do and so little time!
Goose Mother: You mentioned that the San Diego Costume Guild is often involved in benefit events. What types of community involvement is the Guild active in?
Valarie LaBore: We don’t put on the benefits ourselves, we are often asked to donate our time for fundraising events. We’ve done a few events with the San Diego Balboa Park museums, the Women’s History Museum, and the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). We did one years ago for a retirement home. The time period related to either the event being put on, or we just did a timeline. An interesting one was at Balboa Park’s Museum of Art for the Toulouse Lautrec painting exhibit. I could list so many events we’ve done this at. Mostly we are volunteering our time and skills to the benefit event that is being put on and to enhance them with our presence as well.
Goose Mother: What other types of activities does your Guild participate in and/or offer its members?
Valarie LaBore: Occasionally we’re able to set up workshops or presentations to educate our members. They’re mainly put on by our own members to share things they’ve learned, and sometimes someone from the outside will be asked to do a workshop for us. It kind of keeps with the theme of passing on our knowledge to others and the younger generation who are just learning. Some of these things are disappearing arts and sewing skills that need to be kept alive. You’ll never see the kinds of things we make in your local stores. It sounds like its a high and mighty thing, but mostly we just like to play dress up and look pretty. Or handsome, in the men’s case.
Goose Mother: Can you offer any advice or insight to other costumers who are interested in establishing a local group/organization?
Valarie LaBore: Hmmm, I’ve never been around at the birth of a group, so I don’t know how to actually start one. I think ours just began with a group of six or eight people who went to a Renaissance Fair together, and called themselves a sister guild of Costumers Guild West. This is the Los Angeles-based guild, CGW (Costumers Guild West). The CGW is a more formally run organization and has rules and dues. However, it’s much, much bigger than our guild. We probably have about 200 members but only about one third are actively involved. If people just want to find other like-minded folks, and they have access to a computer, the best place to start is to search on the internet. Do a search for the kind of costuming you want to do, or search for a costume guild or club and your city. It may take some digging, and shuffling through what type of costuming you have an interest in, but it all revolves around communication. Start talking to people. Someone out there will know someone, who knows someone who goes to some costume event.
Goose Mother: What are some of your Guild’s upcoming events? And will you be involved?
Valarie LaBore: We don’t put on a lot of events ourselves, but many of us will be attending the Gaslight Gathering in San Diego in May. Next month, in March, I’m going to the Vista (California) Civil War reenactment at the Steam Engine Museum. As part of the Historical Citizens Association, I’ll be setting up with my handcrank sewing machine and portraying a seamstress on “Oak Alley,” where we have a miniature Main Street set up. A week later I’ll be up in Washington state visiting Mom, and attending the Victorian Festival in Port Townsend, AND be in their fashion show. Mom dresses up with me too.
And right now we’re discussing attending a “lawn program” in April in Balboa Park at the House of England where we’ll portray famous English authors or characters from their books. So far my choice is Miss Matty from Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, and I’ll be carrying the book to identify myself. I’ll be dressed in my 1830s gown. The 1830s is one of my favorites. Hopefully it still fits. I have two fabrics ready to make new ones but haven’t had time, or an event to make them for. I’ll probably cut them both out at the same time using my assembly line method of cutting and sewing. I’m wearing an extant 1830s fichu around my neck that eventually I will donate to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation since they want it. This is the fun stuff for us.
To Be Continued …..