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Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Note the mini-tricorn hat. How cute it that?
Caroline Lee is the author of the bestselling sweet Western romance series, The Sweet Cheyenne Quartet. Learn more about Caroline and interesting social history finds—including gorgeous costumes—on her Facebook author page.

Confessions of a Costume-a-holic
(I’m 78% Certain That’s a Real Word)

One year ago this week, my family (or The FamiLee, because I like puns) moved to a new home. As you can imagine, the process of moving, putting things in storage, and then moving again was the perfect time to go through ten years’ worth of accumulated stuff, to decide what we could get rid of.

That doesn’t mean that we actually did, though.

My husband still has his boxes of childhood comics, and eighteen rolls of different kinds of tape, and that bin of assorted, outdated ethernet wires (“just in case”). My sons have every LEGO piece known to man. And I have this:

The Costume Closet
This is my costume closet. I haven’t acted in or crewed a performance in almost ten years, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to give up my costumes. Yes, that’s an entire closet in my new house, dedicated to bins and bins of costumes I haven’t worn in years. I moved all of those boxes into storage, and then moved them here, because I’m addicted.

I love to costume. I’m a social historian, and a big part of social history is the material record left by our ancestors… often in, well… material. The history of clothing and fashion is just fascinating, and I love knowing the evolution of the necktie (from utilitarian scarf to cravat to tie) and the sock (from ‘hose’ to ‘stocking’ to ‘sock’), although I try not to share too much at cocktail parties, because that gets annoying. “Would you like to know the history of that skirt, ma’am?” just isn’t a good way to meet people. I mean, it’s a great way to be remembered, but usually as “that weirdo.”

So I limit myself to costuming at Halloween. And school spirit-nights. And the murder mystery parties I have to throw just to make sure my costumes get used. And of course, the kids’ collection.

They don’t get a closet (because their closets are filled with LEGOs), but I made sure their costumes are readily accessible to them and their friends, and haven’t regretted it. I can still remember sitting in the car on the drive home from the doctor’s office after finding out that our first baby was going to be a boy. My husband was grinning ear-to-ear, and I was stunned. Finally I said (in a pitiful little voice), “Do boys like playing dress-up?” I’d spent years dreaming of making princess dresses and hoop skirts, and knew nothing about little boys. My husband, bless his heart, knew immediately what I needed to hear: “You’ll have to start making pirate and firefighter and knight costumes.” And I did.

Now I have two little boys who love playing “dress up and adventures” as much as I do! Granted, the Red Ninja and the Black Pirate end up in a sword fight within seconds of donning the appropriate headgear, and the knight always has to chase the dragon around with a spear… but still. They’re using their imaginations, and that has to count for something, right?

But I don’t have to rely on my kids to fulfill my costuming love, oh no. Because, see, I write historical romance. And in historical romance everyone’s in costume. Yep! No matter what my characters are wearing, it’s a costume to me, and some of my fondest bits of social history research are related to the characters’ clothes.

In an effort to make a use of these neglected skills, I decided to costume my cover models myself. The cover of A Cheyenne Celebration, the second book in my Sweet Cheyenne Quartet features the heroine in her favorite yellow bustled dress with the black trim. This is the dress she wears to the town’s Fourth of July festival and bonfire, right before she gets lured onto the dark prairie with all sorts of dangers waiting for her. Of course, the hero manages to save the day… but not before this lovely yellow dress gets conveniently… ruined.
Not pictured: another sleeve, the neckline, and pretty much the entire front of the dress. Which is why I didn’t make those parts.

Confession: I actually designed the dress in the book around what material I had in my sewing closet (my sewing closet is a story for another day.) It was an old bolt of (fairly ugly) fabric I’d been looking to get rid of for years, and just happened to fit the “look” of the 1880s’ patterns. I added some lace in appropriate places, and made the dress.

Further confession: I was actually too lazy to make the entire dress.

For Serena’s dress, I made only one sleeve, the bodice, the bustle, and enough of the skirt to wrap around the model. You would not believe how many pins (safety and otherwise) appear on the cover. It’s not perfect, and it’s not perfectly accurate… but it’s fun. It was fun to make and fun to model and fun to shoot, and that’s what costuming should be all about. We all had fun making that cover (and that genuine 38-star flag!), so I count that as a win.

Costuming should be about having fun, whether you’re reenacting or messing around in heels for Halloween or making your kid that Jedi Knight costume he’s been bugging you about out of a bathrobe and a piece of rope. Or even creating the cover of a bestselling book. Costuming is merging history and research and fabrication and patience (and impatience) and pins and creativity. And fun.

A Cheyenne Celebration
Circumstances dictate that Serena Selkirk must choose between two very different men for a husband: her coarsely handsome rancher neighbor, and a sophisticated and urbane Cheyenne schoolteacher. Cam MacLeod and Sebastian Carderock embody opposing aspects of success in Wyoming, but both types of men are necessary for the Territory to become a state. And while Wyoming’s future hangs in the balance, so does Serena’s. She’ll have to decide between pragmatism and her dreams, but only one man will be able to make her truly happy. It will take a Fourth of July showdown for Serena to realize what her heart—and her future—really desires.

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Angela Adams said...

That first picture looks like the inside of my closet (smile!). I'm proud to say, despite the clutter, I know exactly where everything is. Thanks for the post, Caroline!

Unknown said...

I'm the same way, Angela! I tell people that it's cluttered BECAUSE I know where everything is! :) The top photo is of my kids' costume corner, and I DO make them at least hang the costumes up, and put the 'weapons' (note the lightsabers and swords!) back in the bin. I'm so glad they're growing up to love costumes too!

carla said...

It's so cool to know that YOU made the costume for that book cover. Very neat behind the scenes story, thanks for sharing! :)

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

I had to laugh because I don't have a costume closet. I have craft bins, like the stacked kind from Elfa that scale up the wall. Like you, I have boys and we were sheriffs, policemen, firemen, handymen, star wars people (I had a wand too), pirates. Then one day, they grew out of costumes, Halloween, and on to watching great movies with mom! Congratulations on your book!!!

Unknown said...

Thanks for reading, Carla! Let me know if you ever need to borrow a costume, hahahaha! :)

Vicki, I'd love to collect a few policemen/firemen costumes. I think the boys would really like that. And I'm ALWAYS looking for good costume-storage ideas, so thanks!

Unknown said...

Ha! That's so funny because I just finished a massive organizing streak, including all costumes. We like costumes here too. :) The book looks great!

Unknown said...

Thank you, Red! It was SO much fun to make that costume! I'm going to have to start posting more pics of my 'reinterpreted' costumes on FB and Twitter. They're actually more fun than the strictly accurate ones!