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The Whole Costumer’s Catalogue : A Review 

By Alessandra

Listen up, children. 

Once upon a time there was no such thing as the Internet. 

In those dark days we had to scrape and scrounge what information we could find wherever we could find it: public libraries, phone books, bulletin boards, the backs of obscure magazines. There was no easy way to locate materials, instruction, or supplies. If we needed to research something out of the ordinary, first we had to figure out where and how we could even find the information before we could learn it.

In those dark days, clothing and costume design was not the semi-respected pastime that it is today. Fashion was the reserve of professionals in New York and Paris and Milan. Sewing was out-of-the-mainstream. Cosplay was undeard-of. Fabric stores were rare and poorly stocked. The only costuming conventions one ever heard of were of scholarly societies and historians who took little notice of practicing artisans. If you weren’t at least a semi-professional theatrical costumer, personal costuming (aside from ephemeral Halloween-related activity) was seen as a little odd.

In those dark days before the Internet there were diligent and devoted people who assembled compendiums of information, encyclopedias almost, of addresses and sources of supplies and mail-order and books and information on specialized subjects. The granddaddy of them all was The Whole Earth Catalogue, which enraptured my childhood years, and until the Internet made them obsolete these “catalogues” were vital resources.

I first found reference to The Whole Costumers’ Catalogue while thumbing through the massive volumes of Books in Print(something else made obsolete by the Internet) in my local bookstore. The premise sounded so promising, I ordered a copy sight unseen in the hope that it would prove helpful.

Boy, did it ever. I had hit the costumers’ jackpot. I would have been satisfied with a modest listing of resources and addresses, but Karen L. Dick’s book proved to be a fantastic, dense, carefully assembled, relatively large volume of the most wide-ranging of resources, everything a serious costumer would need, from patterns to fabrics to plastic-molding supplies to dental equipment.

I was in costumers’ heaven. My well-thumbed copy, the 14th (and I believe last) edition, has carefully pencilled notes in the margins: a check for sources I contacted, a double-check for ones that responded (because of the time it took to print a book, some of the information would be obsolete, and some businesses would be gone), a snail shell for the ones that were very slow, a skull for ones I believed to be no more, an “H” for things I already had (there were only a few of those).

The book was clearly a result of massive efforts on the part of Ms. Dick, and I was and am grateful for the work she put into it. While it is a sort of book that is probably no longer necessary in the way that Sears mail-order catalogues are no longer necessary, it was vital in its time. The Whole Costumers’ Catalogue put possibilities into my hands that would have been very difficult to find on my own.

So know, children, and remember, that once upon a time information was not readily available at everybody’s fingertips, and that there were people who did a darned lot of work to make it available. And while their works are no longer necessary, we who had to live through those times are grateful that they were there.

Now, be good, children. and maybe next time I’ll tell you how I made my first Dungeons and Dragons costume as a teenager out of a hippie tucked-cotton Mexican wedding shirt, a waterproof rain poncho, a fence post, and window putty.

Originally posted on Good Reads on May 2012