interview by Esme Hogeveen
Emma Feiler is a first year biology student at the University of Guelph, with an interest in partying like it is Versailles circa 1774. Emma grew up in Toronto, attending various alternative and arts schools and finished high school in Harrow, Ontario. She regularly plans and hosts elaborate dress-up parties for her friends. WORN talks to Emma about her unceasing search for inspiration and the ingredients of a great dress-up party.
What kinds of dress-up parties have you been involved in planning?
Tea parties, a Marie Antoinette themed weekend, a Bennet Sisters (a la Pride and Prejudice) dinner, a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-a-thon… Currently I am planning a Miss Marple inspired event for Midsummer’s Eve, called A Mysterious Affair.
How and when did your interest in themed dress-up parties originate?
I think it’s largely a byproduct of my childhood involvement in dance and performance. I think I am drawn to themed dress-up parties because they are such a heightened form of expression. The idea for hosting one didn’t occur to me until I moved from Toronto to a small town on the shore of Lake Erie. Performing arts were basically nonexistent in my new school and community, so I began to develop an interest in baking. I wanted to incorporate aspects of performance and an interest in historical dress with my new hobby…and costume parties were also a good excuse to get all my friends together. I was never a girly girl, and when I was little I thought dress-up was silly. Now dress-up parties are the most exciting events on my calendar!
What sorts of reactions do you get from invitees when you tell them you‘re hosting a themed party requiring dress-up?
Most of the invitees are close friends, who are already involved in dance or acting and pretty comfortable with dressing up. The parties become a project, in which everyone collects items, some of which are shared in order to create the most accurate and fabulous outfits possible. The group effort aspect also makes people less self-conscious. Reactions from other people are more extreme; either they love it or they are very confused about the “point” of a dress-up party and why we would want to participate.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From classic novels, films, vintage photographs… usually depictions of events that are more uncommon now. Spending an afternoon in a sunny wheat field with a picnic of tea sandwiches and ginger beer is something that you are more likely to read about in a book than hear about your neighbor doing. The parties aren’t historical reenactments so much as they are taking the essence of a historical period and interpreting it in a fun way.
What did people wear to your Marie Antoinette themed weekend last spring?
People brought lots vintage and contemporary pieces to pick and choose from… flowy cream coloured dresses and lace trimmed shirts, to layer or add tucks and sashes to. Some people went more for the Parisian Ball look, and some for the simpler Petit Trianon styles. Most of the dresses weren’t completely accurate to the period One friend brought a poofy, green eighties dress and made it more demure by adding lace to the bodice and accessorizing with a parasol and lace gloves. Everyone aimed to keep the hair as accurate (and big) as possible, using pop cans, pins, bottles, anything that was available, and we decided to experiment with beauty moles.
What relationship do you see between dress-up clothes and everyday wear?
People’s everyday style does seem to translate into their costumes, and the outfits are often reflective of each person’s individuality. The clothes became a historical reinterpretation of their tastes.
What makes a good dress-up party?
A good dress-up party includes at least one planned event (requiring costume!) that the rest of the weekend unfolds around. That way people can get excited about planning their outfits. A good dress-up party requires: preparation and planning around identifying the theme, enthusiastic guests and good food!
Top Ten Historical fashion inspirations
Versailles: Marie Antoinette
Victorian High Tea: Proper English…tea cakes and cucumber sandwiches!
The Golden Age of Hollywood Old Film Stars: Glamour
The 1920s…think The Great Gatsby!
Edwardian Style: silhouettes
Oriental Silks and Detailing
Ancient Rome & Egypt: Basic linens, sandals
Medieval Royalty: Pearls embellishments, rich fabrics…
Romantic Era: Jane Austen, empire waist dresses
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and 18th Century Style