How do you motivate people to follow the dress code?
Dress code is a constant battle that I have seen and heard of many times. We are all familiar with the vendor who just wears everyday jeans with a loose historical shirt and calls it good or the performer who has a costume made up of collected thrift store finds. They are in a costume, and for some events, it is perfectly acceptable, for others, it is not. The hard part here is defining what is acceptable or what the minimum level of dress should be. Dress code is more of a challenge for events where there is a mix of costumed people and modern dress attendees.
I loved the recommendation of Aaron in Episode 007 to simply make it a non-issue and keep some basic loaner garb available. This method keeps it simple and less offensive when interacting with people. The big downside is that it can be expensive to create the stock of loaner garb. I would start by asking for any donations from your regular actors and vendors of old clothing that they no longer use. The SCA keeps a stock of clothing called the Gold Key just for the purpose of having something to loan out to new participants so that they won’t feel out of place.
And in many ways, this ties back into my earlier post Historical Accuracy for Clothing. Research and Communication are essential. Do your homework as a group and decide what appropriate dress for your performers and vendors is. How closely do you want them to match your cast? Most events that I have been a vendor at have kept their dress code simple with almost no real definition at all. The rule of thumb I was given for costumes was that earlier that 1800 if it is in 100 years of your date it’s fair game. The audience won’t know the difference. Yes, it makes me cringe as well. But the fact is for the general population it is true.
Consider keeping a list of all new performers and vendors, use it to send out tips and resources about working your event. Send out an email two months and possibly one month ahead of your event. List a few recommended sites for clothing and gear to put together a decent look. As the event is getting set up and you are doing your rounds add it into your chats with folks that their costumes look great, or offer to loan them something if they need the help to blend in.
Above are the gentler methods, there are always the harsher methods as well. Keep a copy of your contract with you at all times; it is a good thing to reference to try and diffuse any hostile situations. Depending on what your group has decided, consider sending them a formal warning or not having the person back to your event next year. It may seem harsh especially to an event that is always looking for more vendors and performers. You may be surprised by the results you get.
I believe this is a problem that can be solved. As a vendor who was in costume for every show, I was frustrated by the folks who simply were not trying. I was fine with the volunteers at a fair who were in simple outfits from thrift stores. What was sad to me was that there were people who did not care about the quality of the experience given to the people attending the event. It can be a challenge especially with local vendors for whom this is their only historical event and so they don’t want to invest in quality historical clothing.
The biggest things to remember are deciding as a group what your standards will be and what you are able to provide as the loaner or rental garb. Remember that while you do need to work with your vendors and performers it isn’t out of bounds to ask them to help you maintain the atmosphere of your event. In the end, it is an experience we are selling and you need the right people on your team to make it happen.