A long, academic look at why we like to dress up. Some of it is, of course, pretentious. I've highlighted the most interesting parts of it in red, if you just want to glance through. For some of you really inquisitive professional living historians, however, this might be just the ticket. At JonahWorld!, I aim to please. My pithy observations are in italics within brackets. - Jonah

Gender comparisons within reenactment costume: Theoretical interpretations

(By Kimberly A. Miller in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 9/98)

The purpose of the study was to explore why individuals dress in costume. From a symbolic interactionist perspective, the study extends Stone's theory of adult fantastic socialization and Eicher's framework of dress and the public, private, and secret self. The study also introduces the concept of a fantasy-prone personality within the study of dress. The Dressing for Fun and Fantasy Questionnaire was developed and administered to 216 individuals who dress in costume. Data were analyzed using qualitative, quantitative, and critical analyses approaches. Data analyzed for this study include reasons for interest in costuming (via checklist format) and respondents' written comments to an open-ended question. Results indicate that females dress in costume primarily to assume another persona, whereas males dress in costume primarily because of their love of history. [This corresponds with an opinion I once heard from a female reenactor of my acquaintance. She theorized that males dress up to play soldier, women dress up to play fantasy a la Harlequin novels.] Theoretical explanations are given, an expansion of Eicher's model is proposed, and recommendations are made for future study.

What motivates a person to dress in wool clothing in the heat of summer? What motivates a person to reenact an event when the outcome is well-known and documented? Does the experience of reenacting a documented event limit or stimulate creative expression through dress? What prompts an individual to spend large sums of money to acquire historically accurate dress? Is it the opportunity to express private or secret aspects of the self (Eicher, 1981,1982)? Is it a hobby of escapism that began in childhood (Wilson & Barber, 1983) and continues into adulthood via costuming? What part does gender socialization play (Stone, 1965) in the interests that men have in costuming compared to the interests that women have?

Costuming in reenactment settings can inform researchers about how dress serves as a mode of creative expression (Kaiser, 1990) and a tool for communication of the self (Eicher, 1981). The use of costume in reenactment and ethnic dance situations has been documented (Miller, 1997) concerning communication of the private and secret self via dress. The present study, as part of a larger project (Miller, 1990), builds on previous findings by probing the motivations behind reenactment costume. One question that remains unanswered is whether reenactment costuming serves to educate others about historic events, or if costuming is a result of a reenactor's personal fantasy (i.e., a nostalgic or romantic fantasy about living in simpler times or a fantasy of being a larger-than-life historic individual). Does reenactment costuming serve both purposes simultaneously? Is reenactment costuming a result of gender socialization and/or parental influence? The purpose of this study was to explore reasons why individuals dress in costume and to extend Eicher's (1981) model of dressing different aspects of the self.

Theoretical Background

Symbolic interactionists within the field of social psychology maintain that the self is established through communication. Mead (1934) is generally accepted as the father of symbolic interactionism; however, Mead focused on verbal communication (discourse) in his groundbreaking and enduring work. Stone (1965) is credited with adding appearance to symbolic interactionism. By doing so, Stone effectively gave clothing and textile scholars an opportunity to study the process of interacting symbolically. Cooley (1902), Blumer (1969), and Goffman (1959) are other sociologists who have added to symbolic interaction theory by highlighting appearance concepts such as the looking glass self, fashion, and a dramaturgical approach, respectively. More recently, sociologist Fred Davis (1992) has contributed to our understanding of appearance in the late 20th century.

Stone (1965) stated that an individual's socialization via dress continues throughout one's life. He outlined the role that dress plays in anticipatory and fantastic socialization both for children and adults. Stone maintained that dress plays a key role in the ongoing socialization of adults. For example, an adult may rehearse a future role by donning appropriate dress. An anticipated job promotion or an engagement and impending marriage are situations that may prompt an individual to adopt appropriate dress in anticipation of the new role. [Especially when the female to whom one is getting married has strong beliefs about appropriate costuming!] These examples illustrate the ongoing nature of adult anticipatory socialization.

Relevant to the present study are Stone's (1965) ideas concerning fantastic socialization. Fantastic socialization is defined as the acting out of roles that can seldom, if ever, be adopted (i.e., Superman or Wonder Woman). [Ah, Wonder Woman, aka The Goddess of Liberty. Sigh. That would be some fantastic socialization...] Fantastic socialization differs from anticipatory socialization in that roles that are acted out during anticipatory socialization can realistically be adopted later in life (i.e., parent, consumer, employee). The fantastic socialization of adults is often more private than that of children. Whereas children may have public space in a day care center set aside for dressing in costume, adult fantastic socialization more often occurs in private. Stone used male examples to illustrate his point: "In the bathroom, behind closed doors and before a secret mirror, the man may become for an instant a boxer, an Adonis, an operatic virtuoso" (p. 243). [Or a soldier. When I first got my complete Federal infantryman's uniform I used put it on and to stare at myself in the bathroom mirror...] Female examples could include striking a fashion model pose in front of a private mirror or fantasizing about being the president of an international company or being a popular movie star or entertainer.

Eicher (1981) expanded Stone's (1965) ideas of the relevance of appearance to the development and maintenance of the self by going one step further and dividing both dress and the self into three parts and/or levels. Eicher (1981) developed a framework to address aspects of the self and to explain how each is communicated through dress. She stated that the self consists of three parts: the part that we let everyone know (public self), the part that we let close friends and family know (private self), and the part that we may not let anyone or only intimates know (secret self). Dressing the public self reveals one's occupation, age, and sex and is referred to as reality dress. Dressing during times of relaxation and leisure among close friends and family is an expression of the private self through fun dress. The secret self is communicated through the use of fantasy dress. Fantasy dress allows the individual to express his or her creative imagination. This expression of the secret self, according to Eicher, may or may not be communicated to another person. Dressing the secret self can include "seductive lingerie for women or tight undergarments or trousers for men" (p. 40); it can include the wearing of bold colors in private that an individual would not wear in public; or "the dress of a carnival, Mardi Gras, or Halloween masquerader who presents the secret self anonymously in a public situation" (p. 40). Eicher proposed that gender differences occur with regard to the secret self and fantasy dress. She hypothesized that in America, women have more freedom to dress the secret self than do men. Davis's (1988) work supports Eicher's (1981) hypothesis. Davis (1988) argued that in American society, men's dress is more restricted than women's. If men have less latitude in their dress, as Davis suggests, might they search for activities - such as reenactments - that allow them more latitude?

Fantasy is a topic of interest not only to scholars in the clothing field but also to professionals interested in the role that fantasy plays in individuals' lives. Fantasy and daydreams are believed to play important functions by reflecting current concerns, regulating moods, organizing experiences, providing self-relevant information, facilitating learning, and stimulating decision making (Klinger, 1990; Singer, 1983). Klinger (1971) defined fantasy as all-mental activity, as we come to know it through participants' verbal reports, except for instrumental problem solving and the processes involved in the scanning of external stimuli. The element that distinguishes problem solving from fantasy is that during problem solving, participants experience a sense of effort, whereas fantasy feels spontaneous. A person's level of fantasyproneness has been studied by researchers interested in predicting the occurrence of imagery, imagination, hypnosis, and creativity (Lynn & Rhue, 1986; Wilson & Barber, 1983). Fantasy-proneness is defined as participants' ability to "set the theme, and then an imaginative scenario unfolds that has some of the characteristics of a dream and some of a motion picture" (Wilson & Barber, 1983, p. 342). Perhaps those who are involved in reenactments look forward to weekends when they can shed their workday dress and indulge in serious play acting. Currently, research in clothing and textiles cannot help scholars explain the role that dress plays in allowing people to escape their everyday lives and explore less serious parts of the self.

The present study was designed to extend Stone's (1965) and Eicher's (1981) theories and to apply the concept of the fantasy-prone personality in one study of dress. The present study uses the fantasyprone personality asa theoretical concept that can be useful when exploring dress and dress-related behavior, such as buying, owning and investigating dress for reenactments. The present study challenges Stone's notion that fantastic socialization for adults occurs primarily in private. A reenactment is one example in which individuals can practice fantastic socialization in public; other occasions include Halloween and Mardi Gras. [She's forgot sports. Sometimes I do first person impressions of ruggers when I play! (I certainly moan authentically when hurt.)] The present study also augments Eicher's framework by adding costumed masqueraders who present the secret self in public and are not anonymous. Finally, research on fantasy can inform scholars of the potential that dress has for creative expression.

Previous Research Gender differences, socialization, and dress.

Previous research revealed that a sample of men and women who dress in costume differ according to childhood memories of dress (Miller, 1997). Perhaps these reported gender differences in childhood memories indicate that boys and girls are socialized differently where dress is concerned. [Duh.] Researchers have shown differences between the sexes when studying the occurrence of dress-up play and level of awareness of one's dress (Vener & Hoffer, 1965), boys' and girls' selections of Halloween costumes (Stone, 1959), and college students' selections of Halloween costumes (Hill & Relethford, 1979).

Miller, Jasper, and Hill(1991) reported that college students' perceptions of their identities and roles on Halloween while in costume differed according to gender, as female students were less likely than male students to disguise their identity. College women were also less likely than college men to believe that they had new identities with their Halloween costumes. Given the research findings that support gender differences in dress, one begins to question the basis for these differences. Are boys and girls socialized differently where dress is concerned and if so, how does this socialization affect later adult fantastic socialization (e.g., reenactment costuming)? [I don't know, but I do know I've won prizes for "Best Halloween Costume" by wearing my reenactment uniform!] Eicher's framework. Since Eicher's proposed framework in 1981, only three studies have directly tested her ideas. Two studies by Eicher and colleagues tested the framework using adolescent psychiatric patients (Michelman, Eicher, & Michelman, 1991) and adolescents in a general population (Eicher, Baizerman, & Michelman, 1991). The public, private, and secret self were found to be expressed through dress by Michelman et al. (1991), whereas the study by Eicher et al. (1991) provided information primarily about the public self. A third study tested the framework among historic reenactors (Miller, 1997). More research findings are needed to further Eicher's (1981) framework and to understand how dress and the self are connected in various situations.


The study of fantasy has broad application. Fantasy has been studied in relation to psychopathology (Rauschenberger & Lynn, 1995), retirement (Savishinsky,1995), aesthetics (Maclagan,1995), and eating disorders (Troop, Schmidt, & Treasure, 1995; Young, 1995). Lynn and Rhue (1986) extended the work of Wilson and Barber (1983) to correlate fantasy-proneness with hypnotic susceptibility. Fantasyproneness has been studied among both females and males (Lynn & Rhue, 1986; Rauschenberger & Lynn, 1995; Wilson & Barber,1983). Because fantasy-proneness can be measured in individuals and determined to be high, medium, or low (Lynn & Rhue, 1986), this measure becomes a potentially useful tool in the study of fantasy and dress. Previous research on fantasy and dress has shown that differences between men and women can be predicted (Miller,1997). In that study, it was reported that among men and women who dress in costume, differences occurred according to sexual fantasies about dress. [Differences also exist between historical period. Ever seen a Revy War women in 18th C. stays? Hubba, hubba.] Because the only research to date that combines fantasy and dress was conducted on adolescent psychiatric patients [Reenactors.] (Michelman et al.,1991), additional studies are needed with other populations such as adults. Costume and reenactments. Research on costume has focused primarily on Halloween costumes (Belk,1990; Hill & Relethford,1979; Miller, 1990; Miller, Jasper, & Hill, 1993; Stone, 1959). However, one study has focused on costume used for the Easter bunny (Hickey, Thompson, & Foster, 1988). Relatively few studies have focused on costume use specific to reenactment settings. However, one study has been conducted on mountaineering men and women (Belk& Costa, 1996). Similarly, few researchers - with the exception of Turner (1990) and Hall (1994) - address the subject of reenactments. A recent increase in the number of reenactors both in the United States and in Europe has intrigued researchers to speculate about the reasons behind this phenomenon. The majority of information about reenactments is currently not found in the research literature but is found in the popular press (Ford, 1993;Hodges, 1995; Jennys, 1993; Lord, 1988; Milne, 1993; Skow, 1986). Given the lack of research findings on reenactments and costuming, the present study was developed to investigate the reasons behind male and female reenactors' costuming.



Participants in this study included 216 individuals from 10 organizations. The study was performed in a Midwestern city of approximately 70,000. Because the city draws employees and students from an estimated 60-mile radius, so did the research study Individuals who routinely dress in costume were included in the study based on a purposive sampling procedure (Kerlinger, 1986). The rationale for this sampling procedure was that these individuals would be familiar with costuming and presumed comfortable (or at least open to) answering questions about fantasies related to their dress.

Respondents were identified for participation in the study through an individual who makes historic costumes. The individual supplied contacts for groups, organizations, and individuals who dress in costume. Contact persons were telephoned and permission to attend their next meeting was granted. Prior to distribution of questionnaires, it was established that participation in the study was voluntary. The questionnaire was distributed to groups during a regular meeting and completed within 10 to 20 minutes. The questionnaire was often distributed during a break, allowing for limited interaction between researcher and respondents. The procedure was slightly different at the Science Fiction Convention where questionnaires were placed at the registration table with instructions on where to return completed questionnaires.

Organizations surveyed were the Society for Creative Anachronism, English Country Dancers, Morris Dancers, Scottish Country Dancers, Buckskinners (or Fur Traders), Science Fiction Convention, and Historical Reenactors (including Civil War reenactors, reenactors at a living history museum, and French and Indian War [British] reenactors). Responses in the present study represent individual, not group, responses.

Costuming among groups surveyed was varied. For example, museums are rarely well funded; therefore, employees who serve as historic reenactors may contribute personal dress items. However, depending on the museum's policies, only items consistent with the time period would be allowed (Liles, 1994). Other groups rely on costume to reinforce uniformity among its members, such as dance groups surveyed (English Country, Morris, and Scottish Country Dancers), and would require strict adherence to a uniform appearance. Last, groups such as the Buckskinners and the Society for Creative Anachronism may or may not enforce set costume guidelines depending on the occasion. For instance, at a group meeting, there may be little or no costume worn by members; however, if these groups were appearing at a renaissance festival or rendezvous, historic costume would be required-although loosely controlled. Nonetheless, if one's occupation involved the selling of historic items at renaissance festivals, authentic costume (at least as perceived by the public) would affect the individual's financial success.


The Dressing for Fun and Fantasy Questionnaire was developed using Eicher's (1981) framework as a guide and incorporated ideas from Stone (1965) and Wilson and Barber (1983). It included Likert-type, categorical, and open-ended questions. The questionnaire included 40 items. The questionnaire was pretested with 7 individuals not associated with the study group. Pretesting was limited to individuals who would not be offended by questions pertaining to sexual fantasies and dress. Limiting the pretest and the sample group also limits the generalizability of the results. Those limitations will be discussed later. Two questions from the questionnaire were examined for the present study. The questionnaire was divided into four sections; a brief description of each section follows.

Dress and fun.

This section of the questionnaire addressed Eicher's (1981) hypotheses about dress for the private self or fun dress, issues of childhood memories (Wilson & Barber,1983), and parents' interests in dress. Thirteen Likert-type questions, one open-ended question, and one categorical question were included in this section. None of the questions from this section were analyzed for the present study (see Miller, 1997).

Dress and fantasy.

Stone's (1965) ideas about adult fantastic socialization and Eicher's (1981) ideas about dress and the secret self were operationalized in this section of the questionnaire. Fantasy was broadly defined in the questionnaire as the experience of visualizing one's self in a specific type of dress to fit a particular role or situation. Because the researcher did not want respondents to automatically assume that fantasy meant only sex, this section focused questions on fantasies in three areas-dress for athletic, occupational, and sexual fantasies. Seventeen Likert-type questions were incorporated in this section, none of which were analyzed for the present study (see Miller, 1997).

Dressing in costume.

To further explore Eicher's (1981) dress for the secret self, this section contained four categorical items about costumes for specific occasions and reasons for dressing in costume. Costume was defined in the questionnaire as "when you are dressed for Halloween, Mardi Gras, or a masquerade ball." Questions addressed the following issues: number of times a respondent dressed in costume in the preceding 12 months, identification of the number of times in the last year that a respondent dressed in costume for a particular occasion, how long a respondent typically planned a costume before using it, and reasons for a respondent's interest in costuming. The last issue was one of two questions analyzed for the present study.

Personal information.

This section contained items regarding demographic information. Three items addressed age, gender, and income of respondents. Gender is the only item from this section included in the present study

At the end of the questionnaire, one last question was incorporated. This question asked respondents in an open-ended format to share with the researcher any information they wanted. Responses from this question represent the second of two items analyzed for the present study.

Data Analysis

Two types of data were analyzed in the present study. One question yielded quantitative data and the second yielded qualitative data. Because dress and the self are complex, it was decided that more than one type of data would be necessary to explore issues raised by the present study. Furthermore, a critical analysis of the data enhances our understanding of dress within the context of reenactments.

The quantitative question was: To what would you attribute your interest in dressing in costume? (Check all that apply.) Respondents were offered a checklist of seven choices for their reasons for interest in dressing in costume. The last choice was an "other, please specify" option in which respondents could write in reasons other than those listed. Frequencies and percentages were calculated from the data.

The second type of data collected were qualitative. The questionnaire item was: Did anything come up during the course of this questionnaire that you would like me to know about? Written comments to this open-ended question were subjected to multiple (repeated) readings by one coder (the researcher) and then coded into one or more analytic categories (1 = socialization and 2 = expression of self and fantasy). Constant comparisons of coded materials generated the concepts presented here (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Rather than having defined categories prior to data collection and fitting data to predetermined categories, categories emerged from data analysis. "Two analytic procedures are basic to the coding process; that of making comparisons and asking questions" (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 62). According to the grounded theory approach, coding data is also the process of analyzing data (p.61). Belk and Costa (1996) used a modified version of the constant comparative method in their study of modern mountain men. Coding data in the present study revealed that many respondents' comments further explained, justified, or defended their decisions to dress in costume.


Sample Characteristics

Two hundred sixteen respondents completed the Dressing for Fun and Fantasy Questionnaire. Groups represented in the sample are listed by number of participants. Responses to the question about reasons for interest in costuming came from 117 males and 99 females.

Reasons for Interest in Costuming

Respondents were asked, "To what would you attribute your interest in dressing in costume?" Seven choices were offered and respondents were asked to check all that applied. The choices were (a) reinforcement of an illusion/fantasy, Co) this was a hobby of your family's and you more or less grew up with the interest of dressing in costume, (c) love of history, (d) costume/doll collection begun by other family members, (d) an opportunity to escape, (e) an opportunity to assume another persona, and (f) other, please specify. This exploratory question offered respondents choices presented in an open-ended format. It also allowed respondents to write in reasons other than those provided. Results are presented according to gender of respondent.

The results indicate that love of history, with 136 responses, and an opportunity to assume another persona, with 119 responses, were the two reasons most often checked by respondents. An opportunity to escape and reinforcement of an illusion/fantasy were next with 85 and 81 responses, respectively. When percentages of love of history are compared, there was a slight difference between male and female responses. Men made up 57% (n = 78) of responses, whereas women accounted for 43% (n = 58). An opportunity to escape revealed the next biggest difference between male and female respondents with 56% (n = 48) of responses from males and 44% (n = 37) from females.

The results identified reasons men in the sample gave for their interest in costuming as (a) love of history, (b) an opportunity to assume another persona, (c) an opportunity to escape, (d) reinforcement of an illusion/fantasy, (e) other, (f) family hobby, and (g) costume/doll collection. Women in the sample indicated their reasons for interest in costuming as (a) an opportunity to assume another persona, (b) love of history, (c) reinforcement of an illusion/fantasy, (d) other, (e) an opportunity to escape, (f) family hobby, and (g) costume/doll collection.

Written comments to the "other, please specify" response were collected from 32 females and 29 males. Not all comments were usable. Unusable comments were either not understandable or the response was one word that, without a context, could not be indisputably coded. [I had the same problem when I once did a survey of whether or not my unit should remain in the National Regiment. Some results were not only unusable, but unprintable.] Some comments contained more than one reason and were coded accordingly A critical evaluation of the comments revealed eight themes. The themes that emerged from the data are: (a) required by outside source, (b) personal fantasy/creative expression, (c) fun/enjoyment, (d) sewing skills/handmade costumes, (e) social/friends, (f) historic aspect of costume/project, (g) comfort/sensory/tactile, and (h) ethnic heritage.

Required by an outside source is the theme of comments most frequently given to the "other" response. Examples of comments from females included "A costume is required for most of my organized social activities (dancing)," "Ren[aissance] Faires, as a merchant-[I am a] jewelry designer [who] makes a living at events where costume is an integral part [of the activity]," and "Part of SCA [Society for Creative Anachronism]." Male responses included "So as not to look out of place when everyone else is in costume," [A promising area of research would be to determine how and why non-uniformed participants are treated differently by uniformed friends. I've been to reenactments in ordinary dress and have noticed a distinct lack of being "a part" as I am when I put the woolies on.] "Part of performance or event," and "It is part of my occupation-involving sales of ironwork at historical reenactments."

Personal fantasy/creative expression is the second theme of comments most often given to "other" and included male responses such as "To help my partner's fantasy," "to be myself," and "show individuality" Females responses included "Vivid imagination/adventure I do not get in my present `real life' situation," "An interest in ease/ difficulty in changing image-other peoples' perceptions of me," and "To reinforce an aspect of [my] personality."

Fun/enjoyment was the third theme of comments most often given to the "Other" response. Female responses in this category included "adds to enjoyment of dancing," it's fun," and "it's a fun change of pace." Male responses in this category included: "fun," "It's just fun," and "[I] like wearing armor and sword." [The chiropractor's dream patient.]

Written Comments

The last question on the survey was, Did anything come up during the course of this questionnaire that you would like me to know about? Several respondents used this opportunity to provide additional information about their costuming. Written comments analyzed in this report come from 12 respondents, 7 females and 5 males. Of the 7 females, 5 attended the Science Fiction Convention, 1 belonged to Morris Dancers, and 1 belonged to the Society for Creative Anachronism. Of the 5 males, 3 were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism and 2 were Buckskinners (or Fur Traders). These comments have been organized under two subheadings: (a) socialization issues and (b) expression of self and fantasy.

Dressing in Costume by Gender Socialization issues. Socialization of respondents was revealed in their comments about the questionnaire and their costuming practices. The following quote from a man illustrates his socialization. You seem to associate dress and sex. I feel that women are more prone to this than men. Women are more apt to dress for men than the other way around. (No. 1,070, male, 38 years old)

Associating dress with gender appears to be his socialized view of the female role. This comment also suggests his reluctance to be included in activities that might associate him with stereotypical female behaviors (i.e., "women are more prone to this" and "women are more apt to dress for men than the other way around"). [I know a couple of male cheerleaders. Just thought I'd mention it, that's all.]

The following statement illustrates the importance of costuming to another individual.

This type of dress is authentic and is part of my life experience. It is not "playing history" but actually living it as much as feasible. (No. 1,144, male, 43 years old)

Claiming legitimacy for his experience seems to be the intent of this statement. [Claiming legitimacy is what reenactors do all the time. We're the bastards of history!] Terms such as authentic and phrases such as "part of my life experience" indicate that he prefers that those who interpret his experiences do so with respect. This same man goes on to say that his hobby is not only legitimate but is one that he uses to actively define the self. I wear a particular dress while reenacting history. I don't consider it costume but I wear it many times a year.... Some others may consider this dress as costume, I don't. Because of my interest in this endeavor, "buckskinning," I wear this dress [costume] almost weekly during the summer. I also must wear a uniform as part of my occupation, "law enforcement;" I don't, but some may consider this a costume. (No. 1,144, male, 43 years old)

To this respondent, particular dress seems to be a more acceptable term than costume. This reaction to the term costume may indicate a desire to distance himself from a term that has feminine connotations. [I've noticed this as well.] For example, the respondent has compared his buckskinning dress to his occupational dress. This comparison serves two purposes: it distances him from female activities and actively defines the self. Most would agree that law enforcement is a legitimate male role in American society and by including this information, he separates himself from potentially frivolous activities such as those involving costume. He is careful to separate himself from those who may consider his dress costume while simultaneously giving others plenty of leeway (i.e., "Some others may consider this dress as costume"). However, it is evident that he perceives things differently by his stating "I don't" three times. [Methinks he protests too much.]

Comments from female respondents indicate female socialization. To me, comfort is the most important consideration in the selection of clothing. Given my preferences, I would nearly always wear long skirts, or pants. I refuse to wear nylons-ever! Size is also a consideration in that I am a large woman, and few clothes for large women are: attractive, comfortable, well-made, and not penitential garments. Dressing in garb is one of the few times I can wear clothes that are all those things. (No. 1,367, female, 46 years old)

Another female respondent expressed her concerns: I did a lot more costumes when I was in high school. I had more time, inclination, and I was thinner (most of my old costumes don't fit well anymore). (No. 1,282, female, 25 years old)

A changing body (and body image) seems to be upmost in the minds of these female respondents. Unlike their male counterparts, these female respondents did not see the need to defend their costuming practices but instead focused on their bodies, the desire for comfort, and a concern for no longer approximating a thin cultural ideal. Being a large woman and stating, "I was thinner," are both expressions of their self-comparison to the Euro-American cultural ideal, which includes a small, thin body type for women (Teilhet-Fisk, 1996).

Women in the sample were also more likely than men to consider their everyday dress costume. One respondent wrote, "I consider life to be a costume party" (No. 1,240, female, 36 years old). Another wrote, "I love dressing up partly because it is unpredictable and I have a part of me that considers everyday 'dress-up.' " (No. 1,230, female, 24 years old). These statements indicate female socialization in which dress is central to one's life experience ("life is a costume party") and is an important daily consideration ("every day is dress up").

Expression of self and fantasy. Comments from respondents indicate the dual role that reenactment costume plays in expression of the self and in the experience of fantasy. However, many of the statements below indicate that respondents used their experiences with costume to define the self while denying connections to fantasy.

The following comment (mentioned earlier in this report) exemplifies how important this activity is to expression of the self while emphasizing the importance of fantasy.

This type of dress is authentic and is part of my life experience. It is not playing history but actually living it as much as feasible. (No. 1,144, male, 43 years old)

Self-expression is apparent through his statement, "Dress . . . is part of my life experience." Fantasy is evident in his statement, "actually living it [history] as much as feasible." This statement has been classified as fantasy because one cannot live history at all.

Another respondent wrote that dress is more or less a tool, one that helps him to visualize another time. He wrote, As a historian, it [costume] also helps me to visualize the Middle Ages a bit more. (No. 1,001, male, 23 years old)

The respondent states that costume is integral to his ability to visualize the Middle Ages. Because daydreaming and fantasy are spontaneous and often involve visualization 4 (Klinger, 1971), this respondent's statement (and consequently his experience) can be categorized as fantasy. He also defines himself as a historian. What is interesting about this comment is the effort made to re-label the experience as something legitimate (i.e., something that a historian could hardly be blamed for doing), while re-labeling fantasy as visualization. [My pet theory is that reenactors want to be considered historians without having to go through the intellectual effort, bother, time and expense of college...]

Dressmaking skills define the woman whose comments follow. She also denies any connection to fantasy in her costuming experience. She writes, The reason I wear, make, and design costumes is to show off the skill I have in creating them. There is little acting out of fantasies in what I do. (No. 1,363, female, 26 years old)

This individual denies the possibility that fantasy is part of her costuming experience, similar to the previous male responses. She indicates that her skill as a costume designer and seamstress is much more legitimate than is experiencing fantasy. There is also an effort here to let others know who she is and her purpose for engaging in this behavior, thus defining the self. Expression of the self is evident in statements such as "show off the skill I have." Female socialization is noted through sewing and designing as traditional female activities. Another respondent denies costumes' connection to fantasy.

It is hard to explain but "fantasy," "costume," and "dress-up" don't truly apply. More accurately it would be historical reenactment and to some extent trying to appreciate how it was in all aspects of life 200 years ago. (No. 1,070, male, 38 years old)

Appreciation seems to be a more acceptable experience to this respondent than fantasy. Legitimacy, again, seems to be the purpose of the statement (i.e., "[terms] don't truly apply"), perhaps because all three terms have female connotations. It is interesting to note that he does acknowledge that in the context of reenactment, it is hard to explain why those particular terms do not apply. Self-expression emerges in his statement, "more accurately it would be historical reenactment," in which he actively defines his participation in this activity.

But surely, one could appreciate how it was 200 years ago in ways other than participating in reenactments. [Heretic!] For instance, one could watch videotapes, go to the movies, read books, attend lectures, and so forth without ever having to actually reenact the time period personally or to don a period costume. Fantasy must play a part in someone's attempts to appreciate how it was 200 years ago. Just to imagine how life was 200 years ago takes imagination and creative effort, and attempts to appreciate how it was in all aspects of life 200 years ago by actually living it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy.

Other respondents expressed uncertainty about the proposed connection between costume and fantasy as illustrated by the following. I don't know if dressing for SCA [Society for Creative Anachronism] fits this survey Maybe. (No. 1,008, male, 25 years old) However, another male respondent stated that he could understand the differences in definitions. I generally consider my costumes to be clothing, but I understand your definitions. (No. 1,024, male, 28 years old)

Others-namely, women-wrote comments holding a completely opposite opinion. Not only did they believe that dressing in costume was related to fantasy, but they also believed that dressing in costume (or dressing for fantasy) was a daily experience for everyone. It's not a case of getting dressed in costume for weekends-we dress in costume for mundane, everyday life. (No. 1,020, female, 33 years old)

What do you think the difference [is] between dressing for fantasy and dressing for everyday? They look the same to me. [Especially if one is a prostitute.] (No. 1,413, female, 28 years old)


Data presented in this study necessitate critical examination from at least three fields of study. The three fields are sociology (symbolic interactionism), clothing and textiles (Eicher's [1981] framework), and psychology (fantasy). Socialization theory is evident in Eicher's (1981 ) proposal that American women have more opportunity to dress for fantasy than men. In American culture, interest in dress and appearance is often coded as female behavior, whereas interest in functional dress is often coded as male behavior. Socialization is also evident in the study regarding male respondents' disassociation from fantasy. Fantasy is not rational and logical and therefore lacks the importance that American men assign to their activities. More research and knowledge about fantasy and dress is necessary before we can fully appreciate this complex relationship.

Responses to the question, "To what would you attribute your interest in dressing in costume?" resulted in love of history and an opportunity to assume another persona as the two main reasons that respondents in the sample gave. When the results of this question were examined more closely with regard to gender, differences became apparent. Men chose love of history as their first choice, whereas women chose an opportunity to assume another persona as their first choice. Responses to the question indicate the effects of socialization. For example, love of history was likely viewed by male respondents as a more legitimate reason than were the other choices (i.e., assume another persona, opportunity to escape, or reinforce an illusion/fantasy). Conversely, women more freely admitted to a less legitimate reason (an opportunity to assume another persona) while reserving love of history for the number two spot. Given the socialization that children receive in America regarding dress (Cahill, 1989; Paoletti & Kregloh, 1989; Stone, 1965), it is no surprise that if an adult man were going to wear a costume, the least threatening choice would be a historic or military one. If a man dares to don a costume, reenacting wars would be the activity to least likely be misconstrued as anything other than masculine behavior. It also gives the wearer a legitimate excuse to carry weapons openly in public, also a masculine behavior. [I remember this was a big deal for me when I first started reenacting. At one of my first events, I walked among the public with a bayonet on my rifle, like an absolute buffoon!]

Another explanation for why men feel as though they can dress in costume during reenactments is the concept of deindividuation.5 Deindividuation is "a state of relative anonymity, in which the group member does not feel singled out or identifiable" (Festinger, Pepitone, & Newcomb, 1952). Male reenactors may feel as though they get lost in the crowd, and this affords them the anonymity they need to dress in costume. [There's also a sort of herd or teamwork aspect. In CW reenacting it's especially cool if you do Federal, because we're all dressed alike, unlike Confederates. One feels a part of something bigger... like, well, an army. In rugby, I'm a forward, and we call ourselves a "pack." In an analysis of males, never overlook the pack or herd instinct!]

Respondents' love of history, not surprisingly, motivates their involvements in reenactments and associated costuming. One participant at a conference of the International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) pointed out that reenactors are typically used as extras in period films and have the reputation of being notoriously difficult when asked to perform scenes that are not historically accurate (personal communication, August 2,1996). Reenactors know their history and pride themselves on the knowledge they possess. Specialized knowledge regarding historic costume can create status distinctions among reenactors. Similar to the status afforded to the ballerina with the most tattered and worn rehearsal clothes, authenticity among reenactors may be a way of separating the real reenactors from imitation ones. [Of course. Everyone knows the best reenactors have the most shoddy appearance. Just out of the Marine Corps, starting reenacting, I used to polish my brass all the time. Then I wised up.]

The opportunity to assume another persona was intriguing to 119 respondents (out of a possible 216), approximately 55% of the sample. Perhaps both men and women feel restricted in their daily roles and the opportunity to assume another persona is a welcomed outlet. This outlet has great potential for creative expression of the self-especially aspects of the self that are necessarily subdued during the routine of daily living (going to work, paying bills, fulfilling responsibilities to family and community, etc.).

Another difference between responses men and women gave regarding reasons for interest in costuming was the frequency of an opportunity to escape. Male respondents chose this reason more frequently than did females. Men have less leeway in their dress and therefore less opportunity to express themselves through dress (Davis, 1988; Eicher, 1981). This restricted dress code may create a situation in which men search for opportunities that allow them to escape and cast off the confines of the American adult male dress code. Men may very well have a greater need than do women to seek out groups (or settings) that allow for escape via costuming. The restrictedness of adult men's dress in American society (Davis, 1988) may be what encourages their need to seek out socially acceptable avenues for dressing in costume. [Absolutely. Sitting in a business meeting and listening to people "express concerns," "bring issues to the table," "speak to" viewgraphs and use all that other noxious corporate jargon is absolute poison to me. People generally don't realize how trapped we men are in American society. I don't want to sit around in a tie and listen to people sound like they're important and influential - I want to go play in the mud.]

Although the results of the study provide evidence to support socialization theory as one explanation of costuming, one finding does not support socialization theory. The finding that contradicts socialization theory was the low rating of costume/doll collections begun by family members and family hobbies of dressing in costume. Family hobbies and costume/doll collections ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, out of seven possible choices. [No surprise to me, there. My mother collected dolls. She thought I was nuts when I started reenacting.]

Responses to the "Other, please specify" choice indicate that to be dressed in a socially appropriate manner was a concern of those who chose to respond. Men were slightly more concerned than women, with comments such as, "So as not to look out of place when everyone else is in costume." [The herd mentality again.] Personal fantasy and creative expression were high on the list, following required by an outside source. Actually, all eight themes can be captured under the broad heading of self-expression. Sewing skills and socializing with friends are ways that individuals express themselves. The same opportunity for self-expression is true of engaging in historic projects and research of one's ethnic heritage.

In summary, when analyzing the reasons respondents gave for dressing in costume, three of the top four are closely related to fantasy and self-expression. Assume another persona, opportunity to escape, and reinforcement of illusion/fantasy represent opportunities for expression of the self through dress. These results offer support for the connection between dressing in costume, fantasy, and expression of the self.

Written responses to the open-ended question also indicate differences between males and females in the sample. Male comments frequently included efforts to disassociate themselves from activities such as fantasy costume, or dress up, perhaps because of their perception that these activities denote feminine behavior. Men in the sample achieved this disassociation by comparing their hobby of costuming to their occupation (law enforcement) or by stating that costuming was required by their occupation (sale of ironwork at renaissance festivals). Efforts were also made by male respondents to qualify their involvement in costuming activities, such as, "I'm a historian," or statements that this activity was not "playing history" but actually living it. Only one woman disassociated herself from fantasy by stating her occupation as the reason behind her costuming. She stated that as a costume designer, "there is little acting out of fantasies in what I do." Differences between male and female responses can be viewed as the result of socialization (e.g., what is considered appropriate female and male behavior).

Women's concern for how they compared to the feminine ideal was found in comments made by two female respondents. Comfortable clothing is one reason why these women enjoy costuming. As one woman expressed, costuming offers large-size women an alternative to the poor selection of clothing in that size range. Comfort afforded one large-size woman self-expression by allowing her to dress outside the cultural norm (i.e., wearing pantyhose and short skirts) and offered her an alternative to clothing made specifically for large-size women. Her comment, however, can also be seen as an attempt to negate connections between her behavior and fantasy, similar to the male respondents' disavowals of fantasy. Female socialization was also noted in reported activities such as sewing and designing costumes. [Not that I'd ever take part, ahem!, but quilting parties look like a lot of fun to me.]

Overall, women in the study associated themselves with fantasy dress and did not attempt to deny that association. Whereas men in the study used written comments as an opportunity to disassociate themselves from fantasy, women used their comments to embrace fantasy and costuming. Men's desire to recreate history by living it as much as possible while simultaneously denying connections to fantasy is ironic. Perhaps reenactments attract those who are looking for reinforcement of traditional gender roles. [Yes indeed. This was a conclusion reached by another researcher in "Being the Elephant," an excellent study of reenactors. I'm trying to get it on JonahWorld!.]

Results from the study extend Stone's (1965) theory of adult fantastic socialization to public situations. Results also support Eicher's (1981) theory that dressing for fantasy may be communicated to another person. In the present study, fantasy dress was used to communicate to fellow costumers or to the public. Public communication of the fantastic self occurs when those in costume are set apart in a parade/festival situation. In addition to substantiating Eicher's framework, it is also extended by the results of the present study.

What draws individuals to situations in which they must dress in 100% wool in the heat of summer and endure other inconveniences and discomforts associated with reenacting? Often, boring and repetitive jobs leave little room for creative expression in an individual's life. Hall (1994) considers the phenomenon of reenactments from a postmodern perspective. It seems likely that time pressures of living in the late 20th century would encourage people to reach back to a time when the pace was slower, making Fred Davis's (1979) work on the sociology of nostalgia relevant to the study of costuming behavior among reenactors. Turner (1990) claims that reenacting offers different experiences to different people, reminding us that not all reenactors are alike.

For some it is a political statement, for others an affirmation of cultural identity, a complex and intriguing game, an opportunity to go camping and get drunk with friends, an alternative to a dreary existence, a "thing to do" in a social set, or a fascinating window on a world they know from books and photographs but have never participated in as an experienced reality. (p. 130)

American adults, to some extent, have been socialized to downplay having fun via fantasy as jobs and careers become more important aspects of their lives. Organized and/or professional sports, for example, are socially legitimate forms of public fantasy in American society. Reenactments offer an alternative to being a spectator at a sports event where one passively watches others participate. Sports offer one type of thrill-seeking, fantasy, or escape outlet, but sports often do not offer the level of creative participation that historic reenactments do. For example, creating an 18th-century individual at a historic site might require strict adherence to rules of historically accurate clothing (Liles, 1994), but allows one room to create an 18th-century individual through personal care taken with dress, posturing, personality, and speech.

Limitations of the study include not being able to generalize beyond the sample in the study. Because a purposive sampling technique was used, generalizations beyond the sample cannot be made. Different methods of distributing the questionnaires may have led to different responses, particularly regarding the self-selection of those from the Science Fiction Convention. Another limitation is the social science bias of the study. Historians may have approached the study differently and interpreted the data differently. Use of the terms costume and fantasy may have caused reactions from respondents that may not otherwise have surfaced had the questions been posed in a more oblique manner. However, documenting these reactions to the term costume in the research literature is useful information that can be expanded in future study.

Scholars conducting future research on reenactor costuming should work toward more depth in understanding this phenomenon. For example, what are reenactors escaping when they costume? Are they escaping boring dress or the humdrum of daily life? What does it mean to assume another persona or use dress to reinforce an illusion/fantasy? More in-depth study will be needed to support or refute the belief that there is a connection between reenactment costuming and traditional gender roles for men. Are there status distinctions among reenactors based on level of historic accuracy? This study has only begun to reveal the motivations behind reenactment costuming. Future studies will provide us with a more complete picture. [Or not. An interesting thing about academic studies is the way the researcher always promotes a need for more study; I haven't read a one of these in which this wasn't the case. Ivory tower job security.]

Replication of the study from a historian's perspective would allow for comparisons between findings from a social science study and a historic one. Future research efforts should include a combination of research methods. Complexity of the subject matter warrants such an approach. Individual or focus group interviews in which trust of the respondent(s) can be gained might eliminate reactions documented here. Interviews would allow the researcher to offer respondents assurance that their activities are being studied because they are valued. It is possible that several interviews will be necessary to separate issues related to dress and its relationship to fantasy and the self. As stated by Eicher et al. (1991), a one-time interview session was not sufficient in revealing issues beyond the public self. Interviews with those who make historic costumes may reveal additional insight into reenactors' interests in dress.

Future research study should be careful with regard to terminology For example, one group referred to their dress as garb and suggested that term be used rather than costume. Had the term garb been used in the study, it would have included some participants while excluding others. With such a broad range of groups included in the study, someone would have always disagreed with the chosen term. Measuring dress and fantasy phenomena in future studies using openended methods will likely minimize misunderstandings. Also, study of one group at a time can eliminate the need to have one term that fits all.

Future research studies should test the adequacy of the expanded model and Stone's (1965) ideas of adult fantastic socialization. Research on individuals who dress in costume as college mascots and those who pose as characters at amusement parks would add to our understanding about the experience of dressing in costume in general and could provide additional information about expression of the self, specifically. Administering the fantasy-prone personality measure among reenactors, cross-dressers, and drag queens would further extend Eicher's (1981) and Stone's (1965) work. [Not only that, it would provide me with some damn fine articles for JonahWorld!]

Author's Note: I would like to express appreciation to anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on this article.


1. Dress is defined as "an assemblage of body modifications and/or supplements to the body" (Roach-Higgins & Eicher, 1992, p. 1).

2. Costume is defined in accordance with Roach-Higgins and Eicher (1992): "The body supplements and modifications that indicate the `out-of-everyday' social role or activity. For example, dress for the theater, folk or other festivals, ceremonies, and rituals" (p. 3).

3. Gender is defined as socially constructed concepts of feminine and masculine, whereas sex is defined as the biological categories of female and male (Kaiser, 1990). The more inclusive term gender is used in this research article to theoretically capture the presentation and socialization of femaleness and maleness among adult reenactors in the study. However, sex was the term used in the demographic section of the questionnaire because it was assumed tobe the term with which respondents were most familiar.

4. Klinger (1971) gives an example of a fantasy experience that includes visualization: "fantasy . . . includes a daydream about the possible course of a future interview, but it excludes a planning session on how to conduct it" (p. 9).

5. Appreciation is extended to Sharron Lennon for this observation.

6. As one example of reenactors pride in authenticity, Hall (1994) cites the following: "One company in a Kentucky regiment wears its shirts inside out because an 1863 letter written by one of the reenactors forebears indicated the company employed this practice in an effort to deal with lice. They are extremely proud of this idiosyncratic exercise in authenticity (p. 11)."


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