There are thousands of costume societies and historical reenactment groups around the world, yet finding one that is local to you can be a challenge. Most groups are not official organizations but small groups of friends, museum volunteers, event- specific organizers, and/or vintage themed business owners. That means finding a local group takes a bit of sleuthing. Here are some tips on how I found my local groups (here in Reno, Nevada) but the process should work for any city:
1. Google search: I started my search online trying to find any group or single person that had anything to do with historical clothing in my area. I searched for the phrase ” Reno Reenactment ” “Reno Costumes, “Reno Vintage Dance, “Reno Museums, “Reno History, “Reno Dress Up, ” Reno Fashion History,” “Reno History Events ‘ etc., and repeated the terms for other nearby cities, the county and state. This brought up a few blog posts from people who dressed up for a local events. I commented on the blog or emailed them and asked if they knew of any costume groups, which they did.
I then contacted all those groups to find out more about them and what events I could come to. A few searches landed on some reenactment groups that were earlier in history than what interested me. They were, however, good leads to ask anyways because most people like to dress up for multiple time periods. Just because someone is in a renaissance costume doesn’t mean they don’t dress 1950s too! Search and ask – this will get you off to a great start.
2. Attend events in costume. With all your searching and asking, you may find some upcoming events to go to. In most cases, I found history centered events that did not ask attendees to dress in costume, nor were volunteers dressed up, but when I showed up in costume people flocked to me. They asked where I got my costume, how they could dress up too and if I was going to other events. Whenever you dress up, be prepared to hand out your phone number/email/social media contact. Pretty soon your groups of costume friends will expand like wildfire.
Most events that I attend are rarely advertised online. People who like history and/or are event organizers tend to not be very internet savvy. Some offline sources to finding events are:
- Newspaper event listings.
- Community bulletin boards with event posters (This is where I found out about my first costume event, a tour of local historical homes).
- Museums – many art and history museums put on themed events that need costumed volunteers or appreciated costumed attendees (sometimes I get into events for free if I agree to dress up and greet people at the door).
- Tourist destinations such as an “Old Town” area of your city. City tourism offices are also useful to contact.
- Vintage/Antique shops/costume rentals/old restaurants and music venues -Often business owners/staff know of upcoming events- ask them!
- Libraries – can be a nice source for anything happening in your community.
- Fabric shops – Look at the bulletin board and ask the staff.
Other online sources:
- Facebook search is getting better about finding local groups by “keywords,” not just titles. Try searching for “costume” “history” “historical” ‘reenactment” “vintage” etc. Other social media platforms may have a local search option too. I am not too familiar with all of them yet. Another option is to join a FB interest group with a historical focus, and ask if anyone knows of events in your region.
- Blogs – Local blogs or news media sites often list upcoming events or link to press releases. This is how I found out about my latest local event- a tour of a 1932 post office recently restored.
- Search out online communities of vintage clothing, costume and fashion fans. While “forums” are not very popular today searching in the archives of old forums can find leads to events or groups still active today. FedoraLounge.com is a good old forum to search.
3. Start a group
If all of your sleuthing and event attendings doesn’t find you an organized group, then the logical thing to do is start one yourself. All those friends you are making by attending events will be eager to join your group. You can make a Facebook group, Google+ group, blog, or email list to communicate with everyone. The best groups are simple groups.
My Local Great Basin Costume Society keeps it simple by posting about events we find locally and encouraging people to RSVP that they are going to show up in costume too (or not, we’re just happy to make new friends). Of the hundreds of people on our group list, we have a core group of 20 or so who attend most events. Others pop in for whatever era interests them only, and that’s fine too.
You can always make your own events too. Host a themed tea at a coffee shop. Convince a restaurant to cook a special menu using old recipes, have a picnic in the park, go to the beach in vintage swimsuits, tour a museum or old house, dance to a jazz band, host a lecture, shop the fabric or thrift stores, start a book club, have a TV watching party (Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge, Agent Carter) or movie (Cinderella, The Great Gatsby). Hosting an social media dress up day or Zoom party is also an excellent way to connect with new friends. Here are more ideas on how to start costume events.
Some organized groups are those attached to a national organization usually have membership fees, organizer meetings, rules on clothing, rules on etiquette and more rules on everything else. These are not my cup of tea but for many people, they are a good fit, especially if it is a reenactment group where you want to learn more about the history of a specific time period.
List Your Local Costume Groups:
The VintageDancer fan base is a a pretty good community, so let us be helpful to one another. If you have a local costume or reenactment group please take a moment a comment with the groups details – Name, location, eras of costuming interest (1800-1960 ish) and link to website or social media page. I will take the comments and create a list on this blog post, organized by State (or country) to make it easy for new members to join. Here is the list so far:
- We Make History – Mesa, AZ. 18th century costumes on up.
- The Tombstone Vigilettes – Southern Arizona that dresses in clothing from 1870s-1918.
- Southwest Costumers Guild– Phoenix.
- Greater Bay Area Costume Society – San Francisco and surrounding cities. All eras of costuming.
- Art Deco Society of California – Northern California – Themed events around the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.
- San Diego Costume Guild in SoCal – All eras.
- CGW (Costumers Guild West) – Puts on the Costume College convention in Los Angeles.
- Art Deco Society of Los Angeles – Celebrating LA’s Art Deco heritage.
- Roaring Twenties Street Jam – Southern CA dance events.
- California Historical Artillery Society – A nonprofit Civil War Reenacting Group dedicated to the life and times of the military war horse. We do many Civil war events. 1860s costume required, but we have extra. (Northern Artillery Unit with Horses pulling pieces)
- National Civil War Association – Civil War Era Civilians and Military Units (More Northern).
- American Civil War Association – Civil War Era Civilians and Military Units (More Southern).
- Reenactors of the American Civil War – Civil War Era Civilians and Military (Both Northern and Southern).
- Denver Costume & Cosplay Society – Denver.
- Pensacola Costumers Guild – historical reenactors to sci fi to anime to comic book and even furries.
- Miami Art Deco Weekend – 1920s-1930s themed event
- Obsidian Manor – A Black Historical LARP set in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. (1837-1901) We have members across the south and east coast, we meet in Louisiana and Georgia at the moment.
- Gem State Costumers – Boise.
- Chicagoland Costumers Guild AKA “The Chicago M.O.B.” – Chicago.
- Kansas City Costumers’ Guild – Lawrence.
- Obsidian Manor – A Black Historical LARP set in England during the reign of Queen Victoria.(1837-1901) We have members across the south and east coast, we meet in Louisiana and Georgia at the moment
- Detroit Art Deco Society – 1920s and 1930s events.
- Great Basin Costume Society – Northern Nevada, Reno, Carson City, Virginia City. All eras of costuming, 18th century to 1960s.
- Nevada Civil War Volunteers – Reno Area. Civil War costuming.
- Comstock Civil War Reenactors – Virginia City, Civil War costuming.
- Battle Born Reenactors – Dayton and Carson City. Civil War era costuming.
- High Desert Steam – Reno and Northern Nevada. Steampunk costumes.
- Southern Nevada Living History Association – Las Vegas.
- Las Vegas Steampunk – All things Steampunk in southern Nevada.
- Northern Lights Costumers Guild (NoeL) – Franklin.
- Great Boston Vintage Society – All things vintage: cars, houses, clothing.
- Boston Tweed – A outing club with style.
- The British Brigade – The BB is made up of various British and American re-enacting groups from the time of the American Revolution.
- Brigade of the American Revolution – Very similar organization to the BB and well worth checking out.
- The Hive -A talented and dedicated group of individuals with a focus on details! Check out their site for a list of sewing workshops and Hive sponsored events.
- Mass Costumers and Vintage Dancers – Lots of fun costume events and dances. I believe many of these are open to the public.
- Greater Boston Vintage Society For vintage/swing dance related events check out the Facebook page
- Boston Swing Central
- Jazz Age Lawn Party – A large roaring 20s event on Governor’s Island.
- Historic Recreation Society
- Living History Society
- Minnesota Society of Costumers
- MN Historical Society
- Minnesota Society of Costumers (MN-SOC) – Roseville
- Virginia City – Annual Grand Victorian Ball and other events
East Coast – New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, etc
- Gilded Age Society – Last quarter of the Nineteenth century and the first quarter of the Twentieth century.
- Lord Grey’s Retinue – 15th century English war of the Roses.
- Jazz Age Lawn Party – One of New York’s best summer parties.
- New Jersey / New York Costumers’ Guild, AKA Sick Pups – Albany, NY
- Frontier Players – 1799 reenactment group.
- Oregon Regency Society – Various locations. Regency era (Jane Austen).
- Portland Dance – Multiple dance events in the Portland, Oregon area. Victorian to 1950s dance.
- Time Travelers Costume Guild – Metro Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, WA area.
- The Edwardian Society of Oregon (1900-1919) Events all year.
- Utah Costumers’ Guild AKA The Sew-and-Sewzz – Kearns
- Regency Society of Virginia – Early 20th century/ Regency era
- Somewhere in Time, LTD – Seattle, Washington. Victorian to 1940s costumes.
- Washington Regency Society – Seattle, Regency era (Jane Austen).
- Beyond Reality Costumers’ Guild (BRCG) – Seattle, all eras.
- Seattle Art Deco Society – Seattle and Washington 1920s-1940s events.
- Madison Area Costuming Society (MACS) – Madison
- Roaring twenties and beyond! https://www.facebook.com/groups/467246856743443/
- Jane Austen Club Argentina https://www.facebook.com/groups/614970275188470/
Australia / New Zealand
- Napier Art Deco Festival – The biggest most amazing Art Deco festival in the world.
- Spadina Museum– Annual Great Gatsby event in the spring.
- Great Gatsby Fair – Sussex, annual 1920s weekend festival.
Know More? Contact us so we can add them to the list.
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.