Rustington Carnival, Egyptian outfits

Around new year, our group was invited to take part in Rustington’s Carnival, which would happen during the really long Jubilee weekend. We were also told that the theme for this year would be (unsurprisingly) “Royalty”. We also found out, pretty much at the same time, that Super-Neil, the trusted props person (and usual driver, sound engineer, and a long list of etceteras) had already started work on a Cobra for the trailer. What could we possibly do that would match both the cobra and the Royalty theme, and could match the belly dancing ? The cobras are supposed to be the Royal Snakes, but the whole relationship would be rather tenuous and more than likely missed by the judges. So we decided on an Egyptian-revival theme, thinking that the whole costume would also come handy if we ever made a Pharaonic piece.

Egyptian Historical Clothing

So off we went, trying to find suitable fabric. I had originally lobbied to use a very basic “wrap” over a skirt to obtain the type of dress you see mostly on things like mural paintings.  Yes, I was actually being stubborn and trying to go for accurate historical clothing. Which you can all guess how it was received (the words “lead” and “balloon” come to mind). Mainly, we all love the highly stylised versions we see on the statuettes and paintings,  lovingly hugging every curve, which has been repeated and reinforced by nearly every Egyptian-themed movie since. In reality, this was rarely, if ever the case, mainly because pattern-cutting skills back then were not exactly developed. On the upside, while looking around the net, I found a pdf version of a long out of print book exclusively on Egyptian Clothing. This made things easier, in a way, and more difficult in another as, the longer I kept looking, the more I realised these would definitely *not* fly with the rest of the group, and would basically made us all look like we’d taken a sheet and wrapped it around us.

So, back to the drawing board, I did the unthinkable and looked to the costume places. Still nothing really suitable, as most of it was either way too expensive for what they were provided, was made of horrid polyester or synthetic crushed velvet, didn’t have a range of sizes suitable to cover all of us, or was so short that would classify much better as lingerie suitable for bedroom play.

One thing did strike me clearly, though, and it was that for the most part, the Egyptian “vibe” was more about the accessories than the actual shape of the dress, and as long as these were kept, worn with a column or shift dress without unnecessary drapes,  it would be easier to come up with something that would work for everybody. With that in mind, I turned to my patterns and wardrobe, found a simple shift that would give the right feel, and lifted and modified the pattern to purpose.

The result was a simple shift with an Empire waist and straight sides, that we all wore with Egyptian necklaces; some of us even had proper beaded ones, although sadly none of us had remembered to add a menat (or counterweight) to keep them in place. We used our standard coin belts on top instead of the Egyptian sashes, just to add some colour, and instead of the typical wigs, we chose a rather good costume headdress with beaded falls nearly all around the head, and a rather funny posable snake at the front, that sadly had the tendency to look either like male genitalia, or a stoned stuffed animal. And in some rather disturbing cases, both at the same time.

And after a couple of false starts with potential but ultimately discarded fabrics, we settled on white cotton cheesecloth from Whaleys Bradford Ltd, and split the job between two of us (three if you count the help I got during a day). I made a proper pattern out of Swedish Pattern Paper, made a copy to give to my partner in crime, and wrote instructions, then we set out to make them all.

The final results were, against my fears, rather good. So much so, in fact, that we won the competition for Best Adult Walking Group, even if the local paper conveniently forgot to mention us on the following week, while mentioning everybody else. Could it be because we weren’t flaunting cleavage this time? Guess we’ll never know! Anyway, click below to see a big version of the photo of our group, with the Cobra, and the Trophy at its feet.

And the morals of the story? Several:

  • Judges like uniformity; our costumes are lovely, and professional, but so far we seem to win when there’s extra unity of design in them
  • Rustington can be bloody cold in early June, and cheesecloth is NOT good for cold weather
  • Costume unity can be achieved, even if it can be a pain to obtain sometimes
  • Creating patterns for an Apple shape is a completely different game than doing them for a Pear

But we’ve got the trophy and the certificate and the (small) cheque, and the full costumes. Now all we need is that Pharaonic coreography!

Egyptian Dresses, Rustington Carnival

Egyptian Dresses, Rustington Carnival

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