I played Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby for over four years, starting when I was in graduate school seeking my Master’s degree in costume design. It seems like a weird combination, but derby gave me an amazing outlet during a very stressful time in my life. I’m currently semi-retired from skating, but roller derby continues to shape me, how I see the world, who am I as a person, and what kind of artist I am. It’s made me bolder, stronger, and more confident, and I am better artist because of it. I take bigger risks, make art with more confidence, and I want to bring the unstoppable, badass attitude of roller derby to the costuming community. I want all costumers to feel empowered by what they do because making things takes just as much strength, stamina, and confidence as taking hits on four wheels does.
Get you a girl who can do both.
Now I’m not saying you all should go out and strap on some skates and hit each other. I mean you can, but that can get dangerous really fast. (Though if you ARE interested in playing roller derby, check out your local league!) What I mean is that I want costuming to be empowering as roller derby. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association describes modern roller derby as “Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.” I think that’s how we should look at costuming. (Well, okay, maybe the “athletic” part doesn’t really fit, but the rest does!) Costuming is not just lace and frills and playing dress up. It’s pushing yourself to your limits, always learning, and taking pride in your accomplishments.
Real. In roller derby this means the games themselves are real, not the staged bouts of the 70s and 80s. The costuming world we might be playing dress up and making clothes we don’t wear in our day to day lives, but we are making actual wearable garments from a pile of fabric. A garment that didn’t exist before you came along! Even if you re-create the most fantastical costume from a sci-fi movie, it’s still a real garment that goes on a real body. It doesn’t get more real than taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a wearable costume.
Strong. Nothing will test you like creating something with your own hands. No, not even being hit by someone twice your size going around a turn on roller skates. It takes skill, patience, research, and a whole of time. There are hundreds of choices that have to be made – design, patterns, fabrics, trims, and accessories. And there are hundreds of places in the process that things can go wrong! It takes bravery – and strength – to create something. Because sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes projects go straight into the trash; or you get tossed to the ground by an opposing blocker. And sometimes there is triumph, when the costume turns out exactly as you hoped. Sometimes you do win the game. This whole process is just as hard as facing down a line of four terrifying blockers on the track and takes just as much strength and stamina.
Revolutionary. Modern roller derby was founded as a women’s sport, governed for the skater by the skater, which you might might notice is the exact opposite of every other sport out there. So how does that relate to costuming? I believe that any act of creation is revolutionary. Our society encourages us to be consumers, not creators, but you aren’t content with just that! You want to make something, with your own hands, with skills you have to work hard to gain. Makers are always improvising, breaking the rules, and finding new ways to do old things, rediscovering forgotten methods of the past, or making up new techniques to get the job done. We make things in a world where that just isn’t done anymore. What’s more revolutionary than that?
Roller derby helped me become strong and empowered, to really be myself and push my creative boundaries. I want you to use costuming to learn about yourself, take risks, and cultivate resilience.
I want you to believe in your own power. Because that’s as real, strong, and revolutionary as it gets.
You can do both.