Over the holidays I stopped into the Disney Store, one of my favorite retailers to visit. I'm a huge Disney fan, and just about breathe everything Disney. So of course I love any chance I can get to surround myself with things from the House of Mouse.
Since I've been making costumes I tend to analyze things I come across. When I go to Renaissance Faires, cons and just about anywhere I spend time going over the costume with a critical eye. I'll look at stitching patterns, how the pattern is put together, what type of cloth is used and so on. This new quirk of mine is a source of constant amusement to my husband, but I simply can't help myself. I want to look at what others have one as a way to continually improve my own skills.
So there I was in the Disney Store and one of the costumes caught my eye. I started looking at the pattern on the material and how the costume was put together. Keep in mind that this was a princess dress for a little girl, nothing too fancy or detailed. As I studied it I started to try and figure out what it would take for me to make it.
There is a big difference between a mass market costume and one made by a costumer like myself. Costumes meant for places like the Disney Store are made in huge quantities, usually in countries with cheap labor. They are done on patterns of only a few sizes, as quickly and cheaply as possible. The pattern on the cloth is usually custom-made to the setting on large spools to cover thousands of yards of material. Due to the sheer number made there are ways that the company can manufacture it that make them look really nice.
I had to admit that the dress looked pretty good, especially for $50 in a Disney Store. There was no way I would ever be able to make the same thing for that amount of money. Heck, the material alone would probably cost me about that much simply to buy.
So why do custom work?
It's about the quality and customization. The patterns may be nice and be accurate to the source material, but the material is often thin and less durable than what I typically use. The stitching is also less complicated and easier to pull apart than with custom work. But most importantly is the ability to get customized measurements and get things you can't buy in stores. Buying a custom costume means that it will fit to your measurements, something you can't be assured of buying off the rack. The flexibility of custom work also allows unique creations, such as the steampunk wedding dress I talked about last time.
It really depends on what you want out of a costume. But never forget exactly how much work goes into handmade artistry.