Why do we not like the word costume?

Truth about how we feel of the word.


12/4/2021 0 min read


  • the prevailing fashion in coiffure, jewelry, and apparel of a period, country, or class

  • an outfit worn to create the appearance characteristic of a particular period, person, place, or thing Halloween costumes

  • a person's ensemble of outer garments especially : a woman's ensemble of dress with coat or jacket

Garb (synonym is actually Costume)


  • a collection of articles usually for personal use a travel kit

  • a group of persons or things —usually used in the phrase the whole kit and caboodle

During last month’s episode of Between the Bulkhead we touched on the, we’ll say, “annoyance” of our clothing being called a costume. So that got me thinking. Why is it so annoying for it to be called costume vs. kit or even garb? Based on the definition alone of costume, we should be perfectly happy and accepting to have our clothing called a costume. It's an apparel of a period, an outfit worn to create the appearance of a particular period. So why do we prefer the words Garb and kit over costumes?

Looking at it from my perspective it might have to do with the quality of what we think of costumes are. We think Halloween Costumes, something back when I was a kid, were only made to last a night and trash. Taking a moment to look at what we wear and realizing the time and material that goes into each of these pieces, this could very well be the main reason why I, or most reenactors, get exasperated with the word.

It’s a class level of the words. Even if they mean almost the same thing, the feeling behind them is certainly not. In the sense of things, when we are in our reenactment roles, we are in that time and are living that period and life. We have done the research to portray reality as much as we can. If we do not call what we are doing today, right now, what we wear a costume, why would they call it a costume back then?

While doing a bit of research to see if there are others who have explored the question of costume vs. kit/garb, I came across another blog that I think explains it well from the perspective of using the term period clothing. Even though it was written in 2012, it still holds water almost a decade later. http://passionforthepast.blogspot.com/2012/06/costume-or-period-clothing.html

With the word costume, other things come to mind. Mostly it's fantasy, not reality. If a reenactor is wearing something that is historically accurate, or a reproduction of the past, that's not fantasy. Then you have those that like to be history bound. If you are familiar with Disney bounding, this is similar to that philosophy, but with period clothing mixed into today's modern clothing. I am sure that if you were to wear your 18th century vest out in public on a regular basis, you would not think of it as a costume but your clothing/outfit for the day.

There are those also by choice who live in period clothing on a daily basis. Zack MacLeod Pinsent dresses as a regency gentleman everyday. He also makes his own clothing. Another Youtuber V.Birchwood, who we have referenced before, also wears historical clothing or inspiration on a daily basis. She, like Zack, also makes her own clothing.

Language is a funny thing, and it's about how you use it. Even though by definition, people using the term costume are technically correct. It has now become the context of how the word is used. Halloween of course is where this is expected to be. But at event festivals where we reenact or walk around as our 18th century personas, ask us instead, “Where did you get your clothing from?”.



Home Port

PO Box 37322,
North Chesterfield, VA 23234 USA

Follow Us