Historical Costuming for Alternative History

One of my favorite projects over the past couple years has been creating and expanding the wardrobe for my character, Lady Elizabeth, for the weird/wild west Alternative history LARP (Live Action Roleplaying game), Keystone.

With alternate history settings, you always want to know where things change. That point in Keystone comes in 1825, when Charles Babbage was able to successfully build the difference engine. King George IV. Over the next five years, difference engines were built all under London, forming one giant difference engine, called the Hub. The Americans, of course, stole and copied the plans. Like they do. And in 1830, they revealed this before the King was able to show the Hub to the world, stealing his glory and driving him to an early grave a year later. In our alternate history, that's when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne (not in 1837). She never married Prince Albert, which happened, in real history, in 1840. 

If this intrigues you, I encourage you to read all the details (so far) in the UK Nation packet for Keystone. I'm skipping over a bunch of stuff, like how Charles Dickens was a TRAITOR! Gasp! and how there was an amazing "arms race" between the US and UK of progressive legislation. Slavery? Abolished! Equal rights for women? Granted. On a side note, I thought this was a perfect strategy for Keystone's staff to create a world where we didn't have to deal with historical sexism and racism. 

Then, on June 21, 1865, the world exploded. Basically, everything other than the United Kingdom, Italy, the East Coast of the US,. It took years for the remainder of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy (now called Rome) to find each other, and draw up the Treaty of Cardiff. They began to explore the oceans, and in 1881 a group led by David Livingstone found land that contained groups formerly of what would have been the Midwest US, and the mysterious New Lhasa (which draws on both Chinese and Mexican influences). 

Players from the UK, US, and Rome are members of the Second Cardiff Expedition, sent to settle in the new land, in a town called Keystone. The expedition left in 1884. There were three "prequel" one day events in 2015, representing this transition. The first full year of the game, 2016, represented 1885. Now, as we begin year two, we'll be in 1886.

I didn't originally mean to spend so much time on the history and background of the game world, but that was, of course, necessary. Before you can figure out the fashion of your alternate history, you need to know what changed and when!

There are some more important details, from a costuming perspective. If you aren't familiar with LARPing, you should know that it is common for different in game groups to have costuming or make-up requirements. In a high fantasy game, for example, Elves would be required to wear prosthetic pointy elf ears. (Oh, and if you wear prosthetic ears, or a fake mustache, or stick a gem on yourself, or anything else, and are still using spirit gum, do yourself a favor and try Pros-Aide.) The British, in Keystone, need to have a red gem somewhere, generally have a robotic augmentation, and are ALWAYS covered from ankle to wrist to neck. The only two exceptions are if you need to, say, roll up your sleeves in the course of your job, or if you have an augmentation. Of COURSE you will show off that augmentation! If  (and only if) you had an upper chest augmentation, you could wear a low cut bodice.

Photos by Maureen Donaldson:

Photos by Linda C. Johnson

Photos by Christine Catalano: 

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