SOME MUSINGS ON COSTUME CONTESTS
(as published in The Cowboy Chronicle)
One month in the summer, Moon showed up to a match in his Indian/Native American costume. I thought, "Now there's an original costume. Took real guts to wear it. Too bad he wouldn't win anything at most SASS costume contests." But then, neither would Captain Jarrett in his historically perfect Indian Wars Captain's outfit, Crow Dog, Buffalo Bill, Barkeep, or someone dressed as a Bengal Lancerat all too many SASS costume contests.
If you have only "Best Working Cowboy" and "Best Cattle Baron" as costume categories for men, where do you put Moon?
I've seen a lot of contestants put considerable effort into their costumes. I've only seen one match put similar effort into their costume contest, maybe 2.
Hell On Wheels hired an outside "Living History Expert". Now there's a job title I didn't know existed before then. But he worked out well. He knew his stuff. And he had several categories to choose from.
Winter Range had the fancy dress contestants go through a line to be analyzed by the judges. This isn't a bad idea as it makes sure the judges see everyone who is interested in the costume contest.
At most matches the costume committee, often one person, chooses the winners. With the normal shortage of workers, getting ANYBODY to do this job is hard enough. Getting experts at this to do the job is nigh on to impossible. But try. Ask the local historical society, college history department, etc. Try to get someone who doesn't know the contestants. That judge will be judging costumes, not picking most popular. At Longhorn Crossing, unable to find an outsider, they used one of the vendors, Cowtown Katy. She knew clothing and could be objective. For the "shooting" costumes, contestants showed up at her tent with their costume contest entry/judging form on Saturday between 9 and 1. For the "party" costumes, she and the costume contest chief had a table to which one reported if one wanted to be judged. In both cases the judge(s) asked questions about the costume and the character.
And at most matches there aren't enough categories, and the categories have limitations. Like many of the contestants, I don't "play" a cowboy. I play a historical person who was an Indian fighter, soldier, lawman, and legislator. When the categories are "best working cowboy" and "best cattle baron," I know I'm not included. If you're going to have only two awards, it should be "best shooting," and "best dress." Leave it open to everyone.
Judging these costumes, assuming you want to do it correctly, is difficult. The judges should know what is historically accurate (in the classes, if there are any, which count that, excluding Silver Screen, for example). This is difficult. Most judges, for example, seeing a cowboy wearing roping cuffs and batwing chaps will think the contestant has gone the extra mile in adding authenticity to his costume. I've seen the winners of "best working cowboy" be the guys with the most leather more than once. However, both were invented long after the cattle drive was history. They would be authentic for a 20th century cowboy. A working cowboy during the heyday of the cattle drives might wear shotgun chaps on the drive, not batwings, and no cuffs. I seldom see shotgun chaps worn. They're a pain to put on and take off.
The judge(s) need to know 2 things: 1) Who are you? 2) When are you?
Captain Samuel Clayton reports to the costume judging table at Longhorn Crossing. Prudy Perkins and Cowtown Katy handle the tough job of judging, made easier by categories and criteria for each. They're asking Capt. Clayton "Who are you and when are you?"
A cowboy in a brand new working outfit would be historically unlikely unless he had just gotten paid at the end of the cattle drive and spent his pay on a new outfit instead of whiskey and wild women. But, if the judge asked, Who are you and when are you? And he answered, "I'm Teddy Blue Abbott, and I just reached Dodge City and bought this here new outfit, summer of '73," then the clean new clothes would be historically correct. Otherwise the cowboy who left his hat and clothes on a fence post in the weather for 3 weeks and then put them on and rolled in the dirt in the parking lot would be more correct. If he smelled really bad, he should get extra points, but then I wouldn't want to encourage that. There is a point of excessive authenticity.
If he said, "what was the question?" the judges can move on. This person didn't come for the costume contest. That's okay. Most people don't.
A double buscadero rig would cost you points in the historical categories as being unauthentic. If you were playing The Lone Ranger, then it would be appropriate.
Remember 75-80% of contestants don't care about the costume contest. It doesn't mean they're not playing the game. It just means they're not playing the costume game.
As far as categories go, the more categories there are, the more winners, naturally. This isn't a bad thing as we like to see people win things. That's why we have awards. You can have as many or as few as the club wants.
Some suggestions, budget and committee expertise permitting:
Best Shooting, civilian, Historicalmeaning not that you're trying to be Wyatt Earp, (though you can be) but you're not a silver screen character. You're, say, a typical 1880 Texas Ranger or 1873 town marshal, or 1866 town doctor, etc. Then Barkeep, who does not play a cowboy, or Crow Dog, who plays an Indian, can compete with Buffalo Bill or Teddy Blue Abbott, etc. The criteria should be historical accuracy of the entire outfit, including leather (This class can be combined with the next one if needed).
Major Ned Prentiss would qualify for the category "Best Shooting, Civilian, Historical." Considering the fact that he's accurate for 1875 down to his underwear, 1875 period firearms and powder, black, he more or less epidomizes the category.
Best Shooting, Military, Historical: The criteria should be historical accuracy of the entire outfit. Several shooters have adopted military personas. They should have a class instead of being eliminated as soon as the classes are announced. Judging this requires really knowledgeable judges. The uniforms varied from year to year, and availability of components in some remote forts was so poor that half of a trooper's outfit might be civilian. Officers wore mostly their own clothes. George Armstrong Custer designed his own uniform. The judges would need to question the contestants about the aspects of their costume if unsure.
Maverick is wearing a historically accurate Rough Rider costume (Sam Elliott wore it in the movie "The Rough Riders.") This isn't a "Best Working Cowboy" costume, but it is accurate, unusual, and interesting. It needs a category like, "Best Shooting-Military, historical." The cowpoke next to him would be in "Best Shooting-Civilian, historical." (When this was published in The Cowboy Chronicle they noted that his "Shotgun Bra" is seriously illegal.) Huntress, sitting down, would qualify for "Best Shooting-Cowgirl, Historical."
Best Shooting, silver screen/fantasy. The criteria should be how well the contestant matches the appearance of a silver screen character or genre. The twin buscadero rig with nickel silver conchos is part of that. He shouldn't be competing against guys who are trying to be scrupulously historically accurate. He's trying for a different effect. The fantasy costume, like Gunzilla's, should go here.
Jack Houston Appearing As The Lone Rider epidomizes the Silver Screen category. Everything in the costume is out of '30s B western movies. The buscadero rig belonged to "Jack Houston," who played The Lone Rider in several '30s movies. His son plays the part now.
Best Dress, civilian, historical.
Best Dress, military, historical.
(courtesy Major Photography)-Col. George Baylor, CSA, shown with his lady, "The Redhead," SASS 25034 doesn't fit under "Best Cattle Baron." But when there's a Best dress-military category, there's a place for his costume. But it takes a good judge to determine, "is it authentic?" (He carries only Confederate money. Col. Baylor was a cavalry officer put in a staff position. You decide.)
The Redhead would be an example of the category "Best Dress-Historical"
These can be combined to Best Dress, historical if needed.
Best Dress, silver screen/fantasy. The criteria should be how well the contestant matches the appearance of a silver screen character or genre. If you're combining classes, combine this with Best Shooting, silver screen/fantasy as just Best Silver Screen/fantasy.
Best Shooting Cowgirl, historicalbear with me. This is for the woman shooting in pants. The Cowgirl started in the 1890s, but women had to wear pants before this when doing "man's" work. They would wear men's clothing (no, I have no class suggestion for men wearing women's clothing) or whatever was available. So the "cowgirl" could be a 1880s ranch wife working on the range or a 1895 Wild West Show performer, for example.
Best Shooting Ladies, historicalThis is the class for women shooting in dresses. Shooting these matches in a hoop skirt that touches the ground has got to be exceedingly difficult. But we see women who, if they took their guns off, could look right at home on the front porch of a ranch or sodbuster's house or the one room schoolhouse. (Ladies did not wear two pistols when going to the General Store.) This is the category the schoolmarm, the historically accurate soiled dove, and the clerk at the dry goods store go.
Deadeye Dawn is an example of a "Best Shooting-Ladies Historical."
Powderpuff shoots in a historically accurate lady's outfit, long dress and all. She is an example of a "Best Shooting-Ladies Historical."
Here's a perfect example of a "Best Shooting-Fantasy/Silver Screen." If, on the other hand, she showed a photo of a Wild West Show performer wearing this outfit, she could be in "Best Shooting-Cowgirl, Historical."
Best Shooting fantasy/Silver Screen. If you look like Dale Evans in any of her movies or Natalie Wood in The Searchers, this is the place for you. (She was dressed as an Indian maid, but not like any Indian maid in real life 1870s.)
Best Dress historical. The criteria should be historical accuracy of the entire outfit.
Best Dress fantasy/Silver Screen. Okay, this is easy. Look at some of Shotglass's costumes or Buckskin Bunny. Their Soiled Dove costumes are pure fantasy. Someone portraying a real soiled dove would be in Best Dress historical. Fantasy Saloon Girls were in a lot of movies.
Shotglass, who is usually pretty outrageous herself, won "Best Dress-Fantasy/Silver Screen" as "Diamond Lil." It's definitely a fantasy costume.
Best Junior Boy and Girl, of course, and sub-junior, lots of awards in these categories, such as shooting and dress. They're the future of the sport.
Best Couple, historical
Best Couple, Silver Screen
The wife/girlfriend/significant other who dutifully accompanies her man to these events and "plays the game" of dressing up but who doesn't shoot should be eligible for these category awards, or have Best Non-Shooter among the women's categories.
Optional: Most Original/Most Outrageous, male and female. Gunzilla is both original and outrageous, but neither historical nor silver screen.
If Sexy Sadie doesn't epidomize "Most Outrageous," then what does?
The categories should have a place for Crow Dog's Indian, Buffalo Bill Cody, Captain Jarrett, Arizona Calamity, Buckskin Bunny, Lone Rider, Barkeep, the occasional Bengal Lancer or Boer, and all of the shooters who DO dress as cowboys and their ladies.