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Fashion designer dresses up for the ages
by Krystal Bick
Nov 06, 2008 | 995 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo - Designer Carolyn Loftis models the Edwardian dress she will wear at Saturday’s Victorian fashion show at  Foothills Church of Christ in south Reno.
Courtesy photo - Designer Carolyn Loftis models the Edwardian dress she will wear at Saturday’s Victorian fashion show at Foothills Church of Christ in south Reno.
Carolyn Loftis doesn’t like to just dress up. She lives to dress up.

And like any girl’s dress-up dream, Loftis, a self-claimed “edu-tainer,” specializing in making and finding classic, vintage outfits and preparing a Chataqua-like performance, has a house full of outfits.

Victorian-style dresses, 1940s shoes and hats, a few Renaissance pieces and, of course, several sewing machines with rich fabrics all around, fill her intimate upstairs work studio.

Walking through her wardrobe where she sews and makes most of her own outfits, Loftis admits she’s like a wide-eyed girl just imagining the dress-up possibilities.

“I just love the beautiful clothing,” Loftis said, with a hint of excitement for her upcoming Saturday Edwardian and Victorian fashion show at the Foothills Church of Christ in south Reno. “And I love history and looking at history from a daily-life perspective.”

Making everything from Renaissance to the 1920s party girls, from the classic Jackie O-inspired suits to swashbuckling pirate gear, “Lady Carolyn,” as she is called for performances, puts her own spin on most of her characters, giving audience members a special insight into a specific time period.

“My outfit (Edwardian style dating back to 1908) for this Saturday weighs 27 pounds,” Loftis said, adding that there are usually around 17 to 18 layers to the full outfit. “I describe the clothing pieces to people and even take off each layer. Then I add interesting tidbits of history about the lifestyle. I’m just always curious.”

But the curiosity process doesn’t happen overnight at a sewing machine.

For each character, like her upcoming famous Nevadan socialite Louise Mackay, Loftis said she researches for at least a couple of weeks to fully understand and become a new person.

The process of costume design, Loftis said, is much more collective.

Frequenting local thrift stores, consignment shops and antique stores, Loftis said she is always looking for new additions to her wardrobe collection, often altering normal and ordinary pieces into something that looks original.

“Your perception of clothing really starts to change,” Loftis said, picking up several hats that she hand-altered to look like 17th Century Charles Dickens-esque bonnets. “I try to get everything exactly as close as I can to the original outfit.”

To do this, Loftis said that in addition to history books and old diaries, she visits museums and museum Web sites, modeling entire outfits after original display pieces, adding that she “loves detail.”

While having grown up making her own clothing since she was 12, Loftis admits the sewing part is hard work, often taking up to two weeks of solid concentration.

“One of Saturday’s outfits has eight or nine undergarments alone,” Loftis said, amazed by the care and attention women went through to dress up for the day. “And it’s still more than what you and I wear on a normal day-to-day basis.”

Out of all of her collection, what’s her favorite?

“Whoever I am at the time,” Loftis said, with a laugh. “I love it all.”

The Victorian tea and fashion show is Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Foothills Church of Christ at 1477 Chamey Drive off Geiger Grade in south Reno. The event is a fundraiser for the church building and for the Village of Hope church building in Ghana, West Africa.

Tickets are $20 and are available at the door or at Zephyr Books located at 1501 S. Virginia St. For more information call the Church of Christ at 852-6004.
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