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Grown-ups can play dress-up, too

  • Melanie Stammler of the Bus Shoppe mobile boutique, left, in costume with friends at the Rivertown Revival. (Photo by WILL BUCQUOY)

Every young child loves to play dress-up, but as time passes, and peer pressure increases, that playful impulse often fades.

“As we grow up, we're told, 'Stop skipping. Don't giggle. Don't jump and down. Don't make believe.' So you learn to be a grown-up,” said Donna Lake of Petaluma.

Lake, a retired Coast Guard officer, heavy equipment operator and high school custodian, will appear in a very different role at Sunday's Much Ado About Sebastopol Renaissance Faire in Ives Park.

She'll be dressed as a 16th-century house servant in a costume she made herself.

“It's an outlet for fantasy, and my artistic side,” she said.

Lake is just one of many costume buffs in Sonoma County who set out to show themselves off in elaborate costumes at themed festivals all over Northern California, weekend after weekend.

Styles range from England's Elizabethan- and Victorian-era fashions to their modern, post-industrial equivalent, steam punk. But that's not the limit. There are pirates and Civil War soldiers, too, not to mention Halloween for grownups.

Melanie Stammler, a Petaluman who took her mobile Bus Shoppe costume and accessory boutique to Petaluma's Rivertown Revival and the Wunderkammer Handcar Races in Santa Rosa this summer, defines steam punk in simple terms.

“Just put on some striped leggings and a little corset, and you're good to go,” Stammler said.

“It's liberating. I look at it as an escape. You can let your inhibitions go.”

Michelle Carnes, a Forestville artist who appeared in costume at both the Rivertown and Wunderkammer events, said she dresses up not to become someone else, but to be herself.

“It's not an alter-ego. I'm still me,” even in a headdress or a bustier, said Carnes, who also co-owns the Counter Culture Art Haus at the Barlow Center in Sebastopol.

“I get to be my creative self. I'm promoting who I am deep down inside, but on the outside. I see myself as a powerful woman,” Carnes said.

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