At least once every year, an opportunity will present itself for you to dress up in some ridiculous or awesome costume. And every opportunity you’ll have a choice: do you buy a mass-produced throw away costume, or make something yourself?
Often the idea of making something yourself is daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow a few steps and you’ll be well on your way to a costume you can be proud of!
- Figure out what you want to be and your budget. It’s going to be hard to pull off Louis the Sun King of France on a budget of $17.23. But you could do a rockin’ 80s costume for that price!
- Research, research, research! This could be part of Step 1 and figuring out what you want to be. An online image search is your best tool. Try searching for “men 1880s” or “go-go girl”, starting with very broad categories first, then narrowing it down to something specific like “1887 English Whaling Captain Ahab”. Also remember that location is important. Cowboys and Sherlock Holmes were close historically, but they have vastly different looks.
- Watch out for trendy, modern versions of historical looks. If you’re going for Steampunk, then do Steampunk! But know that Steampunk takes its styling from Victorian and Edwardian eras. So if you want to do something Victorian, don’t use modern Steampunk costumes as your reference image. This may seem petty, but part of doing a true historical costume is being, well… historical!
- Head to the thrift store! Do it early, because they get cleared out in October. Thrift stores are wonderful for anything in the last 150 years. Before that takes more creativity, but it isn’t impossible. A jacket from 1987 can be modified with safety pins (on the inside) to look like a Forest Ranger’s uniform. Don’t look at a piece of clothing thinking: “what is it?” Instead, think: “what could this become?” You never know what you’ll find, and that’s part of the adventure. The main thing to remember during thrift store costuming is to be flexible. This is where the research comes in. If you were planning on doing Cleopatra, but find something perfect for Annie Oakley, be flexible and switch it up! Or keep looking and be the queen that you are.
- Modify it until its unrecognizable! This is where most people become afraid and head to the costume warehouse store. This is also where you can learn the most and feel the most satisfied once you’ve accomplished something yourself. You don’t have to be a professional seamstress to make something fun out of thrift store finds. Remember, you paid $1.50 for that shirt, so it’s OK if you ruin it. Don’t be afraid to cut stuff off and add more stuff later. A tip is to BUY BIG! Getting something a few sizes too big makes it easier to modify it smaller later on. Also look for some sort of liquid stitch fabric glue at a fabric store or Walmart. You can use this instead of getting a sewing machine if you don’t have one. Just know that it won’t hold everything together so be careful where you use it. Don’t want any embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions here… Remember, YouTube is your friend. So many tutorials and how-to’s.
- Have fun. Learn. Try again. And most importantly, don’t give up!! If your first foray into thrift store historical costuming doesn’t work, try again next time. Each time you do, you’ll be a little better.