An important survival skill for any Louisiana native is the art of on-the-fly costuming. Sometimes, it’s an invitation to a costume-only birthday party in the middle of the holidays, or a breathless call offering last minute tickets to Mom’s Ball. Sometimes, it’s just Saturday night. I learned at an early age that a good costume can be pulled together in two hours or less. Great ones might take a little longer, but I’ve found that the more ingenuity and effort you put into your costume, the more compliments, drinks, photos, and new friends you’ll pick up along the way.
Why buy a $50 toga costume from the store when you can transform a silk robe or bedsheet with some safety pins, a colorful sash, and chunky gold jewelery? By the age of 12, I had assimilated an arsenal of supplies. My costume kit has grown considerably over the years, but it roughly includes: glue, safety pins, a sewing kit, a set of acrylic paints, body paint, a collection of discarded clothes, sheets, and scraps, and a miscellaneous froo-froo box consisting of fake flowers, feathers, and funky accessories. Without realizing it, I have been using recycled materials to make my own eco-friendly creations.
If you’ve never done this before, or if you’re not the craftiest of them all, don’t be overwhelmed. Write down a few ideas and figure out what would be easy to make and fun to wear (comfort is important). If there is an element of your costume you don’t know how to construct, chances are a household item or two can do the trick.
Wings, Tails, and Miscellaneous Extra Parts:
Transform yourself into an angel, a fairy, or a bug in no time with some wire hangers, nylons, and paint. Bend two coat hangers into the shape of your wings and cover each of them with a nylon stocking, secured by a rubber band. Then, paint them with monarch patterns, feathers, or swirling colors. To make a bendable tail or extra appendage, stuff a nylon stocking with newspaper, rags, or stuffing from an old pillow. Then, unwind a coat hanger until it’s straight, thread it through the stuffed nylon, and spray paint your new tail, arm, or leg.
Start by collecting all the clothes you don’t wear anymore and intend to throw out or give away. Store them in a big box, and keep adding to it. If you’re a pack rat like me, this should be music to your ears (you avoid having to give up those clothes you like, but don’t seem to wear often enough to justify keeping in the closet). If you have a particular fabric or cut in mind, the best places to look are thrift stores and garage sales. Often people will sell a big bag of their old Carnival costumes—I have found some fantastic outfits that way. If you find a gorgeous fabric that happens to be a giantess’s muumuu, remember, you can cut, pin, drape, sew, or glue it into the right shape and still have some leftover scraps for accents. If you absolutely hate sewing or don’t have the time for it, grab a big box of safety pins and get down.
Feathers, flowers, ribbons, hats, gloves, shoes, and leggings are some of the items you can use to transform your costume into an authentic, unique creation. With a little glue, paint, and an open mind, you can bring any costume to the next level with the right accessories. If you’re masquerading as a mad hatter or funky pirate, use an old hat as a base to sculpt a wire and cloth or papier-mâché hat. Add some paint and a few pieces of flair and voila! Feathered headpieces are wildly popular these days and can spice up any night on the town. Grab a fake flower and a few pretty feathers, bunch them together, and use colored pipe cleaners and glue to afix them to a plain headband, clip, or barrette.
This simple technique is a fun, green, and easy way to create anything you can’t accomplish with cloth—a fanciful Venetian face mask, a giant animal head, or even a suit of armor. Use coat hangers or wire from the hardware store to create an armature; if you are making a large piece, it’s good to reinforce the structure with chicken wire or thick cloth. Once you’ve constructed your armature, rip up a bunch of old newspaper and dip each piece in a flour and water mixture of pancake batter consistency. Layer the newspaper strips over the armature to create a thick plaster; wait a day for it to dry. Then, paint it however you like! Be sure to seal it afterwards if you want your masterpiece to hold up in a drizzle. If you’d like to ride your bicycle around in costume, you can use this same technique to make fanciful decorations and attach them to your ride to make a spaceship, unicorn, or racecar.
Face and Body Paint:
Two-dollar store-bought face paint is cheap for a reason. A study done by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that 10 out of 10 common face paint brands contained lead. They also found nickel, cobalt, and chromium in some of the children’s face paints, and the paints labelled “nontoxic” and “hypoallergenic” were some of the worst ones! These kinds of chemicals can cause skin sensitization and contact dermatitis. Once, I was burned by using these drugstore varieties; the next day, I showed up to work with swirling red and black stains all over my face and neck. Never again. Buy organic face paint or mix your own with a simple recipe: food dye and cold cream or eco-friendly body cream.
I hope you can use this little bag of tricks to make your own eco-friendly costume kit. As it grows, so will your repertoire and skill level. Invite friends over for a costume making party a few weeks before the big day—you could even organize a green group costume effort. If you’re intimidated by papier-mâché and intensive sewing, keep it simple with thrift store finds, safety pins, organic face paint, and a colorful feather or two. When in doubt, add glitter.