Carmen Miranda – The Finished Costume

The first picture below shows the Carmen Miranda dress with the headpiece that I made right after I first put them together.   But I decided that I wanted to wear it to work, and was uncomfortable showing quite that much decolletage.    So I put a black peasant-style blouse, with a large, gathered neckline, on underneath.   It covers things up – at least a bit – but doesn’t detract too much from the whole “look.”   I’ve used this same trick as well under things like bustiers.

(I also didn’t like some of the gaps that were visible in between the fruit on the turban, so I added some little plastic flowers, just to fill things in a bit.)



Carmen Miranda – The Headpiece

Carmen Miranda is pretty much entirely about the fruit-covered turban.   Once I found the dress, all that remained was the headpiece, really.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures as I went along, but the process went roughly like this:

Find the key ingredients

  1. Look in thrift shops for plastic fruit.    Turns out, lemons and grapes are easy to find.  Pineapples?  Not so much.   I ended up finding some plastic fruit at the dollar store (children’s toy food provided all the bananas), and a TON of plastic grapes from the thrift shop.   Look in the “floral” or “craft” section, since people seem to want to make center pieces or wreaths out of fake fruit.  I was unable to find pineapples, so I bought them online.   Turned out that they were really just Styrofoam, coated with plastic or paint – which was perfect, as you’ll see.
  2. Find a brightly colored ball-cap that fits you, and that is adjustable (in case anyone other than you wants to borrow the headpiece at some point.)

Next, we build a solid foundation to hold the fruit.

  1. Cut the bill off of an adjustable ball cap.   The fruit will need a stable base, and the brim-less ball-cap is the first element of that base.
  2. Bend a coat hanger around so that it wraps around the ball cap, and then extends straight up from the center of the cap, like a big radio antenna.   Give yourself a nice long antenna – you can always cut it down later.
  3. Tack the coat hanger onto the ball cap.  By this I mean to secure the coat hanger onto the ball cap at several spots.    I sewed it on, because I wanted thing to be able to shift a bit.  And if I needed to bend the coat hanger later, I didn’t want things to pucker up.   But you could probably staple it on, or maybe even use heavy tape.   I’d suggest using a method that both secures it to the hat, but let’s it slide.   Here’s a picture of the ball cap and coat hanger underneath the turban.  You can see how I used red thread to whip stitch the coat hanger in place, while still allowing the hanger to slide back and forth.

At this point, I have a solid foundation – a hat that will cinch tightly enough around my head that it will stay on and support some not-heavy-but-not-light-either fruit, and a post to which I can secure the fruit.

Now, I need to cover that base with a turban and fruit.

  1. Google how to craft a simple, brightly-colored turban.  I used the tutorial here but if the link is broken, you’ll need to figure it out yourself.  Sew it, or glue it together.  Or buy a cheap, floral  one.   It will be the visible part of the headpiece, so it should match the dress – or at least seem fruity.
  2. Try the turban on. Make sure it fits.  Then, put it over the ball cap, poking the wire hanger up through the middle.  Cut a little hole if you need to – it will be hidden by the fruit.   We’re just covering up the ball cap to make it look nice.
  3. Cut the wire hanger so that it’s no longer than your pineapple, then shove that Styrofoam pineapple down onto the protruding coat hanger.  (Or oranges, I suppose, but the pineapple was really ideal.)

Now I have a nice foundation, and a center pineapple to which I can affix my other decorative elements.

From here on out, it’s about attaching things to the turban.

Before I attached ANYTHING to ANYTHING, I stuck it together with tape and pins and anything else I could find that I could later remove.  I wanted the fruit arrangement to look balanced, but not symmetrical.   I wanted a mix of colors and sizes and shapes, but I wanted it all to come together into a tall cone shape.    I didn’t trust myself to get it right on the first try, so I mocked it up several times before getting an arrangement that I liked.

I also cut several of the fruit pieces.  You can see in the pictures below (click on them to get a close-up) how I cut the Styrofoam orange in the left picture, and the plastic orange and strawberry in the right one.     (In the right hand picture, you can also see another view of that cut Styrofoam orange.)  I think that the lemon in the lower center of the right picture was also cut down a bit.  This allowed me to really pack the fruit on, making it seem like a dense pile.   You can also see how I hid some of the empty gaps with little white plastic flowers and leaves.    I wanted it to look full and colorful, with a mix of textures and sizes.   Cutting the fruit also allowed me to use the spare bits to test out methods of gluing or tacking the fruit in place.

I used a hot glue gun for most pieces, but did stitch the grapes onto the hat.   They hung down to the side, and I wanted them to hang, rather than be fixed in place.   So I tacked them down in a couple of places – just so that they lay where I wanted them to, but could still shift around as needed.

Test out the hot glue gun a bit so you get used to how it works with Styrofoam.   Because the Styrofoam is an insulator, it takes a LONG time to cool.  So be prepared to hold that lemon in place for a while to make sure it doesn’t slide around.    This is a good use for those cut off ends of the fruit that I mentioned earlier.

Below are a variety of different close-up pictures, showing the headpiece from various angles – in case you need a closer look at how it was arranged or assembled.   But basically, this is it.  Voila.   All we need to do now is put the two pieces (dress + turban) on together.

Alice in Wonderland with The Mad Hatter

Some time ago, I put together an Alice in Wonderland costume.    This Halloween, I needed a good, quick costume for me and my boyfriend, so I dusted off the Alice outfit (making her a new apron, doing a better job hemming the dress), and put together  a quick Mad Hatter.

There really isn’t much to report on this – other than to show the final picture.  The Mad Hatter was almost completely pieces bought from a thrift shop.  We sought out pieces that looked clean and dapper – but that didn’t quite match or were overly loud.  The trick, really, was to make him look ridiculous without veering into Hobo territory.   Wide French cuffs, a vest along with the suit, and a polka-dot tie were probably the most important pieces – aside from the hat.   Also, I feel that the tag tucked into the hat band may also be important.    When you see that tag, some sort of alarm bell goes off in your head that says “Mad Hatter!”

Other Aquatic Costumes

I’ve always wanted to do a clownfish-in-an-anemone costume.   And I found both halves of the costume at the same party – just not worn by the same person.

The anemone costume works quite well.   I would worry about the balloons popping, but it seemed to hold up okay.   The biggest challenge for me would be making sure that I could do basic party activities in the costume – mostly sitting down, eating, and using the restroom.   But the effect is really good.  I’m not as excited about the Nemo half of the duo, however.

This fish bonnet thing is fantastic.   It’s made of soft foam rubber – which is how it holds its shape so well – and then is covered with shimmery fabric.   I think it looks adorable, and love that the fish’s face is the wearer’s face.   The woman who made it commented that when she wore it, she couldn’t hear.  So I’d want to cut out ear holes of some sort.  I’m also sure that I’d be whacking people in the face with it if I wasn’t careful.

But if you wore BOTH the anemone outfit and a clownfish-bonnet, you’d have the clownfish-in-an-anemone costume down pat.   If it worked.

There were a few people dressed as jelly fish.   They all had some sort of wide top – a wide-brimmed hat, or in one case a clear bubble-style umbrella, with pink streamers of tentacles hanging from the edge.   Some people had lights on the top, also, which was very good.   I like that this costume doesn’t really require anything other than a single prop – an umbrella or a hat – and yet is still very effective.

In the same vein, there was  a guy dressed (and I use the term loosely) as a lantern-fish.    My photo of him didn’t come out, but he was just wearing jeans and a grey t-shirt, but he was carrying a stick with a black dangly appendage from the top, with a glowing ball at the very end.   Because the wand / stick looked SO much like a lantern-fish’s lantern, the entire costume was clearly a lantern fish.   Very clever.


Pirate – Final Costume

Once we had the main pirate garments and hat in place, we started adding different details to the costume to see what worked.   The gold earring and eye patch were obvious, but the weapons load out took a little bit of strategizing.

First, I looped two long leather belts together to make an across-the-body holster.    A cutlass was just slipped through a loop where the two belts met at the hip.    My boyfriend really wanted to strap some pistols to the front of the belt, but I was skeptical until I actually saw the result.   They are just held on with black elastic hair bands, but they really add to the overall look of the costume.   That pirate looks locked and loaded and ready for action!

Also, he found a heavy leather belt with a big brass buckle in front.     The rivets and tooling on the belt, and the brass, add to the pirate look.   Overall, I was very pleased with the final effect of the complete pirate costume.



Pirate – Tricorn Hat

Now that I had the jacket and shirt, I needed a pirate hat.   I have an old, foam tricorn hat, but wanted something a little sturdier, and nicer looking for my pirate costume.   I googled around and found a tutorial that suggested buying a large women’s straw hat, covering it with fabric, and stitching the three sides up against the crown.   I won’t go into great detail, but the overview is that I used spray-on adhesive to glue donut-shaped fabric pieces to the top and bottom of the brim.   I then covered the top of the cap with fabric – also using adhesive – and wrapped the sides of the cap part with a wide strip of fabric.  Almost like a very wide hat band.

I left a few inches all around the brim on both the top and bottom pieces.  I should have just trimmed the fabric to exactly the size of the brim and painted or colored the exposed straw edge.  Instead, I cut down the top piece of fabric to the brim size, and then folded over the fabric and secured it with hot glue.  It looks great from the bottom, but the top is a mess.   Fortunately, not much of it shows once the hat now that the three corners are stitched up – but I wish I had ended up with a cleaner looking job.

The trim is just hot glued on in a single, wide strip, after the sides are sew up and tacked to the cap part.   I was looking for gold trim, but the burgundy works just as well, I think.