I had been looking for a pirate jacket for a long time. I wanted something in brown or black, with a fitted top, but something that opened up at the waist. So when I found this long coat, in a neutral brown canvas, I was thrilled.
I thought that I would have to put brocade or trim or buttons on it to make it pirate-y, but it turned out (after a lot of trial and error) that as long as the other pieces were in place, it needed nothing. And because I didn’t touch the jacket, it can serve in the future as a steam-punk coat, or a cowboy duster.
In face, I was really surprised at how quickly it went from being a pirate jacket (when worn with a tricorn hat) to a cowboy duster (when worn with a cowboy hat.) In this case, the pirate accessories and details really do make the pirate costume. The black pants turned out to be a critical piece. With jeans, the jacket leans toward looking cowboy.
But another other thing that pushed the outfit solidly into pirate territory was the flouncy cuffs. As with everything else, I first mocked up the sleeves by just stuffing some white fabric into the cuffs to see how lace or ruffled sleeves would look. And it was immediately clear that they would greatly improve the look.
I went looking for a white gauzy shirt that I could add sleeve ruffles onto. I was specifically looking for a white shirt with no collar, and ended up accidentally choosing a women’s blouse with a tuxedo-like front. It turned out that the front pleats also added subtly to the pirate look. All I did was gather some white fabric and stitch it on the ends of the sleeves. The overall look of the sleeves didn’t matter, since only the ruffles would show.
Once I’d made the tail, the other key half of the costume is the bra. I found a bra that was the right color – and bought a camisole that was close to the bra. Then I went to the craft store and bought a ton of sequins and green mardi gras beads and stick on gems. I also found a bunch of pearl-edged trim at the thrift shop – and solicited a bag of seashells from friends.
I tried to make the two cups of the bra symmetrical. I failed. But I think that by trying to make them alike, I ensured that each side had the same amount and distribution of texture, and color. So even though they are not perfectly matched, one side isn’t more encrusted than the other. One doesn’t have more pearls while the other side has more shells.
When I finally tried it on, I liked how it looked, but realized that I would feel uncomfortable wearing underwear (basically) as a top. I took the camisole and hemmed it up so that it fit underneath the bra. This way, I had a solid back rather than a strap, and it felt more like a cropped shirt than a brassier. Also, it (almost) kept the stitches on the inside of the bra from poking me when I wore it.
An important lesson learned: I bought a second bra (as a back up bra) that was not quite the right color, but the same fabric as the other, better bra. This ended up being my “test it out” bra. Everything that I glued onto the “real” bra got glued onto the practice bra first. This got me comfortable with how the hot glue worked with the fabric and the pearls. I was able to experiment before potentially messing up the actual costume. I also mocked EVERYTHING up first. I pinned the strands of pearls where I wanted them. Then stitched them into place. I laid out the shells on the bra before gluing them on.
One of the tricks of thrifting for costumes is to thrift often, and to keep your eyes open for elements of costumes that are you aren’t working on right this minute, but which you have in the back of your mind. Two of those things, for me, were a sequined skirt or dress that I could turn into a mermaid tail, and a coat with the right cut / shape to become a pirate jacket.
In an amazing stroke of thrifting luck, I found both at the same time, along with some fantastic dresses that could be used for mermaid fabric. I knew that there was an ocean-themed costume ball coming up. I’d sort of decided not to go, but when I hit the jackpot on these costume elements, I knew that I had to put together a mermaid costume and a pirate outfit for the event.
I knew for a long time that I wanted a green or blue sequined garment to become a mermaid tail. So when I found this sequined dress, I was very excited. What I hadn’t expected, though, was to find a dress that I could just wear upside down – and that’s pretty much what I did. The dress is asymmetrical with one sleeve. By opening up the sleeve, and turning the dress upside down, the sleeve became something like a swishy tail, and the lower hem became the waist of the tail.
While the dress was meant to be tight, the bottom hem of the dress (which became the waist of the tail) was still too loose to fit snugly around my waist, so I cinched it tight with a belt. My plan had been to glue a big seashell to the front of the belt as a buckle, but instead I covered the whole belt over with an old belly-dancer belt that I had. I really didn’t need to add more to the belly dancer belt, but since I had the strings of pearls, I hung them down from the belt to make it feel more mermaid and less belly-dancer.
I looked at a lot of mermaid tails, and liked the way that some had sort of ruffled bottoms that could be flukes or maybe foam. I lucked out and found a pair of filmy nightgown/dresses that went along with the colors of the sequined tail. Literally, all did with those was cut them into large rectangles, hem the sides, gather one edge, and stitch the tiers into the bottom edge of the tail. On the inside, the edge looks rough and unfinished – and it would never stand up to a vigorous washing – but since it’s a costume, and I’ll only hand wash it a few times, it doesn’t matter.
The next step – making the top.
Recently, I received a last minute invitation to one of those murder mystery parties. I was expected to come as Alice in Wonderland. I had about four days to put the costume together. This is my story.
I knew that the costume itself was actually pretty straightforward – blue dress, white apron, black mary-janes. So I went to several thrift shops looking for the raw materials, fully expecting to have to modify them at least somewhat.
I suspect that this will be a good tutorial in sort of “making do.” There were lots of parts of putting this together that were completely accidental. And I needed to stay very very open to how the costume would come together. I compromised on almost every step – but I still think I ended up with an okay result.
I was looking for a dress with a) a full skirt, b) a peter pan collar, and c) in a light blue color. This is the best that I came up with on such super short notice:
The color isn’t SO dark that it won’t work – although it’s darker than I’d like. And I thought that I could maybe turn the double-breasted front into a button up thing? Or put a zipper (or even Velcro) up the front. If I pretend that there is yet another button, the very top of the lapels sort of make a collar. Anyway, it’s the best that I could find.
Then I went looking for something to fill the skirt out a bit. I was actually looking for a crinoline, or a skirt (or dress) with a built-in crinoline that I could rip apart and add to this dress. What I actually found was a white dress with a full skirt that, even though it didn’t have tulle inside, was quite full and poofy. Much more so than it seems in this picture. It was also small enough to be completely obscured beneath the blue dress., if I sort of tucked in the collar. It’s an extra small or some ridiculous size, but it’s a wrap dress, and all I want it for is the skirt.
You’ll note that this is only just barely sort of what I was really looking for – a crinoline. But it gave me the right end result – a poofy skirt. And it actually worked out better than that. In the end, I let the last inch or two of this dress show beneath the blue and it looked great.
Finally, I needed an apron. And I was really stumped on this. I looked for aprons, but none of them were very good. Not frilly enough at all. Too utilitarian. I knew that, in an apron, what I was really looking for was a wide, flat, white front part, with narrow or strappy sleeves. I thought I could even use a white belt to cinch it, if need be. I found a nightgown that was sorta-kinda-not-really-but-maybe what I wanted?
I plan on throwing a “Downton to Disco” party at some point. People would be invited to come dressed as their favorite decade. (Sounds like fun, right?) So I went rummaging through my costume closet to see what odds and ends I had – in case folks wanted to borrow them. Here are the results!
This is one of my personal favorites. It’s a vintage 1960’s or 1970’s blouse. It’s a bit small – but almost fits me on top and I’m about a size 10. The sleeves feel short, but I can work with that. I’d pair it with a pair of white pants. And I’d consider a wide, white head band or head scarf, to complete the look.
This second blouse is quite similar – same time period. It’s quite a bit larger – too large for me, really. And again, I’d just pair it with white pants and a white head scarf.
In keeping with the bright colors of the 1960’s and 1970’s, here is a FABULOUS dress that I recently acquired. It just barely fits me – and at 5 feet 7 inches, I’m perhaps a tad too tall to wear it. The waist hits me a bit high, and the length is about 2 inches short. I love the flare of the sleeves, though. I’d wear it with brown sandals or, better yet, bare feet.
And again, from about the same time period but from a VERY different socio-economic demographic, here is a dress that is almost a house coat. Again, it just fits me – perhaps a tiny bit tight in the belly – and I wear either a size 8 or a size 10 dress. I like how dorky it is, honestly.
I love these pants. They are an extra-large, but I think that probably means about a size 14 or 16? It’s been a long time since I tried them on. I had thought that I would wear them with a black turtle neck.
This skirt is tiny tiny tiny. It’s a wrap around, but it’s got to be smaller than a size 6. I definitely can’t fit into it – even if I were to be flexible on how much wrapping around I did with it. But that fabric! It’s amazing!
For those who might want to go more hippy-style, I’ve got a loose-fitting long skirt. I’m not sure what I’d pair it with on top. Perhaps just a brown t-shirt? It’s got an elastic waste band, so the sizing should be pretty flexible. And it used to fit me back when I was a size 14 or so.
For those who might want something a bit more classical, I’ve got this dress that I’ve always thought of as the Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farms dress. It’s the sort of thing you’d wear if you were going to sit out in a field of poppies reading a book. It’s sort of an off-the-shoulder number – long and flowing. And again, it used to fit me when I was a couple sizes larger, so I’m betting it’s maybe a size 14?
Finally, I still have The Go-Go Girl dress, as well as The Gatsby Costume. The Go-Go Girl dress fit me when I was a 14 or a 16, and The Gatsby Dress is large – but is supposed to be roomy if you want to keep with the era.
I’m planning on wearing something from this collection – or possibly one of my vintage 1950’s dresses. Not sure yet – so everything is up for grabs!
A month or two after the Gatsby Party, I found (thrifting, of course) the dress that I wish that I had in my closet for this costume. Just for fun, I put the dress and accessories on again – to see if I liked it any better. I think it’s perfect.
And just to prove that no costume is ever COMPLETELY finished – here is the post-post final version, worn about a year later. The only differences are that I took the rhinestones off of the black bow on the dress, and added black hose. I’d say that I think this much be the very final version – but I know that is tempting fate.
This isn’t a fabulous picture – you can’t see the bow at all, rhinestones or no rhinestones – but I think you can definitely get the overall feel of the final costume. And I am really surprised how much more modest (and thus appropriate) the black hose make the outfit.