Costume Parties: One Person’s Heaven, Another Person’s Hell

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It’s nearly New Year’s Eve Party time.  Some people spend weeks making costumes for such an event,  while others won’t even wear a silly hat.  It seems that while many party guests love to dress up and pretend to be someone or something else, there are those who refuse to make any effort at all.

I have noticed that those who do not attend in costume often end up feeling left out and don’t have as much fun as the party goers who have embraced the theme.  Maybe some people have a costume phobia because of some tortuous experience in childhood or early adulthood.  If you are going to a party this weekend, for the reluctant participant I have made the following list of recommendations that should help anyone survive an event that requires a costume.  Some of these things are from personal experience and I still like to dress up.

  1. Never wear anything that you cannot sit down in. Eg. A Christmas Bon Bon outfit made of cardboard and crepe paper is a bad idea.
  2. Following on from point 1, never wear anything made in one piece that requires removal to go to the bathroom.
  3. It is best to avoid costumes made from crepe paper altogether because, firstly, they are a fire hazard and secondly, if it is humid or wet this will become droopy and colors may run down your face.  Eg. when your mother made you a crepe paper flower costume and it wilted like a real flower in a heat wave.
  4. Never wear anything that you do not want to be caught in if your car breaks down or if you are locked out of your house. Any realistic characters with a fake gun are probably not a good idea.
  5. Never wear anything that blocks your vision, prevents you from eating and drinking, or is so hot that you can only have your underwear underneath and cannot take it off when you go into a melt down. Even if they look cute, full furry animal costumes are a big mistake and should be left well alone.
  6. Never substitute indelible felt pen for make-up or use red or black grease paint. These will require industrial strength cold cream to remove.
  7. Never wear anything that is a hazardous to others.  Eg. Pipi Longstockings style plaits with a wire core can be dangerous for anyone sitting next to you.  Unless it’s someone in a Captain Hook costume.  They’re already wearing an eye patch. But the damage you could do on the dance floor does not bear thinking about.
  8. If you travel to a summertime party and it is still daylight, never drive through the city centre wearing an 18th century style wig and dress. You will cause a spectacle when stopped at traffic lights and it is impossible to hide.  Maximum embarrassment will result.
  9. Clown costumes were never a good idea, even before the creepy clown epidemic.
  10. If you disregard the above points, you are probably a masochist or an extreme exhibitionist.  So no sympathy when it all goes pear-shaped.

Now that you are aware of the pitfalls, it is possible to come up with some reliable costume ideas.  What follows are some costume suggestions for both those who love to dress up and for those who are more hesitant.

If you cannot sew like me, collect clothes that can be turned into a character just by using a bit of imagination (Op shops and weekend markets are good sources).  You can then reuse or reinterpret favourite costumes and keep them stored away in a wardrobe or vac-packed, so that it is never difficult to find something at short notice.  For example, my several long velvet dresses have been used to create Queens, Medieval ladies and witches, depending on the occasion.  One of my favorite characters from both film and TV versions, is the evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  She is just so nasty, has all the best lines and is a perfect character for a party costume.  Much more fun than dressing up as Miss goody two shoes Snow White.   I have a blue velvet kaftan dress that looks quite medieval and very “Evil Queen”.  All I have to do is put a glittery black knit top underneath, add some gold chains and a fake jewel, a black veil and a (cardboard) jewel encrusted crown and I have a great costume for colder weather. “An Apple, my pretty?”

The Crown was created by cutting out the shape from a cardboard base.  This was covered with fabric and was then covered with gold paper that had cutouts left to reveal the underlying material.   Stick on Velcro was used to fasten the ends of the crown together, and it was decorated with glass gems. Took a bit of work but I think that it looks very regal and can be used more than once.

You could make a King costume using the same principles.  A turtle neck top worn with slim black pants (tights if you dare) under some kind of robe or cape, with a similar crown, some chains around the neck and a prop sword and you could be King Arthur, Aragorn or if you like the dark side, the horrible King Joffrey from Game of Thrones, who has some great lines and an over the top death scene as inspiration.

For a warm weather costume the versatile standby is a fairy outfit, which has endless permutations.  All you need is a light party top, a skirt made from transparent or flowing material and some wings, which can easily be found at a $2 shop.  I have some glittery white ones.  I put these over a red, white and black chiffon style top that has long flowing sleeves.  For a skirt I use a couple of white half-slips, the top one being made of transparent net.  In my hair I put some cerise artificial flowers that I sewed to a large hair clip.  Attached to the flowers is a copper-colored butterfly for a bit of whimsy (for the purpose of the photos I have used a particularly itchy wig mistakenly bought from a party shop. This type of thing should have been on my warning list, along with feathered masks that make you sneeze).

With such a costume, you can be the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, the Good Fairy from Sleeping Beauty or if you like, the Bad Fairy.  Just do everything in black.  And as for you men out there, I have seen many a brave male in a fairy costume.  But if this is not your thing, there are always wizards or elves, the main requirements being a pointed hat and staff for the former and pointy ear attachments for the latter (and a loud voice and predilection for poetry).

If you can, it is also fun to create your own costume character.  Ellie and I are sci-fi fans and for a local art group’s New Year’s Party we designed and made Space Alien costumes.  Ellie, who can sew, used metallic gold fabric to make tabards (medieval term for open sided tunic) with art deco inspired padded shoulder extensions, requiring a lot of polyester stuffing material.  We made black satin belts that fasten with Velcro and attached a gold painted cassette tape to each to simulate some kind of power pack.  The tabard was worn over black cotton camisoles and black leggings (I had to use a long skirt in the photos as the dummy does not have legs).  We carried plastic ray guns that made a whirring noise.  On our heads we wore sparkly gold wigs from a $2 shop.  These don’t itch.  We both won a prize for our costumes and had a lot of fun being silly and quoting clichéd lines from sci-fi movies, Star Trek and Dr Who.

These types of sci-fi costumes work well for both men and women. They can also be adapted for colder weather with a long-sleeved top underneath and warmer pants and boots.  Also good outfits for a group.  You can pretend it is an Alien invasion.

There are plenty of costume ideas that are imaginative and comfortable to wear, so you should be able to find or make something that will ensure that you have lots of fun, without any major costume malfunctions.

If you are going to a New Year’s Eve party I hope that you have a wonderful time.  I think that we all want to say goodbye to 2016.

Happy 2017

Kat

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Making and Remaking Necklaces

In the summer I find I am more creative.  It is so much easier to get out of bed in the morning when you are greeted by sunshine and beautiful blue skies.  It is the time when I like to work on new projects or just sit back and soak in the loveliness of nature while I think about new creative ideas.  If it is hot I do not want to do anything too energetic, so sitting around making a small item is a great thing to do.  Some of my summer projects have included creating necklaces out of found objects or remaking broken ones.  Then I can wear them when going out to summer gatherings.

The first one that I made was from some old beads and mother of pearl buttons that I had collected.  The necklace is quite chunky and looks equally great on a plain T Shirt or on knitwear in winter.  I just threaded the beads and buttons onto some fishing line to make an interesting pattern.  Not hard at all.

Another necklace was made from shells and coral that I had found on trips to beaches both near and far.  The organisms were all long dead.  These were easy to knot onto black cord because there were holes in the coral and shells.  I like to wear these with a light black or white top and they are particularly appropriate for the seaside.

It is also good to repair old vintage necklaces that are made from interesting or rare beads. I inherited an old carved bone necklace from a relative.  I think that it was originally a single long strand of beads, but it had been converted to a double strand necklace that did not look very attractive.  The flower shaped beads were dirty and I did not want them to deteriorate further, so I cleaned them gently using a weak solution of methylated spirits and water, applied with a soft toothbrush. Once they had dried I threaded them onto strong linen thread.   The necklace looks much cleaner and better as a single strand.  A redesign can make all the difference.

 

I also restrung a broken vintage plastic necklace, possibly from the 1950s, that had been given to me by a family friend.  It simulated orange amber beads and some were missing but this did not matter.  A few looked like Chinese carved bone beads and I was able to reassemble the necklace to make the most of these in the design.  It did not have a clasp and fitted over my head.  It is one of my favorite pieces.

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Vintage buckles and dress clips can be turned into interesting necklaces.  I have a few diamanté ones.  The easiest way to wear these is to attach them to a velvet ribbon to make a choker for some old world elegance.  I cut some black velvet ribbon to fit around my neck and sewed a press-stud in the appropriate place at each end.  I can slip on the buckles or put on a dress clip and wear a different one to suit my mood or outfit.  Thinner, longer velvet ribbon can be used to hang pendants, like lockets, instead of on a chain.  Simple.

It is good to have some black leather cord for making necklaces.  I have a round amber disc with a centre hole that needs to be looped around a cord to wear as a pendant.  This is easy if your want to wear it long because it will fit over your head.  But I like to wear it as a short pendant at the throat.  The solution was to tie some old necklace clasps that I had to the ends of a shorter length of the leather, which was looped through the centre of the amber disc to hold it in place.  I can do this up without any trouble and it is now the length that I prefer.

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None of these necklaces required any special equipment to make, only some basic materials.  Just a matter of using attractive or old items to create a new wearable object.

Kat

Party Costumes: When at First You Don’t Succeed

As you have already heard from this blog, Kat and I have been invited to a “Gangster and Moll” birthday party.  My character will be Blanche Barrow, the sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame, and her style dress shall be different from that of Bonnie Parker, Kat’s character.

Now like my sister I do not want to go in the expected costume of a 1920s “flapper”, dressed in masses of fringing or sequins.  It is just not my style.  Instead of going out to hire or buy a party costume, I have created a unique costume by combining key pieces from my wardrobe in a way that reinterprets the silhouette of the period.

The Costume

For this occasion I have combined a blue, floral patterned velvet cardigan over a plain maroon ankle length skirt.  To accentuate the skirt and hips I have wrapped an Indian velvet scarf, around the top of the skirt and pinned it together with an oval brooch at the front to form an overskirt with two overlapping floral panels.   For my jacket I have been inspired to select one from my collection of Japanese haori.  It is a soft pink/violet with a small, stylised floral pattern of white and grey flowers.  The kimono shape was fashionable during the 1920s and early 1930s.  To bring it all together I have accessorised with a violet, embroidered floral shoulder bag to match the skirt.  I have also made a headpiece using ribbon, diamantes and feathers to truly get the look of the period.

The Headpiece, Plan A & B

It seemed like such a simple task. Make a small headpiece to look like a 1930s lady dressed for a night in a speakeasy.  This was my chance to be creative.  I could make the headpiece from materials that I already had and would not need to spend a lot of money.  Just in case I did not have the correct fixings at home I went to a large chain store specialising in sewing and haberdashery items to buy some basic construction materials.  I was playing with the idea of making a small rosette or panel on which I could fit some sequins or beading and feathers.

I purchased a headband with a woven straw disc, a fancy diamante trim to make the headpiece “sparkle”, 2 packets of white feathers, some circular fabric discs to fix the feathers to my selected base and some metal hair clips to fix it to my hair.  At home I found some pieces of scrap material, blue taffeta silk and a patterned floral silk in blue, pink, green and white.  These would match my costume.  I also had some interfacing and Tacky Glue.

I soon realised that the headband and the round straw disc were the wrong shape for the diamante trim and too big for my hair.  I decided to move to Plan B.  Six layers of interfacing were ironed together and cut in an oval shape slightly wider than the diamante trim.  The floral silk was cut larger than the oval base, centred and glued to the back of the interfacing.  I then sewed a line of stitches around the outer edge of the loose fabric and gathered it in the centre to form a ruche on the front of the disc.  Decorative ruching was popular during this period.  Next I stitched a metal hair clip to the back of the oval panel.  I glued the white feathers together using between two of the white fabric discs as I planned to glue them to the front of the fabric then attach the diamante trim on top.  Before doing these final steps I experimented with how it would look in my hair.  It did not work.  It looked terrible.  My hair is too curly and wild and it would not stay in place.  I decided I needed another solution and not waste any more time on this idea.

The Headpiece, Plan C

Back to the notions box in the studio and with much rummaging I found two violet satin ribbons in a paper bag.  They were good quality and already were tied in bows.  I think I must have saved them from packaging, where sheets or linens were tied up in pretty bows.  After trying one ribbon on my head to see if it would fit, it did, I found the size of the bow was perfect to fit the feathers and the diamante trim.  I first sewed the fabric disc holding the feathers to the front of the bow, with the diamante trim sewed over both the feathers and the bow.  Voila!  Finally I had the perfect headpiece for my costume.

Making this headpiece reminded me that there is more than one way to be creative.  You can carefully plan your project from the start, so that you have everything worked out so that you save time, money and effort.  You can also work more freely as I did and make it up as you go along.  The important point with both methods is to recognize when an idea is not working and that you sometimes need to go through the design and construction process and fail before you can find the right solution.

My costume is now complete.

Ellie

Creative Dressing: Summer Party Jackets

This year in Victoria the hot weather has been a long time coming and everyone is relieved to be finally ditching those winter clothes.  In Australia we have the advantage of end of year holidays in the warmest months when we can wear our summer finery.  Dressing up for summer parties can be expensive and it is good to have items that can be used in different combinations so that they last for more than one season.  In Melbourne there is also the unpredictability of the weather that makes choosing an outfit tricky.  You never know when a cool change will make the temperature plummet from above 30 degrees to the chilly teens.  A great solution to this dilemma is having a summer jacket to go over your lighter clothes.

I have been collecting these types of jackets for several years and switch them around with different tops and skirts to create new looks.  This has saved lots of time and money and reflects my own style of dressing.  Vintage Japanese Haori jackets are among my favorite pieces.  I bought a couple of these at a Japanese store in Melbourne, and while not dirt cheap, were great value because they are beautifully made and each is unique.  I also have several less expensive Indian made jackets: one floral Haori inspired; two identical made of lace in black and green; and a black sheer one.

I like to mix these jackets with vintage clothes and accessories and newer items for my own individual look.  I have a black contemporary skirt that goes with different tops under all the jackets.  For a 60s look I wear the skirt with a vintage black sequined top and a 1930s bugle beaded necklace both inherited from a relative.  This looks great under the red and black 60s Haori.  If I want to appear even more colorful, I wear the red floral Haori with a camisole top and the skirt and accessorize with a Chinese enameled buckle belt and Venetian glass beads, souvenirs from overseas trips.  For a cooler look I put the same top and skirt under the Indian floral Kimono jacket, together with a black leather belt and a Scottish green enameled pendant.  Combining clothing and accessories from different cultures and eras in the one outfit creates visual interest, as well as being fun.

The lace and sheer jackets completely change the feeling of the skirt and top.  For that little black dress effect I wear the black lace jacket with the leather belt and a vintage bead necklace found at the op shop.  Switching to the sheer black jacket creates a different outfit, especially when you add a chunky colorful eighties necklace and the Chinese enameled belt.  For a softer look I replace the jacket with the green lace version and wear this with a floral Indian top, tied with a matching sash and the Scottish enameled pendant.

There are many more ways that I can wear these jackets.  Putting them with a longer skirt or with pants allows many different combinations. Then there are the endless changes that can be done with various accessories.  Sticking to a base color like black means that you can get away with buying a few good quality shoes and bags that make an outfit appear stylish.  I see these jackets as pieces that I can keep for years, as they are timeless classics and do not get the same amount of wear as everyday clothes.

If you want to do something similar you can find suitable vintage jackets at local recycled clothing stores and on the internet.  You might be lucky and find one at an op shop or a Sunday market.  For new items there are ethical Indian clothing stores to be found at major shopping centres and on-line (like Tree of Life and Ishka ).  Just buy what appeals to you and develop you own individual sense of style rather than following fashion fads.  After all, what we wear is another form of self-expression and it makes you feel good to dress for yourself.

The following is a link to an Australian website where you can buy genuine Haori jackets:

japanmade.com.au – Haori page

Kat