Monday, October 28, 2013

Outfit Revamp aka "Help, My Airship Crashed!"

So I've had the thought in the back of my head for years that I wanted to take a nice, pretty, Victorian outfit and just tear it to shreds and set it on fire and wear it.  I've seen it done for steampunk zombie costumes (sometimes really well!), but I wanted to do it as simply part of my steampunk character's life.

The original outfit, last March.
I was wearing something too nice for my situation and my airship crashed, because I'm The Baroness.  And naturally there was a fire and maybe my skirt got caught in some gears while I was trying to escape.  There may have been a pirate battle, I'm not sure.

And I had gotten bored with my black and silver outfit.  This is almost my oldest steampunk outfit, the oldest that I still wear in some form.  I've talked before about how the outfit has transitioned over time.  But ever since I "finished" it I've been kinda bored with it.  I don't wear it much.  It's kinda a winter outfit and I don't do much costuming in cold weather (cause there isn't much cold weather to find around here.)

The Petticoat, pre-destuction.  Notice Dremel and
Nerf gun on the floor, proving I'm a steampunk.
So I decided to rip it to pieces.  The first thing I did was make a new petticoat to go under it.  I knew I wanted the petticoat ripped, too, and I use my one petticoat under three outfits so I didn't want to destroy it.   So I used a white bedsheet from a thrift store and the Truly Victorian Victorian Petticoats pattern.  Last time I made this pattern I used the Natural Form Era version but this time I made the Early Bustle version with the fuller skirts and room for a bustle.  I wanted the most possible floof sticking out from my ripped overskirt.

So then I put the new petticoat over my bustle pad onto a dress form.  And then the patterned skirt over it.  And I looked at it for several days thinking about how I wanted to destroy it.  My cats developed a love for sitting under the skirt and were really pleased when I didn't stop them from clawing it.  Probably wasn't a wise move on my part to let them but I'm a pushover.

So finally I attacked the skirt with scissors.  I wasn't sure how the poly brocade would behave once I tore it and how much I might need to burn to keep it from unraveling.  But I didn't want the edges to look like burned polyester.  I actually didn't end up burning much.  Lots of threads came off the skirt as I tore and frayed, but it eventually reached a point it
Skirt pre-damage, with Weasel the cat
chilling underneath.
wasn't shedding much.

At first I thought I would just make some ragged slits in it, to show the petticoat underneath, but decided it needed to be more drastic to really "read" as a disaster victim outfit.  So I cut one large section away from the skirt, with several slits around the front half.  In the back I had less damage, but cut the ends raggedly.

The petticoat I cut less, making two large slits on the side-fronts under the slits on the overskirt.  I had considered tearing off parts of the ruffle, but couldn't really see how that would improve the look.  I wanted to add dirt to the white petticoat around the bottom, but I suddenly ran out of time and needed it for the next day.  So I coffee-dyed the bottom of the skirt.  It's a subtle dye and I hoped it would have been more uneven, but it spread into an even color that continues quite a ways up the skirt.

 Then I took it outside and burned it.  The cotton actually burned and I let it get brown spots before smothering the flames.  I burned holes in places and just burned the ragged edges in others.

For the rest of the outfit, I had less set plans.  I didn't want to do too much damage to the corset, and it was starting to look worn anyway.  I did add some ruffle trim to the top of the bust to help keep me from flashing everyone.  The bust has never really fitted me right in this corset.  Actually, it's fairly amazing how poorly fitted this corset is compared to the corsets I'm making now, two years later.

I made myself a capelet (using this pattern) to wear over the top.  I've never been totally happy with the jacket of this outfit, and it suffered a laundry mishap that removed all the lettering from the back.  So it was easier to whip up a capelet.  I basted on the ruffle of the pattern fabric, using fabric I'd cut from the skirt when ripping it.  I left the edge unfinished and pulled it to tatter it, and burned it away in places.  Unfortunately, I don't think that really comes across very well.

And that's that.  I wore this modified outfit on Saturday to the Texas Renaissance Festival for their Halloween weekend.  I didn't draw much attention, although I think that's partly how ungodly crowded it was.  I really only had one conversation about the state of my outfit, and I'm not entirely sure if the woman understood it was intentional damage, even when I repeatedly said it was due to my airship crashing.   (I had considered telling people my cats did it all, but I'm afraid people would think I was serious.)

I don't think it reads exactly like I intended.  As much tearing as I did, I think the cape needs to be torn, (although I wanted to remove the trim and reuse it at a later point) and I probably need some messy and bleeding make-up.  (I'm so bad at even normal make-up that I really am afraid to try for "effects".)

 So I guess I learned that if you want an extreme effect you need to go really "big" with your costuming.  On the other hand, I don't think this was the perfect environment for this costume.  At a steampunk con it would draw a lot more attention in contrast to people's more put-together costumes than at a Renaissance Faire where there is such a variety of costumes.  Anyway, I may work some more on this and try again some time, but it was a fun experiment.


  1. Love the concept! :) If you want to re-use the capelet trim but want the "damage" to read bigger, perhaps try pulling out the stitches holding trim to capelet in several places so it droops as if caught on something and partially pulled loose?

  2. You might try adding some "smoke damage" on the petticoat using watered down black paint. Makeup of a similar effect would be easy enough as well - just powder black eyeshadow in strategic places (and you can use goggles as "stencil" as well) on your face or your hands, and set with a makeup sealer. You could also stitch tiny pieces of balsa wood into pieces of the skirt, like you jumped through a window or door and the skirt caught while you were trying to make your escape :)

    1. Yeah, I want to add more dirt to the petticoat with paint. It's something I just didn't have time for. And I considered trying to do dirt or smoke make-up, but really just wasn't prepared to try something like that without practicing a bit first. So maybe I'll get there.

      Cool idea about pieces of wood....hmm, I'm trying to think what other debris might get caught...

  3. I love the skirt, so I am doing a sadface over it being torn. But I like the idea. I think a few scratches on your face and arms would really help with the effect though, you look a bit clean!

    1. The skirt was just....boring and plain, even though the fabric was busy. Good point about the scratches.

  4. It's kind of pricey to own but it is availalble on Amazon: Costume Craftwork on a Budget: Cloathing, 3-D MAke-up, Wigs, Millinery & Accessories. / Tan Huaixiang, 2007. ISBN 9780240808536. If you have access to Texas A&M library, they have a copy. It includes a chapter on aging and distressing costumes.
    Less expensive is: A Complete Guide to Special Effects Makeup. / Tokyo SFX Makeup Workshop, 2012. ISBN 9781781161449. Sam Houston State Univ. Library has a copy.
    The above justifys my reading your blog on work time. ;>
    Boringlibrarian in Waco

    1. Thanks for the references. The first one is probably out of my reach, but the second one is going on my wishlist. Maybe a Christmas fairy will gift it to me. :)

  5. I love it! What a great way of showing a part your story visually.

    Here's something I think would go along with your story AND add a bit more damage to your outfit. If you were in some kind of fight or accident you yourself would be damaged. To show this without having to do a lot of makeup work I think you could tear a strip off the bottom of your petticoat, bloody/dirty it up with some Halloween makeup, then tie it around your arm/hand/head. Add a bit of blood to the skin just around the band-aid and I think you'll have a pretty realistic looking bit of "injury".

    To add a bit of a rushed or disheveled look, as if you'd crashed on your way to the convention/faire you could wear a few pieces of the outfit askew. I think the goggles and the capelet would be the best pieces for this.

    1. Ooo, great idea about the bandage. I thought of tearing off part of the petticoat, but not wearing it like that.

      Yeah, if I had been doing a more set photo shoot I might have skewed my accessories, but I was walking around in this all day so that didn't really happen. I wish I could half pull my hair down, but I'm wearing a hairpiece, so I don't have the long hair to pull down in front or sides.

  6. Love the concept, and how you did the overskirt, but I really think to look "authentic" you need a lot more damage to the petticoat underneath. In the photos it looks so pristine! If the overskirt is that torn, the petticoat would be much more damaged in the same areas. And for discoloration, I use tea dye as a base coat. Try thinning brown fabric paint to nearly the consistency of water, and applying that. If you apply it to wet fabric, you get a more even look, apply it to dry fabric, and it will be much more blotchy. Then, around the hem and up into the worst tears, sponge on a less-diluted version of the fabric paint. Finally, you can add a few touches of darker paint in a few select areas. I would also try burning the fabric. For yourself, the best and easiest wounds/scratches I ever made was to get some spirit gum. Dab it along your face or arms where you want scratches. As it's drying, keeping touching it, so that it dries looking roughed up. Then dab it with something blood-colored (I used some lipstick because it was handy.) I did a scratch down one cheek, and people kept thinking it wasn't actually part of my costume, but a real scratch! And it was so easy.

    1. Yeah, the petticoat actually has more damage than shows, but because of its fullness, the cuts and burns get hidden.

      Spirit gum is on my list of things to buy when I hopefully hit some Halloween stores later this week when everything is on sale.

    2. Oh, and also I want to make some bloomers to go under so I can actually damage the petticoat more without threatening my modesty. One of the slits I made went pretty high and I was slightly worrried about gusts of wind.

  7. above the knee bloomers & stockings with runs -- even if you don't do panty hose a pair of inexpensive thigh-highs would work -- nothing says "this woman has been tossed about" like ripped stockings, while being kind of sexy

    1. True, but I tend to avoid stockings for heat reasons. Maybe if they're ripped enough they wouldn't be too warm?

    2. ripped fishnet stockings would be sexy *and* relatively cool :)