This was not my first costume choice; when I had started thinking about costumes back in September, I had originally settled on Medusa. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go with the costume, because the story has been told so many different ways–that she was created a monster, that she was beautiful and was turned into a monster as punishment, that she is both beautiful and terrible to gaze upon–there were a few different ways I could take it. I also considered going in all white like a crumbling statue of Medusa.
I discussed it with a friend who said she didn’t know if I should go as the Quasimodo of the Greeks, we had a good laugh, and I ordered a wig and some bendable rubber snakes from ebay. I don’t know if you’re aware, but rubber snakes are one of those items you see EVERYWHERE until the day that you need some, in which case you will discover that no store you can think of sells them. No toy stores, no general goods stores with toy aisles, no dollar stores. I searched high and low and nary a rubber snake could be found, which is why I resorted to ebay. I figured if I couldn’t pick and choose the snakes in person, my best bet was to get something wired and bendable so I could make a proper headdress, as I don’t have the materials/talent to sculpt the sort of thing I was envisioning.
When the snakes arrived, disappointment didn’t even begin to describe how I felt. They may have been 24″ long (MAYBE) but they were very skinny and molded into a tightly-coiled shape. They weren’t wired or bendable in any fashion, and if they were pulled out of their coil shape, they looked ‘off’ and snapped back into place. I didn’t want to risk ordering something else and have it not live up to my expectations with time ticking away on the clock, and I knew that there was no way I could put these coiled snakes on my head without looking foolish, cheap, and like a half-assed, snakey Princess Leia. So, Medusa was scrapped. But what to do? I had already bought a non-returnable wig and didn’t much relish the idea of it going to waste, but none of my other ideas would work with it. Part of my problem was that I wanted something recognizable–it sucks going to a lot of work and having no one be able to guess what you’re supposed to be, which is why I have focused heavily on movie recreations/interpretations in the past–but I have also found that to be incredibly frustrating because there aren’t bodies like mine in films and if there are, schlubby comic relief characters NEVER get good costumes because they’re fat. So I stomped around, frustrated, for a week. My friend Kevin apologized to me no less than three times over the course of that week because he had encouraged me to go with Medusa over the other options I’d been considering and he felt like it was his fault that I was in costume fail territory already. I didn’t personally feel like there was blame or fault to be issued, except in the case of the lying liepants liarton ebay snakeoil sellers. I huffed out to have dinner one night, and on my drive, I continued to ponder my options. All at once, it hit me. I didn’t HAVE to do something that’s been done, I could create something of my own and run with it–see how well I could execute something that lived only in my head.
I decided on a swamp witch, something disgusting and foul and looked as if it might stink. The way I expanded on the idea was that the more this witch used her powers, the more she lost aspects of herself to the creatures around her, so I wanted to do patches of alligator skin, one alligator claw hand, and, in an ideal world where I could afford black sclera contacts, part of the face, at least around one eye, with a built-up brow and cheek. I don’t live in that world, so I skipped the face, and this is what I ended up with:
As far as the makeup goes, I like how well the bags turned out under the eyes. To my eye, they are pretty convincing. I used a couple of cream shadows and a couple of different liner pencils and blended and layered–I feel like I nailed the highlight to make it look swollen. The dot bits I could take or leave. I didn’t have a point of reference for voodoo makeup and as a result, it’s just kind of meh, but I felt like the face would be too plain without it. I really, really should have made a cast of my hand. It would have made the whole thing look better, because there wouldn’t be missing patches on the fingers, visible edge lines along the knuckles, and the claws could have had a more natural starting place from the finger instead of sitting on top of the nail. However, with a cast, I was caught up on the idea of making the prosthetic appliance with GM foam as it’s light and breathable, and that wasn’t going to happen, as it turns out that GM foam gives off sulfurous fumes while it’s curing that leech into the oven and destroy it for food preparation, and while my almond-colored oven from the 70s probably does need to die in a stinky fashion, it wouldn’t be wise to kill something on which I rely so heavily for sustenance–if I had to switch to a raw diet, I might kill someone. Incidentally, this is also why I haven’t been able to do Dick Smith’s study-at-home makeup course, because I don’t have access to a ruinable oven.
Instead, I made the prosthetic appliances with thin layers of liquid latex brushed onto a mold made with apoxie sculpt.
The first mold I made, on the lower right, was a positive mold that churned out that piece of crap on the lower left. I hadn’t given the mold-making process as much thought as was warranted, and realized AS I was coating it in latex that the latex would fill the crevices and with enough layers, it would result in a flat appliance, not the bumpy one I was looking for. Crap in a handbasket. Once I peeled off Latex Disaster #1, I started on a new, negative mold (upper right) that would give me something closer to the results I wanted (upper left). I was still able to use Latex Disaster #1 to give the side of my hand/bottom of my wrist some texture, so it wasn’t a total waste. Once the latex was applied, I colored it with Ben Nye cream makeup and brushed some darker powder across the top to pick up the details and texture. Were I to do it again, I think I would go for a darker green than ‘Frankenstein’, but as it is, my makeup supply is low on greens and this worked well enough. The claws were made out of apoxie sculpt, painted with nail polish, and glued to fake nails which were glued on top of my natural nails. I had thought about doing claws that capped my fingers, and while I still think those would ultimately look better, my concern was that if they were tightly capped and bonded with my nails, that I would not be able to get them OFF and an alligator hand is inconvenient enough for ONE day, much less days and weeks until they eventually grow off. I didn’t realize how much I use my non-dominant hand until it becomes impossible to do things like type or text or open car doors or turn a steering wheel without getting a claw caught in the opposite sleeve, pulling at the natural nail which is SO painful…they did make a pretty awesome clicking sound when tapped, though.
As for the costume itself, I really winged it. I didn’t want to use a pattern, and I think that both helped and hindered me–I was able to make something that was really mine, but at the same time, I would move to a new portion of the costume and be daunted all over again about how I was going to accomplish it, which would cause me to procrastinate which makes creative problems WORSE, not better. I wandered around the fabric store until I found some materials that seemed right–some medium weight black burlap, some scale-print vinyl, some novelty halloween ‘rotted’ material, some gauze, and some muslin with an assload of dye. I wanted something that would be very textured, because in my opinion, the thing most lacking in purchased costumes is texture (and I get WHY it’s that way–expense would go up and people are cheap). I dyed the crap out of that muslin, with browns, blacks, greens, and grays, each not enough to coat the entire amount of fabric solidly, so I ended up with variations in color and tone that were really pleasing and gave it the gross, aged look I was going for. It is REALLY hard to capture on camera, but I promise that in person, it had depth.
I started with the corset-y top–I did a layer of the snake vinyl under the rotted material–the holes in the rotted material alone would have otherwise rendered me indecent. Once that was done, I laced it onto my duct tape doppelganger and began work on the burlap underskirt. I wasn’t sure at first how I’d feel about burlap. It’s kind of scratchy and it smells funny. But once I got a skirt shape pinned on and began to pull threads and cut out sections and weather it, it felt almost more like sculpting with fabric than it did like sewing. Pull a thread here, and it ruches the skirt. Pull twenty threads here and it makes part of it look worn and threadbare without compromising structural integrity because burlap is so damn strong. It was at this time that I also decided to cover a pair of flats in burlap, because it would make the costume look complete to have shoes that match instead of assuming that no one would see the shoes anyway. Once the shoes were complete, I began work on the second layer of the skirt. After ripping and tearing at the hem, I felt like it didn’t look old/gross enough, AND it obscured a lot of the awesome things about the underskirt, so I began ripping at the whole thing in earnest. I discovered that staple removers are awesome for tearing holes and making runs in fabric, and after a while, the skirt looked a bit more like I had pictured it in my head. I planned the skirts to be high-waisted and hit about mid-calf, and it’s a damn good thing I did, but more on that later.
I was at this point the day before the Halloween party, with a shrug left to construct with two purposes–to cover bra straps, and to make the transition into the alligator hand seamless by hiding everything to the wrist. I was so exhausted after the last night at the haunt that I couldn’t focus to work on it, so I sent myself to bed and set my alarm for early in the morning so if, god forbid, there were problems with the costume, I’d have time to fix them before the party AND affix/makeup the appliances.
It was a damn good thing I got up at 3am to work on it. I’d mentioned earlier that my dress form was now bigger than my actual body, but I figured with the lacing I’d done up the sides that I wouldn’t have a problem, because the top was too small for the form, so it should be just right on me….right? No. Of course not. I wiggled the dress off my imitation duct tape Butt of Doom, slipped it on, tied up the sides…and the dress fell straight off, faster than a prom dress in June. Fuuuuuuuuuuudge, it was much, much too big. The way I fixed it was by bringing in the corset part, dropping it to be the waist portion, and making a whole new top with straps so I wouldn’t have to worry about popping out of it. Had I made the skirts longer than midcalf, this would have been a HUGE problem as they now barely grazed the floor and if I’d done them floor-length before, I would have had to chop off the bottoms of both skirts and re-weather them which would would have taken me a long time. Still, between fixing the top, making the shrug, and applying the makeup, I worked straight through from 3am up until it was time to go to the party…which means I burned out at the party fairly early on. By 10pm, I was dragging. By 10:30, I had made myself a deal that as soon as the costume contest was over, I would go straight home. By 11, I was thinking I should just leave because there was no way I was going to be a finalist ANYWAY, much less win anything, but I dragged so much at actually leaving that it got to be 11:45 and I figured if I didn’t wait the extra fifteen minutes and found out later I was a finalist, I’d be pissed at myself.
As it turns out, I was one of the three finalists in the ‘scariest’ category, and while I didn’t win it, I’m glad to have at least gotten some recognition for my work. Of course, now that it’s been worn once, I don’t know WTF to do with it. I don’t want to throw it away, but it’s doubtful that I’ll ever wear it again.