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The thing is, not really. Don't get me wrong, the premise of getting together with friends and enjoying the epicurean wealth of autumn while in costume is awesome, but no more or less so than any other time we get together. As mentioned a while back, most cosplayers, myself included, tend to focus their sartorial efforts around specific conventions. By this point in the year, the vast majority of the convention season has come and gone and cosplayers tend to be A) exhausted from a recent event B) in the midst of planning for next year's conventions or C) all of the above. I imagine that this is particularly true for all you lucky nerds out there who are recently returned from NYCCC. Given all that, it's hardly surprising that someone who's already devoted untold hours to formal costuming might want to take it a bit easier outside of an actual con.
The whole no-time-but-must-get-a-costume phenomenon is insanely prevalent for nerds and non-nerds alike. Just check out any Party City the week or two before Halloween to see just how many people try to pull an outfit together at the last minute. Though trying to do so comes with a certain inherent pressure, it's entirely possible to assemble an awesome, and potentially geeky, costume with only a few pieces and minimal effort. The two simplest routes to a snazzy costume are as follows.
Choosing a Contemporary Character
The single easiest thing to do is to emulate a character from a property based in present day or thereabouts. Your closet could potentially provide everything you need. Aside from being cheap, the costume will be entirely reusable and is assured to fit you properly. The key to pulling off this sort of costume is to focus on the details that make your chosen character distinctive and making those as accurate as possible. A simple striped scarf/tie and a wand can transform your prim, scholastic getup into the garb of a Hogwarts coed. Some fake blood, a smattering of grime, and select weaponry and you could be just about anyone in the cast of the Walking Dead. Your favorite web comics, books, or TV shows are excellent source material for this sort of costume.
Building off a Pre-Made Costume
Something to try and practice if you're planning on working with pre-made items is to see the costume for its parts, to mentally drill down beyond its obvious application into the realm of what it could potentially be used for. Example: my very first cosplay was a tribute to Lieutenant Sarah Kerrigan from the Starcraft series. While I was enthusiastic about bringing the character to life, I had no experience building armor and was at a loss as to how to make her ghost garb come to life without a crash course in working with fiberglass. After perusing the aisles of a local party supply store I conceived of the idea to combine this Padme Amidala jumpsuit with the plating from this <ahem> interesting take on the Tin Man. Some silver spray paint, blue fabric liner and one giant Nerf gun later produced this:
|Let me at some zerg!|
|Hair I can relate to|
This year's Halloween costume is going to be less alchemy, more adjustments to a pre-made base. During the summer, I fell in love with Merida, the heroine of Pixar's latest offering, Brave. Feisty, Celtic, and redhead were all things I could easily relate to and have no trouble replicating. To do so, I procured a generic medieval gown in a dark green crushed velvet. The actual acquiring of said dress ended up being something of a hassle <cough Etsy fail cough>, so, while I won't recommend my source, I can point out that this and this are perfectly suitable starting points. Of course, if you've got the skills and the time, you can use a simple pattern like this one and make your dress.
The gown that arrived only partially resembled what I'd ordered, so a few amendments were necessary. These 'fixes' are great examples of what you can do to make an existing garment into a solid costume.
Sleeves: Merida's dress has close-fitting sleeves that feature two apertures through which her chemise peeks through. To recreate this with the enormous bells of fabric on my remnant of my Misadventures with Etsy, I removed both sleeves by carefully pulling apart the original seams that held them to the torso of the dress. Next, I marked the point where my elbow hit on each sleeve and, starting from that mark, pinched the remaining fabric together until I could see the point at which it would lie directly against my arms. I then cut away the excess fabric starting at the elbow point and moving along the "lie flat" line to the wrist. Of course, this left a fairly long gap that would need to be closed. Traditional Celtic attire tends to feature lacing as the gap-closing method of choice, so I installed eight grommets (four per side) into each sleeve. Grommets (a.k.a. eyelets) are an easy way to not only make corset style lacing, but reinforce the structural integrity of the fabric and prevent any fraying or tearing that may result from pulling on the laces. After that it was simply a matter of cutting out a hole around each elbow and using the extra fabric from the sleeves across the gaps to create that striped effect. A few simple stitches reattached the sleeves to the body of the dress but you could also just have them remain separate and pull them on over whatever you use as your under layer (which we'll get to in a minute).
|Corset lacing is literally this easy|
Overall Fit: Aside from the bell sleeves, the gown arrived with another surprise feature: being about two sizes too large. Though taking in a dress can often be tricky, there was fortunately an easy workaround that prevented the need for full-on alterations. If you should find yourself in a similar situation, know this: corset backs are your friend. It's pretty much what I did to close the sleeves only on a slightly larger scale. Measure in to the point where you'd like the lacing to end, then pinch the fabric of the mid-back area between this point and the collar until you get to the desired fit. Cutting along this line will leave a sizable V of open space in the back of the dress. Install grommets along either side of the V, then feed the lacing of your choice through them alternating sides to get the characteristic X patterning in the laces.
Accessories: Since Merida's dress is almost floor-length (which doesn't stop her from climbing waterfalls and rideing horses), you can get away with wearing just about any brown shoes. The only other accoutrements you may need are a bow, a belt, and some seriously foufy red hair. Her belt is a simple, unadorned brown strip of what's presumably leather, which leaves a lot of room for improvising. You can procure an inexpensive prop bow at several online and physical retailers. I'm reusing this bow from a costume I wore at this year's PAX East which is simply this bow from Amazon covered with this air dry foam clay painted to look like wood. If you want to be entirely accurate, a small brown quiver like this is also necessary.
That just leaves the hair. As someone who possesses a significant amount of stereotypically unruly red curls, I'm just going to let my hair down. If you are not one of my redheaded mutant brethren, then this and this may provide suitable scarlet foufiness.
|For heavy fabrics, you'll need a grommet punch|
What in the name of Zod do you mean when you say 'install a grommet'?
The awesome thing about grommets, aside from allowing for fun lacing, is that they're usually very easy to put into fabric. They typically come in little kits of metallic "halves". All you have to do is decide where you'd like to put one, then place one half on each side of the fabric facing towards one another and pinch them together. Occasionally, you may need to reinforce this with some added pressure to ensure that they're secure. If you want to work with heavy or very stiff fabrics, you may want to invest in one of these to help with this process. Otherwise, installing the grommets is quick and easy.
Where on Earth do I get a chemise? Do I need to have one?
If you want your costume to accurately reflect what's depicted in the movie, then some sort of white under layer is necessary. If you want to be truly authentic, you can sew a chemise very easily (this is a good starting point) or order one online. Just about any vendor who deals in medieval or renaissance garb will sell these, but they can sometimes be pricy. If you'd rather just preserve the overall look without making or buying a chemise you can substitute a flowy white blouse or tack swatches of white cloth around the inside edges of the gaps. Of course, if you have all the other pieces of this costume and choose not to have any under layer it's not going to be the death of the outfit. People will likely recognize the character with or without a bit of white in the sleeves.
Corset backs are fun! Can I add one to any dress?
You could probably add a corset back to most dresses if you really wanted to. The thing to consider is the fabric of the dress. If you have a good, stiff cloth that can support itself or a forgiving fabric that has just a bit of stretch to it (like crushed velvet) then a corset back is a viable possibility. Take care with gauzy fabrics or cloth that has the ability to stretch a lot, as these can come apart when you pull on them. You'll need to add staves or some other form of support to create a corset back in these fabrics.
What should I use for lacing? How many laces do you recommend?
Soft leather wraps, thin fabric cords, or long strips of extra cloth from any dress adjustments you've made will all serve as good laces for this costume. I'd recommend using either a set of two separate laces or one long lace folded in half for each closure (placing the midpoint of the single lace at the apex of each V). Either option will work just fine.