When Rush Hour calls for a superhero costume, my first instinct is to keep it simple. Our costumes sometimes “suggest” a character rather than “dress” a character. This can be a HUGE cost-saving strategy, especially when you are outfitting multiple actors or your entire Crew.
For the Captain Individuality script week, I needed to create two adult-sized superhero costumes and enough extras to out-fit the crew as well. NOTE: We perform Rush Hour every week at TWO campuses (campusi? camps? campa-potomuses?) so our costume requirements are double. We usuall have between 5-7 crew members each week at each campus. You do the math. 🙂
When I start a costume design, I first think about how many I will need and how much I can spend. I don’t do an elaborate budget or anything like that, I save my unavoidable OCD moments for LATER in the project. I do make a sketch first. I’m a “visual thinker” so I want to sketch stuff out before I go shopping. That usually saves me multiple trips back to the store.
Super Hero Costumes - Rush Hour 2009
Sketches also give me a way to share an idea with our management team for approval. (Note to self: post a blog introducing the Rush Hour management team)
Any-hoo, you can see from the sketch that I had a ton of these to make, only a couple of days to make ’em, and my idea was to be humorous rather than trying to construct 20 full-blown Ironman costumes. I ask myself this question, “Does this design say [fill in the blank] to me?” If yes, get to work, if no, start a new design.
This is how they turned out. We had the crew kids provide their own tights/socks and t-shirts. I brought the costumes to rehearsal so they could get the general idea. They had a blast trying them on, deciding who looked best in what colors, planning hair and accessories, choreographing poses, etc.
The waists are elastic and adjustable. I went for the over-sized boxer short idea so 1) they would look comic, not realistic 2) one size would fit all kids or adults 3) they would fit over jeans if the director decided to go that way… and 4) they would be generic enough to use for different purposes. A baggy pair of red shorts can help costume a tomato, for instance.
For the adult costumes, I just add some extras like knee pads, a fun-foam “I” for a head-piece and chest insignia, and for myself I took the time to wrap a pair of boots in fabric left-overs. My bff Donna was co-hosting at our other campus that same week, so I gave her the same basic pieces, then she took her costume home, reshaped the mask, changed the shirt and made it into her own personal brand of goofy. This is us clowning around in the costumes at my house before Donna made her most excellent modifications …
We never did decide how there could be more than one "Captain Individuality."
I almost always shop for fabric at the local discount store that I like to call “Wally World.” They have sale fabric for $1 – $2 per yard which means I can spend $20 and outfit a TON of crew members for a buck a kid. I keep any large left-over fabric scraps for use on other projects. I also keep old sheets, towels, yarn and other crafting supplies on hand to keep my shopping to a minimum. I keep my sewing box crammed full of elastic, black and white thread, ribbon, pipe cleaners, fun-foam scraps, trims, etc.
I also shop $1 dollar bins for cheap headbands, glasses, etc. They almost always come in handy sometime or another.
A little sewing know-how and a year as a student spent in a college costume shop taught me some basics, but my grandmother always said, “If you can READ, you can SEW.” If winging it on a pattern is not your thing, buy a couple of basic patterns. My faves are adult Bible costume patterns, a t-shirt pattern, basic shorts/pants (like nurses scrubs) and vest patterns. For pants, I usually grab a pair of my husbands sweat pants and trace around them. The shapes are pretty basic if you are going for a look that is not tailored. How tailored does a pair of leggings for a turkey costume have to be, for instance? (Note to self: look for the turkey costume pics).
A little sewing experience will tell you that 2 yards of fabric will usually cover a kid from head to toe, 3-4 yds will cover an adult. Capes, biblical coats, shawls, etc will take more. When fabric is $1 a yard, I will often buy extra just to make sure I have enough. This over-buying keeps my craft closet full of extras for props and smaller projects like silly hats, purses, bags, etc. Build it over time. Stay organized, or it can quickly get out of hand. Remember to “shop” from your home collection of supplies before you hit the stores. Outrageous colors are often cheaper and look great on stage! Go for it!
Another tip… did you know that the distance between your nose and the tip of your finger on an out-stretched arm is about 1 yard (36 inches) ? I use that little fact all the time when guess-timating yardage needs for costumes.
Measuring a yard
So far we have
1) sketched out the design.
2) shopped for fabric and “notions” (notions are things like thread, elastic, etc.)
3) Bought a pattern or grabbed a pair of sweats from our hubbie’s closet.
next we will…
4) cut out the fabric
5) sew it
6) add accessories if needed.
yarn can be substituted for elastic in a pinch.
Hem the cape around all edges. Sew strips of ribbon or trim for the ties at the top.For sewing, I use a surger. That is, when I can remember how to THREAD the stupid thing so that it sews right. Otherwise, I iron in a nice hem and top-stich it with my normal sewing machine. I do NOT spend a great deal of time on sewing. I top stich, use huge stiches and never worry if my work is going to last a generation. (my mother, the retired home economics teacher, would gasp in horror, so I don’t let her get too close!) OK, that’s not absolutely true, when she’s in town she helps me, we have a blast together doing this stuff.
I generally use two colors of thread. Black or white. (a trick I learned in a college costume shop). These are costumes meant to be seen from a distance, and often used only once, so save time and money by sticking with the basics. All of the pictures above were sewn with either black or white thread. Can you even tell? See?
If you are a freak for perfection, stop reading this blog right now, get a pattern and follow your bliss.
Sew the shorts’ sides and in-seams and hem them (follow a pattern if you’ve never done this before). Fold over the shorts wasteband, sew a channel for elastic. NOTE: leave a gap for inserting the elastic. I use lots of extra elastic and leave this gap open permanently so the elastic can be cinched up or let out to fit different actors. I use the cheapest elastic I can find and do not worry about getting the non-rolling or wide types. The skinny types work just as well, in fact, if you are sewing at 1 in the morning and run out of elastic when the stores are closed, take three long strands of yarn, knot each end and run those through as a draw-string.
You may want to hem or surge the edges of the masks. If these are cut out of felt or non-ravel fleece, you won’t have to bother with finishing the edges. Customizing these masks can be a fun thing to turn over to your crew members. They can hot-glue on feathers, sequins, jewls, trim, whatever, dudes! Just jump in!
By now, you have the basics of a superhero costume. Baggy boxing shorts with an elastic waist, a big cape with a simple tie at the neck, and a fabric mask that will make Zoro jealous. Add crew members and turn those superheros loose on the world!!!