Star Wars theme! Princess Leia as a source of inspiration


Our botanical gardens host a summer evening in the park with music, crafts, and food. This year’s theme was Star Wars and guests were asked to dress as their favorite Star Wars character.

I probably haven’t seen a Star Wars movie since the 90s (gasp!), but I did a little research and really loved the look of the character Maz Kanata, who Google says is over a thousand years old, a master survivor, and just four-foot-one. That’s pretty much all I know about her. To me, she seems like a modern, more obscure Yoda.

How do you make a realistic mask or utilize makeup to get her exact look? I wouldn’t want to just put on a pair of goggles and call it done. I would love to learn how to make molds and such things one day so I can do full justice to looks like this one! I guess the transformation from Lupita Nyong’o to Maz Kanata was mostly a digital one (see link above), but wouldn’t it be fun to bring the look into physical form in the style of Heidi Klum’s old lady costume?

I don’t know why, but I didn’t feel like buying anything new for this look and didn’t have a lot of time to spend custom making things, so obviously I decided to channel Princess Leia. I basically only own two white pieces of clothing (both linen pieces from Old Navy) so there was no overthinking that part. I know white is currently trending to an almost insane degree, but I’m just not that into it. I wish the top were long sleeve and more tunic like with a turtle neck or mock neck neckline, but it is a short sleeve boxy v-neck t-shirt with an oddly placed seam down the center of the back.

I wanted a turtle neck neckline like the iconic 1977 tunic that Carrie Fisher wore in the original film, and was able to forage an old satin faux feather lei I made long ago out of the depths of a closet (who knew I would ever have a use for that?). Some creative looping visually raised the neckline of the t-shirt enough to look more turtle-necky from the front after I flipped the shirt around and wore it backwards.


I warmed up to the center seam down the front, which was boxy and chest plate armor-like in a subtle way. The pretzel-knotted back of the feather lei had a sculptural quality that was interesting to me. It felt a bit sci-fi or futuristic. I like it a lot, except it kept unravelling itself, which made it a little high maintenance.

The placement of the v-neck and the feather lei ended up looking almost intentional even though it was a last minute decision, such a welcome surprise. I actually didn’t know for sure exactly what the back looked like until looking at the photos later. It just felt right at the time.

I reluctantly finished this look with sky-high gold platform sandals. Sooooo impractical, yes, but I don’t own any white shoes, and I liked the metallic pop against the white too much. I will probably never wear heels to a garden event ever again, though, and thinking about it now, I think I would have liked some sort of brown closed toe shoe just as much looks-wise and that would have been so much more comfortable. A clog would have really been ideal, but I don’t own one of those currently either.

Just before jumping out of the car, the white daisy sunglasses were added. So many people asked where to get them: they are currently available at Paper Source. The fit is probably medium, but they can also fit small or large faces okay. The frame width along the back is approximately 14.5 cm (the front width is a bit wider due to the flower petals). The bridge is a little over 2 cm, and the arm length is approximately 14.5 cm. The plastic is hard and glossy. It is not that easy to see out of them, nor are they that comfortable to wear, but they were easier to get on and off my head when my hair was in the Leia cinnamon side bun hair style than other glasses for some reason, and took the edge off the afternoon sun.

Speaking of the Leia hairstyle, it was fairly straightforward to do (I can only do easy hairstyles). I just made two buns on either side of my head, secured them with an elastic, fluffed each out a bit to make them looser and appear larger, and then bobby pinned the heck out of them to get everything to stay put and stray hairs pinned down. I didn’t use hairspray because I didn’t want to have to wash my hair afterwards, but that would definitely make the look more secure. Aside from having to push a few pins back in, everything surprisingly stayed put. You could also use those mesh bun makers if you have thinner hair or want to really do the look justice and recreate those mega side buns that Princess Leia made famous.

A lot of people didn’t really directly connect this look to Princess Leia. I think Darth Vader called me a flower girl, and that’s totally great. As someone who is a fan of recreating a look precisely down to the last detail, I definitely get that spinning the wheels of creativity away from replica to indulge instead a stroke of inspiration is riskier and a little random and doesn’t always make sense to others. My personal thought is that if one is going to attempt a look as recognizable as Princess Leia, there are only two options: precisely recreate the exact look – become Princess Leia – or use the look as a starting point to create something entirely new. This is something new, with all kinds of 70s references that makes “flower girl” not far off at all: higher waisted wide leg pants, a boxy top that is trying so hard to be a tunic, wide criss-crossed sandal straps on a platform and chunky disco heel, a free-spirited bohemian attitude, flower power sunglasses! The original Star Wars is circa 1977 after all.

The sculpture hanging above in the lead photo was probably my all time favorite decoration of the evening. They are sections of plastic water bottles in the clears and blues and greens that plastic water bottles are made in, strung together to make long strands gathered at the top and suspended from tree branches paired with twinkly warm white christmas lights. The colors and form were reminiscent of the ocean, like air bubbles from a diver, or tentacles of a jellyfish, or something else whimsical and otherworldly and inspired by nature, like something right out of the window display of an Anthropologie store. It is probably the best upcycling idea for plastic water bottles I have seen yet, and there were two of these pendant sculptures blowing in the breeze along the garden’s Mystical Trail and Path to Endor.



Easy DIY original Star Trek insignia patch


While making my Prince costume, I realized the yellow color of the outfit was the same yellow as Captain Sulu’s uniform on the original Star Trek. George Takei, who played the Sulu character, and is just an awesome human being, was headlining the Comic Con event that I was making the Prince costume for, so of course I had to make some sort of nod to Star Trek, even if I was the only one that would know about it.

In the future, I might make a removable black collar for the Prince tunic, or maybe even a full blown Star Trek costume. Now that I know how to cover eyebrows, I am pretty much only a wig and shirt away from a Spock cosplay. Wouldn’t it be fun talking to everyone using 100% logic and holding your hand up in a V-shape for photos?

But for now, I just made the patch that goes with Sulu’s uniform as a salute to Takei. The original Star Trek uniforms had different ribbon designs along the cuffs of the sleeves of the uniform tops. I decided against adding that to my top since my costume was primarily Prince themed. If you look at the outfit Prince wore to the 2015 AMAs, his top actually had large graphics printed on each lower arm sleeve and on the front and back. I also decided to leave these out because the design of the graphics is not my style and keeping the top plain makes it more versatile (like for a Star Trek costume).

I found out there are a lot of different Star Trek insignias, not only because of the old, newer, and newest Star Trek series, but also because different characters had different patches and insignia within the original series. Somewhere online there is a massive chart listing all the different logos, but all I can find now is this image of the four different original logos.

Captain Sulu was part of the Command branch so the patch needed to have the star shaped symbol in the center. I found an image of the general patch shape and drew it freehand on to a scrap piece of faux leather leftover from making the gold vest for my Prince costume. One side of the fabric is coated in what I assume is vinyl, and the other side is a cotton canvas type woven fabric. I drew the logo on the woven cotton side because I didn’t want the faux alligator texture to show and because paint does not seem to adhere well to the faux leather surface.

I used the L.A. Colors nail polish in the silver color “Live” leftover from my Bowie costume to paint the fabric silver, and then outlined the edge of the patch and drew the star shape in the center freehand with a thin black Sharpie. I drew this stuff freehand because I don’t have a printer. If you have a printer, feel free to print it out and trace it instead.

It sat around for weeks after that until I was able to get some black embroidery thread. Apparently black Sharpie marker is really not true black. It actually looked like a dark purple on the fabric. To get a more finished look, I hand sewed over the center star shape and around the edges with the embroidery thread. I traced out my patch and cut out a second layer of fabric to make my patch two layers of fabric thick. The fabric is medium to heavy weight depending on your definitions of those words, but one layer alone was a little too flimsy to me for a badge.

If you follow this procedure, I recommend sewing the embroidery thread to make the star shape first, then sewing the two layers of fabric together around the edges with the embroidery thread afterwards so that the thread in the back of the star does not show through to the back of your badge. I don’t know why I didn’t do this, but now the back of my badge has a bunch of haphazard black thread because I sewed through both layers.

To wear it, you can use a safety pin. I’d like to find some sort of magnet thing, though, because the yellow fabric my tunic is made out of shows holes in the fabric permanently.

I made the patch this way to try to reuse things around the house, but I’m sure there are so many other ways to go about it. I found this YouTube tutorial helpful, which demonstrates a similar method using slightly different materials. Also, how awesome are these Star Trek cookies?! Swoon.

My only regret is not getting George Takei to sign it.

How to DIY a Prince costume with a Purple Rain cloud


Today is the 33rd anniversary of the first time Prince ever performed “Purple Rain”. Here’s how I’m remembering him.

While making a David Bowie tribute costume, Prince unexpectedly left us so it seemed only right that my next project should be a Prince costume. Like Bowie, Prince was legendary: super talented and highly original, creative and prolific, with a specific and unique style and sound. I had just curated an 80s costume as a side project, and wasn’t feeling that inspired by the Purple Rain look that so many others have done well. My favorite looks of his were all modern. I can’t get enough of that knit top with flared bell sleeves silhouette, paired with flared 1970s inspired pants in the same stage-worthy fabric and coordinating vest, that ups the whole look from “glam prayer outfit” or “jazzy, perfectly tailored PJs” to “rock star legend”.

I don’t know for sure, but that seemed to be Prince’s style formula, and I love it. It is so practical and comfortable looking because of the knit fabric, and yet has such stage presence because of the fabric choices (metallics, for example, and for the vest, fur, feathers, leather). I imagine his uniform is highly versatile, appropriate for everything from snoozing to high-profile performances in the spotlight that require rocking out. The silhouette is unique to him, and that makes him instantly recognizable. Brilliant.

One of my favorite outfits of his is what he wore to the SNL40 after party. If I ever get to make a second Prince costume, that would definitely be it. I really liked the “third eye” glasses he wore to the 2015 American Music Awards and for one of his album covers because like Bowie’s outfits with an exposed arm and leg, the third eye glasses seem to have been Prince’s thing. (You can actually buy third eye glasses from the original designers Coco and Breezy here, but they’re very expensive and I wanted to see if I could make them.) I also liked his 2015 AMAs outfit because it combined a mustardy yellow and gold perfectly, something I never would have dared to do.

I decided to see how well I could replicate that 2015 AMAs outfit with a limited budget, but my main motivation for making the outfit was really so that I could make what I had initially envisioned when I first heard the sad news about Prince: a three dimensional cloud sculpture with purple “rain”. I liked the idea of the Prince costume floating around under a cloud raining purple. It seemed symbolic of the great loss and sadness surrounding his unexpected passing.

Making the costume

The first step was to make the wearable portion of the costume. I wanted to save the cloud project for last because I couldn’t find any tutorial for the type of cloud I envisioned, making it a riskier project. What if I couldn’t figure out how to make it? Finishing the outfit first would ensure I had something to wear, plus I really wanted to make the third eye glasses. Could I do it? I wasn’t sure.

I started with the top and pants. I couldn’t find any fabric at first in the right yellow color, so I purchased a white polyester prayer top with bell sleeves and true vintage high waisted light yellow polyester bell bottoms and decided to try coloring the top to match the pants. Just reading that, you may know this was doomed to failure.

Dyeing polyester was one option, but I couldn’t find polyester dye locally so opted to try fabric paint first. The cost of fabric paint added up quickly as I experimented with colors hoping to find a match. The polyester fabric dyes I found online didn’t look like the right yellow, and dyeing fabric to match another color sounded pretty technical and hard.

Abandoning that approach, I went back to my local fabric store, and found a mustard yellow spandex that I thought would work. I must have overlooked it last time (in my determination to avoid sewing entire garments). The fabric was actually a gold metallic lamé laminated on to yellow spandex. I didn’t like that at first because I knew it wouldn’t be breathable, but decided to embrace it and try to make the outfit reversible. You never know when you’ll need a matching shiny gold top and bottom, right?


What the gold side looks like. Note the small area where the gold finish rubbed off after just one wear. The gold coating is not that durable, sticks to itself, and does not breathe…but it’s shiny, metallic gold!

I used various tops and pants as templates for cutting out the pattern (and found this YouTube video helpful for learning how to sew pants). I decided on a boatneck type neckline against a turtleneck, which Prince sometimes wore, since the fabric wasn’t breathable. I just eye-balled the patterns and hoped they would work out, figuring if the garments they are based on fit and I was cutting them larger than that, the resulting garments should also fit. To make the bell sleeves, I just flared the pattern pieces of the sleeves out towards the cuff.  For the pants, I flared the inside only so that I wouldn’t have to sew an outer seam because I was hand sewing and wanted to minimize the work. I made sure that the top was tunic length because that was Prince’s style and I liked the look of the longer shirt with the flared pants. I found some neat explanations online of different hand stitches and tips on how to make them even to make the hand sewing more enjoyable. I watched a lot of amazing YouTube tutorials on how to make foam armor to pass the time. I can’t really offer any machine sewing tips because of this, except that everyone says to use woolly nylon for sewing spandex so that the seams have stretch or use a zig-zag stitch to enable stretch and prevent seams from ripping.

Because I wanted to make each piece reversible, I had to think about how to finish the seams so they would look nice on both sides. I can’t find the name of the type of seam I made now, but I basically hid the raw edge inside the seam and in some places sewed the seam down flat like a flat felled seam. For the hems, neckline, and sleeves, I attempted a rolled hem. Maybe there is a better way to finish those edges. The fabric didn’t want to roll, and you can see the stitches up close (see photo below).

The final outfit was slimmer than I thought it would be. I was originally going for a looser fit, but it worked. The sleeves bunch a little at the shoulder more than I’d like (maybe because of the thick reversible seam), but the vest covers most of that.


Vest front and back, photographed against the original white faux leather fabric.

Making the vest

Initially I thought maybe I’d find an inexpensive jacket or vest that could be modified. Not so. I couldn’t find the right faux gator leather type material in the right gold color either. Like white, there are surprisingly many different types of gold. I ended up buying an off-white vinyl material embossed with the gator texture and tried to cut my pattern pieces so that the gator print matched Prince’s (it really was the best looking way to lay out the pattern I think, no surprise there). I used a jacket I had and improvised a pattern from it, modifying the lines where needed. The collar took several freehand attempts to get the shape more or less right. I think I just got lucky there. I then proceeded to cut away material from one side in the front and one side in the back to mimic the original design, but accidentally made the cuts on the wrong sides. At least they are still asymmetrical, so the overall look and idea is the same. If I were doing it again, I’d want to cut the pattern to eliminate those 90 degree corners along the bottom of the front of the vest.

I thought about lining the vest with black fabric but decided against it for three reasons: the cost of the additional fabric, the work required to hand sew it, and two layers of synthetic non-breathable fabric sounded uncomfortable enough without a third layer. I do think the vest would look much nicer and photograph better with black lining.

Spray painting the vest gold

To get the vest gold, I used Rustoleum metallic spray paint and the Rustoleum Comfort Grip to apply it. The grip attachment makes spraying the paint much easier and smoother and is worth every cent. I wish I had invested in one sooner.

I do not recommend this other gold Rustoleum spray paint for this particular application because when I tested it, it had a shiny plastic looking finish and looked more tan than gold. Although it said it was made for plastic and seemed to adhere better to the fabric, the color and glossiness was not right for this project for me. The upside of this paint is that the improved nozzle design makes it much easier to spray and paint flows evenly out of the can with little effort (unlike the old style topped can I used). The shiny finish feels smoother and more durable (although still does not really adhere to this fabric) such that I think it would be a better choice if you were going for more of a patent leather look. I mention this in case you find yourself standing in front of both cans at the hardware store unsure of which to get. In the photo below, the largest area of gold is the finished vest (“Rustoleum Metallic gold spray paint”). Note that colors may appear differently on your screen. They did not photograph exactly accurately, either, but I think it’s good enough to at least make the point that the golds are different.


What I learned from spray painting is that you should not paint if there is wind or even a light breeze (because a lot of the paint will blow away or lead to unevenness in coverage). Try to keep the nozzle the same distance from the surface at all times and keep the can moving. The grip attachment keeps the paint flow continuous and even so you don’t have to worry about that. Also make sure the surface you are painting is as flat as possible. If I were doing it over, I’d paint the pattern pieces lying flat before sewing them together.

The faux leather fabric is kind of a slick surface. I didn’t do any prep work to the surface before painting and didn’t use primer. The spray paint will come off with certain paint removers, so it is not technically adhered, but for light indoor use I think it is acceptable.


I love that the waist band is gold!

Making the third-eye glasses

This was such a fun part of the project. I looked at a lot of different glasses in brick and mortar stores and just could not find the right combination of gold frame, truly round lenses (so many were slightly oval), and lens size. EBay has a better selection. It took four  pairs of glasses to find the right proportions. Once I found a pair that would work, I ordered a second and used “tin snips” to separate a lens from the second pair. It was a little difficult and I did end up with a small hairline crack in the lens. It’s not that noticeable, but next time I would try wire cutters.

I think that the “third eye” of Prince’s glasses is actually slightly smaller in diameter than the lower two lenses, but when I tried this, the proportions were not right so I ended up going with two identical pairs of glasses.

The nub left from where the lens frame connected to the “ear arm” would not come off, so I decided to make it part of the design. The end of that metal nub became the surface I glued to the intact pair of sunglasses. I cut a small piece of scrap metal from the glasses “arm” I had to remove and used it to fill the space on the other side between the other lens and the “third eye”. The length of the “spacer” piece wasn’t an exact fit, but it was close enough. It actually looks better with the third eye set off from the other lenses a bit than with the three lenses stuck directly together with no space in between.


E6000 worked like a charm to stick everything together. Soldering would no doubt lead to better results, but I had leftover E6000 and no soldering iron. My glue tube came with an attachment nozzle for detail work (a smaller nozzle opening than the tube opening itself) and that worked really well. It took a couple tries to get everything in place, and then it was about propping the whole thing up so the glue would cure in the correct position. E6000 is viscous and takes a while to “set”, which makes using it in this particular application slightly challenging but not impossible. I doubt the glue is that durable, but I like that it is supposed to be somewhat flexible. I consider the finished glasses fragile, and will be handling them with care, but think they look awesome. From very close up, you can kind of tell they are glued together, but at any kind of distance, it looks like they just came that way. The only downside is there is no case wide enough to fit them. I wonder if Coco and Breezy’s glasses come with a special extra wide case?

Total cost for the glasses not including cost of glue and tin snip tool was about twenty dollars including the other three pairs of glasses that didn’t work out. There are some inexpensive glasses on EBay great for costumes!


Side project: shoe covers

For shoes, I found some 70s inspired, chunky heeled gold faux leather platform sandals on sale to go with the outfit. They were fine as is, but I’ve always wanted to try to make removable shoe covers. It just seemed like a great way to change the look of a pair of shoes temporarily. Plus, Prince didn’t really rock sandals as far as I can tell. He seemed to prefer pumps.

To make them, I layered newspaper over my shoes like papier mâché and then taped it in place with yellow duct tape that I had left over from my first costume. I worked around the whole thing, then removed the newspaper backing where possible and duct taped the back. Removing the newspaper was critical, because leaving it was too bulky. I then covered the outer surface of each with a few layers of gold and purple glitter nail polish to make them look less like duct tape and more like leather. I E6000’d scrap elastic (leftover from the waistband of the yellow pants pictured above) to the back of the shoe covers so that they would stay in place. This design may not work for all shoes – you need a good flat surface for the elastic to grip on to – but it does work well for these. There’s another photo of the shoes further down.

I walked around for over eight hours and did not have any problems. E6000 is amazing (but smells bad, so make sure to use it in a well ventilated space).


So many iterations of trial and error and failure!

Purple Rain cloud

If you’re still reading, thank you for making it to my favorite part of this project! This was the biggest costume challenge I’ve taken on so far.

Trial and error

How to make the cloud part was tricky. I wanted the cloud to be lightweight and collapsible. I originally had other ideas about how I wanted to incorporate the cloud into the costume that required it to collapse, but ended up not needing that feature in the end. My first thought was to glue plastic grocery bags together to form a cloud-like shape.

I tried to collect some bags. They are banned where I live now, but some retailers still use them. I found one that had a cotton ball like shape that I liked, but the retailer wouldn’t give away the bags and I couldn’t make enough purchases to collect enough to get the coverage I needed. They did happen to have a purple umbrella for under five dollars that became the base structure for the cloud.

Experimenting with plastic sheeting

I went to the hardware store to look at plastic drop cloth sheeting in the painting section and found they carried different weights and types of plastic. I believe I ended up with 4 mil polyethylene plastic sheeting. It is lightweight, translucent, and has a bit of texture to the surface that makes it look cloud-like, especially when light shines through. The only problem with it is it lacks stiffness and does not stand up on its own very well.

Plastic sheeting comes in heavier weights and there may be other plastics that may work better, but I didn’t have money to fund experimentation so I started experimenting with ways to make the 4 mil sheeting work. The first thing I tried was laminating two layers of the material together by ironing them together. (I don’t recommend this because the plastic melts and off-gases and if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, you can melt holes right through the plastic.)

I started the iron on the lowest setting and adjusted from there to get enough heat to melt the layers together but not make holes. I ironed them on top of a magazine and put a few layers of newspaper over the plastic before ironing. I made sure to move the iron around continously and work quickly. Others that have tried something similar said to NOT use steam. I agree that that sounds like a bad idea.


4 mil plastic (left), two layers of 4 mil plastic ironed together (right). The ironed plastic looks extra wrinkly because I had crumpled it up.

Ironing two layers of 4 mil together changes the material properties of the plastic. The resulting plastic is thicker, glossier, and smoother. It’s hard to explain or capture on camera. The 4 mil material is like a thin plastic shower curtain liner, but the laminated plastic is like a thick wax paper or something. That’s probably not a good analogy, but it’s the best I can think of.

What worked

After a lot of sketching, research, and building a small prototype out of duct tape and newspaper to make a pattern for scaling up, the easiest solution I found was to cut semi-circles out of the plastic, iron them together along the curved edge, then flip them “inside out” so the seam was inside, and connect these little plastic domes together randomly. This is essentially making plastic bags without handles and joining them together (my original idea). I made the domes different sizes to get a more natural cloud shape. I joined some of them together by ironing them, but the iron was too wide, resulting in too much space between the “bumps”. I saw a mini travel flat iron in Sephora for about twenty bucks, and still wonder if that would work, but I opted for a lower tech and cheaper solution: hand sewing with fishing line. Heavy duty white thread may also work. Fishing line blended into the plastic sheeting pretty well and is very strong.

Before attaching the cloud layer to the umbrella, I used white primer paint from the hardware store to paint the outer side of the umbrella dome white. I tried leaving it purple, but the purple showed through and made it look less cloud-like so it had to go. Once painted, I sewed the cloud layer down to the umbrella along its perimeter with fishing line and tried to hide the line in between the two layers of material.



I decided to use ribbon for the “rain” because it was readily available and inexpensive. The umbrella is about 32 inches in diameter. I used purple ribbon that is 1/8 inch wide. I believe it was satin ribbon (see photo above), which has a bit of shininess that reflects light and photographs well. The strands are relatively thin so the reflectivity helps them not to get lost in the surroundings.

I attached the ribbon at random intervals along the metal umbrella frame, along the perimeter of the umbrella to the fishing line (taking care to hide the knots between the two layers), and also ran some ribbon between the metal frame parts to be able to tie ribbon off between the metal pieces. A double knot was sufficient to secure the ribbon. The ribbon pieces did move around a little along the metal and fishing line, but it was not much trouble to re-adjust the placement as needed.


Finally, I painted the umbrella shaft black. The silver metal was highly reflective, really noticeable, and detracted from the look because it had to be held right up against my face. A quick layer of black paint made the hardware disappear in photos. It will surely come off if I close the umbrella, though. I bet you could find an umbrella with hardware that is already black. That would be ideal.

Other ideas and lessons learned

You will see in later photos that the cloud shape has a strong horizontal line along the bottom. I wanted to add more plastic domes along the perimeter of the umbrella so that they hang down a bit below the umbrella edge by differing amounts to break up that line, but ran out of plastic sheeting (I used a good amount experimenting) and didn’t want to invest in another roll. Maybe I will make this improvement in the future.

There are so many great DIY clouds online that inspired me. I saw three dimensional clouds made by gluing polyester batting on to paper lanterns, and even cloud balloons. I also saw an umbrella with whimsical water droplet shaped cutouts strung together and hung around the perimeter of the umbrella as rain on Pinterest.

LED technology has advanced quite a bit and you can now get firefly type string lights of purple LEDs that are battery powered, not to mention there is EL wire that looks like it can be shaped into just about anything. I thought about lighting the cloud with white LED lights and then hanging purple ones down from inside the umbrella, and considered hanging purple EL wire down and blanking out sections to make it look like rain.


Hair and make-up

For hair, I found a cheap afro wig online and tried my best to fluff it out a bit. I should have sprayed it with dry shampoo to lessen the shininess, but forgot. Next time… For make-up, I was in a rush so I just thickened my eyebrows with brow powder, applied black eyeliner, and used the brow powder to draw in some Prince-like facial hair, which I probably should have made darker so people could see it from further away. If you have any tips for making brow hair and faux facial hair look more realistic, I would love to hear them! I haven’t quite figured that out yet. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say!)

Final look

Here are some photos of the finished costume.


What’s your favorite Prince song or outfit? Do you have any other ideas on how to use plastic sheeting? It’s a very interesting material and easy to work with. I bet you could do some cool things with it.

How to DIY a David Bowie flame costume

David Bowie costume diy

Six months ago, I didn’t really know who Bowie was. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s the truth. I mean, I probably knew he was a famous musician and could recognize a few of his hit songs, but wouldn’t have considered myself a fan. So why a Bowie costume?

I have always wanted to make costumes, but never made the time to do it. I decided this year I would make the time. Not long after I won a small prize for the first costume I made, a David Bowie tribute event encouraging costumes was announced. Creating a costume, something original inspired by his body of work, sounded like a nice way to honor and remember him and a good opportunity to attempt a more complicated project.

As soon as I started researching costume ideas, I was completely drawn in. David Bowie was legendary. To say that his outfits were spectacular is an understatement. I have never seen anything like them. His music was equally original and he was an extraordinarily talented performer. He clearly had impeccable taste, a unique creative vision, and the courage to fully embody and express who he was. Bowie was truly an original, and his style makes an especially great theme for a costume event because of his many androgynous looks. His looks were all expertly curated, visually stunning, and unique.

I enjoy the challenge of trying to recreate a look as closely as possible, but which one to pick? Like any artist that transcends time, Bowie reinvented himself. In his later years, he seemed to have completely moved on from the Ziggy Stardust era of his youth. He seemed disinterested in playing any of the old music in favor of creating new work. In fact, he released an album just before he passed away that sounded much different than his earlier work to me.

Yet each of his Stardust outfits were extraordinary, mesmerizing, irresistible works of art. As I scrolled through the archival images and footage on fashion websites and YouTube, it became clear that my favorite Bowie looks hailed from the 1970s during Bowie’s Ziggy alter-ego days. My favorite look was the black body suit by Kansai Yamamoto with thin white stripes that looked like it could have been inspired by a vinyl record. I envisioned somehow elevating a commercial grade contractor’s garbage bag (the heavier weight ones) to fine art through laborious fittings and hand painting white lines on the black plastic to replicate the original look. I also was inspired by the choreography of his on-stage, mid-concert wardrobe changes where stagehands ripped one layer of expertly crafted garment away to instantly reveal an equally stunning new creation.

I did not have time for any of that. The event was less than a month away, which was hardly enough time to put together anything that would do Bowie justice. The detail and craftsmanship in each of his costumes was a sight to behold. Every single thing he wore in the Stardust era was one-of-a-kind, custom, tailored to fit him perfectly. Everything spoke to his specific style, in a specific era. One would not find anything like those things in any mall store today. It was clear that any Bowie costume would require a serious commitment to DIYing everything.

I didn’t initially want to make the flame outfit he wore in a performance of his song “Time” in London in 1973 because others had already done it. But I could see that what would be required to make that outfit was something I would likely be able to finish within the available time. People seem to like flames, and I liked that the outfit had one arm and one leg exposed. This was a silhouette I have only seen Bowie attempt (and probably one that only he can really pull off). Iconically Bowie, any diehard fan of his (or someone exceptionally well-versed in fashion, perhaps) would surely recognize the silhouette and associate it with him.

I didn’t really know who Bowie was when I started making this costume, but as I pieced it together I became a huge fan. I don’t know if he would have liked it, but it is my way of saying “thank you” for all of the great work he made.

My budget was tiny, and it was a lot of work, but seeing how much people loved it made it worth it. The best part of making costumes is definitely seeing people smile in delight in reaction to it.

Making the costume

For the base outfit, I bought a knit top and leggings in the same color from Forever 21. It may have been this top and these leggings, but I’m not sure. I would recommend visiting stores in person to get the right color and fit. These options were good for a tiny budget.

I got home and promptly removed the right leg of the leggings and left arm portion of the v-neck top. I would have preferred to begin with a crew neck top, since I had to make it asymmetrical, but the v-neck top was all Forever 21 had that matched the leggings. The top ended up having a wider neck opening than I would have preferred, and I had to use garment tape to ensure everything stayed in place. Since my sewing machine is in storage, I roughly hand sewed the hems to finish the raw edges.

I would recommend gradually removing fabric for this part because you don’t want to remove too much! I tried on the pieces several times between cuts to make sure the result would be decent. I would also recommend using wooly nylon (or the zigzag stitch) for sewing spandex or knits that you want to retain the stretch in. I didn’t have this, and so was just careful to leave extra thread as I wanted to make sure there was some give. This is really not ideal, though, especially if the fabric needs to stretch a lot.

I had to hem both the top and bottoms to get the right fit. When I hemmed the top, I made sure it was long enough to slightly overlap the waistband of the leggings to make it look more seamless. This also gives more room for error to ensure you don’t end up inadvertently with a trendy but inappropriate crop top.

For a more conservative event or person, you could replace the removed blue pieces with pieces from a nude colored top and leggings that match your skin tone. That would definitely eliminate any chance of wardrobe malfunctions and probably would be warmer. Forever 21’s leggings come in many different colors and there are many other manufacturers of nude dancewear type garments. I wasn’t going to an office party or an afternoon high tea ceremony (I was going to a late night event), so I decided that in the spirit of Bowie I would rock a bare leg. I also didn’t want to have a visible neckline where there was supposed to be bare skin.

Instead of top and bottom separates, you could get a one piece cat suit type garment. These weren’t available locally for me, and I didn’t have time to wait for shipping, but there are several vendors on EBay (keywords like “zentai” and “catsuit” seemed to work).

David Bowie costume materials


Making the flames

I hit up a local fabric store to find flame like textiles in fabrics with stage presence. I picked a shiny metallic fabric (not sure what it’s called), and bought it in blue, red, yellow, orange, and light orange (like an oily orange sherbet). I did not use the orange or light orange because I didn’t think it would add anything, and thought it might actually detract. I originally purchased a nude fabric (left most in the photo above) for the arm ribbons by mistake and didn’t use that in the costume either (I made something else out of it that I’ll share later).

I cut out the flames, trying to get them to look similar to how they look on Bowie’s original outfit. Sometimes I just freehanded it, and other times I sketched it out lightly on the fabric first with permanent marker (which is mostly permanent on this fabric, so you have to be careful). I used a “Permanent Fabric Glue” by Aleene’s (this one has a similar label but is a smaller size) to glue the flames down to the fabric. I just placed the cut out flames where I wanted them, and slathered glue all over it. The flame fabric was somewhat porous, and the blue knit fabric was thick enough for the glue not to bleed through. This technique worked really well for me, but always test with small fabric scraps first.

The glue label says the glue dries clear and flexible. I liked that the glue would have some flexibility since I was gluing to a knit that needed to stretch and covering a large area. I liked that it would dry clear, since I didn’t want to see it. Note that this glue does not dry clear on all fabrics. You need to test the glue out on the fabric you are using to see what happens. The glue did NOT dry clear on the blue knit fabric. I took extra care to keep it off the blue areas that were not going to be covered with flames. (Alternatively, you could sew the fabric on.)




For the flame design and layout, I knew I wanted the flames to appear continuous from top to bottom, despite the outfit consisting of two separate pieces. I also wanted to have the red streak down the leg, as in the original outfit. And I wanted to make sure part of the flame wrapped around the leg. I think when you’re designing something that is three dimensional, it is important to utilize all three dimensions.


David Bowie costume diy details

Since the glue takes a day or two to cure fully, I worked in sections and skipped around. To line up the flames on the top and bottom, I glued down the part on the leggings first and then laid the top out flat over the leggings approximating how they would line up when worn, and then cut out a flame pattern for the top that would match what had already been glued down on the leggings.

The resulting flaming leg did not have a lot of stretch. The glue really inhibited a lot of the stretch. This is the one downside to having the flame wrap around your leg. If reduced stretch is a concern, you may want to minimize the lateral coverage of the flamed area or sew on a stretchy fabric. It would be such a bummer to finish the costume and then not be able to get into it! Mine was a little constricting, so if I were to do it over, I would probably opt for a stretchy fabric for the flames and I would probably zig-zag stitch them on. That would be so much more comfortable and wearable! Given the glue, metallic fibers, and hand sewing, the result is definitely hand wash only, but you could definitely make this to withstand machine washing  with more durable fabrics and sewing machine. I think this costume in all spandex would make a great outfit for a charity walk!

Arm “ribbons” and leg “donuts”

For the “arm ribbons”, I bought a satin-y yellow fabric and paired it with the blue metallic fabric. Bowie’s original outfit had flames on the blue side of the ribbons. I opted not to do this mainly because I think the flames there – while super cool from a technical and craftsmanship perspective – looked a little busy to me. Also I was pretty tired of designing flames at that point and wanted to get to the next step. Actually, looking at the photos now, I kind of wish I had done flames on the arm ribbons, so I must have just been flamed out.

Bowie’s original outfit has five arm ribbons, I believe, but I had to reduce the number to four (my arms must be shorter than his). For the placement and scale of the ribbons, I made sure the top ribbon started around my back like Bowie’s, which I thought was a great design choice (as opposed to starting the ribbon at the shoulder, my initial thought). The resulting effect is that the widest ribbon wraps around from back to arm, and I think this lends more movement.

I also made sure to stagger the lengths of the ribbons as in the original design. The second ribbon down the arm is the longest, the first (the wrap around one) is slightly shorter, and the ribbon length gets shorter towards the sleeve cuff. I made the back most ribbon long enough to cover my butt, which was also how the original look was designed, and went from there. The width of each ribbon also gets narrower towards the arm cuff, as in the original outfit. The shorter ribbon length by the hand also makes the design more functional (less stuff flapping around your hands). Getting the ribbon dimensions right and to scale while minimizing sewing (hand sewing, remember) and with minimal fabric (budget, remember) was probably the biggest challenge, but I like how they came out.


I made the arm and leg “donuts” out of scrap fabric and polyester batting (the kind you stuff pillows with). These required a couple of alterations to get the width and circumference just right.

Selecting and styling the right wig

For hair, I bought the “Crazy Wig” from a costume shop because it was the least expensive red haired wig that would work. If you put on this wig out of the bag, the hair sticks out in all directions. I used serious hairspray to style the wig into a slicked back mullet style that was a huge hit. I also sprayed dry shampoo into the wig to reduce the shiny cheapness and make it look more realistic. I removed the leg portion of a pair of nylon stockings and knotted this to make an inexpensive wig cap. Thank you YouTube for these tips! People thought the wig just came like that. It’s pretty cool what styling can do!

Make-up and nails

For make-up, I am not great at make-up. I watched a ton of YouTube drag make-up videos and taught myself how to cover my eyebrows using the purple glue stick and powder method. You need to get the glue on REAL thick. If you can’t see the purple, you don’t have enough glue. If you don’t have blonde eyebrows, you will probably need to use an orange lipstick or something to counteract the dark blue hue of the glue covered brow hair. Set everything with powder between glue applications, and make sure you are very precise with applying everything so it blends in with your skin well and doesn’t turn into a huge mess. I covered my lips with nude concealer and opted to leave my face bare other than that – that was the look Bowie went with in the video. I opted for no make-up because I didn’t want anything to compete with the outfit, but looking at the photos now I think there are many different make-up looks you could do that would complement the outfit. If I ever use this costume again, I’d like to try the gold sun on the forehead with the red tinted sides of the face look. I hope I get to do that! I already have the gold and red for it!

For nail polish, I really like the L.A. Colors Color Craze nail polish in color “Live”. It’s a sparkly silver that goes on opaque in one coat and takes almost no time to dry. I think Bowie’s nails were silver in that “Time” video, and that’s where I got the idea from. I’m so amazed at whoever his styling team was. Silver is the perfect accent color (!!!). The L.A. Colors nail polish was no more than $2 at the drugstore. I’ve since tried several other colors by L.A. Colors, to varying results. They do all seem to dry very quickly, but the other glitters I’ve tried require several coats.


In the look below, the outfit is paired with nude flats, but the final look was paired with mirror metallic gold stilettos, which is so much better (but not as comfortable). I wish I had a picture of that.



The final look won “Best Costume” at the tribute.

How are you remembering David Bowie? What’s your favorite Bowie look? Do you have a “dream costume” you’d like to make? The world rained purple while I was making this, so I knew I’d be making a Prince costume next. Stay tuned.