Costume 101: Express Yourself with Wearable Art

Follow Your Fetish: I Was A Precocious Bellydancer

One secret to being enchanted with life is the ability to see Art in everything.

Thus, everyday wear, costumes and fashion are all forms of wearable art!

Clothing as a form of creative expression is particularly portable, visible and even practical.

If you paint on canvas and hang it on your wall, visitors to your home get to see it.

But if you make your clothing into an art form, many more people will get to enjoy your creativity!

3 More Benefits of Wearable Art:

It brightens up the world with texture, color, ingenuity, playfulness and fun!

It showcases different aspects your personality and passions.

It’s an opportunity for authentic sharing without requiring words, venue or permission.

My history with wearable art started in childhood. I loved rummaging through the house to see what I could create with found materials.

Whether it was imitating Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” look, creating gelatin-based zombie scars or making a Snow White outfit – these childhood efforts were little omens of my future explorations.

Over time, I realized that I never wanted to stop playing Dress-Up because it was so much fun!  I decided to enjoy costuming as part of my everyday life rather than wait for Halloween, special occasions and performances.

In support of your creativity, here are 5 tips for making wearable art:

1) Follow Your Fetishes
Consider what tickles your fancy currently.  Think about themes you enjoy, archetypes that mean something to you and even favorite physical aspects like texture and color to determine your clothing or costume repertoire.  Choose something that really appeals to your personal aesthetic, not because it’s trendy.

e.g. In 2002, I followed my fetish for fun fur jackets, tutus and corsets which led me to start doing Burlesque performances that year!  (It wasn’t til 2006 that I discovered the Burning Man tribe who also loves fun fur and tutus!)

I also followed my fetish for stripes and started with striped socks (a gateway drug) which eventually led to more stripey costumes…

What are some of your fetishes?
Favorite characters from books, films, history etc
Favorite archetypes (human or non-human)
Favorite topics or themes
Favorite eras
Favorite art forms or art pieces
Favorite moods
Favorite colors, textures, materials
Favorite fashions and design styles
Favorite stories

2) Think in Stages  

Consider creating a few favored costumes that you can build upon each year. Start with a few basic items and whenever you can, add more intricacy and detail. You don’t have to perfect it right away – take time to enjoy the creation process.

E.g. I have an 18th century outfit that I started to build in 2006.  Each year, I’ve added new layers or pieces to it. The first year, I began with the skirt and a simple bodice. Then in 2008, I added layers to the skirt and built a matching “powdered” wig in 2009. In 2010, I built a more elaborate wig, added a bustle, transformed shoes to match and sewed more details on the bodice.

3) Signature Costumes
Look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Joker… What did they have in common?  They only had 1 outfit that they wore as their signature costume! You too can create your own signature outfit(s)! If you really love it and it represents your personal style, you can wear it repeatedly and not get tired of it. In fact, most people tend to have a few favored outfits that they wear all the time.

4) Mix and Match
It’s helpful if you have items that can be part of more than 1 outfit or costume. For example: a scarf can serve as a halter top, a bandana or a skirt.  Gold shorts can be part of a disco outfit or a Barbarella costume.  A black hat may be spruced up with alternating feathers or flowers to match different outfits.  By exploring the creative possibilities, you can do a lot with just a few versatile items.

5) Get Ideas from What You Have
If you already have some items at home (like fabrics, accessories, wigs or hats etc) that have a pleasing color, texture or look, see what ideas arise from contemplating them in a new light.  It’s also fun to look at common items beyond their normal form and function to see what else they can be or how else they can be used!  Recycle an unused or ubiquitous object and turn it into a piece of wearable art!   You can also get ideas by perusing the materials at a sewing store, crafts store or hardware store.

e.g. A fork could be the inspiration for a spaghetti/meatballs hat (with the fork sticking out of some yarn that is mimicking pasta)

A set of playing cards could be glued onto an old suit jacket…
An old pair of boots can be decorated with sequins…
A colorful bedspread could be turned into a super hero cape…


written 2009. updated August 2015.

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