The Costume Counselor: Breaking it Down

After you pick a costume to work on, the next step is to figure out what exactly you’ll need to make or purchase. This is what I refer to as the break down process and it can either be a moment when you go “Oh, this won’t be so bad” or “This is way more complicated than I expected.” In some cases, the work may have already been done for you. The 501st in particular does a fantastic job of making sure they have incredibly thorough standards pages. They offer breakdowns of exactly what each costume will be comprised of along with pictures of the pieces. I found it to be incredibly helpful when I was working on my Revan. Unfortunately though, not every costume is going to have the benefit of 501st research.

The first step is to gather your reference pictures. Find as many of these as you can. If you’re working on a costume where you can see the front, the back, and the sides, be grateful for reference as this will take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. (Alternatively, you can be like me and base your costume off of a single image that doesn’t even show the entire costume. It’s my specialty.) I’m a fan of printing the pictures out if I’m going to continue to reference them while actually constructing the costume but I do know that a lot of people will maintain reference image folders on their tablets. Do what works for you. 

Once you’ve got your pictures… actually, how about we make this a practical exercise?
Seventh_SisterMy current project is Seventh Sister from Star Wars Rebels as seen above. It’s a reasonably complicated costume with a lot of parts. Luckily, this was a costume where the producers put up their character sheet and where the character was walking around the Disney parks. This made sussing out details easier but it wouldn’t have been an impossible task with just promotional shots and episodes to go by.

I start by going through the high level basics. Looking at this picture, you can see a helmet, a top/jacket of some sort, a belt, pants, boots, gloves, armor, and a lightsaber. Write all of these down, leaving yourself room to add more details. Those come next. We’ll use the pants as an example.

Looking at my assorted reference images, I determined that they would need to be very close fitting which meant I could either make a pair of perfectly tailored ones or go with leggings/a stretchy fabric that would be more forgiving. Also visible is the red stripe running along the side of each leg. Once I decided to buy a pair of black leggings instead of making my own, this meant that I was also going to need to find a stretchy red trim for the stripe. My notes looked like this:

  • Find black leggings
  • Buy stretchy red trim (1/2”)
  • Attach trim

If you’ll notice, I tend to break it down into buy/do. That’s because I’m one of those people who feels an immense sense of accomplishment for crossing things off to-do lists.

Let’s look at another part of the costume: the jacket. I spent a lot of time debating whether this was actually a jacket (aka: the sleeves were attached) or if it was sleeveless and the sleeves were just part of the undershirt. Eventually, I used the Disney parks costume as an example and made it a proper jacket but put my own spin on it.

  • Pick pattern to modify
  • Heavier weight black fabric
  • Red lining fabric
  • Black spandex (sleeves)
  • Two Imperial patches (black/white)
  • White iron-on vinyl for details

Go through the entire costume. It’s something that gets simpler once you’ve done it a few times. Doing a breakdown like this can not only give you an idea of what you need to make but an idea of how to make it. Another benefit of doing a very thorough breakdown is that it’s a good chance to do a rudimentary cost analysis. From my Seventh Sister breakdown, I could instantly tell that this was going to be one of my pricier costumes due to the helmet and the armor.

If you’re not entirely sure what a costume part is, poke around the internet a little. You may be able to find either another angle that will make it clearer or you may stumble across a post where another costumer details their own process for building a costume.

Think of your breakdown as a battle plan: the more thorough you are, the easier the fight will be.

That’s all for this week! If you’re still having trouble with a breakdown, feel free to reach out and I’ll do my best to walk you through it. Next week… well, I still don’t have a plan of attack but you expressed an interest in a props focused piece so it might be that or a primer on fabrics. As always, if there’s a topic you’d like me to cover, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message on Twitter. Until next week!

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