This year, I’m the official costumer for a haunted house. I’ve been given a number of interesting costuming problems to solve. Having found some fairly elegant solutions, I’d like to post them here.
If you buy a Halloween costume at a store, the chances are pretty good that you’re spending a pretty penny (or what I consider a pretty penny, anyway… upwards of $25…) for low-quality materials and low-quality construction, and a costume that is only superficially correct anyway. For many people this is probably sufficient. But I do a lot of costuming for a kid who’s going to want to wear that thing over and over for dress-up too, and I am a stickler for detail, and for those reasons I far prefer making my own costumes. Costuming for a haunted house is a whole other order of magnitude more hardcore. These are costumes that WILL be put through a rigorous beating. Construction is a main point; even more important than aesthetics, really, because the dim light and often quick glimpses don’t require quite as much attention to detail. Not that I stint on detail if I can help it.
So, for my first major project, I was asked to provide a straight jacket. Commercially available straight jackets, even specifically-costume ones, can range between fifty and hundreds of dollars. I was sure I could make a straight jacket from scratch if need be, but I far prefer modifying existing garments when possible, and I knew I could do that here if I could just find the right garments. Tutorials exist telling you how to make a costume straight jacket out of two matching button-down shirts and a number of belts… I knew that would never last, but it confirmed my ideas on how to approach a modification. Then, I found the thing. The perfect thing. A white canvas V-neck martial arts uniform, complete with top, pants and belt, for $6 used. These things are built to withstand significant stress; the canvas is high quality and the construction is excellent. This was my future straight jacket ensemble. My luck held out; it was sized for a 6 foot tall, 200 lb person, which meant that after modifying, it would fit the vast majority of our actors, so that the costume wouldn’t limit the casting. Bonus points!
So, this straight jacket ensemble includes the following materials:
One white canvas V-neck martial arts uniform
Approximately 1/3 yard of additional white canvas
Lots of twill tape
Various D-rings, buckles or clips to taste
I cut up the front of the garment to the middle of the V-neck, then cut the collar off. The front becomes the back and the back becomes the front. I cut two small wedges of canvas and sewed them into the V left by the neckline, to bring the opening in back straight and up to the neck. Then I cut the belt into three pieces. Two of those pieces were used to finish the back openings. I opened up the first row of stitching on each piece, and cut about 1/4″ of the webbing off because I didn’t think my sewing machine would like it much. Then I stitched it closed again around the raw edges of my back opening. That left just enough belt for the collar. This time, I removed all the lines of stitching (which was actually fairly easy once I realized that it could be unraveled by a quick pull on one end of the wrong-side stitching instead of picking each stitch individually…) and took out the webbing entirely. Then I sewed it on similar to a mandarin collar. (I DID trim down the neckline on the used-to-be-back to make it comfortable but still a crew-neck.) I also had to use some bias tape to finish the ends of the belt trim, too. I’ve measured and pinned down the straps and rings for the back closure in this picture:
There isn’t that much left to do, except actually turn it into a straight jacket by lengthening the sleeves and adding the strapping and tie-downs for them, and then aging/staining, etc. I’ll finish up next week!