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May 2015

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The progression of madness

Ugh. So I promise you something, and then I take two weeks to do it. Sorry. There's a nasty tendency for life to get in the way of all my costuming activities, particularly journaling about it.

So. I said in the last post that the hat, while made primarily to be a stand-alone accessory, was going to pay a role in a larger ensemble. And here it is.

Yes indeed, that is an interpretation of the Mad Hatter. The hat--which, as noted previously, I had already intended to make--was a starting point for it; but so were a number of things in my closet, and a variety of cultural references.

I should start by saying that I hadn't actually intended to do a Mad Hatter outfit, and it wasn't done specifically because of the new film (though I probably had the idea sort of floating around my general awareness due to cultural buzz). What happened was that I was going through my closet one day trying to cull things and trying on items to see if they still fit. I tried on the jacket (which I've had for about a decade) and was surprised to find that it did still fit. And then my eye landed on the striped skirt, and the thought of the hat I was about to make popped into my head, and I suddenly went, "Hey...I could make a Mad Hatter outfit out of these things." And just that simply, I had a costume concept.

Before I get into all the meta of how I got to the finished product, here's a descriptive rundown of the elements:
--Black wool felt "Mad Hatter" style oversized hat with homemade pricing card.
--Purple velveteen slightly fitted jacket.
--Apple-green cotton dobby shirt with collar turned up.
--Vintage oblong scarf, off white with black polka dots, used as a tie/ascot.
--Jacquard waistcoat with a mixed floral/paisley pattern in shades of blue, blue-gray, deep pink, and green.
--Long double-layer off-white and black striped skirt with hem ruffles and bustled back, worn over a bustle pad.
--Petticoat/underskirt (not visible) of pieced rayon georgette in black and white polka dots of two sizes and floral pattern, with assymetric piecing and ruffles.
--Plain black tights (a failure of imagination) with mismatched socks featuring bats.
--Low-heeled black mary janes with whipstitch detailing.
--Black fingerless gloves.
(I'll detail the makeup and other accessories later on.)

Most of these things were already in my wardrobe, so this was a very true "closet costuming" effort.

There were a lot of things that went into this. Lewis Carroll's characters have been depicted many, many times and in a a variety of media of the last 150 years, and while there are numerous variations in details, the core concept of how they appear tends to hold. For the Mad Hatter, there is of course a hat (with the price card), along with a distinctive coat, a high-collared shirt, a tie (usually though not always patterned), and usually a waistcoat of some kind. If you include these elements, people will get the idea, even if you play around a lot with the details.

My first influence was the classic Tenniel illustrations. The hat came from those illustrations, and it's pretty much the critical element for getting across the idea of the character. My hat isn't a true top hat, but rather a shortened, feminized version of the style; it's actually called a "Mad Hatter" style in the millinery trade. In addition to that, I took the polka-dotted tie from the Tenniel illustrations, and the notion of a graphic-patterned bottom--Tenniel's Hatter wears checkerboard trousers, which gave me a mental jumping-off point to strong black and white stripes.

The idea of using a purple jacket came from the video for "Don't Come Around Here No More" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The Hatter's coat has been shown in a variety of colors, but having seen a version in purple (well, plum, but close enough) was what caused my brain to think of that purple velveteen blazer as an option for a Hatter costume.

I did take some inspiration from the current Tim Burton Alice film, but only a little, primarily in the makeup and a bit in the small accessories. I'm greatly appreciative in general of Burton's visual sense, but I think he went overboard with much of this new film. I do like the use of the white mascara on the Hatter--white mascara causes a strange visual effect for people looking at it and tends to make them feel vaguely unsettled. (I actually have a post in waiting that directly addresses this in one of my own outfits; one of these days I'll get around to writing it.) However, I toned things down so as not to be so dramatically theatrical.

My final inspiration for the overall look was Guy Ritchie's recent Sherlock Holmes film. This probably sounds strange, but here's my reasoning: Ritchie as a filmmaker has always been deeply fond of London's working-class people, and this is very strongly reflected in his version of Holmes, where his heroes spend a great deal of time with the working-class men and women of Victorian London. And as a reflection of this, his working-class characters wear splendidly colored and stongly patterned clothing, which is typical of the period, as industrialization and the use of new aniline dyes had made these things attainable for the working class. Take note of the striped shirts and trousers his laborers wear, the windowpane-plaid jackets and patterned waistcoasts. Victorian aesthetics were frequently incredibly gaudy, and this was reflected in the working class as much as elsewhere; and it was also reflected in Tenniel's drawings of the Mad Hatter (who, of course, was of the working class), with his checkered trousers and spotted tie and tartan waistcoat. Ritchie's depiction of working-class men immersed me more deeply in that particular sense of fashion, reinforced the image of Tenniel's Hatter, and inspired an overall sense of the patterning and colors I wanted to use.

So, with a striped skirt and a purple coat already chosen, I decided I wanted to take the contrast and visual mishmash to even further extremes. The green shirt was one of the only things I went out and bought for this outfit (from a thrift store); the combination of that shade of green with purple is very striking, and it also provided a strong contrast with the other elements. If I hadn't found a shirt in that color, I was planning to use a high-necked deep pink (almost red) blouse, which would certainly have provided plenty of contrast but probably wouldn't have been quite as visually appealing.

The waistcoat was a bit of an adventure. I'd intended to thrift for one, and had in my mind's eye the exact idea of what I wanted: one of those crewel or jacquard 1980s/early 1990s vests that featured a riot of bright florals on a black background. In the past couple of years I've been scouring thrift stores looking for plan black waistcoasts, and in the way of thrifting, I far more often found those gaudy floral things instead. But of course, as soon as I actually wanted one of those gaudy floral things, there was not a one to be found. (I think this is some kind of law of thrift shopping.) I was getting a little discouraged and considered buying something that wasn't quite what I wanted, or possibly using a waistcoast I already own that has a B&W microcheck pattern, even though that wasn't quite what I was going for. And then as I was holding up a compromise choice in a thrift store, trying to decide if I was willing to pay for it, I suddenly remembered that buried at the bottom of a bin of clothing to be modified was a vest I'd bought in 1989 with a colorful floral pattern. Problem solved. The pattern and coloring actually isn't as extreme as I'd been going for, but I think that ended up working better in the end.

The dotted tie is a vintage scarf that belonged to my mother, and is a little bit too long for what I was trying to do with it; I ended up just doing double knots and letting the ends hang loose. For my next wearing, I will probably try to do something more like a bow, though I doubt I can get the pointy style depicted in Tenniel's drawings.

The skirt came from Retroscope Fashions; I bought it last year when it was introduced and on sale, because hey, who can't use a long striped bustle skirt? The bustling in the back is done with vertical drawstrings that pull up the top layer, and I decided to go with a bustle pad to emphasize that. The dotted/floral underskirt was meant to be visible under the bustling in the back, and a contrast to the other colors and patterns (and was also where I drew the idea of a floral waistcoat from), but I misunderstood how the striped skirt was constructed, and so the dotted skirt couldn't be seen unless I pulled up the striped skirt. I think I've solved this for the next time I wear this outfit, bit it will mean not using the bustle pad as the dotted skirt is just a simple A-line.

I'd put so much time into figuring out all the other elements that I didn't really think about hosiery, so at the last minute I just went with plain black and chose mismatched socks. The reason for the socks having bats on them was of course due to the little song the Hatter sings for Alice at the tea party: "Twinkle twinkle little bat..." The shoes I wore for this version were a compromise. The plan had been to wear a wonderful pair of vintage Fluevogs that have loooooong pointy toes and multiple buckled straps, but they needed to be repaired (holes in the soles and a lot of wear on the toes and heels), and I hadn't gotten them to the cobbler yet. They'll be ready for the next wearing, though.

The fingerless gloves were something I took from the Burton film; they're fairly common for laborers of the period. Mine are actually compression gloves meant for easing arthritis pain, and they're working items for me--I wear them on cold days when my hands are achy, and had cut the fingers out to make typing easier.

Take a peek at the brooch on the lapel of the jacket--it's a pin holder. We'd gone to the fabric store to pick up various things and I was in the tool section looking for a thimble, when this circular thing with multicolored pins caught my eye, and I realized it would make a great accessory. (Thus does my history of turning things not meant to be worn into costume items continue.) The white heart in the middle was just a large plastic button I pulled out of my stash to serve as a "stop" for the pinholder; the pinholder has a large open circle in the middle, and I put the button on top of that hole on the lapel and stitched the button in place. The size and the time I had available were the biggest concerns with the button; I might use something different next time. (I had to take the "brooch" off the jacket as the jacket got filled with smoke and needed to be washed.)

I made the price card for the hat on the computer. Some people hand-letter theirs, but my handwriting is awful. I created a parallelogram shape, wider at top, in a layout program, and used an elaborate foofy font for the lettering. It's on purple cardstock simply because that's what I had on hand; after printing it, I cut out the parallelogram shape, and stuck the card into the hatband.

The hair for this is a work in progress. My hair is very long right now (past the middle of my back), and the hat is deliberately oversized, so getting the "wings" that the Hatter is usually depicted with was a challenge, and I didn't want to go with a wig. I ended up twisting my hair into two Edwardian-style chignons, somewhat offset to the sides from the very top of my head, allowing the hair to bunch out on the sides. Even so, the hat is so oversized that it mostly covered this up. I can do this better the next time.

The makeup, as noted earlier, took a little bit of inspiration from Burton, but not too much. I already knew I wanted to do a somewhat pale face with slightly sunken eyes and dark lips, and the new Hatter gave me the idea to do pale mascara. The face was done with a lavender toner to even out and pale the overall tone, then my usual foundation (which is pale because I'm pale but was probably not quite there; I'll likely use an even more pale shade next time), and finished off with a matte pale green finishing powder for a slightly sickly effect. All around the eyes went a reddish-brown matte shadow, and I played up my undereye circles and cheek contours (not as well as I should have) with a purplish shade. A broad line of matte bright acid green went along the upper lashline, to contrast with the purple and plum tones and tie in with the color of the shirt. I tried putting a matte hot pink in the outer corners, but I wasn't really satisfied with the result. Browbones were done with a sheer white with pink interference; I might go with a white/green interference next time, or even a pale brown/green interference. I used a deep plum with a black undertone for liner, drawn very thin. Mascara was white used as a lash primer, with a pale peachy pink over the top--this was a little less stark than going with pure white. And for the lips, dark plum pencil under a matte brown-toned plum lipstick. I also did my nails, just for the hell of it, with a charcoal-undertone brown polish loaded with copper glitter.

My final accessory can be seen sitting off to the side in the photo. I got an inexpensive teapot at a thrift store, because, of course, the Mad Hatter has a tea party. And inside it is a dormouse. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of that. I want to change the engineering of that a bit anyway, so photos of the next wearing will be better regardless.

If you actually read all that, you'll note that I keep mentioning "the next time I wear this outfit." My original intention was to use this at Norwescon this year. However, our favorite local club was planning a Wonderland-themed night at the end of February, and while I hadn't originally intended to attend that, I got talked into it, and had to have the outfit ready earlier than I'd intended. So a lot of the little details weren't quite right for this wearing, even though I was quite happy with how the overall concept came out. I will indeed be wearing this as one of my outfits at Norwescon at the beginning of April, and will smooth out these little hiccups, and get more detailed photos.

As to why I got talked into wearing it earlier...well, here's a little bonus for you: A costume my husband wore for the Wonderland-themed night, which I helped develop.

Yes indeed, that is my husband as Alice...or at least as some kind of approximation of Alice. And it went over marvelously.

What I love about this, and find really fascinating, is that it was possible to do because the markers we have for what Alice looks like are so strong and consistent. When we started talking about maybe going to this club event, he said jokingly that maybe he should get a blond wig and be Alice--it wasn't really a serious or thought-through idea. But him saying that made me think about what makes Alice, Alice in our cultural understanding of the character: The blond hair, the black headband, the blue dress with white pinafore. And I realized that it would be incredibly easy to actually create a version of Alice that totally worked with male-identified clothing. So we came up with this.

He already had the blue shirt (and I suggested blue pants, but he only had navy, not bright blue). He purchased the wig and the white vest, and borrowed the headband from me. I'd suggested turning this Alice into a card sharp and having him carry a pack of cards (which of course ties in with one of the other motifs from the first book), but he opted against that; instead, he went with the cigar, which many people said really pushed the outfit over the top from kind of clever to funny and a little disturbing, in the right way. In fact, he overshadowed me to some extent--but it was okay, because I thought it was a great idea and he pulled it off beautifully.

As a somewhat related note, I did my own Alice costume several years ago, working from those same basic markers to make the character identifiable. You can have a glimpse of the outfit in my userpic; I can't seem to locate any of the good full-size ones of it. The basic idea was that Alice grew up and became a user of absinthe and opium. I used a big fluffy blue prom dress with white trim that I got inexpensively from an auction site, cinched with a black overbust corset and with a short vintage apron (I couldn't find a white pinafore-style apron), along with a blond wig and black lace headband. I had white lace fingerless gloves, black and white striped tights, and Edwardian-style shoes with multiple straps to fill in for mary janes. Skin with a sickly pallor, sunken eyes and cheeks, and to fill out the concept, two bottles attached to the apron: One filled with green liquid (just water with some food coloring) with the label "Drink Me," and one filled with white powder (just powdered sugar) labeled "Eat Me." (And yes, I am aware that opium isn't used as a powder, but it was a simple way to get the basic concept across.) I wore it several times, for various events, and then got rid of most of the pieces because I felt I was done with the costume, but it was a concept that always went over well and that people largely got. I keep the bottles on the bookshelf by my omnibus copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

So there's a little Wonderland nonsense for you. I have a cluster of costuming coming up very soon that I need to outline, and I have a significant backlog of other costume-related things I'd like to write about. The trick is making myself sit down and do the writing. I won't promise you that I'm going to, but the intention is certainly there; I just need to find the discipline. Which, frankly, is pretty much the story of every creative thing I ever do.

Final note: Thanks for the photos goes to Victoria of Designs by Victoria, who was a very fetching sepia-toned Alice on this particular evening. Victoria makes gorgeous jewelry, elegant accesories, and some delightful costumes--you should take a peek at her work.


as a reflection of this, his working-class characters wear splendidly colored and stongly patterned clothing, which is typical of the period, as industrialization and the use of new aniline dyes had made these things attainable for the working class. Take note of the striped shirts and trousers his laborers wear, the windowpane-plaid jackets and patterned waistcoasts. Victorian aesthetics were frequently incredibly gaudy, and this was reflected in the working class as much as elsewhere; and it was also reflected in Tenniel's drawings of the Mad Hatter
That's fascinating! I never realized these historical bits and bobbles, and it's interesting to learn, and see how you incorporated it into your costume.

I remember your Alice costume; it was always one of those "good lord I wish I'd thought of that!" things for me - for some reason, people always peg me as dressing up as Alice (gee, wonder why), and I hate it, because being clever like that just isn't my forte. Still, your idea of playing with the cultural markers is a really interesting point - and strangely relevant to something I'm working on right now.

Thank you for the brain food!
You're welcome. :) I really love the historical context of clothing; it's one of the reasons I can't bring myself to call fashion "shallow." There are certainly things about the industry that are shallow, but what fashion reflects about a culture and an era isn't shallow at all.

We don't often get a lot of focus on working-class people in period films, and that ended up being one of the things I really enjoyed about Ritchie's Holmes, especially since it's such a "boy" film. It's one of the few times a film has given me an opportunity to ponder men's clothing of the era extensively, and particularly the differences based on class.
I can see that in retrospect for the film, which adds an additional layer of interesting. You make some really good points about the context of clothing - actually, to the point that I'm sort of surprised I haven't encountered it in some of the more aesthetic areas of cultural studies and medicine I poke in, because I can see the potential for really rich discourse here. There's a lot of discussion about things as varied as makeup, body fat, and even flowers and fruit arrangements in historical discussions of medicine and the body, but it seems like clothing is equally important - and often overlooked.