Thrift Store Costume Challenge

thrift-store-costume-challengeThe challenge? To costume as many literary characters as you can in 180 minutes. The catch? You can only use what you find on the racks of Nearly New consignment and thrift shop in Princeton.

nearly-new-clothing-rackFor those of you unfamiliar with Nearly New, it’s an independently-owned consignment and thrift store with tons of fantastic stuff. Toni Maher, the owner, is always helpful when I drop by looking for costume items for work (or, heh heh, just shopping).

nearly-newToni’s also extremely accommodating when it comes to more unusual requests, such as  borrowing a mannequin for this Cinderella dress design event, or hunting for teacups and saucers for this Victorian Tea program. She didn’t even bat an eye when I asked her if she’d be up for hosting the costume challenge.

The other major player was Princeton University sophomore James Jared. Last year, James designed and sewed the Mathamagician’s robes for our Day in Digitopolis program (seen here on our Instagram, and in more detail in this post). He also works in the costume shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts. James is incredibly talented, and was totally game for the challenge. There’s an interview with him at the end of the post!

The big day dawned and Marissa and I headed to Nearly New with photo equipment and a long list of possible characters (we went with female characters because, as James so astutely pointed out, the women’s sections of thrift stores are much bigger than the men’s sections). James and 4 Princeton University students who agreed to model met us at Nearly New. Then it was full steam ahead. In 180 minutes, James costumed 9 characters. Are you ready to see his results?


#1 NANCY DREW

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#2 VERUCA SALT

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#3 THE GRAND HIGH WITCH

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#4 MS. FRIZZLE

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#5 PROFESSOR TRELAWNEY

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#6 MRS. COULTER

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#7 DOLORES UMBRIDGE

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#8 MISS TRUNCHBULL

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#9 THE WHITE WITCH

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James’ costumes look fantastic, but they’re even more fun when you learn some of the behind-the-scenes facts. Nancy Drew, for example, is wearing a belt in her hair because we couldn’t find a headband. Miss Trunchbull is wearing men’s shoes, men’s socks, and little kid’s jacket to make her look bigger and bulkier. Dolores Umbridge’s sweater was overwhelming her dress, but James expertly pinned it to a better length. Professor Trelwaney is holding a fishbowl. And the White Witch’s crystal daggers? Those are salad forks that she’s holding handle-side-out.

The other thing I didn’t really appreciate until we got there was the volume of items and how fast James had to sift through them. To find the perfect belt, James had to dig through dozens and dozens of belts while simultaneously looking for earrings, dresses, and boots. He did this while expertly delegating the models to bring him possible shirts, skirts, sweaters, and hats. Also, James could find an awesome dress, but if it didn’t fit the model, or match the personality of the character, it was out. Finally, I learned that it’s not easy to make pieces from different decades work together without just the right vision.


JAMES JARED

james-jaredWhat’s your costuming background?

I’ve always loved making Halloween costumes, but I officially taught myself how to sew in high school when I started to cosplay (make costumes based on characters from movies, tv shows, books, etc).

What was the costume challenge like for you?

I was very nervous going into the challenge because I’ve never done anything of the like before, and I was worried that the time constraint would prove difficult to work under. In the end, though, I had a fantastic time and I’m very proud of the costumes that we were all able to make together.

Did you have an overwhelming favorite?
I think my favorite costume had to be Trelawney from Harry Potter. There were so many scarves and shirts that fit the character in the thrift store that her outfit almost seemed to show up without having to look for it. It almost became less of a question of which scarf would be best and more how many scarves we could get away with throwing on her.

Which was the toughest character to costume?
The hardest character to costume was the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia. Her character description includes a crown, which the shop didn’t have, so it took a while for us to come up with a way to mimic the crown. Eventually we found a circlet that suggested royalty, as well as some spiky earrings that were reminiscent of icicles to use as a necklace.

If you had more time, which character were you hoping to do?
I would have loved to costume someone as Kate Wetherall, as the Mysterious Benedict Society was one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, her costume is fairly specific and there isn’t much room for leeway.

What’s your major at Princeton University?
I’m just starting out in the Electrical Engineering department.

Do you see any connections between your major and costuming?
Interestingly, I once told an employee in a fabric store I frequent at home about my major, and she said that she often thought of sewing as a type of engineering. Though I’d never have put the two together on my own, as soon as she said that I knew she was right, and I think it applies to costuming as well.

In both costuming and engineering you have to pull materials together using techniques you’ve learned to create a final product that’s more than the sum of its parts. I think I enjoy sewing and costuming so much for the same reason I like engineering, which is that it’s a great feeling to have created something new out of basic materials. And that’s something I think anyone can do.


A big, enthusiastic “Huzzah!” to James Jared, costumer extraordinaire, who aced the costume challenge with style and flair. Warm waves of gratitude to the Nearly New for letting us overrun your store and create chaos in your racks.

And finally, many thanks to models Amanda Blanco, Ailyn Brizo, Joani Etskovitz, Grace Turner, and Marissa Warren. It wasn’t easy to keep a straight face through it all, much less glower, growl, look haughty, or stare intensely into the camera wearing shoes that were at least one size too small for you.

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Mrs. Wonka

mrs-wonkaThe name “Mr. Willy Wonka” is synonymous with delicious chocolate, zany confections, and unusual flavors. Who doesn’t, for example, want to try a Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight? See what’s simmering in the Inventing Room? Or take a sip of that amazing, rich, creamy chocolate that’s been mixed by waterfall? But you can’t of course, it’s just a story in a book.

But what if I told you that you could?

Enter Gabi Carbone, co-owner of, and flavor wizard for, The Bent Spoon. Established in 2004, the Bent Spoon is a renowned artisanal ice cream and good ingredients bakery in Princeton, New Jersey. And when I say “renowned” I mean that it is legend.

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Photo courtesy of the Bent Spoon

Not only do they have a mission to use regionally-sourced and preferably organic ingredients, they offer some of the most unique and delicious flavors your tongue has ever dared to taste.  Alongside classics like vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio, you will also find avocado, sweet corn, basil, bacon, kale, cardamom ginger, habanero pepper, heirloom tomato, and green tea.

In addition to ice cream and sorbets, the Bent Spoon offers baked goods so amazing, you will find yourself standing in their long line of daily customers to snag a fork-pressed peanut butter cookie, a creamy cupcake, or a brownie with a well of caramel sea salt embedded in the center.

browniesGabi has brought her flavor wizardry to our library events too. She created chocolate Earl Grey ice cream for Alice in Wonderland, lime sorbet “Bombo” for Treasure Island, nector & ambrosia sorbet (with a hint of pomegranate) for The Lightning Thief, and honey ice cream for Robin Hood. Recently, I caught up with Gabi to chat about her magical Wonka touch.


Tell us a little about your culinary background!

I think both Matt [co-owner of the Bent Spoon] and I have been involved in culinary everything from the time we were in our young teens. I got my first job at a good ‘ol café near my house. They had a soft serve machine and I started learning how to use it. It was a small family run business, and Matt bussed dishes at a restaurant! Both Matt and I grew up with families that really enjoyed food and had small gardens… and we both worked in food service at a young age. We got a taste for all of it.

After I graduated college, I lived in Japan for a year. I took every possible class and visited every grandma to learn how to make miso, soba, ramen…basically everything! I eventually went to the French Culinary Institute in New York City for pastries. That was my formal education, but ice cream making and almost everything else came from absorption. If you really love it, you search out teachers wherever you can.

How do you craft or discover different flavors of ice cream?

We have over 550, probably 600 flavors by now. It all comes from wanting to make it taste as much like the pure thing as possible. Cantaloupe, pear…to make it taste like a cold version of that thing. Once that part is good, it’s deciding what spins on that. A great example is Matt’s grandma always loved to eat pears with sour cream. We had to figure out how to craft that. Then we may taste it and think “oh, this could use some lavender just for fun.” Starting out 12 years ago, it was really important for us to perfect the individual flavors. When we first started out, we didn’t have a flavor like ‘Peach Rose’ or ‘Bellini’ because we wanted to perfect just the flavor of peach. We built on the core flavor.

yummy-tripleWhat’s the most unusual ingredient you have experimented with?

There’s a lot of them. Oysters, lobsters, mushrooms, different kinds of wood…

Seriously?

Yes! I joke that we go through periods, like our wood period. It almost doesn’t matter what it is because every ingredient is fascinating to work with. But milk and cream are still amazing ingredients. Everything gets reverence.

If you could turn one non-edible flavor into a baked good, ice cream or confection, what would it be?

A wet brick. I like the smell of a brick building after it rains.

I heard rumors about marshmallows flavored with mushrooms. Is that true?

Yes, marshrooms! They are delicious. I love them because they are so earthy in taste. I use maitake mushrooms, which are the hen of the wood mushrooms. They are beautiful, gorgeous, earthy and delicious. It’s a cool way to eat your mushrooms – enjoying it as a marshmallow on your hot chocolate.

What are the challenges of flavor experimentation?

Very few challenges, really. It’s more about just doing it. Ice cream making is sometimes like making a soup. You start with an idea and if you don’t like the way it tastes, you add a little of this and add a little of that. Try it.

Once though, I made a peach sriracha flavor, which was delicious. But after seven days, not so delicious. The garlic got very strong. So one challenge is to see how an ice cream tastes a week later. Sometimes it’s awesome because the flavor develops even more. But sometimes it doesn’t work. Like if it’s a garlic, or onion, or a chocolate chip Bellini flavor. It’s great for four days, maybe. But get it to a week? It tastes like a big onion.

In a few words, describe your philosophy on creating delicacies for your customers.

Real. Lots of love. I feel like local and sustainable are together, they are not separate things. You can throw organic in there, too. Community, for sure. Empathy is a huge one, believe it or not. Thinking about the chicken that laid the egg that’s eventually going to be here, or someone who is growing the product, what it takes to make it, empathy for the customer with a food allergy…that’s a big one.

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Of all the goodies at The Bent Spoon, which one has the most rabid fan base?

You’d be surprised, but every area has its own fan base. The banana whip people are the banana whip people, the hot caramel people are the hot caramel people, the chocolate sorbet people are the chocolate sorbet people, and the hot chocolate people are the hot chocolate people. And we know what you are, Dana!

My blood is 75% Bent Spoon hot chocolate.


I’ll finish this post with a quote from the blog, Serious Eats. They visited the Bent Spoon and had the following to say:

“These are the kinds of flavors so powerful that they go beyond mere taste—conjuring up memories, rather than just sensation. ‘This tastes like Peanut Butter Ripple at this one, tiny ice cream place on the Jersey shore,’ mused my dining companion, as we worked our way through the flavors. ‘This tastes like stealing my neighbor’s pears in September.’ ‘This tastes like Thanksgiving.’ And with the lingering warmth of all those pumpkin pie spices, with the bite of cranberry and sweetness of apple, it truly did.”

It’s fantastic, fabulous, and dare I say it? Wondercrump flavor magic.

Pop’s Top 20: Literary Halloween Costumes

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From Tikkido

The big spooky weekend is almost here, and Katie has been haunting the web to find her top 20 book-inspired DIY Halloween costumes. Our only rule was that we had to be able to trace the costume back to its original source, in the hopes that you could learn a little more about the creator, or get a chance to make it yourself! Can you guess what the above one is? Scroll to the very bottom of the post to find out!


#1 MADELINE, MISS CLAVEL & AND FRIENDS
From The Holland Family

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#2 WILD THINGS
From The Kimball Herd

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#3 CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS
From The Quilted Turtle

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#4 HANSEL AND GRETEL
From The Wright Family

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#5 LUNA LOVEGOOD
From BalthierFlare

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#6 GREG HEFFLEY
From Costume Works

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#7 STREGA NONA
From Seeker of Happiness

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#8 THING 1 & THING 2
From Loving Life

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#9 SUPERMAN
From Costume Works

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#10 LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD & THE BIG BAD WOLF
From Valley & Co. Lifestyle

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#11 HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON
From Generation T

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#12 HOBBITS
From Sweet Little Ones

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#13 WHERE’S WALDO
From Make It & Love It

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#14 WILLY WONKA
From Beautiful Things

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#15 EFFIE TRINKET
From Coolest Homemade Costumes

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#16 PIPPI LONGSTOCKING
From Design Mom

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#17 THE PIGEON
From Simply Radiant

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#18 ALICE IN WONDERLAND
From Misha Lulu Blog

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#19 HICCUP AND TOOTHLESS
From Magic Wheelchair

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#20 PETER PAN’S SHADOW
From Tikkido

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