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

nancy-drew-costume


#2 VERUCA SALT

veruca-salt-costume


#3 THE GRAND HIGH WITCH

the-grand-high-witch-costume


#4 MS. FRIZZLE

the-frizz


#5 PROFESSOR TRELAWNEY

professor-trelawney-costume


#6 MRS. COULTER

mrs-coulter-costume


#7 DOLORES UMBRIDGE

dolores-umbridge-costume


#8 MISS TRUNCHBULL

miss-trunchbull


#9 THE WHITE WITCH

the-white-witch


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.

outtake

A Fuse #8 Interview

fuse 8 setToday, I’m over on A Fuse #8 Production, a School Library Journal blog helmed by the amazing Betsy Bird! That’s her in the red dress, perched on a vintage Barbie Dream House chair. Alas, I didn’t have time to craft a house band, but Betsy assures me that if I did, they would be Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra.

Follow this link to the interview

Betsy has appeared on this blog as well! In 2014, I interviewed her about what it’s like to write and publish your first picture book. And, if you’d like to see the monstrously fun project I designed for her book, Giant Dance Party, twirl over here.

Happy Birthday Harry!

happy birthday harryIt’s July 31st and we’re celebrating with some delicious pumpkin pasties! I can tell you, they were perfect. Flaky, buttery, with just the right amount of filling and spice. The recipe is at the end of the post, but you might be interested in the story behind them!

The chef’s name is Melody Edwards. At the time she created these stupendous goodies, Melody was a senior at Princeton University. Her final semester, she was enrolled in a “Literature, Food, and the American Racial Diet” course. The goal of the course was to explore – through novels and cinema – how food and taste informs race, nationhood, gender, family, and class.

One assignment was to bring to class “1. A dish based on a “literary” recipe. This can be a recipe found in or mentioned by a novel or by a literary figure or belonging to a particular historical period; Or, 2. A dish from your childhood.”

At least that’s how the assignment started. Over the course of the semester it morphed into a full-on cook-off that allowed student chefs to interpret the course “historically, archivally, contemporarily, globally, and more.” There’s an interesting article about it here.

Team Wingardium Leviosa (which consisted of Melody, Samantha Essig and Daniel Ling) decided to make pumpkin pasties. You’ll find their awesome academic analysis of the pasties here.

Melody graduated from Princeton last May and is headed to the The Institute of Culinary Education (a.k.a. ICE) in NYC. It’s no surprise. Her pumpkin pasties, which she adapted from several recipes, were AMAZING. Especially when you consider that she was working in a very hot, very small, dorm kitchen. Let’s take one more look at them.

pumpkin pastiesMmmmmm…nom nom nom. Here’s the recipe! I’ll leave you with a sweet quote from Melody about her connection to the Harry Potter series:

Perhaps I was an anomaly of the Harry Potter Generation, but when I was first reading the books, I did not look forward to the confrontations with Voldemort. I did not drag my parents to the bookstore before the sun was up for the dark, action-filled scenes that always came at the end of Rowling’s books. Rather, I relished the most mundane passages. Nothing brought me more joy than learning how wizards celebrated the holidays or reading intricate descriptions of breakfast in the Great Hall. While this reveals that I’ve been obsessed with food for my whole life, it also speaks to Rowling’s gift for creating a fully fleshed-out world for our delectation.

Happy Birthday Harry!