Anti-Fashion Friday: Costume Distressing

Tea, cola, balsamic vinegar – tastes like costume distressing to me

I have one character in the show I’m costuming next month (“The Sugar Witch” at The Suffield Players) whose costume needs to look really ratty, so last week I met up with a friend for what she called a “distressing workshop.”

The costume pre-distressing

The costume we were working on is a white, grey and green plaid cotton shirt, a pair of putty colored polyester pants and a greyish brown fabric hat. I wanted the shirt to be dingy, the pants dirty and the hat ragged and dirty. Mary suggested we start with the pants since the polyester might be harder to dirty up.

Recipe for fake dirt stains: tea leaves from earl grey tea and chai tea, warm water and cola

Knees and hem of the pants with the solution poured on them

The pants actually took the tea stain well, and the spices in the chai tea added a nice yellow tinge to the stain. Also, now the pants smell like chai tea, but that’s just an added bonus.

Mary holds up the pants after the front has been stained but before they’ve dried.

The hat needed to look about 30 years old, so I started by making some tears along the brim and the natural folds. Then we mixed up another batch of tea and cola stain and painted it on the hat.

The hat after some judicious destruction with a seam ripper

The hat stained but not yet dry.

The shirt turned out to be the hardest piece to work with. We soaked it in a batch of the tea and cola dye, but only the white of the print was affected. We ended up mixing together all of the darker liquids we had brought – balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and teriyaki marinade – and dunking it in that. After it dried, it had a brown tint to it like it had been dipped in motor oil but the green was still much brighter than I wanted. (Plus it smelled like salad dressing but, like I said above, added bonus).

I ended up taking it home and washing it a few times with a bunch of chlorine bleach in the water, which toned down the green considerably and gave it the dingy, been-owned-for-30-years-and-worn-daily-for-fully-15-of-those-30-years look I was aiming for.

Stained pants and dingy shirt. Granddaddy Meeks is ready to roll.

Anti-fashion bonus: I found a woven bag for one of my other characters at a local thrift shop, but the director thought it was way too upscale and wanted something that looked more like burlap, so I bought some burlap and a tan upholstery fabric for lining and made one for her.

Purchased bag (right) versus constructed burlap bag (left)

A close-up of the burlap versus the woven bag

I’ll be posting onstage photos of all the costuming in a few weeks when the show goes up.

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