Alice in Wonderland Costume

Alice in Wonderland Costume

(original part posted 3/14/16)

There were probably a number of things that led me to the idea of making an Alice in Wonderland costume. After my first Con (late June 2015), I'd had so much fun cosplaying Kaylee Frye that I got to thinking about doing other cosplays. At first I was just considering things that would be fairly easy and inexpensive (e.g. Doctor Who), but then I started wondering if there was a fandom that perhaps would be worth putting more effort into, one that was more meaningful to me, one that I felt a special connection with (besides Firefly).

Alice's Wonderland seemed to meet the criteria. I've loved the books since I was a kid, I can recite long passages from them, I have strong opinions about what movie versions I like and don't like.

In August 2015, I noticed 2 people who were cosplaying every day at the National Puppet Festival, although, interestingly, puppets were not part of their cosplays. I considered that I might also be interested in cosplaying there, except that I'd definitely want to use a puppet if I did. It occurred to me that Alice would be good for that. For example, she carries a flamingo when she's playing croquet--that would be interesting to do with a puppet!

So, that idea clinched it... I would make an Alice in Wonderland costume.

Research

There are so many versions of Alice that have been done. Most people think first of one of the Disney movies, either the animated film from 1951 or the Tim Burton version from 2010 (poster pics at top left and right, respectively). I didn't want to use either of those as my main source, however; I wanted to stick with the original Lewis Carroll books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, and the original John Tenniel illustrations. I knew the basic costume would be a blue dress with a white pinafore, but I needed to check the illustrations for more specific details. And since the original illustrations were in black and white, I also needed to investigate how they had been colorized.

I thought I knew the Alice illustrations pretty well, but I confess I was surprised to see the first colored version had Alice's dress as YELLOW! And there were other surprises that were only apparent when comparing the images side by side:

 

Apparently, Tenniel re-did his artwork a bit when they first decided to release a version of Alice with colored illustrations (it was called The Nursery "Alice"). The most obvious change is the dress is less poofy and more pleat-y. Also, there are some ruffles on the pinafore, and some kind of bustle-bow thing in the back. And she has a bow in her hair. That's good, because I always wondered how her hair stayed away from her face without any apparent means of restraint. Anyway, these all represented potential choices for me.

The color choice was interesting, though. Further research found that, in addition to yellow, Alice's dress has also been colorized red, green, along with almost every shade of blue, from deep to very pale. But mostly blue. I figured I should go with the blue, because a) most people probably wouldn't recognize it as "Alice" if it was a different color, and b) I like blue.

The above pictures come from Wonderland Alice, so I figured I should check the illustrations from Through the Looking Glass, just for completeness, to see if there was any additional fashion choices to consider. Sure enough (pic at right), her oufit is a little different, kind of midway between the previous two. Except now she has a full headband. And, her stockings are striped. Now I see why so many versions show her with striped stockings. In fact, I also observe that some colorized versions of the Wonderland art used the color to make her stockings striped, even though the original art wasn't.

The Quest for the Dress

The dress is the major element of the costume, so once I had a good idea of what I needed, I went looking. I spent quite a bit of time looking in thrift stores and shopping online, but never found anything I was quite happy with. I even looked at Halloween costumes, but no joy.

So I went back into research mode, checking what other cosplayers had done for Alice costumes, perhaps sewing their own. I found several recommendations for a McCall's costume pattern, M4948. The list price on this pattern is $16, but I found it on eBay for less than $5, including shipping, so I got it. The pattern has several variants (2 shown in pic at left), and the Alice one has the top part of the pinafore attached to the bodice of the dress, with the bottom part being a separate apron. I figured it would be an easy enough mod to make the whole pinafore a separate piece, which was my preference.

I had to go out looking for suitable blue cotton (so it's breathable) fabric for the dress. That turned out to be more of an adventure than it should have been. I found what I thought was perfect fabric (the color was called "Teal Blue") on a trip to JoAnn's, and it was even on sale, but I had forgotten to bring the info with me on how much yardage I needed. I went back later in the week, but then there was not enough fabric left on the bolt. A couple of weeks later I managed to get there and they had a fresh bolt, and I had a 50% off coupon along with the measurements I needed. So it worked out.

Still, it was a while before I could get around to actually working on the dress. In previewing the pattern, I noticed that the pattern dress had a jewel neckline, but the Alices' had a Peter Pan collar (even the animated Disney, although hers is the same color as the dress, so not very noticeable). I liked the idea of having the collar, but didn't consider it a requirement.

I also was a bit surprised to find the pattern called for lining for the bodice of the dress, using the same fabric as the rest of the dress (for the Alice version, anyway). I wasn't sure I wanted two layers of fabric, but then I realized the lining was helping form the neckline, and if I chose not to line it, I'd have to do some non-trivial something to finish the neck opening, whether I added a collar or not. I knew I already had enough fabric, so I decided to just go ahead and follow the pattern. If I got ambitious, I might add a collar later, perhaps as a separate piece.

One change I did decide to make to the pattern, though, was to add pockets to the skirt, for obvious reasons. It was simple enough to add side-seam pockets by modeling the design after a similar garment that had them. This pattern has the "side" seams a little closer to the center of the front rather than at the actual side (because of the way the skirt is "full"), but that isn't really an issue insofar as using the pockets.

Apron/Pinafore

As mentioned above, I was planning to sew the apron separately, based on the pattern I'd gotten. White fabric would be no problem; I had some of that in my stash.

But, the pattern apron is very plain and simple, whereas the Tenniel art includes some interesting details. For one thing, the art apron had pockets (and, in fact, the story mentions Alice using the pockets). I definitely wanted those--they'd come in handy. (Alice didn't carry a purse, so I prefer not to, either.) Adding pockets would be an easy enough mod.

The Tenniel art also had ruffles in the shoulder area, as well as along the edges of the bottom part in the Nursery and Looking-Glass versions. That wouldn't be too hard a mod, but gathering ruffles can be tedious work, and I already was going to have to do a lot of that for the sleeves and skirt of the dress. Maybe do it for the apron shoulders (after all, even the animated Disney version had some extra "poof" at the shoulders, even though the rest of the apron was very plain), but I could decide when I got there.

The Nursery version shows some blue trim on the apron, and there are other colorized versions that show red trim, but I decided to stick with solid white... Some colorized versions do show solid white, and adding trim seems like a lot of work with little benefit.

But because the pattern didn't include a back part to the top of the apron, I needed to do some research to determine how that should be done. I found out that you get better search results to match this style of apron if you search for the word "pinafore". That's how I found this nice pinafore on Amazon, which had the pockets, and the ruffles, and good reviews, and best of all, it was already made. For less than $20, how could I go wrong?

After I got it, I decided I didn't like the straps crossing in the back (makes it a bit hard to get on and I thought it felt kinda weird), so I moved them. Much better!

Accessories

Shoes: Gotta have black Mary Janes. I didn't have any in my closet, so I'd have to buy them. Periodically, over the months I was putting together this costume, I would check my favorite shoe places (and then some), but I never found quite what I was looking for. So I turned to amazon.com, and sure enough, found some nice ones.

Stockings: I wanted to go with the stripes (I thought they were fun), so I went straight to amazon. I figured knee (or over-the-knee) socks would be fine, because the dress is below-knee, and I didn't want to deal with actual stockings or panty hose. I got a pair in teal and black, because I love teal and I thought they would be similar in coloring to Nursery Alice's. I also got a pair in red and white, just in case the teal didn't quite look right with the dress. As it turned out, I thought the teal looked fine.

Crinoline: This was actually the only piece I had already. I had a white crinoline left over from my clogging days. Ideally, it might be a couple inches longer, but hey, the price was right.

Hair decor: I knew wanted to go with my own hair. I didn't feel a need to be blonde; I think that's a Disney thing. In the Nursery art (the one with the yellow dress, shown above) she actually looks more ginger. The very original Alice (the inspirational real person, and the drawings by Lewis Carroll (example at right)) was a brunette. And there have been a number of movies made where she was a brunette; they're just the lesser-known ones. So I'd be OK with the color. But I would need a headband or bow to keep it out of my face. And I knew I wanted that to be blue like the dress. Although some drawings show it black, many (and in particular, the earlier ones like Nursery Alice shown earlier on this page) show it blue.

I thought making a headband with a bow would be the easiest thing to do. And it was, when I started with some ribbon that was similar in color to the dress. But I just didn't like it that well. I thought it looked too flat, or something.

So I tried again, this time using leftover fabric from the dress to cover a fatter plastic headband I already had. That was a bit more work. And then I still wasn't quite happy with the way it looked. I thought now it was maybe too poofy, sitting up on top of my head. But then I began to think that maybe my hairline just doesn't really look good with a headband any more.

So I decided to try it with just the bow, without the headband. I took the bow off the previous attempt and attached it to a hairclip. It looked much closer to what I had in mind.

Then I tried attaching the clip to the same headband I had before. That actually worked out much better, because I could control the position of the bow better and put it in a spot that looked "right".


Puppets/Props

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, my plan was to have a flamingo puppet to go with this costume. It's become obvious that's going to be the most difficult part of the whole thing. There doesn't seem to be a commercially-made one like what I want, so I'll have to make it myself... and that's gonna be non-trivial. I bought the pink fabric back when I was buying fabric for the dress, but that's as far as I've gotten. Fortunately, the flamingo isn't absolutely required for the costume.

It occurred to me that, when Alice plays croquet, she also uses a hedgehog (pic left). Hedgehog puppets are quite easy to find for sale. They didn't have one in stock at the Puppet Center, however, so I got one from good ol' amazon.

While reviewing the pictures for this costume, it also occurred to me that a bottle saying "DRINK ME" would be a great prop. Especially since I probably want to carry around a water bottle anyway. So, that's an easy one.

Results

I was working to have this costume ready for the next Con that I was planning to go to, GeekFest in Boca Raton, at the end of March (2016). They had a costume contest which I was planning to enter. In this contest, they discouraged store-bought costumes, which was different from the other Cons I've been to, so I was thinking they might appreciate mine.

(following added 3/27/16)

They did! The setup was, all the contest entrants (and there were about 35, I think) would get called to the stage to do a few poses in their costume. The judges (4 professional cosplayers) would then call back their top 12 for a Q&A about their costume, before making their final decision. I was just hoping I'd make the callback, and I did! They asked me how much of the costume I had made myself and how much was bought. When I told them I'd made the dress, 2 or 3 of them said, almost in unison, "You MADE that?" So it made me happy that they obviously did appreciate the work that went into it.

But even better--I ended up getting the Judge's award from judge Ai Tenshi Misha, who said my costume was "super cute"!

Anyway, here's the best pic I got of the costume at the event... one of the few that showed my feet :-)

(following added 11/30/16)

I got another chance to wear the costume this past Halloween. I was doing a puppet presentation in a school, and they were allowing everyone, teachers as well as kids, to dress up. I couldn't pass up such an opportunity, and thought my Alice costume would be suitable. As it turned out, it was an especially appropriate choice because the school was having a "storybook characters" theme for the day. Anyway, the following pic is me as school was starting. You will note I decided to wear the red-and-white socks this time, just to change it up. Also, I have a new flamingo accessory: not the puppet I was (and still am, someday) planning to make, but a purse made out of a yard-type flamingo. I couldn't resist buying that at a recent Con.


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