In the fall of 1998, I was a thirteen year old kid with a penchant for science-fiction, living in the suburbs of Moscow. I remember buying my first badly translated copy of Fallout-2 and putting the CD into my brand-new Pentium-1 computer. Long story short, it has changed my life forever. The apocalypse just got hard-coded into my heart I guess. It was my major motivator for studying art, and I have been making post-apo pictures since 2003.
Upon discovering LARP a few years ago, I’ve also started making costumes.
Fallout was the biggest, but not the only inspiration. Terminator, Johnny Mnemonic, Cyborg, Waterworld, the classic wastelands of Mad Max, the soviet nostalgia of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the sober realism of The Walking Dead, or the batshit-insane comic style of Borderlands – I love all of that, and much more.
Creating post-apocalyptic costumes means an unlimited freedom of choice. You can draw inspiration from anything, but are not obliged to follow any ruleset, except the universal design rules that apply to any good artwork. Because that’s what costumes are – wearable artworks. And costumes are not complete without people wearing them. You use the body of the wearer as the frame for the artwork and as a part of it at the same time.
Here are some costuming tips for beginners:
Study your inspirations, consider which style (or combination of styles) you are going for, and then stop thinking and start DOING by raiding your wardrobe, garage, and the nearest dumpster. Find a main piece and start combining it with other stuff that fits! Learning by doing is the best approach, and even experienced costumers improvise a lot since each new costume offers unique challenges. That’s why it never gets boring! Also, it’s ok to deviate from the original plan if it makes the outfit better.
Seek feedback from more experienced artists and keep an open mind for constructive criticism, no matter how much it hurts. But listen only to people who are where you want to be, respect what you do, and understand where you want to go. This applies not only to art, but to anything in life really.
If you want to go deeper, here is my “secret”: applied design theory is a very powerful tool I use in ALL of my works!
Using complementary colors, paying attention to composition, watching out for symmetry/asymmetry, balancing detailed areas and rest areas, using primary and secondary decorations, etc. etc.
Universal design principles apply to all artworks, and again – costumes are wearable artworks.
Talking about wearable – make sure your costume is comfortable and doesn’t shift around in improper ways as you wear it. It’s pretty annoying if you have to correct it permanently, or if it makes you look like you are being tortured because it is too heavy, too hot, too restricting, etc. It will never be as comfortable as a normal t-shirt, but still – try making it as comfortable as possible. Try it on often while creating it. And make it twice as durable as you think it ever should be right from the beginning, otherwise you will end up repairing it all the damn time.
Design some of your outfit parts to be modular, so they can be worn independently or with different costumes. You will want to try many combinations as you progress. My shoulder pad, for example, has outlived 4 (crappy) outfits before finding it’s current place, and I still can change my mind and attach it elsewhere, because I gave it a flexible but reliable attachment system of clips, belts, and press buttons, which prevents it from shifting around.
Repurposing items and materials is one of the keys to creating the freaky, memorable parts of an outfit. Road sign shields, bucket helmets, ignition plugs for shoulder spikes… Ignore what you know about the way any given item is traditionally used, and just LOOK at it to discover it’s new purpose. Would it work as a spike? If yes – use it as a spike, simple as that!
Or you could see the item for both the new and the old function and use this knowledge for building jokes into your outfit. For example, you could use a plunger as a codpiece. Get it? Plunger? …Ok, it´s a lame joke, but you get the point. Also, if you feel like it, then make parts of your costume funny, stupid, or outrageous. In fact, the only thing NOT to ever do is boring or normal. You are not making a PA costume to look normal.
Detail is extremely important. It often makes the difference between “ok” and “amazing”. But remember – detail is not the same thing as clusterfuck! Don’t apply detail without thought, and balance out detailed areas with some rest areas. This is so important that I even made a video about it:
And finally, distressing your outfit and applying grunge effects will make it a LOT more authentic. Try it! : ) You can get a detailed insight into my distressing methods in this video:
For beginning female costumers, my friend Katja offers these three tips:
1. Don´t shy away from applying not only crazy post-apocalyptic makeup, but also some dirt effects to your skin. Looking too clean while wearing distressed clothes doesn’t make sense for neither a guy, nor a girl.
You can use anything that will not melt your skin off, and vary how exactly dirty you want to look. Just don’t look like right after a shower – unless it’s a shower of blood and wasteland dirt.
2. If you are going for a “cute/sexy” look like many girls do, try combining it with something else, like for example “badass warrior”. Looking like you can kick all the guy’s asses will make you look both attractive AND respectable. Do emphasise on your feminine side, show lots of skin if you want – but make sure that “I have a rack” is not the ONLY message your outfit is sending.
3. You can start the top part of a light outfit by taking a supporting bra and covering it with post-apo parts and materials; in the end the bra will not even be visible anymore. This is a very fast way to get started and make your costume fit from the start.
And a closing message from Dimitri:
If you are new to PA costuming and want to start – there is no better time than now. It’s easy to take the first steps, the community is very supportive, and the scene is growing bigger each year with more and more creative people from all over the world discovering their love for the wasteland. So yeah, join our ranks! 🙂
For me, a good costume has to look aesthetically appealing. It doesn’t have to be beautiful – beauty is just one of many aesthetic directions. But it has to be memorable, designed, thought through, authentic to the destroyed world it is meant to represent. And it has to be made with love and passion.
Dimitri Zaitsev is a Russian artist living and working in Germany. He makes costumes, props, pictures, websites, and sometimes also cupcakes. You can find him on Facebook, Deviant Art, and Youtube, where you will find more useful post-apocalyptic tutorials, as well as some weird German wurst-related stuff that will permanently reduce your IQ by at least 10 points.
He is also a member of FALLOUT6BAZAAR, a group co-organiser on F.A.T.E., Zombie Apokalypse, and Oldtown LARPs, as well as the creative director of his own indie company, currently working on a post-apocalyptic computer game soon to be revealed.
He is available for all sorts of custom commissions and collaborations.