I remember being 16 years old, sitting in my computer lesson at secondary school (the only Internet access I had) and spending every minute of that lesson secretly on www.madmaxmovies.com, looking at the fan-submitted images in the costumes section. Karol Bartoszynski’s “Beyond Thunderdome” Bartertown Guard was my favourite, with the desert wasteland in the background. And that’s where my costume attempts started. I had always loved Mad Max but it was Karol’s costumes which made me realise I wasn’t alone in feeling a huge need to dress like that.
My inspiration for my costume designs comes first and foremost from Mad Max (of course) but also the Fallout games (which are mostly Mad Max inspired themselves) and then other post-apocalyptic films, for example “Spacehunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone” and also the “Deathlands” series of post-apocalyptic books.
What I love about post-apocalyptic costuming is: there are no rules. Nothing can seem out of place, too old or even too new, as the date when the apocalypse happens is pretty much up to you (could be in the far future, after future technology has been invented). I also love the brutality of creating gear that has survived the apocalypse. You can set fire to it, hack at it, sandblast it, throw paint stripper over it, splatter paint across it, and (if you get it right) it ends up looking even better!
I’d say my forte when it comes to costume making is armour. Armour can consist of anything from used football shoulder pads, sheet steel, tyres, leather, rubber inner tube etc. And creating it can be very physical. Sheet steel can be bought from hardware or supply stores. Used tyres and inner tubes can be found at garages, and usually they will be only to happy to give them away. (Just don’t tell them you’re making a rubber armour suit. You’ll get very strange looks, I found out.) Leather can be bought online. [Editor’s note: In southern California, leather can also be purchased at Tandy, Sav-Mor, Saderma, and The Hide House.]
I don’t draw or design things, except in my head. Quite often I set out to create something, it evolves on the workbench (as the design I had in mind proves impractical, or better ideas come along) and usually ends up looking nothing like I predicted.
When assembling armour and getting everything riveted or screwed together, I find several G-cramps to be invaluable. It’s like having three extra hands to hold things together whilst you’re drilling, measuring, riveting etc. I’ve never needed to bother much with weathering (i.e making new things look old) as the things I find to work with (used tyres, rusting metal sheet) usually are worn out enough. So it saves a lot of time.
Here’s a few things I learned about the materials I work with. If you’re sewing rubber inner tube, use thick embroidery thread, doubled-up, and waxed with beeswax for strength (you can buy waxed thread as well). Don’t pull the thread too tightly when you’re sewing – it easily cuts through the rubber like a cheese wire. I started off bolting everything together. This can be very time-consuming, and you’re left with long bolts sticking out (not always good) and the nuts eventually loosen and unscrew themselves. I found investing in a lazy pop rivet gun to be well worth it. But rivets are often not chunky or long enough, especially if you’re making armour from tyres. So in my search I discovered self-tapping sheet metal screws (the things that hold most car bodies together). These come in all sizes, as chunky or long as you want (you can even get blunt-tipped ones for safety) and grip tyres as tight as you want them to. Perfect. If you plan on stitching very thick leather, use the thread I mentioned earlier, and I’d recommend punching the holes for your needle first (with a huge needle and small hammer, or an awl). If you’re riveting leather, I’d recommend using a small leather hole punch to cut the rivet holes, rather than punching holes with a needle, as this often rips/tears the leather. When cutting out shapes from sheet steel, I use a large pair of “tin snips” – it’s far easier than sawing, but you’ll need a grip of iron. And make sure you sand down sharp steel edges!!
Imagination (not artistic talent or practical skills), in my opinion is the biggest prerequisite for post-apocalyptic costuming. Try this, and hopefully you’ll see my perspective. You were born after an apocalypse. Technical or mechanical knowledge of ANY kind is going to be nearly unheard of. Tech or junk that you find, most of its purposes will be alien to you, as you can’t imagine a society where people blow-dried their hair, watched moving images in a box with a darkened glass front, or used small wheely barrels with hoses to actually keep dirt out of places. And so, your imagination will have to come up with new uses for these items. As a friend of mine once said, “This see-through stuff (plastic), I can see through it! and keeps sand out!” Nevermind that it was a pair of highly fashionable, see-through plastic ass-less chaps from the year 2022, it has now become sandproof face-wrap. That rusty barrel is a breastplate waiting to be made. That live bullet is some kind of wind chime. That hood ornament is a symbol of power for a helmet, that ice cream maker is….um, well I haven’t thought of a use for that. Get the picture? So go out. And re-see the junk with your newly-found primitive vision.
I think the only requirement for any post apocalyptic costume should be practicality. Impracticality after the apocalypse will have no purpose. If adding decoration to your costume for intimidation’s sake, or to show your path in life more clearly, then I’d consider that practical.
Philip Brown lives in Derbyshire, England, and has been steadily building up a portfolio of post-apocalyptic costumes over the last 6-7 years.
You can see the full extent of his creations and buy his costumes at http://www.facebook.com/FALLOUT6BAZAAR as well as http://www.etsy.com/shop/Fallout6Bazaar