In my blog post Pro tips to build your LARP wardrobe I told you not to underestimate thrift stores.
But you may say "yes, there's a lot of stuff in thrift stores... but not always super interesting stuff..." And you're not completely wrong. But there are also plenty of gems and unique things.
Full disclosure: It is obvious that you cannot create any costume by buying all your elements in a thrift store. You'd have to be incredibly lucky to find a leather breastplate or chain mail in the Village des Valeurs*. But depending on the type of costume, you could find super interesting pieces.
So I tried the experiment, just to prove that there was something to do. I proposed to Florence (one of the great LARP pros who had participated in the blog post I was talking about earlier) to accompany me on my adventure.
So here is a little feedback on our experience.
1st step: inspiration
You probably have a basic idea in mind. You probably kinda know what sort of character you want to play, right? It's good to make a plan, however, at this stage, I still recommend that you keep it vague. If you have too specific an idea of what you are looking for, you are more likely to be disappointed. So, I'm not talking about a super defined plan with sketches and all, but more a general style of what you're looking for. So you don't get lost in the endless rows at the thrift store.
You can get some inspiration on Pinterest. Or watching movies from the era/style of what you want to do. The goal here is to have ideas in mind, but be open to options.
When I started this little project, I decided to stay as open as possible. I had a vague idea, but nothing really fixed.
- A peasant costume, perhaps? …To make it relatively simple to recreate.
- Something a bit gypsy like? …To facilitate the arrangement of all kinds of clothes, patterns and materials.
2nd step: shopping
Then it's time to go shopping. This is where you have to remember to stay open. It's really possible that you won't find everything the first time. It's kind of part of the game. Sometimes you'll be lucky, other times, you won't.
By the way, thrift store shopping is a technique. And like any technique, you have to work on it to get good at it. Maybe the first time you go shopping, you won't find much... But eventually, you'll become a real thriftstore god
You should also not forget that second-hand clothing stores are not like standard fashion stores. They don't change collections with the seasons… they have much more regular arrivals than that. Obviously, it depends on places, but chains like Renaissance and Village des Valeurs have new stock every week (or even every day!).
To get your started, here are a few things you should keep an eye out for:
- The upholstery and linens section often contains fabric gems. You might find an amazing base there for your next cloak.
- Don't hesitate to look for sizes a little larger than what you usually wear. LARP clothing tend to be loose.
- Check the fiber composition. It will be much easier to dye a cotton tunic than a polyester one (in addition to being more comfortable during the hot LARP days)
- Don't forget to take a look at the scarves. Scarves are used for so many things.
Florence and I entered the Village des Valeurs in the hope of finding something to make a decent base for 1 costume… And we came out with 2 pretty complete costumes.
It was a good day!
I must also say, I realized that it helps a lot to be 2.
- It's more fun (obviously)
- But it also allows you to spot more stuff
- And you can brainstorm ideas on the spot
Here are the 2 outfit:
📌 The first one is pretty much what we expected: a simple, yet colorful peasant girl outfit. It's going to be really cute!
📌 The second one was a surprise (because you have to be open to surprises when shopping at thrift stores): a pirate outfit. It's going to take a bit more tweaking, but it'll be pretty cool too.
3rd step: adjustment and personalization
Once you have a nice loot of clothes and accessories, you need to make sure everything fits and it has the look you are looking for.
Here are some small adjustments that can be quite easy to make (and therefore, also to keep in mind when shopping):
- Shorten a tunic dress.
- Dye a piece.
- Cut a scarf to make several elements.
- Add an old belt buckle to a purse.
- Installing trims on a garment.
- Changing the buttons on a shirt.
The first outfit, the peasant girl, was really interesting as is. But, to give it a little more personality, we still made some modifications:
- Add some holes to the green belt so it ties closer to the waist.
- Dye the purse, add a large metal buckle and remove the shoulder strap to make it a belt purse.
- Shorten the tunic (to use the embroidery at the bottom, which you can't see anyway).
- Add a hat (pattern available on my shop 😉).
- Transform said hat with the embroidery recovered from the bottom of the tunic.
As for the pirate costume. There was great potential in the items purchased, but we had to work a little more to give it the look we had in mind:
- Dye the pants (because they were a bit too pink for our taste).
- Change the buttons of the shirt.
- Remove shoulder pads from shirt (hello 1991 look!)
- Turn the hat into a tricorn (yup! A tricorn is simply a hat with a wide brim, folded in 3 places)
- Add feathers to the hat
- Cut the infinity scarf (black and white) to make it easier to wrap around the waist.
- Dye the leather belt that was made a little too bright red for the rest of the costume.
- Added some belts and pouches (pattern available on my shop 😉)
4th step: the weathering
If you want to give your costume a little more life, you can always give it a little patina (or weathering). It's an optional step, but it's still a nice way to make your costume look (and therefore, your character) more alive.
The advantage of a costume made from pieces bought in a thrift store is that you kinda have a head start: the pieces you bought already have a bit of life. 😉
But for a LARP costume, depending on your character's style, you might want to give it a little more...
To learn more about the different patina techniques, you can read my article "weathering your cosplay" (I'm talking about cosplay, but that applies to any type of costume, you know).
📌 In the case of our 2 LARP outfits, we dyed several pieces in coffee to make their colors less uniform. It works like a charm for light hue cotton fabrics.
Note that for darker fabrics and those made of synthetic fibers, it works much better with a specialized dye. The trick is to make tests, mix things up and experiment.
📌 To make the peasant woman's leather purse a little less straight-out-of-a-gift-shop, we beat it up a bit... we bent it, twisted, crushed until it softens. In addition to making it more supple, it added lots of creases witch make it looks way more like an old satchel (so much more GN friendly!). We even managed to bring out those creases with a light coat of leather dye.
📌 To give the pirate scarf a little more age, we sandblasted it. Yup. Careful with this method, you will destroy the fabric in a beat! Be gentle, and do some tests. But I swear, it really does a great job.
5th step: add some elements as needed
Because it's quite possible that you won't find everything, everything, everything in thrift stores, you may have to look for some items elsewhere.
By the way, for those who sew, I have a few patterns in the shop to make some super versatile costume pieces that could really complete any thrift store base outfit:
For the peasant woman, we added the little headpiece (made with my pattern), which we personalized so that it really feels part of the outfit.
And for the pirate, we wanted something a little more elaborate, so we added leather belts and pouches (made with my pattern).
Here is the final result:
To conclude, remember that, to make your costume a success, you have to remember certain details:
📌 Keep your options open. You might change your mind along the way (if you get too fixated, you might miss something awesome). By staying open, you could have some nice surprises
📌 Go shopping regularly. The stock in thrift stores changes often, a single visit will not necessarily be representative of what is possible to find. And don't forget to bring a friend, to have more fun and more chances to find cool stuff.
📌 Think about the potential. You will surely have to give some pieces a little love. Don't hesitate to imagine them shorter, in another color or with different buttons. There's a way to do something really nice with not much, sometimes.
📌 And remember that your costume doesn't have to come exclusively from thrift stores. In fact, shopping at a thrift store to make your outfit can actually be used to save money to be able to offer you a custom-made piece. 😉
A big thank you to Florence for her help with this little experiment.
I wish you a good shopping!