I call this a ‘Marie of the Bastille’ costume, and it is almost entirely handmade. I have always been interested in historical clothing, costumes and excess. Marie Antoinette is the queen of dramatic and excessive fashion – you could say that it ultimately led to her death. I have gone through various design ideas for a Marie-type costume and landed on this after reading about the weird culture that grew up around the guillotine during the revolution. There was a time when Guillotine parties were thrown, and the cult of the weapon developed into obsession. I envisioned this as the costume that Marie would wear to a fancy dress revolution themed party. I used elements of classic prison imagery, black and white stripes, rough-hewn fabrics, and modified them to suit my theme. I used some classic French images, the guillotine and the fleur-de-lis, to signify rank and fate. The main unifying theme of the costume is the guillotine. It can be found in the wig, the earrings, the skirt and of course, the blade around the neck. The shoes are adorned with tiny shackles. I felt it was important to keep the details coordinated.
How it was made:
Wig: The wig was a chicken wire frame, lightly paper-mached (to smooth the wire, but keep it light). Finally the hair was made up of layers of white yarn carefully glued down, braided, curled and pinned. The centrepiece of the wig was the miniature guillotine. This was fashioned from square dowels, a piece of a soda can for the blade, and stained with tea and brown paint to give it age and texture.
Bodice: The bodice was made from a historic corset pattern, and made from patterned burlap and light black canvas, lined with muslin, boned with heavy-duty zip-ties, and tied up with gold cord that resembles rope.
Skirt: The skirt was gathered black cotton and heavy muslin, draped over pillow-style panniers to give it shape. I made some quick rubber stamps using L200 foam and cardboard and stamped the fabric for the top skirt (tan) with black guillotine silhouettes, and the underskirt (black) with gold fleur-de-lis. The edges of the top skirt were frayed to create a fringe.
Shoes: I found a pair of shoes with the basic shape of 18th Century shoes. I covered them with plain burlap, fashioned and attached a high tongue, then painted stripes and sewed on the mini-shackles (a novelty toy) and jewels from a pieces of a gaudy bracelet.
Guillotine Blade: The guillotine blade was layered card stock covered with adhesive foil paper, and smeared with stage blood.
Jewellery: I made a tiny miniature guillotine from square dowels and painted it with gold filigree on a black background. The other earring matched the necklace which was a deep red faceted glass teardrop, reminiscent of a drop of blood.
This costume received a lot of compliments when I wore it out. People were very intrigued by the process and materials used to make it, and took many pictures. I was told that it was clever and witty, and many had a hard time believing that it was all handmade.
I enjoyed seeing people’s faces light up when they saw it and the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. There were a few people who didn’t know who Marie Antoinette was, and although they were the minority, they seemed to get equal enjoyment from it as those who were well acquainted with her story.
This has been my most successful costume to date, and I am very proud of it, and the many hours of work I put in. So I was extremely happy to have such a response from those I encountered.