This cold and rainy spring day is making me long for summer, and nothing says summer like MERMAIDS! As long as I can recall I have longed to go to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade and express my love for amazing fantasy, pageantry and the glory of the imaginations and bodies of similarly obsessed weirdos. July 30, 2016, a marvelous group of self identifying mermaids started the first annual Portland Mermaid Parade. We went with Gypsy Queen and her little fry. For the Halloween previous I had made matching costumes for Rosebud and Foxboy; a water fairy and Poseidon, God of the Sea, so they were all set. I wanted to make a costume I had been contemplating for years- a sort of Rococo bewigged lady with a fish tail. I had done a wig with a ship before, but this year I wanted to incorporate the very tragic and cheesy Victorian poem, Casabianca, about the boy standing on the burning deck of the ship, so sad, so brave.Murderous mermaids are the best kind of mermaid, so I definitely wanted tons of death in my costume. Faced with the usual big dreams and very little time or money, I decided to go for a mostly paper costume, and one almost entirely using household materials. I thought a lot about how to maximize the impact of my costume. As a fat girl, I lack the sexy curves that really rock a form fitting tail skirt like the one Gypsy Queen wore. I like the tail swinging up to the side in a sort of pantomime, theatrical way. Both that vaudeville look and the inexpensive materials can have a cheapness that will really crash and burn if you are not careful- making the whole costume paper-white seemed like a way to be playful and intentional.
I cut the shape of the tail out of white poster board. I then used masking tape to secure it onto a ring which I wore round my waist like a belt. I bought many hundreds of white cupcake wrappers in three different sizes. I cut them in half and started hotgluing! I started tiny on the fin and gradually got larger.
I have constructed tall wigs before with a paper maiche base. I didn’t have time to dry paper maiche so I struggled a bit how to build the wig. I needed to find a material for the internal structure that was strong enough to support two feet of wiggy, mermaid magic, and also light enough to wear for hours in the July heat. I walked around the dollar store for a while, putting small hampers and children’s pails on my head until I came upon the answer: styrofoam cooler!I played with it a bit, carved into it, and made a cardboard headband I knew I could pin to my real hair. I rummaged around and found some old white sheets that I tore into strips and hot glued to the crown, and layered all the way around
When the cooler was fully disguised with cloth, I made the frame of the ship in foam core and glued it to the top. I used all the white yarn, lace, ribbon I could find to layer over the sheet material.
I glued the yarn and lace to the crown then tried to make the ends look like the ship’s wake. I decided to make large and small curled rolls to serve as both wig decoration and the ship’s wake. For the large rolls I used empty La Croix cans! The smaller ones I just rolled up brown paper bags.I covered them with more sheet material, then yarn, then glued them to the wigWhen the yarn was all glued together , I began work on the ship. I layered tiny pieces of poster board on the foam core ship, some white, some with very fine black pen drawings. I added some drawings of tentacles to each side of the wig and sharks eating sailors at the bottom.I layered the ship up layer by layer, making the masts out of white painted dowels, the sails, more sheet and the rigging and flags out of paper. I carefully burned the sales and the back of the ship, then added golden glitter and some red cellophane I took off a broken kite. I added four drawings of sailors diving or falling to their doom, attached to the ship with wire that would bounce as I walked.And of course the boy on the burning deck, um mast.My only regrets are that it was too hot and sunny to take off my shades and I spent so long on the wig I just threw on a shirt I had, and it’s not perfect: more white than cream and not structured enough. We all had a lovely time and I really hope I can do something even more spectacular this year!!