One night, a long time ago, my friend Maggie and I were at the Mass Ave Pub in Indianapolis for trivia night, having a couple of drinks and talking, for some reason, about weddings. We made a joke that I would come to her wedding dressed in an Elvis bridesmaid dress. And because it was trivia night, pens and notecards were abundant (and because I have a thing with drinking and drawing), I did a quick illustration of my future bridesmaid dress. (Warning: not a very good drawing.)
Years went by and Maggie got engaged. Because she's super cool, she decided to have her wedding on Halloween WITH a costumed reception. Well, what else could I do? The universe had decided my Halloween costume for me. I started planning as soon as she told me. I wanted to keep the whole thing a surprise, so I couldn't post any in-process pictures on my social media, which was KILLING me. #humblebrag But, now, at long last, I can share it with the world.
I started the costume by revisiting the drawing (Yes, I still had it. Although, actually, I mailed it to Maggie when she got engaged, but I had a picture of it.) There's not a whole lot of details on the drawing, so I turned to the man himself to fill in the rest. I struggled briefly, wondering whether it was okay to wear white to a wedding if you were Elvis, then deciding the King can do whatever he/she wants.
So I started looking for a dress pattern. I like to start with a commercial pattern when possible just to save time and energy. I found this one, which I like because it has the a-line shape of the drawing and the long vertical seams of the actual jumpsuits. Then I went downtown to Michael Levine and picked up some white gabardine and I was ready to go.
Look, guys, I wish I had a photo of the first time I put this dress on, as patterned. It was atrocious. That's not an exaggeration. Apparently the whole deal with the "amazing fit" line is that you're supposed to alter it a lot. Like, A LOT, I guess. I was wearing a sack. And sack is being generous.
So I didn't take a picture because I was very discouraged. I thought I'd have to scrap the whole thing. I altered it again and again. I took it apart, I put it back together. I was determined to make it work, but I couldn't bring myself to photograph this failure. So just assume, for narrative structure, that at the same time I'm working on the cape, I'm painstakingly fumbling with this dumb dress.
Ah the cape. The thing that should have been the hard part, but was actually very satisfying. I lucked out, finding an amazing photograph of the actual Elvis cape laid out for an exhibit. That was the cornerstone of the whole thing.
I took a tape measure and measured my wingspan and the length from my nape to my butt. Then I drew a half-circle with those measurements on a big sheet of paper (actually, it was several pages of an old script from a movie I worked on taped together--don't waste paper, guys).
To get the eagle design, I printed the Elvis photograph onto clear acetate and projected the image onto my cape drawing. (I MacGyver'd a projecter using a cardboard box and the light on my phone, held together with painters tape and my own hubris.) Now, I went into this idea thinking that I would draw every single gem. What an idiot. As soon as I actually started tracing, I realized that was unrealistic. So I traced a rough outline of the body and the wings and where the stars should go. Once that was done, I cut the cape-shape out of the white gabardine and traced the eagle onto the fabric with a fabric marker.
We should probably pause here for a moment to talk about rhinestones. The actual first thing I did for this project was price rhinestones, but narratively that doesn't work, so consider this a flashback. The whole project hinged on finding cheap stones. I spent one gruellingly hot day wandering around LA's fashion district in hundred+ degree summer heat searching for cheap rhinestones and finding nothing as cheap as I wanted before I turned to the true hero of cheap costume making: eBay. I found the bulk rhinestones I needed at the prices I wanted. I can't give you the exact final count, but I ordered something like 2000 gold studs, 2800 small rhinestones, 700 large rhinestones (actually these ones were acrylic gems and, yes, I now know the difference between rhinestones and gems), and 600 stars. I also ended up buying 2 tubes of e6000 glue. (The studs and small rhinestones were suppposed to be iron-on, but I learned pretty fast that the ironing didn't actually work *that* well. You get what you pay for, I suppose.) My various embellishments took a few weeks to arrive from China, but once they came, I got down to business gluing studs...
...and studs and stones and studs and stones...and stars.
Until finally every stone and stud and star was placed.
put the stones on while it was on the dress form. hen I wasn't working at my real job. But it was surprisingly fun and relaxing, like a coloring book. And I'm very proud of how it turned out. Now back to the dress. The dress HAD to be good now because the cape looked so good. Stupid dress. It did finally fit though. I made up a collar pattern and pulled the sleeve pieces from another dress pattern and I was on my way. I bedazzled the sleeves flat and then once all the shinies were on, stitched up the underarm seam and attached them. The collar was a little trickier because I had top
ut the stones on while it was on the dress form.
Actually, this was something I hadn't considered that was about to become the bane of this project. I couldn't lay the dress flat and place the whole design because the dress was built for a curvy body and the gems would just slide off it. So I had to put them on one at a time while the dress was standing up on the dress form. This was literally the hardest part of the entire project. (The hardest part is rarely where you expect it to be, I've found.)
Also, by this point, I was really getting down to the wire. The picture on the above right was taken on October 20th. (And it had to be done, done before I left town on the 29th...or rather, on the 28th when I packed my suitcase.) And you can see that the careful artistry and planning went out the window as I scribbled an approximation of the design with my fabric marker.
I threw myself in and got the last few small eagles in place down the side seams. Here, I could lay it mostly flat with the help of a very heavy National Geographic coffee table book and the Complete Shakespeare.
Finally, every gem was laid and it was time to attach the cape to the dress and try the whole thing on. Except there was one problem. The cape was so heavy that if I attached it to the dress, the whole thing would pull back and choke me. (I later, unrelatedly, read an article about how Elvis had this problem with his capes as well.)
So I hastily turned to Google because surely this was a common problem among cape-wearers.
And it is! Such a common one that the solution has it's own name: cape straps. It goes like this. Step one, cut a hole in the dress; step two, attach straps to the cape; step three, run the cape straps through the holes in the dress and attach them to your foundation garments. For time, at this point, I just safety pinned the straps to my bra and called it good enough. NOW, I was ready to try to the whole thing on.
There's a couple things going on in this photo that we should quickly address before the end.
One. Hair. I had pretty much always just planned on spraying my actual hair black and slicking it up just because I didn't want to buy a wig. About two days before I took this photo and like a week before the wedding, Maggie texted me. "It would be awesome if you came to the wedding dressed as Elvis!" Dammit. I told her it was too late for requests. She said it was too bad because blue-haired Elvis would be awesome. Now, I'd already been cooling to the idea of spraying my hair black, so now I thought maybe I'd just go with my natural hair. (Or as natural as my blue hair is.) But when I saw this photo of the whole ensemble, I realized that the outfit was so larger-than-life, it NEEDED a wig. But I still didn't want to spend a bunch of money on a wig. Well, God bless Amazon Prime because I found an Elvis wig for $8 and with prime shipping and it was on my doorstep two days later. Perfect.
Two. Tights. Those tights are from welovecolors.com. My every-color-hosiery heroes since I worked in dinner theatre in 2008 and would frequently require weird colors of tights. There's really not anything else to say about them. I just want to shoutout We Love Colors.
Three. Boots. Let me tell you about those boots. I bought them on clearance at Hot Topic (for like $12?) in 2005 because I knew that I would one day make a Mystique costume (which I eventually did...maybe I'll do a blog about it) and I'd need white boots. I had planned on buying proper go-go boots to go with the Elvis dress. In my head, the drawing has knee-high boots but then I go back and look and the drawing doesn't even have legs. (I literally just had to scroll up and check it again.) In the end, I decided the white boots I have would be fine because, sometimes, cheap is beautiful.
Anyway, at this point, the only thing left to do was pack my bags, paint my nails, and leave on a jetplane. At last it was time. The wedding was a blast, the costume was a hit and the bar was an open one. It's good to be the king.