Hello. My name is Jim Larimore, and the Ace of Geeks asked me to write up how I put together my Mad Max: Fury Road costume. Let me give you a little background on why this costume exists: My friends throw a big Oscar Party every year. Five years ago I decided I could get a laugh if I wore Black Swan makeup to an Oscar Party, and a costume competition was born that has been escalating ever since.
Something that is important to understand about my costuming experience is that I am probably not your average costumer. I am a single guy with a limited budget. I make a grand total of one costume per year. So, I have up to 12 months to plan and execute that costume. That is a luxury that I am sure professional costumers and cosplayers would balk at me for having. But, to that I would counter, where I have time, you have money.
I also don’t have a background that is very helpful here. I have no prior history of sewing or cosplaying or anything that you might consider relevant. I’m a tech guy who sits behind a desk most days. But, I do have an artistic background and I am open to learning whatever skills it will take to make my costume dream a reality. My foolish, blind optimism about realizing my costume dream is my most valuable trait.
The most important lesson I have learned is that when you are making a costume and time is not a factor, don’t be afraid to dream big. If you let a seemingly impossible idea percolate around in your head, you’d be surprised the unexpected opportunities that arise that might make a once impossible pipe dream a reality. I’ll give you an example from this year: So, I am thinking about the perfect Mad Max costume. And, I am making a list of all the things that make Mad Max the guy we know and love: leather jacket, leather pants, shoulder pad, etc. I consider the most iconic Max scene in Fury Road. For me, when I think of Max, my mind immediately jumps to the shot following the sandstorm where he is rounding the war rig, muzzle on his face, chain dragging behind him, War Boy on his back, car door in hand. That scene just screams that this guy is tough as nails, a survivor, and a born problem solver. I think, “a car door is pretty fucking metal and would really help narrow down the characters an observer could possibly think I was trying to impersonate. Plus, I think the image of me dragging a car door up to the entrance of the Oscar party is going to leave a serious impression on the voters.”
Now, I immediately call myself ‘a damn lunatic’ for spending precious seconds of my life on this. Where on earth am I going to get a car door? The car in the movie is some obscure 30’s car. Wouldn’t it cost a fortune to find something that resembled it at all? Land is so valuable in the Bay Area. Are there even junk yards here? Don’t car doors weigh hundreds of pounds? They probably made a custom, light weight one for Tom Hardy to carry around in the movie. In short, there is a very pessimistic asshole in my head listing all the reasons this is a bad idea. But, I write it down at the bottom of the list anyway with the understanding that I do not currently know how it’s going to happen.
Early this year, someone hit my car, possibly totaling it. That sucked. But, since this idea is simmering on the backburner, I consider the silver lining. If my car is totaled, one conversation and a wrench could have quickly netted me one very useful car door prop. Fortunately/unfortunately, my car was reparable. But, I got close there, and I was suddenly encouraged that this could happen. Plenty of cars get totaled or junked. So, it stands to reason that there are plenty of car doors out there. After I completed all of the higher priority items on the list, I called up a business I found online that resembled my mostly-Breaking-Bad-educated understanding of a junk yard. The owner sounded eccentric. But, he said I could come take a look. He quoted a higher price than I wanted to pay for a prop. But, I got the sense over the phone that there was room to negotiate.
The next thing you know, I am sifting through piles of loose car doors. Now, I don’t want to get anybody fired. So, I will change the names of the participants of this story. But, let’s call the eccentric owner Hank and his foreman Tuco. Hank is busy buying some old junkers off of some customers and Tuco is busy directing his men to crush cars. I am looking for a cheap prop and not about to get on their bad side by demanding their time to help me find some silly costume prop for almost no reward. I found a car door that looked old fashioned, was pretty light, (50lbs being pretty light for a car door) and carried it back to the front office and asked for a quote. “That door is in perfect condition. I wouldn’t let it go for less than $150,” Hank would say. I repeated this process a few times getting the same response each time. On my second or third failed trip, I am sweating from the effort, Tuco took pity, stopping me and asking me what the problem was. I told him that I was unable to find a VW Bug door (the one I settled on) that was affordable because the only ones I could find were in good condition. He indicated for me to follow him. On the walk back to the car door pile it became pretty clear that Tuco was not completely satisfied with his working situation. I got the distinct impression he did not like or respect Hank at all. Tuco finds another door and asks me if it looks satisfactory. I say, “Absolutely, but Tuco, that looks exactly like all the other doors that are too expensive.” He then drops the door to the ground and stomps on it as hard as he can, putting a big dent in it. I was taken aback. But, I thanked Tuco, took the door to Hank, and Hank parted with it for almost nothing. Now, you might say that was an incredibly lucky scenario. But, you would be amazed at how often you will get lucky if you dream big. It happens to me over and over again throughout the costuming process. If you are passionate about what you are making, it is infectious, and people can’t resist helping you make your dream a reality.
Speaking of help. Get help from everyone and anyone you can. I enlist help from my mother, (always enthusiastic), father (begrudgingly), friends, anyone that possesses the willingness or skill set that can augment your own. They will help you with ideas to get past seemingly impossible road blocks. Make sure you thank them every opportunity you can… Mom, you are the best!
The other thing I cannot stress enough is to keep your eyes and ears open. This is another reason to give yourself plenty of time. Every year there are chance encounters that are critical in shaping my costume. For instance, this year I was kicking off the costume season with a visit to my favorite vintage clothing store. I took an unfamiliar path to get there and just by random chance noticed a store that specialized in selling leather. Since I knew I needed leather, this caught my eye and I ended up getting a great deal from a very helpful clerk who went above and beyond digging through her used clothing inventory to find me the perfect black leather jacket and pants. I heard from another guest at the party this year that they just happened to see the perfect blue gloves they needed for their costume while they were at the doctor’s office. The more time you give yourself to collect materials and the more observant you are about your surroundings, the more these delightful coincidences seem to happen.
Just exercise a little restraint. When you are on the lookout for props and costume pieces, it can feel like kismet when you run into something. It gets all too easy to fly a little too close to the sun. For instance, I am in the middle of distressing my leather jacket and am thinking about just how much a car door would do for my costume. “Man I wish I could find a car door,” I mumble. As I look up from the trail, I kid-you-not, there off the side of the path down in a ravine, highlighted in a ray of light, is an old, rusted-out, long-abandoned car. Its car door swung open precariously dangling by a rusty hinge. The path down to the car door looks reasonably safe and clear of vegetation. I go for it. But, try as I might, I cannot not shake that car door free. A few days later I discover the one thing I have been able to collect is a bad case of poison oak.
For my Mad Max costume, the most important new skills I learned were: distressing/weathering leather, sewing through leather, and staining/dirtying up clothing. Am I ever going to need to know how to do this stuff again? It might be useful on a future project. It might not. But regardless, it feels good to add those new tools to my toolbox and it will make me just a little more confident in my future costuming endeavors.
Leather is tough stuff. Distressing it takes time. I found a great Youtube tutorial online. The gist of the video was: if you want results, you need to get rough. Here in Northern California, land is at a premium. And, you aren’t just going to find a bunch of abandoned dirt lots around your house like that eastern European guy in the Youtube videos. So, I stuffed my leather pants and jacket like a scarecrow with reasonably heavy stuffing, tied a rope to them, and dragged them for a five mile walk on some nearby dirt hiking trails. (periodically flipping them) I actually planned on taking them on a ten mile hike. But, it turned out five miles was the sweet spot. Any longer and stitches would start coming loose and the jacket would begin to fall apart. I am sure I looked like someone who escaped from an asylum, and the rangers were sure curious about the dismembered body I seemed to be dragging. But, if you want the best costume possible, chances are you are going to find yourself going into some unconventional territory. I say lean into it. I always try to appreciate those moments.
Another tip if you are going to do this is to protect your zippers. I put a small piece of duct tape over the zipper handles and that did the trick. Otherwise, you risk a zipper getting hooked on a rock and getting ripped clean off. (you’ll notice that happens in the Youtube tutorials) This is also why I recommend you take the time to do this whole weathering process by hand rather than by car. If something gets caught on a rock, it is easy to ease up when dragging a rope by hand. But, your car is just going to power through it, and potentially do some serious damage to your clothing. Plus, that hike was a great workout! I felt just like a badass football player training in the offseason.
Max has repair stitching and patches all over his leather clothes. It turns out sewing through leather is really hard work. My fingertips were bruised for days from my efforts. The main lesson I learned here is that leather is too tough to just push a needle through. (especially multiple layers) You need to create holes by some other means. There are specialized augers designed to do this kind of thing. But, I decided to save my money and just used a hammer and nail which worked like a charm. Also, there is wax thread which isn’t super easy to find but is strong enough for this kind of work.
The post apocalyptic world of Mad Max is a raw, dirty place. Like a little boy, I was looking forward to playing in dirt. My biggest challenge here was that I wanted my costume to look incredibly oily, sweaty, and dirty. But, I also wanted my Oscar party host not feeling incredibly uncomfortable by my presence in her home. Max’s waffle patterned undershirt looks really gross. We dumped a lot of different things on that shirt trying to stain it: Coffee, tea, black dye of different dilutions. Tea works better than coffee. And, the process is pretty forgiving because if I ever felt like I had gone too far, I would just wash the shirt and all of the stains would lighten up. So, you could back off if you ever thought you had gone too far.
In the end, I won best costume at the party. Again. Someone even voted for me by writing, “Jim, that son of a bitch.” It’s not traveling around the world to conventions, but I love my chance to cosplay once a year and impress my friends. Check out some full size shots of the completed costume below: