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How to Break Down Costumes the Kozzii way

How to break down costumes successfully is a great skill to have if you work in costume and wardrobe and these handy tricks will help you to achieve it. 

Knowing where to start when faced with a brief requiring you to produce wonderfully broken down (distressed) garments, can be pretty daunting. 

Which products to use to create the best effects might be just one of the many questions flying through your mind. 

Well check out these super helpful tips from The Costume Rag on how to break down costumes and do it well:

Take it for a spin

How to break down costumes

We’re not talking about taking anything for a drive here, but instead, The Costume Rag suggests one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways in which you can break down a costume is to pop it in the wash.

This easy-peasy process will remove any excess colour or even roughen the fabric slightly, giving the appearance of a more ‘worn’ costume rather than ‘brand new’.

Hang it out to dry

How to break down costumes

According to the magazine, the way in which you dry the costume impacts its finished appearance. 

If the look is of a seriously wrinkled state, simply scrunch it into a ball, leave et voila. Or if you’re after a slightly dishevelled look, hang it loosely so it dries with a few creases set in.

Another useful tip is if you have a garment which explicitly states ‘do not machine wash’, do exactly that. Wash it. This is not just us at Kozzii trying to cause anarchy, but instead a useful piece of advice from the website. Washing an item you’re not meant to will cause it to shrink a little (or a lot depending on the temperature) which could be useful for your desired ‘broken down’ look.

Put some dirt on it

How to break down costumes

This may sound obvious, but which product to use exactly? There are plenty out there, but Fullers Earth is recommended for doing the dirty work for you. Essentially it is a fake soil and creates the effect you’re after without you having to digging around in an actual field. 

It can be used for stage and screen make-up too and works by mixing with water to create a paste which can be applied to anything you desire.

Get muddy

How to break down costumes

The magazine recommends a substance called Puffbinder, to create raised textures and layers. This is particularly useful when creating things like mould or mud and can be built up depending on the look you’re after. 

Change the colour

How to break down costumes

If you want to lighten or darken the costume to create a more ‘worn down’ look,  dyeing it is one of the most tried and tested options according to the magazine.

They suggest, as a general rule, you should darken a light fabric and lighten a dark one. 

They even suggest applying the dye by hand to create a ‘patchy look’, or use brushes to roughen up the fabric as you go.

According to the blog, for a DIY approach save your tea bags from your cuppa, boil them up in a pot and pop the costume in (yes really.)

Age it up

How to break down costumes

An airbrush or sponging on dye is a great way to age a costume according to the website’s advice. 

A brown wash can be used to age items gradually and sponging onto white fabrics such as shirts, helps to take out the ‘newness’.

Again, they suggest the good old fashioned tea bag technique or coffee will have similar effects when applied in different ways. A bit like the old school treasure map.

Scrub up well 

How to break down costumes
Credit: Steven Depolo

You can cause a lot of damage (in a good way!) by using a wire brush and some sandpaper according to the website. 

They advise focusing on areas which get a lot of wear such as hems, knees and elbows. Don’t rip things for the fun of it though, the site suggests mapping out areas which receive the most wear and focusing on those to create the most realistic effects.

Get snipping

How to break down costumes

Another useful tip the website offers is to be careful how you cut! Making precise cuts with a penknife will not look realistic compared to if you make uneven hacks to create frays and loose ends. The blog even suggests delving into the kitchen cupboard and using a cheese grater to slice away at the fabric. 

Have any tips for us? Perhaps you’ve got a cool technique you’d like to share? Or maybe you’re a Breakdown Artist who’d like to contribute. Drop us a line here.


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