As I was leaving an opera performance in Boston of Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night, someone asked me if the costume she wore, and that I created, was vintage? Part of me wanted to lie and say “Yes, so old, just so dreadfully old!” And part of me wanted to tell the truth, “Hell no!” (As I recall I said something polite like, “Well, no, it is a modern gown that I made look old.”)
Distressing costumes is a process. In the case of Miss Havisham… a long one. You basically have to take the costume to “another place or time.” In this case, from like the “Polyester 1980s” to 1850!
Quick background… jilted on her wedding day, Miss Havisham has been in her wedding clothes for 50 years. In the opera she recalls the terrible day and her life since. I designed the costumes for Odyssey Opera’s production at the Modern Theater in November 2014. The short opera played in a double-bill with “A Water Bird Talk” starring Aaron Engebreth.
Back to my distressing tale… I started by sanding the entire dress with sandpaper. Then I slowly started staining it with fabric dyes. I had three pots–light grey, light yellow and a tan/tea color. Using a wide brush and a rag I worked the dyes into the fabric paying particular attention to where stains might naturally occur–armpits, center front, center back, all along the hem!, etc.
But this polyester wedding gown that I started to think was manufactured by either a bullet-proof vest company or a sports bra manufacturer was not looking old. Not at all! Time for the rasp and the drommel.
Yup! I was takin’ this dress down–working both tools from top to bottom.
Miss Havisham does quite a bit of candle toting so I added some wax (in the form of hot glue). I also melted actual wax on her gloves.
No bridal gown is complete without a lovely string of pearls.
Finally, Boston wig designer Rachel Padula made her a fabulous wig. To which we added some cobwebs. I actually added cobwebs all over her gown and trailing from her veil.
All-in-all it took over 10 hours of dying, sanding, and ripping to get Miss Havisham just right.
Here she is in all her glory on her wedding night. Played by the beautiful Heather Buck, Miss Havisham looked like one sad, vintage bride from long-ago, but now you know the whole tale!