Mermaids 2010

It’s been a week since the parade, and I still feel like I’m in recovery. I’ve been sleeping 9 hours a night since then, and I’m still exhausted and my apartment is still littered with mermaid guts. I’ve been cleaning a little every day, but still pass out too early to really get anything done.

But, it was all worth it. Last year we were the Milky Way Mermaids, and our costumes didn’t take much time to sew at all. This year, I sewed non-stop for about a month and in the end had five 18th-century robe a la francaise dresses, complete with steel-hooped panniers. The oil light on my machine turned on twice that month, indicating close to 1,000,000 stitches. I was literally losing my mind.

For a few weekends in May and June Jessie and Dinne came over and we ran a mermaid sweatshop out of my apartment that didn’t stop until we left for the parade last Saturday. Our mantra throughout the whole ordeal was, “We’re not going to pull an all-nighter the night before like the other years.” Of course, that’s exactly what Dinne and I did assembling our wigs. We lost our fingertips that night to the hot glue gun (note to self: purchase cool-temp gun for next year), and I almost lost my temper…maybe…a few times. Okay, it was not pretty (thank you Vicky, Dinne, and Michael for talking me off the sewing ledge).

The fabric I used was actually purchased for my mother in hopes of a Dickens on the Strand costume. It turned out that the fabric shrank and melted under the iron and was an all-around nightmare. We made it work for our purposes, which were supposed to be marooned, shipwrecked ladies from the 18th century transforming into mermaids–hence the ripped edges and sleeveless look. For jewelry, I made myself a distressed-looking pearl necklace with cloisonne fish. I even covered my and Dinne’s shoes with coordinating brocade fabric and decorated mine with ribbons and sequined “scales.” I also made bloomers for Dinne and me, and the four of us all glued letters on our butts for a special message to the judges. The message also gave us something fun to do to the audience during the parade (C’mon, who doesn’t love a good mooning?) For the judges’ bribe, we also brought a bottle of brandy, macaroons, and message in a bottle telling our shipwrecked story.

For wigs, I painted small pirate ships for Dinne and me complete with silver lame sails. My mom mailed us toy crabs and lobsters for our wigs as well that we painted with a bit of glitter spray and puff paint. Once all the embellishments were added including moss, seaweed, shells, pearls, and plumes, those freaking things were incredibly heavy. After stalking myself on Flickr in other people’s photos, I could see how bright red my ears were after supporting that monstrous head piece all day.

The parade was awesome, although I didn’t get to see much of the other costumes and floats because of our tardiness. We could barely make it two feet without getting mobbed for photos; the right side of my pannier collapsed by the end of the night from people smashing themselves against me for pictures. The oddest moment was when a mother asked me to pose with her baby. I thought she meant to stand next to her and the baby. That’s when she handed the infant over to me for me to hold and pose with. He was no more than a few months old and wanted terribly to put the seaweed from my wig in his mouth. From the look on his face, it didn’t seem like it tasted good. It definitely didn’t smell good, so I can only imagine.

The night ended with Dinne and I plopped on a bench in front of the Coney Island merry-go-round, drinking very large pina coladas and eating cotton candy out of a bag (make that two bags of cotton candy.) Still people kept asking for our pictures and my reply was only, “Do I have to get up?” So, I’m sure there are a whole series of photos of tipsy mermaids posing on a bench with various children. Classy.

I take with me these lessons for next year which I already have ideas churning in my brain for: start assembling at least 6 months early, show up on time to mingle with the other mermaids, purchase wigs well ahead of time to work out any bald spot or fitting kinks, NO ALL-NIGHTER THE NIGHT BEFORE, purchase open-bar ball tickets in advance, and purchase stock in Walgreen’s generic brand spray-on sunscreen. Our pastiness was very well preserved after spending that entire day in the sun.

The following are from other photographers’ Flickrs. Each photo is linked to their photographer. If you want to see more of our costumes, check out my Flickr, or my favorites.

Nicole Smith is an author, editor, designer, and instructor who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Check out her latest book, Skirt-A-Day Sewing, out now at your local bookstore, or online.
  1. Dude this is INSANE. You all looked amazing. Congrats on a fantastic job!! So what did the butt message say?!

    • I just updated the post. there was an error in the HTML that made the images not show up. Look again! We all spell out “ALL” “HANDS” “ON” “DECK”

  2. Really, really fantastic.

  3. wow, very impressive craftsmanship, and such great eye candy! i’m totally inspired to make a robe a la francaise dress for halloween this year- any tips on how to go about constructing one (in addition to buying a steel-hooped pannier) without a pattern? or, a good pattern (i don’t suppose you’re selling yours? 🙂

  4. thank you!!!

  5. Did you make the hair part of the wig too, or buy one? I’d love to have a wig like that–and I think I can figure out how to do the add-ins (seaweed, etc) from your descriptions/the photos…but the hair part….do you mind sharing more about that?

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