Sunday, August 24, 2014

Project Summary: 1920s Batman Villains

Back in January of this year, I got to play my first ever 'group card'.  Amongst my clan of costuming buddies, we have this system where we all have these metaphorical cards.  Everybody gets one.  And one day, when you have this epic costume group idea that just HAS to happen, you get to play your group card and these friends will join you in making it happen.  It doesn't matter if it's not everybody's 'thing'.  It just has to be a good enough idea to warrant investing your time, money and creative energies into the project in order to make the one person's vision a reality.  I played my group card for the 1920s Batman Villains.

It was at a Dragon*Con a few years back that I started noticing people putting some interesting twists on their cosplays.  Costumers were taking recognizeable characters and re-doing them from an historical or other dimension.  The Super Girl bustle dress, Dark Knight suit of armor and Elizabethan Justice League were all inspiring reboots of popular characters and I wanted in on this.  I thought this was the perfect solution to celebrating some of my favorite characters and concepts when a straight up cosplay of the characters wouldn't do it for me.  I love super heros, but I don't really have the super hero body and would sooner shave my head than wear spandex in public.  Enter the historical re-interpretation.  I could take the recognizeable symbols and color schemes of my favorite characters and making them up in a way that I was comfortable with both making and wearing.

Now, I'll share a (not so) secret with you.  I am a teensy bit of a Batman fan.  And not just any Batman, mind you.  I broke my geeky teeth on Micheal Keaton and the series of movies that came out in 1989, 92, 95 and 97.

Just like you never forget your first Doctor, I will never forget my first Batman and the dirty gothic world that he was presented in.  And I LOVED his villains.  There was nothing understated about them; not like Bruce Wayne and his dark, slick bat suit and equally polished rich boy wardrobe.  Where Batman was all black and white, his villains were in COLOR.  They had over-the-top, bright colors with insane visual representations of their own inner mental workings and I was hooked.  

I don't remember exactly how it happened, but at some point I made the connection between the film noir look of the Gotham City of this Batman and the 1920s in general and it was all over for me.  I started to see the 20s style everywhere and my brain was consumed with the notion that this just had to be realized.  Cue the group card.  The basic instructions going into this were simple: take a the character and try to imagine how they would be represented in the 1920s.  We made ourselves a closed Facebook group to facilitate the brainstorming and away we went.  We picked elements of the villains' personalities and tried to relate them to a fashion of the time.  For example, Poison Ivy was all about using her sexuality as a weapon, so she gets a drapey, sexy party dress.  We didn't even try to match each other in style or materials, like we would with some of our other cosplay groups, but we all had that unifying theme of the 1920s fashions and that made it work for us.

Coming up with a presentation that both told a story and gave us all our moment of glory on stage wasn't too difficult in the end.  I picked a fun piece of jazz music from the era and the hive mind lead us to tell the story of Mr Freeze throwing a bit of a party to celebrate having caught Batman.  Characters were largely paired up based upon which movies they showed up together in.  Catwoman teased a socially hopeless Penguin.  The Joker was a loner, but he flirted a bit with Poison Ivy before she turned her attention back to their host.  And then the party gets crashed by Two Face and the Riddler.  Batman had escaped and all inclinations point to it being Two Face having facilitated that, simply to spite Freeze.  Short, sweet and to the point.  You can see a video of our presentation on this blog post.

The last challenge was coming up with documentation for our group.  Documentation in the context of a masquerade entry serves the purpose of summarizing what you did for the workmanship judge.  This judge gets only a few minutes to look over everyone's costumes and you want to leave them with something that makes you stand out after the fact.  The problem for us was that we did so MUCH!  We did our research. and there were dozens of different techniques.  Patterns were drafted, hats were made, fabric was dyed and things were beaded.  There was so much for our group to tell, but one of the most important parts of documentation is keeping it succinct and to the point.  To keep it simple and unified, I assembled all of the documentation.  It included a couple of reference photos of not only the original character, but the 1920s look that the costumer was embodying.  There were a few sentences about what parts of the villain's personality we were trying to showcase and then a few more detailing the techniques which were used in making them.

Here's what we came up with:

a 1920s reimagining of the villains of:
Batman (1989)
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman & Robin (1997)

A Master Class entry for Arisia 2014

contact information: Jennifer [last name]  -  [EMAIL]  -  [CELL PHONE]

Your Cast of Villains:
Leo [last name] as The Joker
Bethany [last name] as Catwoman
Aurora [last name] as The Penguin
Megan [last name] as Two Face
Milo [last name]as The Riddler
Jennifer [last name] as Mr Freeze
Valorie [last name] as Poison Ivy

with special guest
Kristen [last name] as Harley Quinn

"Almost Got 'Im"
The title of, and inspiration for our entry comes from the forty-sixth episode of the Warner Bros. television program Batman: The Animated Series, which first aired on November 11, 1992.  This episode features five of Batman’s classic villains telling the stories of their "best" attempts at killing the Dark Knight.  Our presentation represents a hypothetical continuation of this story; the night that Mr Freeze “almost” got Batman.

The Joker

We pulled the Joker’s color scheme from the movie and applied it to an outfit built around a Norfolk jacket.  This iconic image of gentlemanly leisure was seeing a renewed popularity in the 1920s, especially amongst men living in the city - perhaps as a demonstration of their relaxed approach to fashion when compared to their properly suited predecessors.  I picture the Joker as being the kind of guy to thumb his nose at the expectations of a ‘proper’ gentleman.  The Joker’s costume is composed of a tailored wool blend Norfolk jacket that is fully lined with plaid cotton gauze, paired with matching trousers.  The cravat was patterned from scratch and constructed of hand dyed habotai silk, embellished with embroidery details.  The purchased shirt modified to attach playing card cufflinks and the appropriate silhouette is achieved by wearing a binder.


Selina Kyle, is an animal rights philanthropist by day who funds her charity work through high-stakes diamond heists by night under the alter ego of Catwoman. Bethany chose to recreate a dress worn by Jacquelyn Logan in the 1928 movie "Leopard Lady" as it seemed appropriately tongue-in-cheek.  Catwoman’s dress is made from black paillettes.  Her vintage gloves were embellished with claw-like nails.  The hat is a velour-covered frame made of wire and felt, embellished with rhinestones.  The whip and shoes were purchased and embellished with rhinestones.  The appropriate silhouette is achieved through vintage girdle.

The Penguin

The Penguin is a little older and past his time. Aurora focused on creating garments from the late 1910's or early 1920's rather than ones on the cutting edge of fashion, and focused on authentic construction methods. She had to balance fit between wanting to make well-constructed garments fit perfectly and the fact that the character was probably wearing cast off garments that wouldn't fit him well at all. Colors were chosen to fit the black-and-white color palate established in the movie.

Body shaping was accomplished through the use of a binder, Spanx, compression shirt, compression boxers and a length of cloth used for stomach padding.  The dress shirt was made and tailoring techniques were used to make the pants, vest and jacket.  Leather working skills were use to make the suspenders.  The costume includes facial prosthetics and the construction of a unique wig.  The spats, cravat, monocle, boutonniere and flipper gloves were made for this costume.

Two Face

For Two Face, we went with a classic gangster style.  Megan made his suit and trousers utilizing zebra stripe cotton fabric, the majority of which was overdyed fuschia.  The tie was patterned and constructed from scratch.  One half of his purchased dress shirt was dyed using fiber reactive dyes.  His spats were modified for fit and decorated with acrylic paint.  One sock was painted.  His hat was modified to add color and contrasting hat bands.  Two face is carrying a coin with a scratched face and wears a single fingerless glove.

The Riddler

Milo took a casual approach to the interpreting the riddler.  His outfit is composed of a matching vest and plus fours made from fabric salvaged from a discarded theater suit and trousers.  His tie is hand painted and the bowler hat has question mark detailing added.  The shoes and socks are worn as purchased.

MAN'S SUMMER JACKET, White woven w/ blue tattersall pattern, double breasted
AMERICA, 1920s

Mr Freeze

Mr. Freeze’s dressing gown was adapted to the period as a fully lined smoking jacket, which Jennifer made from silk velvet and devore satin that had been dyed two tone through the use of both acid and fiber reactive dyes.  The satin was quilted for cuffs and lapels, and a snowflake pattern stamped into the velvet.  His ascot is a dyed devore satin upon which a burnout dot pattern was created using Fiber Etch.  The tie pin was created using a jewelry pin back and rhinestone.  The cigar was modified from a purchased prop by being stripped and re-rolled in silver tissue paper.  His opera pumps were painted and embellished with ribbon binding and bows.  The Freeze’s dress shirt and trousers were minimally modified purchases.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy wields her sexuality as a weapon.  We wanted to take advantage of Valorie’s tall, lean frame and chose to put her in a flapper style dancing dress with a handkerchief hem.  The dress was made of self dyed silk chiffon and the bodice lined with habotai in a matched color.  The dress is embellished with gold colored glass beads and paired with a matching chiffon scarf.  The gold beads were repeated in the embellishment of the gold dyed silk drawstring handbag.  Ivy’s gloves were dyed using silk painting techniques on purchased nylon gloves.  Her shoes were painted with gold leaf and, in her purse she carries her secret weapon, ‘poisoned’ lipstick and a gold painted compact mirror.

Vintage 1920s silk chiffon party dress for sale on Etsy.

Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn is a strange combination of childish and womanly. Kristen wanted to reflect this through the blocky shapes in the trim, the wildness of the tulle and through the sophisticated beading she did on the belt and headdress. The choice of sleeve and coloring are based on the original design. The diamonds scattered throughout (in the belt, the fishnets, the headdress) are a homage to this as well.

*  *  *

And there you have it!  In the end, I chose not to include any of our progress pictures.  It was important to keep our documentation short enough that the judges would have the chance too flip all the way through it.  The more there is, the more they'll skim, and so we did our best to keep it as succinct as possible.   So much appreciation goes out to the members of the group who so graciously allowed me to share their work here with you.  Much of the personal information for people has been redacted, but I left the spaces in there to show you where it goes.  The only thing left to see is what crazy group idea I get pulled into next.

photo courtesy snarkyman


  1. Wow. Thanks. That is really great. I love reimagined superhero costumes. I've always been a huge graphic novel fan, but could never really get behind spandex either, so this is all fascinating for me.

    1. Hmm... perhaps we need to come up with a historical comic mashup theme for CoCo next year? :D

  2. It was cool when I saw it at Arisia, and still is. :)

    On another note, I don't think anybody can deny the appeal of Michael Keaton. ;) Blasphemous though it may be, he is the only Batman. All the others just don't compare (no, not even the Dark Knight trilogy).

  3. What?!!!! Only one picture of all the fabulous costumers and their outfits!! I am going to go to my room and sit in the corner and cry....
    What a fabulous idea you had here! The research is incredible and the completed outfits perfectly executed!!! Very well done!


      I've thus far got this group post with the documentation, a details post on Poison Ivy, and the original group post with the video link that I went back and added some candid shots to for you. The Joker and Freeze were the two other costumes that I made personally, and they've got project summary posts in progress. Is that enough to hold you over?

      Also,you're going to be good for my ego. I can tell. *hugs*

  4. Oh yay!!!!! Sorry, I just now saw this...I've been waaaay too stupid busy...I will go and take a look!!! I sooooooo can't wait to see!! SQUEEEEE!!!!!