My hand-painted skeleton suit
Published by Manning on June 21st, 2015
I made this skeleton suit for my first Mardi Gras (2012) and have worn it every Mardi Gras since, plus a few Halloweens here and there. Making the suit was a fun project, and a little more challenging than I expected.
I started with a thick black blazer and a black pair of cotton pants, both of which were from H&M; I already had them in my closet and chose to sacrifice them for this costume.
I went to the art store and asked the lady working there to recommend the most opaque white paint they had. I wanted to get completely opaque white bones in as few coats as possible. The lady pointed me a type of thick acrylic paint in a big jar, and I bought that, along with some brushes in various sizes.
I started out by protecting my work area (my dining room table) with newspaper. I cut out a cardboard body shape in two parts — jacket shape and pants shape — to stuff into the clothing to help keep them straight and flat. I laid out the jacket with the cardboard inside, and started drawing. I drew all the bones lightly with a white grease pencil, using Google image search for reference.
When the drawing was done, I painted the bones with the white acrylic paint and let them dry. It took two full coats, with a third coat in a few little places, to get the bones really opaque. When everything was dry, I flipped the jacket over and did the back; same deal, two and a half coats.
It was fun to pick up the finished jacket and try it on for the first time! Then I did the pants, using the same method. However, I learned something very important! The pants were made with a material that’s a bit stretchier than the jacket, and they fit a bit tighter. The paint I applied to the pelvis bones on the front and back actually restricted the material from stretching the way it used to, so the pants no longer fit very well! Acrylic paint dries into basically a layer of thick plastic, so all the give was gone.
I realize now that the best way to prevent this kind of shrinking would’ve been to put the pants onto a mannequin before painting. But that way the paint would be applied on the already-stretched shape of the pants, and then the paint would dry onto the already-stretched fabric. Anyway, I sure as heck don’t have a mannequin, and they’re really expensive!
Another way to avoid all this nonsense would simple be to start with bigger pants! My friends who’ve made skeleton suits on looser clothing, like a jumpsuit, never ran into this problem. It’s what I get for being a hipster and wearing tight clothes!
I also made a skeleton outfit for my fiancée — hers is just a long-sleeved top and a pair of gloves; she wore this with a long black skirt and a wide-brimmed ladies’ black hat.
In recent years I made myself a pair of skeleton shoes, too. I started with a pair of somewhat thick leather shoes, painted the bones on with the same acrylic paint, and then sprayed a few coats of clear matte spray onto ’em.
After wearing this suit a lot of times, it’s only showing the smallest signs of wear. The pants, particularly, because I’ve washed them more times, are beginning to show some tiny cracks around the parts where the bones bend, especially around the knees, since that part of the paint stretches a lot if I kneel down. But if you look at my Mardi Gras photos from 2013 and 2015 you can’t see the damage from that distance. I may touch them up at some point, or I may make new ones.
The jacket hasn’t shown any wear at all, since there’s no stress on any of the areas of fabric where the bones are. Incidentally, I brought the jacket to my dry cleaner’s and they didn’t want to clean it; they told me their chemicals would ruin the paint. I’m 99% sure this isn’t true, since acrylic is water based and dries into what is essentially plastic, but I get why they didn’t want to risk it. So I actually washed the jacket in the washing machine at my apartment, and surprisingly it wasn’t damaged at all; the paint is totally fine, and the jacket looks good as new.
I plan on continuing to wear this skeleton suit every year for Mardi Gras until it falls apart! And that’ll be a good thing, ’cause then I get to make a new suit!