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5 (Specific) Costuming Tips for Your Next LARP

Memorable costumes don't have to be expensive.

If you've ever sat around a table with a character sheet and some funny-shaped dice, part of you has no doubt wondered what it would be like to play in a real fantasy world. To feel the weight of a sword in your hand as goblins charge down the path, or to sit in a darkened room with a vampire prince, making deals for the soul of the city.

Well, if that's an experience you'd like, then you need to go to a LARP!

These live-action games can be a lot of fun... but they can also get expensive in terms of your preparation and costuming. However, if you want to save a couple bucks, without sacrificing your overall look, then some of these tips may be right up your alley.

For more gaming insights and advice, check out my Gamers archive, or head over to my blog Improved Initiative!

For more lists like this one, check out my 5 Tips archive!

Tip #1: An Instant Belt Pouch

Whether you're heading to a game filled with elves and dwarves, or you want to really embody the idea of a half-mad back-alley shaman, a belt pouch is a great accessory to add to your costume. And while it's possible to buy something like a Celtic pattern sporran to do the job, that kind of strategy can get pricey if you find yourself in need of more than a single portable pocket.

But if you have some old purses lying around, there's an easy trick you can use to convert them into costume pieces.

For this to work, you need a relatively slim handbag; the sort that will fit a phone, a notebook, and maybe a few other accessories comfortably. Where the strap connects to the bag itself, there should be two metal rings (one-piece bag-and-strap purses don't work for this setup). Simply take some scissors, and cut off the strap. You now have a pouch ready to be repurposed!

If you're in a game that's more accepting of modern accessories, then a pair of halyard clips can be hooked to the rings. You can attach them to your belt loops (again, if you're in a game where jeans are acceptable), or you can hook it to a belt. If you're in a much stricter setting, though, all you need is some leather cord to make fresh loops through the metal rings, which can be slipped right onto your belt.

This is something that will take between five minutes and half an hour, but it can make your costume both more convenient (especially if you're not allowed pockets due to antiquated styles) and more accessorized. Even if you don't have some of these handbags laying around your house, you can usually find them at your local thrift store by the bin full for a couple of bucks each.

Tip #2: Temporary Tattoos That Will Last Through the Game

Nothing instantly lets everyone know your character is a badass like a tattoo. For those of us who don't have prominent body art in real life, though, temporary tattoos are an ideal solution. Especially since you can order them by the sheet, thanks to the Internet. The problem that most of us run into, though, is that when you get sheets of tattoos, they're all different tattoos. And, unless you tend to switch characters every couple of games, you need consistent art on your skin.

Fortunately all you need to pull that off is some liquid eyeliner, and a bit of practice.

If you've ever messed around with liquid eyeliner, then you know exactly how easy it is to puddle it on your skin. Don't fight that; instead, use it to draw your character's tattoo. You can do it freehand, if you want to be fancy, or you can make a template that looks like one of these. A template allows you to just fill in the blanks with the eyeliner, giving you a uniform appearance every time, which is why I recommend using one if you're not a naturally-skilled artist (or if your character's tattoo is in a really inconvenient place). Also, don't use too much eyeliner; less is more in this case.

Once you have the design in place, sprinkle a little baby powder to quick-dry the eyeliner. And, if you want to get super fancy, spray some hairspray over the patch. It might make it look a little shiny, but it will also protect the design for additional longevity throughout the game.

Tip #3: Incorporate your technology.

Again, this one is going to vary based on the game you're playing. If you're in a more traditional high fantasy boffer LARP, this one likely won't apply to you. If you're in a post-apocalyptic game, a modern game, or a cyberpunk sort of game, though, then accessorizing with your smartphone or tablet can be a great way to add a touch of the unexpected to your costume.

As an example, if you want to add a touch of the cyber-warrior, consider using a wrist-mounted smartphone holder. You can download skins and apps to play into the world of the game, and sometimes you can even use digital die rollers or rock-paper-scissors throwers (if you're in a traditional Mind's Eye Theater game) to resolve conflicts. If you have a digital assistant app you could treat it like anything ranging from your spirit familiar, to your sentient A.I., and turn it into an actual character. If nothing else, it will allow you to make calls to other players and hash things out real-time in a more immersive way.

Then there are options for making your smartphone a prop in your costume. For example, you could download an app to allow your smartphone to act as the beating heart in your torn-open chest. Ideal for adding creep to a vampire game, or really selling a gruesome, undead character. If you have particular sounds that follow your character around (a tinkle of bells for a fey creature, for example), or if you want to have an occasional low growl come out of the bag on your hip, consider using a sound app to make that happen.

Tip #4: Leather patches are your friend.

Two things you should know about me. First, I love leather. Second, I am not what most people in the LARP scene would consider "crafty." I don't even like sewing, and leather work is the next best thing to magic as far as I'm concerned.

With those things said, I love leather patches. They are no more difficult to use than a sticker, and whether you're using them for field repairs at game, or to accessorize your costume/props, they are a life saver.

Take the options from Mastaplasta, for example. Whether you just want to take a vest and give it that hard-worn, long-traveled look, or you want to put an eagle next to a skull-and-crossbones on your jacket as a way to signify your character's membership in the Road Warriors, you can do a lot with these without any special tools, and with zero leather working experience.

You can even use them to jazz up relatively plain belt pouches, and that hidebound grimoire your wizard is going to be carrying around. Food for thought!

Tip #5: You can do A LOT with random fabric.

Do you have any random swaths of fabric just laying around your house? Well if you've got a safety pin, or better yet a cloak pin or a brooch, you can do quite a lot with that.

As an example, take a yard of fabric. Now throw it over one shoulder so it kind of covers that arm. Pin it to your jerkin or coat, and hide the pin beneath a fold of the fabric. Bam, you now have a combination rain and dueling cloak! Or you cold put it over your head and gather the rest around your neck before pinning it in place. You now have a cowl that you can raise to cover part of your face, giving you a kind of improvised marauder look that can be used for all kinds of characters and settings! You could even put it around your waist, and tuck it over your belt for a Final Fantasy-esque accessory that hangs off one hip. Watch Conan The Barbarian with Jason Momoa, and keep an eye on the piece of red fabric he wears, and notice how often its role changes.

If you don't have any random fabric laying around your house, though, look around to see if you have some scarves! Or better yet, a keffiyeh or a shemagh (the sorts of head scarves you often see worn by warriors in the desert). These accessories can be worn dozens of different ways, making them ideal for dozens of different characters from all walks of life.

Where do you shop for costume stuff?

Whenever I look for costuming tips, I always see the same suggestions. Go to thrift stores, hit up Halloween stores, and hope to strike gold! While those aren't bad suggestions (it's where I find the majority of my own stuff), there are some additional places I'd suggest looking.

First and foremost, check out Amazon Warehouse and Amazon Second Chance. These let you look through refurbished and used stuff from the comfort of your own home, and you can find all kinds of cool and weird stuff here.

You should also take a tour through your local home improvement store, as well as any hunting stores you have around. From belts and boots, to pouches, holsters, rebreathers, leather gloves, and other odds and ends, you'll find all sorts of items waiting to be repurposed for your next costume.

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