Introduction: Ageing, Distressing and Dying Techniques for Halloween Costumes

Picture of Ageing, Distressing and Dying Techniques for Halloween Costumes

Hey guys, so this isn't technically a step-by-step DIY, but I thought I'd share some secrets from my times on set for quick ways to make your costumes look dirty without really getting them dirty. This is perfect for costumes where things are supposed to be dirty, old, distressed, worn down, and or just generally nasty (zombies are the perfect example!)

The photos above are from four different shows I worked on. One was a western, the second and third were two different post apocalyptic disaster shorts (very popular right now) and if you can't guess, the third is a zombie feature. All the clothes you see were purchased new and were aged down using these techniques...

First thing first. When I go onto a set where I know I'm going to be getting people "dirty" I always pack my dirt kit. You can buy professional grade "dirt" (Called Schmere) but it's not only hella expensive (deluxe kits can be purchased for upwards of $75), but it actually carries warnings right on the items that it's made with nuts and should not be used by anyone with nut allergies. I've worked with enough actors who are deathly allergic to peanuts that this makes me nervous...which is why I've made my own "dirt kit." For a whopping $20 (and most of that was for the cooler bag I carry it around in) I made my own kit.

Step 1: Raid the Kitchen and the Garage for Your Supplies...

Picture of Raid the Kitchen and the Garage for Your Supplies...

SUPPLIES FOR YOUR KIT:

INSTANT UNSWEETENED TEA

INSTANT COFFEE

BABY OIL

FLOUR

CINNAMON

CURRY

SHOE POLISH IN DIFFERENT SHADES AND COLORS IN THE LITTLE TINS

SANDPAPER

LIGHTER OR SMALL BUTANE TORCH

OLD NYLONS

KY JELLY

CLEAR DISH SOAP

GLOVES

OLD RAGS AND OR SOCKS

"BAD CAT" LEATHER SCRAPER (MORE ON THIS IN A MINUTE.)

SMALL POWER SANDER (TOTALLY OPTIONAL)

SPRAY BOTTLES (AS MANY AS YOU NEED)

COFFEE GRINDER (AGAIN, OPTIONAL, BUT NICE)

I've had people ask me about spray paint which is fine in a pinch, but has a tendency to make fabric stiff and crack. You can also use specific fabric spray paints, but they sometimes splatter and can also be expensive. I prefer using this stuff over anything else...plus, it smells much better!

Step 2: Let's Get Grubby...the Clean Way!

Picture of Let's Get Grubby...the Clean Way!

Now, just a heads up, this can get messy, so if you can...do the initial ageing somewhere you don't mind getting a little grubby. I prefer my bathtub...but outdoors works well also.

SWEAT: For the dried on sweat look I filled a spray bottle with water and some instant iced tea. You can make this as light or as dark (weak or strong) as you want. It will leave a nice yellowish tint to anything you spray it on. Make sure you use UNSWEETENED tea. If you use sweet tea, the sugar will gum up the spray bottle and you'll end up with a clogged nozzle. THIS WILL STAIN CLOTHES so make sure whatever you're spraying is okay with being a permanent tan color. Soaking fabric in tea is often used to make whites more "vintage" as well...it's also called "teching" and helps to ensure that the bright white won't 'blow out' on camera.

For wet/fresh sweat I like to use baby oil. It will remain "dark" like real sweat for hours. Like the tea it will stain. You can also use clear dish soap which WILL wash out...just make sure you don't add in extra detergent when you wash it in the washer or you'll end up with a foamy mess.

There is also the ever popular KY Jelly which also works well but will get you some strange looks when you walk into the drug store and buy thirty bottles at once. I suggest spreading it out over a few stores.Here's another shot using the tea/baby oil sweat from another film we did...

DIRT/DUST: I like to use a mixture depending on what type of dirt I'm recreating. I use what I call "dirt puffs" which is just whatever dirt I need mixed up and poured into an old nylon doubled up. Tie the top of the nylon and it becomes an easy way to "pouf" dirt onto whatever you need. You can bop it against just about anything and get a nice dirt look or even shake it over for a light dusting. To get your dirt fine enough to sift through a nylon and to ensure it's well blended, I like to pulse my dirt ingredients in an old coffee grinder before nylon bagging it.

MAKE SURE YOU'RE BEING SMART WITH THIS STUFF...even though it's all kitchen items, it's still not healthy to breathe it in, so make sure as you're "pouffing," that you're not inhaling a ton of it either.

DUST: Baking flour

DIRT: Instant coffee and or tea

RUSTY DIRT: Instant coffee and cinnamon

SANDY DIRT: Instant coffee and curry

MUD: flour, instant coffee and any of the above ingredients mixed to a nice slurry and then spattered or slapped onto whatever you want.

GREASE: Shoe polish. You can either break off pieces and use them like a crayon and just scrub the clothes with it or you can actually light it on fire (in the tin), let it melt a bit, blow it out, then scoop up melted polish on an old rag or sock and rub that onto the clothes as well. Just remember to blow it out before you scoop it up.

RIPS, TEARS AND SHREDS: Need to put holes in something? I prefer using a combination of methods but for a fast shred, nothing works faster or better than the "Bad Cat." Technically referred to as a "leather rougher," this thing is MEAN! When you use it, I STRONGLY suggest using it on a surface that either A) you don't care about, or B) won't easily get scratched. Whatever you do, do NOT use it on something you are wearing...it will TEAR YOU UP! I call it the bad cat because it's like being licked by Satan's feline... I got mine at Tandy's but they can also be ordered online.Just a few passes with this thing will shred just about ANYTHING...

Not feeling brave enough to use the cat or just can't find one? A power sander (I like the Black and Decker Mouse) or just plain old sand paper works as well.

And then again, there's always the cinder block method...which I've used sometimes, but don't always recommend. Basically you drive out to a dirt lot, take a cinder block and put it on whatever clothes you want to quickly destroy, tie the block to your bumper, and drag the clothes all over the lot while they're under the cinder block. Super fast but you never know what you might be driving over so LAST RESORT...Of course, nothing works better than a quick pass with a lighter (or small butane torch) but make sure you've got water nearby just in case...

Step 3: Wrap It Up...

Picture of Wrap It Up...

So, in a quick little nutshell, that's my crash course on ageing and dying. I hope this helps anyone looking for a fast way to make things look grubby...

I love helping people out, so if you have any questions or need a specific look, just ask...if I can't figure it out, I'll find someone who can and together we'll both learn something new!

Happy haunting and getting "dirty clean!"

Comments

KevinR310 (author)2017-06-11

This is a great tutorial. With Hallloween a few months away I decided it was time to start work on this year's costume. Using the tutorial tips made ageing and distressing my dungarees and undershirt quite an enjoyable experience.

As you can see from the photos there is quite a difference from the brand new items I bought and the finished product. I didn't use as many items as the tutorial outlined; I restricted myself to flour, coffee and water but also used perma blood and some acrylic paint, all watered down where appropriate and applied using a spray bottle.

I created rips and holes in the dungarees using a razor blade and then put it through the washing machine a few times with nothing but bleach. That helped give it an awesome frayed look and made it paler, but not excessively so.

I think I've ended up with something very awesome looking. Just need to finish work on my mask now!

CWestover81 (author)2016-09-22

Hey there, I loved all your tips and found them very helpful. What would you suggest for black fabrics? Specifically black jeans, black trench coat and cotton tank top. I'm doing a post apocalyptic look this halloween :)

LucasCorvinius (author)2014-10-12

I strongly advice against organic materials since they decompose.
Take a look at this:

This is amazing. Thank you. I definitely see your point about organic materials. Do you have any suggestions for alternatives to the tea or coffee for when you just want to discolor something? Food coloring mixed to make brown, maybe?

I have a chart i pulled off Pinterest which is great for mixing food coloring. And of course i cant post a pic when im using my phone to send this message...grrr...so here is the link:
https://www.google.com/search?q=mixing+food+coloring&oq=mix&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j69i59j0l2.1429j0j4&client=ms-android-hms-tmobile-us&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8#imgrc=NfXw_ILilTHT2M%3A

glen.ryerson.1 (author)2014-09-26

This is great. I was going to take my zombie costume to the car wash and rub it into the silt that's left behind on the floor, but now I can just make my own mud.

Great, clear instructions, and I love that you've used common items that are readily available. Thanks for the great info!

About This Instructable

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Bio: Just a writer living in Hollywood making ends meet by doing costume design and props on the side!
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