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Why choose between dressing as a sexy mermaid or a scary pirate when you could be both!

For Halloween this year my friend wanted a costume with the same kind of wow factor as the Headless Bride costume I wore last year.

We settled on a design that has everything: sex appeal, impressive size, an optical illusion and built in drink holders!

By buying a lot of the pieces pre-made we were able to save a lot of time and put together the costume in about 15 hours spread over two weekends of working in my messy kitchen.

*for more info on me, my costumes and my other crafts, check out my blog,
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Step 1: What you'll need

Picture of What you'll need
You might have a lot of these materials at home already.

From the thrift store:

-shimmery dress suitable for mermaid tail (alternatively, you could just buy the fabric from a fabric store)
-2 long sleeved men's turtlenecks
-long men's trousers

From a costume shop:
-long wig (red for an Ariel look)
-sea shell bra
-pirate mask
-pirate hat
-eye patch
-pirate hook
-fake hand
-mardi gras beads and assorted bling
-Styrofoam head (the kind used for wigs)

From a specialty shop or online:
-platform boots (the shorter your mermaid in real life, the taller they'll need to be)

From Walmart or somewhere similar:
-Styrofoam cooler
-gold spray paint
-duct tape
-masking tape
-craft paint
-2 plastic cups
-batting / stuffing
-small pieces of velcro (we took ours off of the thrift store backpack)
-straight pins
-rope or straps
-thin bamboo poles (wood dowels would work too)
-epoxy glue
-white glue
-skin coloured fabric to cover backpack straps (a pair of thick tights would do)

From your recycling bin:

-glue gun
-sewing machine
-paint brushes

From your social circle:
-Large male friend to wrap in duct tape

Step 2: Make the Pirate

Much like with my Headless Bride, we started by making a duct tape dummy.

Have your male volunteer put on one of the turtlenecks and wrap his torso and arms in duct tape. Cut through the duct tape and shirt to remove it. You'll need to cut up the spine and cut down each arm.

Once it's off, tape the torso back together. Attach the Styrofoam head with more duct tape. Stick two bamboo poles into the bottom of the head. Cut the poles a little longer than the torso. The poles will help give the pirate some rigidity and give you something to help attach him to the backpack.

Attach the fake hand and pirate hook with more duct tape. You might also want to help secure it with a glue gun.

Stuff the torso with batting. Don't make it too full or he won't sit close enough to the mermaid. When it's well stuffed, tape up the bottom.

Step 3: Dress him up

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Carefully put the other large turtleneck shirt on your dummy. You can use straight pins to keep it tight around your pirate's neck and cover up all the duct tape. Tie the shirt in a knot at the bottom to keep it from sliding up.

Put the mask on the Styrofoam head and secure it with pins. You can fill out the mask with batting but first tape up the holes in the mask.

We covered the eye holes with masking tape from the inside then added an eye patch on one and drew the other eye with markers.

Step 4: Add the backpack

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Hold up the dummy behind the person who will be wearing the costume to figure out where the backpack should sit.

Cut out the part of the shirt where the backpack will connect to the dummy and secure the edges to the dummy with a glue gun.

Glue the backpack to the duct tape with a glue gun.

Tie the backpack to the torso with rope or straps. We used one strap under the armpits and two lengths of rope over the shoulders, down the back and around the ends of the bamboo poles.

To help hide backpack's straps you can cover them in skin coloured material so they won't show as much under the wig.

Step 5: Make the Mermaid

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Sew a mermaid tail!

There are several great tutorials online for making mermaid tails.

Sasha's step by step video on youtube is very helpful.

Instead of using fabric from a fabric store, we used a dress from the thrift store. Since you won't need to put your real legs inside, you won't need stretchy fabric and you can make the tail slightly smaller than you would if you were making it to wear.

We turned the dress inside out and drew the tail shape. We then pinned it , cut it out and with the sewing machine, sewed along the lines. This is a very easy sewing project. Even my friend who had never used a sewing machine before managed to sew the tail with only a little guidance!

With the tail right side out, we sewed the fin closed at the bottom and left the top open in order to stuff it with batting.

To finish off the mermaid you'll just need a sea shell bra and a long wig. It's important to have a lot of hair as this will help cover the backpack straps that hold up the pirate.

Step 6: Make the Treasure Chest

Remove the lid of from your cooler.

We started with a huge cooler because we needed one that was deep enough for a mermaid to realistically sit it. To make the costume more manageable, the finished chest should be narrow enough to fit through a doorway.

Cut the Styrofoam cooler to size. Using a bread knife, cut the cooler in half. Determine how much of the Styrofoam you need to remove and cut equal amounts off either half. It helps to have a long straight edge and a marker to keep your lines straight.

Measure your mermaid's hips. Cut out a section of the cooler large enough for her to fit in. Be sure to leave enough room for her to walk but keep it fairly snug at the waist as this will help to hold up the finished costume.

Glue the cooler back  together with epoxy adhesive. Use masking tape to hold it together while the epoxy sets.

Add a lock and rim with cardboard and masking tape. Build a shelf for the loot to sit in and secure it with tape. Add drink holders by taping plastic beer cups to the chest.

Cover the entire chest with papier mache. We used newspaper strips dipped in white glue diluted with warm water.

Spray paint the edge and inside of the chest. We used two different colours of gold spray paint: "hammered metal"  for the rim and "gold leaf" for the inside.

Paint the rest of the chest with craft paint. We first painted it white and then brown before adding a faux bois effect with acrylic paints and details with markers.

Add some bling! Using a hot glue gun, glue down some mari gras beads and anything else you can find that sparkles. We also added some sea shells and glass beads.

Make belt loops. We used duct tape to connect the chest to the costume wearer's belt and hold it up.

Add a skirt. Using the lining from the mermaid tail dress, we added a piece of fabric to the underside of the chest's shelf. This can be tucked into the costume wearer's pants to keep loose treasure from falling out of the chest.

Step 7: Put it all together

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To keep the pirate's hand and hook on the treasure chest, attach a small piece of velcro to his hand. As glue wouln't hold the velcro to the fake hand, we sewed it on with a large curved upholstery needle and thick thread.

Glue the opposite piece of velcro onto the side of the treasure chest.

To keep the hook in place make a small incision in the side of the chest that it can slip into.

The pirate's hat can be glue to his head if pins won't keep it in place.

If necessary, cut the bottom of the pirate pants. Our mermaid is only 5'6" so she wore 6" platform boots to give the pirate a more credible height. To help cover the boots we cut slits in the bottom of the pants and then trimmed them so she wouldn't trip on them.

Step 8: Go get some pirate booty!

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Fill the treasure chest with chocolate coins, Hershey's Kisses and gold wrapped condoms and go have a great time!

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buffy.irwin.74 months ago

Well done . I did Ursula"s capture Ariel a few yrs ago . I took it a bit further and had her wear an aquarium with water bubbles and fish. it is on the vid on my instructable check it out.

musicalrose made it!4 months ago

Such a great tutorial. I used a lot of the basics and tweaked them so they worked for my costume. I couldn't find a rigid foam cooler for instance, so had to settle for dressing up a cardboard box. I pieced it together, paper mache'd it and than covered the outside with foam shelf liner with a wood appearance, so it was still very light. I also kept a back on the box, so it slid up and stayed on my hips without a belt. The only other thing I really changed was that I chose to use zip ties instead of rope to secure the backpack to 'Manfred' (my pirate). Thank you so much for posting this. (P.s. I won 'Best Costume' at a 400+ person totally worth the time and energy!)

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derowden5 months ago
Thank you so much for posting this. I've always wanted to be a mermaid.So far, everything looks awesome but the tail is confusing me. I need help figuring out how to attach the tail.
vladivastok5 months ago


gravityisweak7 months ago

Costumes like this are so cool! Does this kind of thing have a certain name so I can look up more of them? Like illusion costume or something similar? I'm shocked and amazed at how many people made this and posted pictures! I think an excellent modification to this would be to add some sort of pull string mechanism to allow you to move the mermaid legs and REALLY confuse people when they saw the legs kicking every so often.

kwmermaid1 year ago
I made the Kidnapped Mermaid a few years ago and had so much fun with it that I had to try it again! This year's Key West Fantasy Fest's theme was "Superheros and Villians" so my fiance and I went as Snidley Whiplash, Nell and Dudley Do Right!! Once again I had a fantastic time keeping people guessing! Thanks for your inspiration!!!
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Eh Lie Us!1 year ago
Wow. that's great. Thanks!
evacooper1 year ago
that is such a cool costume!
kwmermaid3 years ago
Thank you for the great idea!!! I made this a few weeks ago for Fantasy Fest here in Key West, FL. It was a HUGE hit!!! I must have had my picture taken 1000 times! Had so many guessing about the costume and how it was done. Your instructions were very detailed and made it easy to construct. A few alterations worked well for me...I used a cooler with handles and ran a swim noodle through the arms and across the neck. I secured the head into the noodle with wooden dowel pins which made the head very stable. I also cut a bungie cord in half and attached each half to the ends of the swim noodle. I could then hook the bungies into the handles of the cooler. This made carrying the 'treasure chest' a breeze and made it easier to remove for sitting or bathroom breaks! I stiched gloves to the costume sleeves and secured the bungie hooks to the palm of the gloves so the 'hands' stayed on the handles. This costume was a BLAST!!!!
ModMischief (author)  kwmermaid2 years ago
Thanks for posting the pictures! In the first one it's hard to tell which pirate is the real one!
sarahabijo2 years ago
Thanks so much for all your great idea. Everyone was so amazed with my costume. I reused the torso of my headless bride and added a Pirate Mask and dress him up....Now..the she become was so funny because the older people thought it was my husband carrying had so much fun making it...and again...I didn't want to spend money on shell bra since my wig was kind a expensive from I covered my old strapless bra with satin purple color and put beads around it to make it looked like a shell...and used my husband's gloves as his hands...
thanks for all your ideas...Here is my Kidnapped Mermaid
ModMischief (author)  sarahabijo2 years ago
It's awesome that you were able to reuse the headless bride for the pirate! Thanks for sharing the photos!
studio91182 years ago
ModMischief! You rock! I followed your instructions and my costume won 2 contests (so far, one more left to attempt!)
To add my own touch, i cut clear, blank compact disks into small circles and glues them in groups to the tail to represent scales... it turned out great!
Thank you for sharing your creativity and talent!
ModMischief (author)  studio91182 years ago
Congrats on winning the contests! I love the idea of using CDs for scales.
Thank you so much for the instructions! My 8 year old daughter fell in love with your costume and wanted me to make one for her this year. (By the way, she's already thinking about another illusion costume for next year!) I ended up using a leotard for her top with some flair from an old prom dress as the sea shell bra was a tad inappropriate for an 8 year old and cold for Colorado :) Best part is we had a blast making it together and she really enjoyed getting to duct tape Grandma for the pirate torso too!!! And I did use an old seat belt instead of a dress belt as that was easier for her to get on and off.

She won the 1st place in the school's costume contest and if there was one for the city's Trick or Trunk and community event, she would have won those too.

The first picture was waiting in line for the city's event and she was starting to blush at all the attention her costume was creating. I think we all had a smile from ear to ear everytime she wore it! Second picture was out trick or treating last night with baby brother, who had to have some flair of his own so we transformed his shopping cart into a pirate ship! Never really was able to get a great picture of both ;)

Thanks again!!!
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ModMischief (author)  SpankieLovesDan2 years ago
I love the blue mermaid hair! Thanks for posting the pictures!
Thank you for posting this wonderful costume! I wanted to top last years costume for my 11yr old daughter and came across this. I made some modifications of course but it turned out beautifully. She had a little trouble with trick or treating just because she couldn't move to fast and we were in a little bit of a time crunch. She also couldn't maneuver the porch stairs all that well either. Trunk or treating would have been an easier option. She was a huge hit though at our local costume contest. She won a prize for Most Outstanding and Homemade. I loved watching people trying to figure it out.
ModMischief (author)  dpiercy risken2 years ago
Your daughter 's costume really is "most outstanding" - thanks for sharing the pictures!
What dimensions were the cooler?
ModMischief (author)  derbylioness2 years ago
I'm not sure exactly what size we used, but you'll want to measure your mermaids hips and find a cooler large enough to fit her.
sarahabijo2 years ago
I did your headless bride last year....and got so many compliments...I cannot walk 2 ft. without someone asking me taking a picture. I also won a netbook and $200 gc for a Halloween contest. This year, I am doing your kidnapped Mermaid version. I cannot seem to figure out how did you get the treasure chest carried by the Pirate....Did you attached a belt into it that will go around your waist? Pls. let me know.
gwen74783 years ago
Thanks for the great tutorial!
I live in The Netherlands and they had never seen something like this before.
I made the costume for a "fox-hunt" for a local boyscout-group. For a fox I was a bit easy to find, but they all loved it.
During the hunt I had to walk through the village and most people smiled and the reactions they gave were all super positive!

I could not get a box like yours where I live, so I constructed the treasure chest from styrofoam boards, wooden picks and glue. It came out a little bigger then expected, but it still worked and came out pretty good. :)
I even have a few rental applications in already ;)

But first I want to wear it myself to a few other fantasy festivals.

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jmoniz13 years ago
Everyone loved it. Thanks!
ModMischief (author)  jmoniz13 years ago
Fantastic! Your pirate looks very convincing.
Thanks! The only thing is that I didn't have my hair covering the straps for this picture.
atate53 years ago
Here's how mine turned out ... I won the costume contest at my neighborhood pub. If you were anywhere near Phoenix, I'd buy you a drink! :)

ModMischief (author)  atate53 years ago
Congrats! Great job on the costume!
irishpete53 years ago
This was the best ever! It took a little bit of doing to get it all worked out well but in the end we won the costume contest at the annual Columbia Gorge Hotel Halloween party in Hood River Oregon. It was awesome how people on the dance floor would sneak up and touch the pirate to see if it was real. A tip on the top: We used a nude bandeau bra from Target and sewed a set of cheap foam seashells on that we dressed up with some sequins.
ModMischief (author)  irishpete53 years ago
Well done! I love the green mermaid hair!
aossai3 years ago
Angntrav3 years ago
I'm looking for the pic's of how you cut out the shirt to the backpack, do you have any that you could submit? or give more step by step instructions of how you did this part? I'm to this step of making the costume but, I'm not for sure how to do this.
ModMischief (author)  Angntrav3 years ago

I don't have any photos of this step other than what is already posted.

Basically you want to make sure that you can glue the backpack to the dummy's body and not just the shirt because the shirt could stretch and not hold the weight.

When you know where you're placing the backpack, just cut out a hole in the shirt, glue the cut edges down so the hole doesn't get any bigger or shift and then load up the backpack with glue and stick it down.

Even with the backpack glued to the dummy, we still tied it together to make sure it didn't come apart or sag.
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does the back pack need to be full size? i forgot to ask. i was just wondering because it seems very heavy without the dummy being attached.
ModMischief (author)  Angntrav3 years ago
As long as the backpack fits comfortably it shouldn't really matter. We used a fairly small backpack, there's no need for a really big camping pack.
okay thank you
just seen this on the daily instructable and I must say it looks amazing, well done!
D_mon3 years ago
THATS AMAZING! WOW. seriously well done!
shammc5 years ago
Fantastic, makes me wish a was a women so i could try it out!
r-ant shammc5 years ago
 "Mer-man, Dad, Mer-man!"
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