Introduction: From Garbage to Avant Garde Dress

About: I'm a Freelance Costume Designer, and crafting and sharing my designs are what I LOVE to do! :D

I made this avant grade dress for the Keep Orlando Beautiful, Trash 2 Trends Fundraiser in Orlando, FL. The garment is made entirely out of garbage and recycled items (except for a zipper!). Luckily I took several pictures of the garment as it was being made and I will explain, step by step, how I constructed this monstrosity and ended up labeling my design, "Subtle."

Step 1: The Sketch

I am all about avant garde designs, I just can't get enough. I knew that I wanted to go big or go home (excuse the cheese but I love spectacle!). This is my initial sketch of the look that I was going for and I roughly colored it in to get an idea of where I wanted to place my color. I'm happy that after all the hard work, I was able to stay true to the original design!

As for the color and design choices, I initially wanted purple and black but then I thought it would look too much like Maleficent so I switched it up and went with red, yellow, and orange. So I suppose you could say I was inspired by fire but really I wanted to design something that evoked power, elegance, confidence, and was just plain fierce!

Step 2: Garbage Collector

I spent two months collecting garbage and recycled items from family and friends. My tag line was "if it ain't sticky, I'll take it." Of course when I got the donations, I had to sift through them and categorize it by type: thick cardboard, thin cardboard, hard plastic, soft plastic, cans, bottles, styrofoam, cool shaped objects, etc.

It was overwhelming because I had a sketch but I wasn't sure what items to use for certain parts of the dress. Since everything is garbage, it came with defects and I was limited by how much of each item I received.

Step 3: The "Wings"

This step will describe everything I did to construct what I like to call the "wings" but in the sketch I envisioned it as more of an aura of color around the dress.

I had no idea how to start on a project like this since I had never done anything like it before. So I gained inspiration from Victoria Secret angel wings. I mainly looked at pictures that showed how the straps were connected to the back. I saw that the area that rests on their back, follows the "S" shape of their back. With this knowledge, I was ready to begin.

Using my mannequin and large sheets of paper, I sketched out the silhouette of the wings. This became my pattern and I traced each wing onto two large cardboard box pieces. Since the cardboard had indents that wouldn't let it stand straight and tall, I had to cut long rectangles of thicker cardboard and glue it vertically with contact cement. This gave the wings structural support.

Next came the backpack. I used cardboard scraps to build the outer shell and to make sure it didn't cave in, I used paper towel rolls and stuffed the empty space with advertisements from the mail. I attached it to the wings with contact cement and extra cardboard in the seams and to make it even more secure, I joined both the wings and the backpack with a nylon packing strap wrapped in scrap plastic.

The straps are made from heavy duty cat food bags and padded with scrap foam so they would sit comfortably on the model.

After everything was structurally supported, it was ready to be decorated. Initially the wings were going to be flat and 2D but because this dress would be viewed from all sides, I knew it had to have more dimension. So I cut out another set of smaller wings and attached it to the front of the larger wings, creating a pop up book effect. Paper towel rolls gave it the 3D support it needed.

For decor, I wanted something that gave texture and dimension so I used advertisement paper that I spray painted, cut into leaf shapes, and rolled into cones. I then proceeded to glue them on one by one. At this point you are probably wondering what drove me to such madness. Well the answer is, I really wanted people's reaction to be "WHOA!" when they saw it for the first time (and it totally was! Success!).

Step 4: The Dress

It is key to note that I worked on several different parts of this garment at the same time, so that is why the wings are not finished in one of the pictures.

For the skirt, to give it that fanned out silhouette, I used three plastic grocery bags, stuffed them with other grocery bags and placed them around the hips and butt. The bags were looped through some braided plastic and cinched like a belt underneath the skirt. This acted like a bustle skirt pad.

The skirt is made of several stiff packing paper sheets taped together and because there weren't enough, the back was filled in with plastic that is used to wrap flower bouquets. I used velcro as a closure in the center back.

The front detail that is red, yellow, and orange is made using paper shoe stuffing. I spray painted the paper, cut it into medium squares, scrunched it up and then glued it onto the base of the skirt. The white area is scrunched up receipts. The black net was created using a long plastic sheet that was braided, glued together, and spray painted black to make the net shape.

The bodice is made of several fused grocery plastic bags that were then sewn together. I added a separating zipper to the center back. The front white panel on the bodice is also fused grocery bags (the ones that say "Thank You" on them!). I was able to get the outer ends to stay straight by gluing cereal box cardboard to the back.

The neck piece is made of scrap aluminum foil covered in more braided plastic. The neck piece added a cool silhouette and it also covered the straps for the wings.

Step 5: The Night Before...

This moment was the final countdown. I had been working on this project for months and this was the night before the fundraiser. All these pictures were taken in a hotel room. I brought all the garbage, spray paint, and tools with me into the hotel too! It was madness! Spray painting in a hotel is tricky business.

In the first picture, you can see the bodice close up and it is covered in long rectangles cut from cereal boxes.

The second picture shows the back of the wings in all its glory. It is made of plastic grocery bags that were folded like an accordion and then fanned out. The center is made up of several plastic bottles painted with a gradient. The second pair of wings was a stroke of luck. After I built the first set of wings I thought it was going to be impossible to add a second. I eventually figured out that I could attach the bottom set of wings to her waist like a belt. I had to attach plastic loops to the side to keep the balance of the wings so that as she's walking, they don't shift.

To add some drama, I taped several large sheets of plastic (plastic that wraps furniture pieces) together to make a long train. The ends of the train were cut to mimic fire and it was painted in a gradient as well.

The final item was the head piece. It is shaped with wire and then covered in tissue box cardboard. The pieces assembled on top are plastic egg cartons. I thought they had an interesting shape when twisted and curved in different ways.

Step 6: Work the Runway

This is the final product! I was able to turn garbage into an avant garde dress. The best part was being able to raise money for an organization that focuses on litter prevention, waste reduction, recycling and beautification efforts for the city of Orlando.

I hope you enjoyed my wild designs and learned something new about using recycled materials!

Below you can find a video of the event that highlights other wonderful artists and their creations!

Before and After Contest

Runner Up in the
Before and After Contest