Introduction: How to Make a Hobo Clown Costume

You might say, "What is a 'Hobo Clown,’ anyway?"  Well...

A Hobo Clown is:
a sad and lovable tramp.
Everyone loves them.

Hey, that was a haiku. Anyway, hobo clowns, comedic caricatures of downtrodden tramps and hobos, were popularized in the depression era United States by the late Emmet Kelly. Kelly, in the role of “Weary Willie,” first introduced the hobo clown to American audiences, who found his underdog antics to be instantly lovable, and sometimes, even relatable.  To learn more about Emmett Kelly and Weary Willie, do a quick Google search. A little research could go a long way in helping you flesh-out your costume.

So, you’ve done some research, read a pretty terrible haiku, and you want to make your own hobo clown costume. Before we get started, here are some notes:

- About 90% of the materials my fiancé and I used, we found at thrift stores. About 5%, we gathered from a craft store, and the remaining 5% we got from a local Wal-Mart.
- The overall cost for our costumes was about $70 each. The good news: that figure is on the high-end. Your cost could be significantly less, depending on what you have lying around your home.
- It took about two nights to make the costumes and less than an hour to do the makeup. That being said, this is definitely a costume that can be completed in a day.

If you’re still down, continue on and we’ll get started by gathering the materials.

Step 1: Gathering Materials

There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind while gathering the pieces of your costume. When it comes to articles of clothing, you typically DO NOT want to color coordinate. Also, GO LARGE.  The bigger the jacket, the baggier the pants, the floppier the shoes, the better your costume will be.

To make a hobo clown costume in the same fashion as we did, you’ll need to get your hands on the following:
-    Suit jacket
-    Dress slacks 
-    The largest dress shoes you can find
-    Button-down shirt (either dress or flannel)
-    Tie or bowtie (an exception to the rule, ties are sometimes funnier when they are excessively small. My tie was actually a boy’s clip-on.)
-    Suspenders (these actually need to be functional and fit; they'll need to hold up your pants!)
-    Knit or wool gloves
-    Quilting squares
-    Liquid Stitch
-    A top or derby hat
-    Clown nose
-    Fake flower
-    Inexpensive makeup kit
-    Triangle makeup sponges
-    Duct tape
-    Thread and needle (optional; you can actually make this entire costume without a stitch if you can find all the right materials).
-    Large boxer shorts (optional; as your slacks will be considerably large, you may want some larger unmentionables to cover up your… unmentionables)
-    Bandanna (optional; you may want to make a hobo suitcase!)

So you’ve gone shopping (or rummaging) and you’ve got your hobo gear. Continue on and we’ll start putting it all together.

Step 2: Patch Placement

Aside from gathering the materials, this is probably the most time consuming step, taking up to an hour to complete.

Materials needed for this step:

Suit Jacket
Liquid Stitch
*Thread and Needle

Lay out your jacket and dress slacks. Start thinking about where you’re going to place your “patches” (quilting squares or fabric scraps). Some logical places would be those which would be the first to wear-down; for example, the knees and elbows. Place them anywhere you want, sometimes the more haphazard the patch placement seems, the better it will look.

Gather your fabric scraps or quilting squares (we used quilting squares -- available at most craft stores), Liquid Stitch or any quick-drying fabric glue (available at craft stores and Wal-Mart), and scissors. We used scissors that cut with a zig-zag design, but normal scissors will do just fine.

Cut your fabric into squares and size them as you wish to make patches. Place your first patch on your jacket or slacks. Once you figure out where you want it to go, put some liquid stitch on the underside of your patch and press it onto your jacket/slacks (the bottle of the fabric glue you use will have more detailed directions).

*OPTIONAL: Once the patch is firm and in place, grab your needle and thread. The color of thread you use is kind of important here. Try to get a thread color that doesn’t blend in with the color of the fabric. Start making a loose stitch around the border of your new patch.  There’s no need for it to be strong, as the stitching is for looks; the liquid stitch you put on the underside of the patch will hold it to your suit just fine. The beauty of this step is that you don’t need to know how to sew! It can look as sloppy as you want, because… well… you’re a hobo! What do you care?!

Repeat this step for all patches.

Now you’re all patched up! When you’re ready, let’s start fine-tuning the rest of the costume.

Step 3: The Gloves

Grab your knit or wool gloves and a pair of scissors. Put your gloves on and carefully snip the fabric at the knuckles closest to your palm on each of your fingers and thumbs.

You now have grade-A, hobo certified, fingerless gloves. Perfect for holding over a garbage can or oil drum fire in a seedy back alleyway!

Step 4: The Hat

In my opinion, the hat goes hand-in-hand with the makeup and clown nose as far as defining the costume.

We got lucky and found our hats (top and derby) at a local Goodwill Store. If you’re fortunate enough to come across the same find, you can definitely take some creative liberties with your hat. For example, I cut open the top of my top hat and peeled it back to give it that discarded can look.

Thankfully, you don't have to destroy the hat to make it work with the costume. Just shop around, you might be able to find something that will work at a party store or costume shop.

Step 5: The Shoes

Pick up some of the biggest, floppiest dress shoes you can find.

Get ready to use your imagination here. You need to dingy-up your footwear.For example, my fiancé and I each picked one shoe. She wrapped one of hers in duct tape, and I sawed the toe of my shoe and peeled it back, allowing a view of my hobo toes wiggling around inside. Be warned, though, to cut the flap it takes some elbow grease and a really sharp knife. A rotary tool would definitely make quick work of it, though.

Step 6: The Flower

Many of the paintings you’ll find online depicting hobo clowns have them awkwardly holding a small, delicate flower (a very artistic juxtaposition).  That being said, sticking a flower in your jacket pocket makes for a very nice touch.

The flowers used for our costumes were found in the craft section at Wal-Mart as part of an artificial bouquet. Real flowers work too though, if you want to go that route.

A fair warning: chances are, while you're at your costume party or passing out candy,  someone will want want to know if your flower squirts water (you are dressed as a clown, after all). If you can find a squirting flower, I say go for it!

Step 7: Optional: the Hobo Suitcase (Bindle)

Maybe you’ve seen these depicted in cartoons. A child running away from home wraps some belongings in a bandanna and ties it to a stick to make a neat carry-all called a bindle. In the case of the hobo clown, maybe he's got a few canned goods, a flask, a cheap cigar, and a comb, all rolled into a compact bundle, perfect for hopping railway cars.

Personally, I put a few old rolled-up tee-shirts in a bandanna and tied it to a golf club. You can use a broom handle, a wooden dowel, or whatever else you can find laying around your home. Be creative. Remember, the goal here is to have your get-up scream, "Hey, world! I'm a hobo!"

So, you've made your tweaks and your costume has been fine-tuned. Continue on to learn the techniques for applying your makeup.

Step 8: Makeup

What's a clown without his or her makeup?

We searched for affordable great quality make-up, as the “cheap stuff” is usually greasy and hard to work with, but couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.  So we took a trip to Wal-Mart and bought a clown makeup kit, complete with nose (although, we opted to use different noses found at a party store because they were more comfortable).  In this clown kit, you must make sure to have black, white, and red grease pens as well as at least the white and black color in a palette form.  Also, make sure you have plenty of triangle makeup sponges on hand.

1. Start by making a white outline with the white grease make-up pen around the mouth in a kidney bean shape with the arch facing down.  Feel free to follow natural lines in your face when doing this to make sure the proportions look like they fit you.  Fill in the lines using a makeup sponge, covering your lips and all.  White may be the hardest color to work with, as it is very important to get full, even coverage with the white, but also very difficult to do so. 

2. You will then want to outline the white with the black grease pen to prevent unwanted smudging between the black and white makeups. Then, make another outline with the black grease pen starting at the top end of your sideburns, curving down and back up to follow a natural line that an unshaven beard would make, and ending at the bottom of your nose.  You then want to fill in the beard with a makeup sponge and the black grease palette makeup.  It is much less important to get an even coat of the black.  In fact, you don’t want that at all.  Use your fingers and the sponge to smudge the black all the way down the face and neck, mimicking the look of a textured five o'clock shadow. 

3. As for the eyebrows, you want to follow your natural eyebrows with the black grease pen, thickening and filling it in with short controlled strokes.  Then, create the illusion of an upturned sad brow by extending your natural brow line upward towards the center.  As long as you remain straight-faced, this will give the illusion of sad eyes.

4. Now use the red grease pen to lightly line the top of the beard line on the cheeks.  All great Emmett Kelly style hobo clowns have rosy flushed cheeks, and this is how we get ours.  Carefully smudge, using your fingers, the light red line upwards until it fades into your natural skin tone.  You want the ending color to be a nice pink, not red.  

5. The very final touch adds a little bit of definition to the mouth.  Simply use the black grease pen to lightly smudge on the inside of your lips so that your mouth doesn’t get lost in all the white.  Put your hair up, if you have any. When your makeup is complete, your own mother wouldn't recognize you. She'd just think it was a hobo asking her for money, not her kid!

We're almost done. Let's go to the next step and put it all together!

Step 9: Putting It All Together

So, you made your costume and you've got what you need to make yourself up. There's only one thing left to do: put it all together!

Here are some quick tips to make enjoying your costume a bit easier:

When it comes to getting ready for the occasion, be it Halloween or a costume party, you'll want to put on your makeup first. There's no sense in getting dressed up and risking getting makeup on your costume while putting it on.

If you plan on drinking anything (punch, booze, whatever), consider using a straw. You'll be surprised how much your makeup and that awkward red nose gets in the way of a cup.

Also, while baggy is good, if you find your jacket sleeves are covering your hands, or you can't stand dragging the bottoms of your slacks around, it's okay to cuff them. You might want to consider not driving if your shoes are too big--or at least taking your right shoe off while trying to drive :)

When it comes time to get ready, after your makeup, the rest is easy. Get dressed, grab your nose and your hobo suitcase and hit the road!

Thanks for reading!

Feel free to post comments with any questions or suggestions. And be sure to post links to any costumes you make as a result of this Instructable. We'd love to see them!

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