Introduction: Roman-esque Soldier Uniform - From Cardboard!

About: I'm an engineer. I problem solve all day, problem solve all night. I LOVE learning, and I love teaching what I learn. I want to post more, but time constraints stop me.

This instructable will show you how I made a Roman-esque Centurion/Legionnaire/soldier outfit.

Some background: I previously made a version of this costume in about 5 hours with some tape, cardboard, and spray paint about 12 years ago. The costume was passable, but boring and bland. This year I decided I was going to re-make this version to be more interesting, and more visually appealing.

I pulled together some ideas for texture, design, and flair to the costume, all while trying to keep it cheap and with the tools that I already had.

If you have better ideas about how to do stuff, post it - this outfit is FAR from perfect!

I do NOT claim to know anything about Roman history, armor, suits, etc. Please don't criticize me on it. I only wanted something that looked cool and was easy to make.

Also, any issues that may come from this are not my fault.

Step 1: Assemble Tools and Materials


To make this outfit, I used:

Cardboard boxes
  • $FR.EE, from my work
Silvery buttons
  • Given by a friend
Silver and Black spray paint
  • 1x1x~$5.00 a can (I already had these)
Dark Red paint
  • $2.00 a bottle (already had this)
Red cloth
  • $1.00
Belts (one nice, one cheapo looking)
  • 2x$2.00
Hot Glue
  • $1.00
Wood Glue
  • $4.00 for 1 liter bottle (already had this)
Red T-shirts::
  • 2x $4.00
Small natural bristle broom
  • 2x $2.00
  • 6 inches $1.00
Plastic folder
  • already had one, probably $1.00
Plastic sword and shield
  • 2x $1.00


Hobby knife
Hot Glue Gun
Duct tape
Grommet tool (these are cheap)

Step 2: Start the Helmet

This was by far the most difficult part of the entire costume.


First, I molded a headband that fits around my head. I put a strap across the crest to keep it from slipping down over my eyes. After I was positive of a comfortable shape, I stapled it together.

This crest strap will hold all the sides of the shell to form the helmet shape. Also, the mohawk piece will glue on top of this piece.

Cheek flaps

These are supposed to tie under your chin, they're notched at the bottom to allow you to look down and not choke yourself, but I misjudged their length and cut them so they meet up with my chin.

I'd recommend making them longer. it's easy to see that these are cardboard from looking at the interior surface.

Step 3: Form the Helmet's Shape and Profile

Rough it out (images 1-3)

I sketched out a few ideas of what I wanted the helmet to look like (I should have looked at some real images on the web) and cut out a few pieces of cardboard. I taped these in place to get a feel of what the sizes would be like.

I'm a firm believer of test-fitting with tape, then secure it permanently.

Get started, get gluing

After I knew what shape I wanted to create, I curved a piece of cardboard so it fit most of the way around the circumference of the helmet. (images 4-8)

I wanted this to fold over and act as the curved section of the helmet. I cut long slits down the center of it so I could curve it and fold the flaps over. (image 4)

Other points

One crucial point in forming the shell is to flatten the cardboard as thin as it will go, this will allow you to mold the curved shape into the paper. If you don't, you'll end up with a folded (and creased) piece of cardboard. (image 4)

Pay attention to the direction of the corrugation (the lines) in the paper, this will help keep your cardboard smooth and crease free. -- Creases are ugly. (image 2)

I used my shins to make the main curve of the cardboard. Use anything that will sufficiently and easily curve your cardboard. (image 8)

Use hot-glue. Anything else is a waste of time. It's fast and perfect on cardboard.

Step 4: Create the Helmet Crest

This part was rather difficult to make it look how I wanted it to look. In the end, it looks fine, but I'm still overly critical of it.

The BROOM!!! (images 1-4)

I cut apart 2 brooms since I found that one didn't cover the area that I wanted. I ended up using 1.5 brooms. The brooms I found were a bit expensive in the dollar store - around 2 dollars. I cut them apart and saved the pieces.

The bristles are bundled with wire - DO NOT CUT THE WIRE!! You will make a mess and make it much more difficult to mount. I'm fairly sure that most brooms have a twisted wire configuration to hold the bristles in.

I tried using my airbrush to paint the bristles - man, how naive I was. I recommend using thinned red paint (deep crimson, like dried blood color) and painting it on with a paint brush. It wasn't perfect, but it worked well enough.

The crest holder

I traced the curve of the helmet on a piece of cardboard to make a template (images 4,5,6). I then used the template to create curved sections on larger pieces of cardboard. I oversized the rough curve so I could incorporate flaps on the bottom to attach to the helmet.

I then used this template to cut curved pieces to sandwich the broom between, since I knew that I'd need to attach the broom at another time. I eyeballed the whole thing including the flap size. Flexibility of design is key.

I made the crest holder a little thicker than the broom bristle bundle for two reasons.
1. I wanted to make it look robust, and I needed the surface area to make a strong bond with the glue.
2. I sandwiched the broom section between two pieces of curved cardboard. This gave me flexibility in case I messed up and glued them incorrectly - I wouldn't damage the crest holder re-positioning the broom location.

The sandwiched pieces were then glued into the crest holder. I failed to make sure that the crest was perfect, so the mohawk is just slightly crooked.

No one cares but me.

Step 5: Create Body Armor!

First, get some casting iron

Kidding - this is really easy. Get a box.
Put it on and guess/find out the shape of your body armor

Cut it out.

Attach velcro.

You're done.

It can be that simple, unless you're me.

Find box

Luckily the box that I had was the perfect size for my body. It fit my torso and covered all that I wanted to cover. I just needed to cut the shape.

I HIGHLY recommend using the inside of the box! There are less likely hood of damage, tape, and annoying writing and labels on the inside.

Cut out shape

to cut the shape, I recommend removing as much material while maintaining the integrity of the box. This sucker gets hot when wearing it indoors. I'm glad that I cut the sides into straps, rather than keeping them solid - I sweat a lot while wearing this suit.

Attach velcro

Velcro is not mandatory, but I'll tell you, it's easy to get in and out of, and I can do it by myself. My Halloween designs always need to be practical.

Step 6: Add Some Flair to the Chest Armor (optional)

These steps are not necessary, but they'll make you look much cooler.

Eagle chest plate (images 1 &2)

I found this small toy shield at a dollar store. It looks good for armor. It was cheap.

Sounds good to me.

Since the shield was recessed, I mounted some cardboard to the interior of the shield. I used wood glue - which doesn't work well on plastic - use hot glue to begin with and you're fine and dandy.

I glued it to the center of the chest. Hence the words "chest plate"

Shoulder straps (images 4, 5, &6)

This is the part that I think makes the outfit. I think the cape and buttons make it pop out, especially since others can see them fairly quickly.

I got the buttons from a bag of buttons my girlfriend got from her friend. Silver, big and shiny were perfect!

I got the belt from the dollar store - It had a decorative embossing on it that I liked and would go well with the decorative armor of the Roman-esque cardboard legion. No, it's not leather.

After cutting the straps to the right length, I glued a button down on the end of the strap that would be facing my back, . On the reverse side of that end, I mounted velcro to attach to the back shoulders of the chest armor.

The side that faces the front is a little more complicated. I folded the corner of the red cloth that would be my cape. I used my grommet tool and grommetted thru the folded cape corner and the strap. (image 6)

On the armor side, I used a piece of plastic from a folder (image 7) and cut it. I then grommetted thru the chest armor with two holes. (you'll first need to cut holes in the plastic - that stuff is tough!)

Now, thru the grommet in the strap, I ran cord thru the button, thru the two chest holes and tied them with knots on the inside of the chest armor.

This side is more complicated because it's more likely to experience twisting, as well as having more things tying down to the same location. Velcro wouldn't hold up in this location.

Step 7: The Man-skirt; No, Not a Kilt.

I seem to remember Romans having some sort of skirt. I could be wrong. I'm too lazy to look up the real information on the net.

The Slats (image 1)

First, I cut slats out from the boxes I had. I cut them length-wise because they were the longest in that direction. I used the inside of the box for the visible side because of aforementioned labels and such.

I cut out a lot of them, but I made 4 that were wider than the others. (all cut with eyeball precision) The 4 that were wider would be the two center slats that go in the front and back.

Get a belt (images 1-2)

I got a belt from the dollar store. It barely fits on the last hole.(image 5)

I need to go on a diet.

Attach to belt (images 3-4)

I guessed a total of 12 slats in all. 4 for the center, and 8 for the left and right sides. I rotated the belt to my hip so that center slats wouldn't be on the buckle. This worked out well because i was then able to attach the sword sheath to my belt quickly and off to the side. (images 4-5)

I marked the location of each slat, as well as it's number (the slats are all different sizes from my guesstimations) I used duct tape and folded it over once on top of the belt.

if you leave 1cm (or 1/4 inch) between the cardboard and the belt, the slats hang more freely and act less like cardboard. (image 3)

By using the inside, I was happy that that turned the creases outward to allow for more flexibility in the outfit. That was a lucky find.

Add second row of slats(image 7)

The previous version had only one row of slats. I remarked to myself that it would be better if it had 2 rows to add some depth. So I cut some of the left over slats in half and taped them to the top, offset from the large row.

Cut points at the bottom (image 7) =

I eyeballed the same distance on each piece and cut a point on them. I figured I could re-use the scrap triangles that came from cutting each piece. This gave me something to decorate my skirt with.

Using the scrap triangles, I hot-glued them just above the point on the bottom. This added some features to an otherwise boring skirt.

You can make the skirt in about 1 hour.

Step 8: Texture!

Texture was what my previous costume lacked. Without it, my costume looked like a piece of spray painted cardboard. I thought long and hard of what would work.

I don't recommend using hot-glue to make texture, though I think you could make some really creative shapes and such. Hot-glue has a high content of silicone in it, which makes it difficult to paint, or at least to keep the paint adhered to it. Also, hot-glue scratches easily and the paint will come with it. This is bad. I'm working with kids all day, so i want them to be able to touch it and punch my armor.

Glue, man! Glue!

I had a eureka moment as I looked thru my tool area - I have a huge bottle of wood glue. This is essentially really high viscosity Elmer's glue. If you have a lot of elmers, this will work just as well. To start with, I tested the glue/paint combo on a piece of cardboard.

Step 9: How to Apply Texture.

This can be used for a variety of different things - not just this costume, I started getting some awesome ideas for what i could do with this technique, but alas, I get distracted too easily, so those were put to rest.

A border (Images 1-5)

I tried a number of techniques to try to get the glue to do what I wanted. I tried using a piece of plastic with a profile of the shape I wanted and tried dragging it around like clay... This really didn't work. it was too irregular.

I decided in just laying a bead of glue to make the border of the shape. I knew that the bead doesn't dry uniformly and tends to create a crease in the middle (images 2 and 5), but I figured I could cover the border glue bead with the swirly texture pattern.

A brush (image 9)

I made a brush from the cut off ends from my broom - a little duct tape and you have a perfect swirling brush. The tape should be fairly close to the end of the bristle, when i tried to use it on the other end, the bristles started breaking.

A texture

Simply squirting glue onto the cardboard, (image 6) I used the bottle's attached glue spreader (images 7-8). This is perfect in that

1. The thickness is even, uniform, and easy to spread. The engineers who designed the glue know exactly what thickness to make the spreader. I'm not going to question them.
2. With the correct thickness, it dries evenly. This is the best part, it keeps the shape when it dries evenly and doesn't warp.
3. The glue doesn't stick (permanently) to it. Easy to clean.

Use the brush and make whatever patterns in the glue you want. One day, I'm going to try to sculpt dragons out of this glue - I was thinking that when I was testing the glue. I chose swirls for their quickness and aesthetically pleasing curves.

Wait one day for the glue to dry. Then feel free to move onto painting.

Step 10: Paint It!

I've studied some painting techniques before - nothing complicated, just that in order to make some colors stand out, you use a darker color underneath to highlight the visible color.

I used black and a smattering of silver to give the texture some depth.

Start black (images 2-4)

Paint everything black. make sure that all surfaces are covered, especially the texture. Cardboard absorbs all the color, so only one coat is necessary.

Add Silver (images 5-7)

Go sparingly on the silver. you don't need much, and in fact, the less the better. It makes the metallic color darker, like steel. also, if you can, try to paint the silver downwards, this will give the texture more depth since the top surface will be brighter and the bottom surface will be darker.

Don't forget to hold the can the distance specified on the can. Mine was about 8-9 inches. with the silver this is ESPECIALLY important since you don't want to completely cover the black.

The crest/broom (image 1)

I had a lot of difficulty with this. I thought I'd be able to use my airbrush to paint it, but this turned out to be more pain than it was worth. I ended up using my paintbrush and dabbing the paint onto the visible areas. This was the best method, but took a long time. I recommend using a lot of thinner and a broad paint brush to spread the color around. It doesn't need to be perfect, just enough for people to see that it's red and not think it's a broom..

Step 11: Conclusion!

Get two red T-shirts, preferrably the same color and make yourself a tunic. one shirt is normal, the other shirt will be cut and tied around your waist to make the skirt. If they're the same color, they will look like one tunic.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, you're done. =

Go feed some Christians to lions, dominate a continent, build a road, and speak Latin. you now have a Roman-esque soldier's uniform.

People get a kick out of watching me ride my bike wearing this outfit. I'm wearing it for a week since I have kid's classes until the 31st (Halloween) so everyday is like halloween for me. After 3 days (already) it's still holding up with some torn duct tape on the belt, and some frayed edges from being rubbed. I sweat a lot because I'm standing around in this outfit.

The best part is walking around telling people your name is Biggus D---us. And that you command that they "Wewease Woger!"