Black and White Silent Film Costume + Makeup Tutorial




Introduction: Black and White Silent Film Costume + Makeup Tutorial

About: KimmiKillZombie is a Lipstick Addict, Horror Junky, and Vegan just outside of Toronto, Canada. When she's not busy blogging, Kimmi can be found at local concerts, dyeing her hair, making a crafty disaster on...

Re-Create the Era of Black-and-White Film, And You're The Star!

In Four Steps, and One Additional Bonus Step.
A Paramound Picture

....Okay, that was cheesy. Here is a tutorial for a classic costume for your next costume party! It takes a little bit of time to set up and apply- but the materials, accessories and wardrobe are affordable and easy to source. It's a really original and recognizable costume that hasn't been done to death.

It doesn't require any sewing or particular skills. The main component of this costume is the makeup work, which is quite simple when you use my shnazzy trick! (Step 2)

Good luck!

Step 1: Source Your Wardrobe and Accessories

Finding the wardrobe for this costume is quite simple. Also, because you aren't purchasing a flimsy, pre-packaged 'halloween'-labelled product - you can save a boatload of money by sourcing your pieces from a thrift or second-hand store.

Before you head out, a few tips,

+ First, pick what time period your going for. Black and white films spanned quite a few fashion eras. We opted for a silent film era, but the fashion of the black and white talkies is also a good choice.

+ Stay within your era. If you aren't too familiar with the dress of the time, research! Don't add elements to your costume that don't fit your era. If going as a couple or group, try to all stay within the same era.

+ Remember, you're not trying to look like you're wearing solid black and white. You want to look like you have been grey-scaled. Try to add some grey elements to your accessories and wardrobe. Having a straight black-and-white outfit looks too contrived, and takes away from the costume.

+Watch your greys. When adding new grey elements to your costume, have any you've already selected on-hand to compare together. Some greys have blue, or even brownish undertones. It's best to try to stay within the same grey-tone, or the costume will not come off correctly.

+ Cover your skin. The more you have covered, the less of you have to paint! Unfortunately the flapper-era for women bared a lot of shoulders, but you can get around revealing all of that arm real-estate by purchasing a long pair of gloves. The gloves also help when you go to the washroom, you don't have to worry about washing all of the paint off of your hands. For ladies, a dress is a must. Source a pair of opaque grey tights or leggings. Either match the grey tone of your skin paint if you're looking for a 'nude' leg, or pick a darker shade of grey to look like you have dark but translucent pantyhose on.

+Little details. If your fingernails will be exposed, apply a creme black or grey polish. Wear black socks. Be sure the soles of your shoes are black.

Step 2: Source Your Makeup and Bodypaint.

Firstly, the paint. Don't purchase grease paint (most-all of the 'Halloween' branded products). Find water-soluble body paint. This dries completely. It won't rub off, and you won't get product on everything you touch. This can be found at any clown supply, professional body/face paint shops, or theatre supply store. There are a ton of different brands and types available, and generally as a rule, the more expensive- the better the quality. (A good benefit of Halloween night is that most parties and events are kept quite dark, so you can get away with a cracked or slightly less-opaque-than-intended base if you ultimately opt for a cheaper brand.) For our costume I purchased MEHRON's liquid makeup in 'Monster Grey', 'Black' and 'White. I also recommend you have a bunch of triangle cosmetic sponges on hand. I tried quite a few different applicators, but found these gave the most realistic texture. For around the eyes, mouth, and details, also have an angled cosmetic brush, and a small, flat lip brush. For finishing touches, a black eyeliner stick or pencil as well as black mascara are required.

TIP: The most difficult part of this costume is color matching. If you don't have any experience blending and mixing colors, you can make your own handy guide to help you 'eyeball'. Take a photo of yourself. (Ladies, if you want your costume to be in full makeup, do your eyebrows, put on a lipstick in a color your character would wear.) Open the photo in any image editing software and greyscale it. Print it out and have it nearby to reference when you are mixing your different shades.

Step 3: Mix and Apply Your Base

Before you apply any makeup, set up a station. We took over the kitchen table because the kitchen is the easiest hassle-free spot for slops and spills. Avoid carpeted areas. Put on an undershirt or tank top, that you can wear under your costume.If you are wearing a wig, get your hair up and in your wig cap. Try on your final outfit and make a final note of the areas covered by material, and all exposed areas. Example; how high is your collar? Where do your sleeves end? Is the back of your neck exposed?

Now that you are ready, mix your base. I used disposable paper plates as they are easy to clean up. Don't use your grey pigment right out of the bottle. Especially if you are going as a group or couple, you want each person to have a varying skintone, everyone will not the same shade when grey-scaled. If you are fair, mix a very light grey. If you have deep, olive skin, mix a drop of black to darken the base grey.

Apply in a stippling fashion with the sponge, covering all exposed areas. Go section by section, doing your hands last. Allow the makeup to completely dry before moving around, talking, or eating a ton of candy.

Try to apply the makeup opaque on the first go. When it dries, don't go over it again. Applying the paint too heavily will cause crackling and you will end up with a 'broken doll' or 'ancient statue' effect. If you make a mistake, use a damp cloth or clean damp sponge to wipe away the bloop. Allow the area to dry before trying again.

TIP: If you purchased a cheaper brand of makeup like I did, or you anticipate many bathroom visits to be had, scoop a little bit of your base and an extra sponge into a small tupperware for touch-ups throughout the night. Hands, lips, and the neck are key areas that your make-up will fade, crackle, or flake off.

Step 4: Final Touches

Mix a greytone that is slightly darker than your skin for your hair. Don't go straight to black. If you have fair hair, or really dark hair- consult your grey-scaled photograph to mix a color.  Using a fresh sponge, apply makeup on all facial hair and eyebrows. If facial hair is fine or particularly styled, a makeup foundation brush works best.

For your head, dampen a comb and style hair to your era. Using a sponge apply paint to hair in a sweeping motion, following the direction the hair has been styled. For short hair and areas where there is a part or skin is exposed, use the same stippling motion with a sponge from before.

Line waterline with black eyeliner. Finish with black mascara.


Blush: mix the tiniest drop of black into your base tone. Apply in a checkmark shape, a touch on the apples, and a line up the hollow of your cheek, ending at your ears. Once most of the pigment on the sponge has been applied, feather out your edges by stippling the pigment. If you have trouble blending your line, dip your sponge in a bit of your base pigment and blend it with the still damp blush edges.

Crease: Using your slightly darkened base color, apply it as if it were a cream eyeshadow to your crease and the outer corners of your eyes. Use the same blending technique above to feather your edges.

Lips: Match a shade depending on the lip color you want to emulate. Typically, lips were a darker shade of grey. Using a lip brush, paint your lips on. Be sure to take a look at the lip shapes of your particular era as makeup was quite styled during this period, especially lips and eyebrows.

Brows: Match a color and apply, either matching the natural shape of your brows, or creating an exaggerated interpretation of the brows of that era.

Highlight: Mix a drop of white into your base. Apply on brow bone, center of eyelids, cheekbones, tip of nose, and top of cheekbones to add a touch of definition to your face. This step is optional, as it is very subtle.

Finish with eyeliner and mascara.


(This additional step applies to Silent Film eras only.)

Add that extra touch to your costume by arriving in character with silent film dialogue cards! Using one of the many templates online ( Like this one, or this one), design a few different cards to 'speak' throughout the night!

Here are some suggestions:

+ "Hello!"
+ " Why yes!'
+ "No, thank-you"
+ "Indeed!"
+ "Ha! Ha!"
+ "What a most splendid costume!"
+"Yes, it is a bit perplexing. I am a silent film star!" (In response to "What are you dressed up as?")
+"I have very limited cards, so probably not long." (In response to "How long are you going to keep this up?")

Alternatively, if you don't want to switch through cards, you can simply print out a single one with a notable quote from a silent film. Here are a few ideas;

+ "Behold! She is singing to bring down the chandelier!" - The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
+ "$750, oh how I saved and slaved for you. Nobody will ever have you." - Greed (1924)
+ "Spirits surround us on every side... they have driven me from hearth and home, from wife and child." - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
+ "Is this your wife? What a lovely throat." - Nosferatu (1922)
+ "There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." - Metropolis (1927)



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    8 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I get what you're trying to do, and I hate to be the odd one out here, but it does look slightly racist. It just looks a little too much like blackface


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    This is completely NON racist and so far from black-face, the differences are glaring.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    It would be interesting to show pictures actually converted to B/W in photoshop and then side by side the same picture in color.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This looks really great. The dialog cards are perfect.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent instructable.
    The dialogue cards are an inspired idea.
    I was thinking about the best way to print them. To keep the traditional white text on black would be expensive on ink if printing at home. I think the best way would be to make JPEG files and have them printed as photographs at a photo store (or order online) I think 5"x7" prints would be OK for size and the unit price for machine prints is not too much.