{The Little Mermaid Costumes, Part One}

This year’s musical feels like whirlwind experience right now, though if you had asked me about it three months ago, I might’ve told you it was going really well, and then gone off and stress cried. But now that we’re a few weeks away from our run, I feel like it all went by in a blur, and I miss it dearly. You don’t truly know until you’re in the trenches of a musical yourself, but you become a family with the people that you work with. There’s a theater quote from Amy Poehler that I think perfectly sums up the whole experience: “Time passed and the world spun but all that mattered was the thing in the room you were making together.”

It’s taken me a few weeks to write this post because I wanted to do it justice and really get my thoughts down on paper. I wanted to show off everything, but for the safety of the children involved I also wanted to take the time to blur out their faces from the photos.

The Little Mermaid is my twelfth costuming adventure, and one of my favorites. It might even be my all-time favorite. Even more than any of my other shows, I felt like I knew what I was doing the entire time. I had a plan, I was ready and I saw it out – and it came out to be just what I wanted it to be. For the most part. I took a lot of risks with it, hacking patterns and making the exact look I wanted, instead of just hunting down the pattern that looked the closest to what I wanted.

Here’s a look at some of the major costumes from the show. This will serve as part one in what will likely be a two-post series.

Ariel & the Mersisters

Before I started, everyone kept asking me how I was going to do the mermaid tails. My response was always the same: “No problem!” Well, turns out it was a little bit of a problem. I had a concept that I was dead set on, and I made it happen… and it didn’t work!! The mermaids were supposed to have tails that stuck out from their skirts with wire, and I just could not make it happen. So I left it off. But then we could see too much human leg in the costume, and so this odd, grecian column-y mermaid skirt was born, with their little tails hooked onto the sides. If we had made the skirts any tighter, the girls wouldn’t have been able to move freely and easily, and that was the top priority as they appeared in many scenes and needed to dance in a lot of them.

For the tops, I was adamant that the girls be covered up so the traditional shell bra was out of the question. Instead I created a bodice than would fully cover the girls but also give the illusion of strapless. There’s an illusion neckline so they are, again, covered up but also so they wouldn’t have to worry about pulling up a strapless top during the show or, even worse, losing it during a dance number or something.

Overall, I was very happy with how it looked, and while I would’ve preferred the tails to be a little more prominent, it worked in the end.


The concept for Ursula came to me fully formed one day. I knew it would be a bodice and a large skirt made out of eight tentacles. The skirt would have a purple underskirt and the whole thing would be structured with a hoop skirt. And while the costume changed slightly as we went along, and the tentacles didn’t stand up the way I wanted them to, the costume was AMAZING. One of my proudest moments was when someone asked me where I rented it!

This costume was not without its problems. It went together exactly how I wanted it too, but hit a few snags along the way. During our second show, our actress was walking up the aisle and her tentacle got stuck on an auditorium chair and ripped clean off! The frantic costume crew came to get me during the intermission and I quick sewed it back on! The next morning I reinforced it before our matinee, which is what I’m doing in the photo.

Flounder & Sebastian

Flounder and Sebastian and were a lot of fun! I wanted all the main characters to be a little less “sea creature-y” than their ensemble counterparts to make them stand out.

For Sebastian, I knew we wanted to emulate the Broadway show where he wears a suit. I happened upon the perfect pattern one day, a jacket with a long peplum-like structure that had the vague shape of crab claws. I stuffed them to get the extra effect. The costume was finished off with a red bodysuit to create the body of the crab and provide full coverage, as well as a pair of shorts and a top hat.

Flounder was my own creation entirely. I took a basic animal pattern and combined the traditional Flounder colors until I was happy with it. I cut out fin details created a little onesie-type garment. Though you can’t see it in the picture, there is a fin running up the back of the costume that matches the gill details on the front. I was told by the actresses playing Flounder that it was extremely comfortable, and it seemed to be the envy of the other cast members.

Scuttle & the Seagulls

The challenge with Scuttle was that I didn’t want to use real feathers. They get all over the place, and they can be slippery. So I searched high and low for something that would look like feathers, and we actually ended up using a white rosette print fabric! It was the same fabric I used on the ballgown for Belle (albeit that was yellow). Scuttle’s look was complete with an Einstein wig (because I enjoyed the irony of putting an Einstein wig on a character who is not very bright), orange leggings and a vest I had in the costume room. We even made little shoe covers for his feet!

We repeated the process for the seagull pals that Scuttle hangs out with. The only difference was that the minor seagulls had hoods attached to their costumes rather than wigs. Otherwise, they all had vests, leggings and shoe covers, just like Scuttle.

Flotsam & Jetsam

For the longest time, I kept forgetting that Flotsam and Jetsam existed in this show. I have no idea why. I attended rehearsals, I saw them onstage and yet it took a really long time for me to develop my costume concept for them. I knew I wanted a “scaly” fabric and I had a vague idea of lighting the costume up somehow (since they are electric eels), but that was as far as I got for the longest time.

I ended up using a costume pattern that I felt resembled armor, and I created a tunic-like structure. I liked the shape of it because it reminded me of the shape of an eel’s tail, and so I went with it. I even managed to get lights sewn into the costume, and for the first night, it worked perfectly! By the second night, the small wires in the lights started to break and they didn’t light up the way they were supposed to, but it was still cool to have gotten it for at least one show!

The Fish Heads

Other than Ursula, the costumes that got the most “buzz” were the fish heads I made for the ensemble. I happened upon a discontinued fish costume pattern and I went to town. The only money I spent on these fish was for the foam base under the fabric and the pattern itself. Otherwise, we had fun going through our stash and finding lots of fabric that looked “fish-like” to us. I then proceeded to fight with the craft foam and the various elements of the fish for the next couple of weeks!

One issue we had with the fish heads was that some of the girls playing the fish were very small, and despite how tight the straps were, they kept falling off the back of their heads. This problem was solved by gluing baseball caps into the heads. It worked perfectly! The fish heads stayed put even with the dance number in “Under the Sea.” The costume was finished off with a bodysuit and a little tutu. Unfortunately it was almost impossible to get a photo of the kids in the costumes, so the fish themselves will have to do for visual image.

And I think that’s enough to be getting on with for this first post. In the next installment, I’ll be talking about Ariel’s human dresses, Prince Eric, King Triton and a few of the other characters, both speaking parts and ensemble. There were forty-five student actors in the play, and many of them had multiple costumes to juggle, so there’s a lot more to chat about!

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