While filming the MUTATION YouTube series, my friend Ben and I designed our own wasteland costumes. I took on the role of James Gray while Ben portrayed Joe Junkman. In preparing our costumes, there was a lot of reworking of both concept and costume ideas. Originally, I thought James Gray would be either a soldier in light combat armor or a generic post-apocalyptic survivor (hoodie, gasmask, jean, etc). Ultimately, both of those ideas were rejected. Instead, James Gray’s motif shifted toward a futuristic parody of WWI Australian cavalry, distinguishing MUTATION’s setting from other post-apocalyptic worlds.
To construct both James Gray and Joe Junkman, Ben and I went to our local Goodwill. Living near a military base, I found a long sleeve desert camo jacket that would become the base of the outfit. I then set to work on making the jacket more wastelandish. I began by unevenly cutting off the sleeves, making them seem torn. Then both Ben and I submerged our outfits in a mound of desert sand. This made the outfits course and uncomfortable, but most importantly it made them look lived in as though these characters have been marching across the wasteland for months.
To complete the outfit’s skeleton, I collected green camo shorts that offset the gray and brown camo jacket. I then grabbed a pair of crumbling 20 year old work boots. The walnut color contrasted both the desert sand and the jacket. The rawhide laces completely deteriorated during filming. Finally, I picked up an “Aussie” slouch hat and gave it a dirt bath. Thinking of stereotypical Aussie hats with crocodile teeth, I decided to give Gray a hatband of bullets, adding to the wasteland feel and reflecting the violent environment.
With the bulk of James Gray’s outfit put together, I now added detail to the torso. As Gray is a soldier, I thought it would be fitting for him to display some awards. For this, I used some old ROTC ribbons and medals (not caring about what they represent or their order). I added a button depicting WWII airplane’s to the collar of Gray’s shirt; this adds a little color flair to his appearance, a sense of scavenging, and subtly reinforces a militaristic history on close ups. Next, I gave Gray a bear claw necklace to reinforce his status as a wasteland survival expert and perhaps give his character a sense of tribalism, subtly reminding the audience that society has regressed to a constant struggle for survival. Finally, I latched a belt around Gray’s mid-section to break up the camo jacket and add a little of the WWI motif.
Moving on to the belt, I wanted Gray to feel like a survivor who lives in the world and has his own story (because he does). To do this, I first gave him a small brown bag that hangs from his side. This bag is filled with MUTATION’s currency: dog tags, military challenge coins, and squadron patches. Next, I hung a Nalgene bottle from Gray’s waist; the water in the bottle decreases in each episode, adding to the sense that Gray and Junkman are really living out in the wasteland. As a last minute addition, I picked up a leather hunting bag. The sand colored leather contrasted well in the desert environment and although it was cumbersome to carry around, I feel that it added a lot to the character.
Finally, I focused on the tiny details, details which the audience won’t see, but that add to Gray’s personality. I filled Gray’s pockets with trinkets and items he would find useful, but that served no purpose in the show. A comb, cards, a bottle of pills, multiple pocket knives, dog-tags, and other trinkets helped me to think about how James Gray responds to the world he lives in. Additionally, James Gray wears two watches, one for California time and the other for Australian time, a constant reminder of his lost homeland. Although these ideas are less present in the show itself, they were developed further in The Journal of Joe Junkman, the MUTATION novel (in progress), and James Gray’s twitter account.
Even though the MUTATION YouTube series is still some ways away and may even be somewhat outdated as both Ben and I have dramatically improved on our writing, acting, and editing since the original filming, I thought it would be helpful to share what I found to be most important in constructing a post-apocalyptic costume. Whether at Wasteland Weekend, Halloween, or just for fun, your post-apocalyptic outfit tells a story. I’ve always said that a living breathing fictional world is more impressive than one that only serves to tell a particular story.
I hope this break down has helped you to think about the subtleties of wasteland attire. You can tell a lot about a person by their clothes and body language, but you can more easily tell when loving details have been added to enhance the experience. Costume detail and loving design is something that has been a pillar of post-apocalyptic fiction and I hope it continues to charm and delight. As you move forward with your own costume design, I want you to consider if your wasteland alter ego is just you in a tattered outfit or something more.