Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cosplay Tutorial: Lady au Pair

Illustration by Chandra Free

Yes, my Dragon*Con is going to be Venture-tastic, this year. Is anyone complaining? I didn’t think so.

Where the Dr Girlfriend costume draws on a 1960s, Jackie O. motif, Lady au Pair is more like a badass French nanny. This means lace and daisies, plus more purple than you shake a shrink ray at. The costume breaks down into three basic parts: lacy purple dress, matching hat with daisies, and white stockings and black boots.

Things you’ll need:
-3-4 yards of purple fabric. Something lightweight is probably best.
-3-4 yards of white lace.

I used Butterick pattern 6631, a Regency dress pattern that seems to be out of print, though you can still find it for sale. It worked out well, in the end, but, unless you’re good at improvisation, I’d recommend finding something else.

For the most part, I just followed the pattern as-is, using a light-weight purple fabric (that is actually identical to what I used for my Dr. Girlfriend costume). Obviously, the skirt needs to be cut shorter than the pattern calls for, and you should measure from just below your bus line to wherever you want the skirt to fall.

The two things that gave me some trouble were the sleeves and the back. The sleeves are gathered, which is inherently a pain in the ass, and the pattern requires that you also make lining for the sleeves because they are impossible to hem. Something you should know about me is that I never line anything unless I absolutely have to, mostly because I am lazy and don’t care, and there was no way I was making those sleeves twice. The good news is that the lace trim around the edges makes hemming the sleeves unnecessary.

The back of the dress was another story.

I stared at that pattern for hours, and I still don’t understand how the back is supposed to work. I wound up just folding in the skirt as needed and folding down the sides of bodice back so that it came to a V shape. Since it wasn’t meant to do that, I had to put in something to hold it up, so I used a piece of pearl chain, sewed into the dress on one in with a hook sewn in at the other. It looks a little funky, up close, but it’s fine at a distance. The whole thing actually looks kind of cool.

The other modification I made was to put an inset in the neckline, because it came down way too far. All you have to do for that is cut two triangles big enough to cover the area you want, stitch the hypotenuses together and fold to create a clean edge for the top, and sew it into the neckline. It’s super easy.

Finally, every edge of the dress gets edged with white lace. You would think this would be the easy part, but this is where I made the most screw-ups. To start with, I used off-white lace, because I thought it would look good with the purple, and realized later that it didn’t match my white stockings. This isn’t a big deal, but I felt really dumb. Then I didn’t buy enough lace... twice. If you’re attempting this costume, take heed: You will need much more lace than you think you do. When all was said and done, I think I wound up using somewhere shy of four yards. I also used a wider lace for the bottom hem for complicated reasons related to my dumbassery, but it looked okay.

I hand stitched the lace, which took about 8 hours, total. Specifically, it took something like 10 or so episodes of Fringe.

Things you’ll need:
-Medium brimmed straw hat.
-Purple spray paint.
-1/2 yard of black ribbon.
-Silk or plastic gerber daisies.

If you can’t figure this one out, you may be too stupid to costume.

I found an appropriately shaped straw hat for $3 at the Goodwill and spray-painted it purple. If you need to paint, you’ll probably want to get a matte paint, rather than a gloss, because straw hats aren’t supposed to be shiny. I was painting over a light blue and got it covered to my satisfaction in about three coats.

I was only able to find the daisies in a bouquet, not singly, but you’re going to be cutting them, anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. I cut two daisies as close to the flower as possible and cut a third with a 4-5 inch stem. I (carefully) hot-glued the ribbon around the crown of the hat, using straight pins to hold it in place. Once the glue was dry, I glued the two short daisies flat against the ribbon so that they overlapped. I glued the cut end of the long-stemmed daisy under the ribbon on the other side of the crown. I used straight pins to hold all three of the in place. Be sure to use enough glue, especially on the long-stemmed flower, since it’s more likely to come off.

Stockings and Boots
Things you’ll need:

Though it’s nearly impossible to find good reference pictures for Lady au Pair (or good Venture Bros. screencaps period) her boots seem to be standard black combat-style, which works as a fantastic counterpoint to the hyper-feminine look of the dress. You can get comfortable, relatively cheap combat boots online, but you'll have to shop around a bit. To save money, I went in a different direction and used a pair of heeled black ankle boots that I already had.

You can get white stockings just about anywhere that sells underwear or lingerie. I had a pair of lacy white thigh-highs left over from another costume, which work great, and I bought them at The Den of Evil Wal-Mart. You’ll probably want to invest in some kind of garment adhesive, like sock glue or adhesive strips, to help your stockings stay up. Come Dragon*Con, I’ll probably be borrowing Sabine’s body adhesive from Sock Dreams. This kind of stuff is a good investment for any cosplayer and is something you’ll want to carry with you at con.

Hair, Make-up, and Accessories

Hair is less of a concern for Lady au Pair than for Dr. Girlfriend, since it’s mostly covered by the hat, but a few little curls peeking out the bottom won’t be amiss. Make-up is almost identical, though I’m using a purple eyeshadow instead of blue. The only major accessory is a purse, the saga of which I will detail in a later post.

Some Lady au Pair cosplayers include Moppet dolls as part of the costume. I chose not to because, one, it’s a lot of extra work I don’t have time for, and, two, I hate the Moppets. If you want your own super-creepy tiny assassins, however, there are tips for making them out of regular baby dolls here. As far as I can tell, there’s no place to buy actual Moppet dolls or instructions on making them from scratch. If I ever become possessed by an evil demon and attempt such a project, I’ll let you know.

This costume wasn’t quite the feat of engineering that Dr. Girlfriend was, but it had it’s own challenges. In the end, I was really pleased with the results, and I think the dress is one that will work even in a non-cosplay context.

Production time: About one month.
Final Cost: Aprx. $15, not including sunk cost of boots and stockings.



  1. Very cool. And, OMG! I used a variation of that Butterick pattern #6630 to make a "Jane Austen as a Vampire" costume a couple of years ago and it was a freakin' nightmare! Especially the lining for the puff sleeves, which DID NOT MATCH the pattern. In the end, I had to skip lining parts of it, which was a pain, since my fabric is dark purple with black ribbon and my interfacing is white, so I couldn't ever take the coat off (my pattern has the full length coat not just the half one). Also, the back bottom panel of the coat was about 4 inches shorter than the side panels, but I didn't figure this out until I had already sewn it all together, so I did a patch hem job to hide it. Maybe it was only my size (10/12/14) but it was a mess.


  2. Oh god, that pattern is a pain, isn't it? I love the look, but lord in heaven never again.

    I bet your Jane Austen vamp costume turned out fabulous, though. :)