strange like that

W.T.F.A.I.D? – Ariel Sail Dress Cosplay

What is W.T.F.A.I.D? Check out my previous post to catch up.

At the zero hour before San Diego Comic Con 2013, I thought I would try my hand at a couple new cosplays, including one as Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I decided to construct her sail dress which appears briefly in the movie after she obtains legs. The costume was deceptively tricky as I quickly found out.

The Breakdown:

I’m sure most have you have seen The Little Mermaid (possibly many times), but to give a brief recap, this outfit occurs shortly after Ariel trades her voice for legs and winds up a naked drowing human. Said nakedness follows her to the surface where she’s left on a beach and decides to start a fashion trend in boat sails and rope. (Kinky kinda?)



One of the tricky parts about this costume is that the continuity of it changes from first appearance to next. She starts out wearing something ungodly lumpy that she thinks she’s “the sex” in, to something a little more like a conventional sleeveless dress. I decided to settle somewhere in the middle for my cosplay.


Ariel’s dress de-lumpified.

I started out by crying into my whiskey and asking myself why I hated life so much as to think making this costume, along with two others, with only four days left before the convention was a good idea.


Honey Jack, you’re the only one who gets me.

Shortly after that, I went to purchase fabric. I wanted something that had a canvas look without being actual sail-grade canvas. Not only would the real deal be hard to keep up with the weight, but regular canvas tends to be a bit on the scratchy side.

After that, it was a journey to the hardware store to look at ropes and attempting not to look suspicious while feeling them up for comfort. Again, I didn’t want something scratchy that would tear skin away anywhere it touched, so I found a nice cotton and nylon blend. It was both soft and durable.


Can I accessorize or what?

Lastly, I went and bought elastic in a colour that wouldn’t show through the dress fabric. I then took my bundle home and got to work.

To make this outfit easier to put on and construct, I decided to break it into a top and bottom. The intention being that the top would be slouchy enough to cover the divide between it and the skirt. I won’t bore you with details of measuring my chest and waist to cut the elastic and fabric to size, but I will say, make sure you account for stretch. The elastic should be shorter than your natural measurements and the fabric should be cut to give you a little slack.


The raw materials.

After cutting was complete, I grabbed my bottle of Fabric Fusion. It looks like this:


Yeah, I make a complete mess when I work, so ignore the crap in the background.

I would have used my FabriTac, but it looked like this:


It’s like my glue vomited. Maybe I shouldn’t take it drinking anymore.

What the fuck, right? I have no idea either.

I then started gluing the elastic to the fabric. DON’T FUCKING DO THIS. EVER. I thought the unglued elastic at the ends would allow for enough stretch to get the pieces on. It didn’t. I had to cut out the glued down shit and start over again.


Remember to overlap the elastic enough that you get a tight stitch. Don’t just do the ends.

So I tried again, and this time I folded the fabric over and hand stitched it leaving enough room to slide the elastic in. Once that was done I, well, slid the elastic in. I then stiched the two ends together to complete the loop. I was then able to try on the bottom skirt and played with the fabric to get the look I wanted. From there it was a matter of pinning it and stitching it into place. I had a lot of freedom to play since the dress is supposed to look a little haphazard.


I then applied the same process to the top of the outfit which, without the bottom on, left me with an inappropriately short tube dress. Awesome-sauce.



The next thing that needed doing was to screw up the bottom on the skirt to look weathered and torn. Don’t fall into the trap of cutting neat triangle-shaped rips. They will look silly. The best thing to do is bunch and pull the fabric with your scissors. Alternate cutting with them and just pulling them completely open through the fabric. It messes up the edges and gives more natural looking fucked-up-ed-ness…okay, not a word, but roll with me here. Don’t be afraid to tear at the fabric with your hands and poke holes with the scissors either.


After reaching the optimal level of fucked-up-ed-ness, I needed to add a sail grommet. I looked at the ones they sell for curtains and that shit is expensive. (Guess I should have mentioned I was also working on a shoestring budget for this.) So I went over the the purse making section of a JoAnn’s and found these:


Always feel free to use things for purposes other than what is originally intended.

They came in a two pack and had little metal bits to secure them with one side being rounder with the clips and the other being flat with indents to receive the clips. I took both of the rounder sides with the metal clips since I wanted the grommet to look the same on the front and back. I cut a small hole in the fabric and secured them over it. Make sure you do not over-cut the hole or these will not work. To paraphrase the Mad Tea Party, you can always take more but you can never take less.


The nibs blend in pretty well, even closer up.

Side note on the metal nibs: during a close inspection such as above, yes, you will see the little metal bits and they look a little dorky. However, I was pretty sure no one was going to take close up beauty of it (cause that would be weird). It’s always nice to be accurate when building a costume, but allow yourself some leeway to use other materials to make your life suck less, especially when your budget is super tight. (And if you ever use these and the metal bits really bugs you, they can be easily snipped off. I left them for extra support and to save myself from glueing them to the fabric.)

Okay, back to the main story…

Now that I had the basic costume constructed, it was time to turn my attention to the rope. I could have left it as-is, but I wanted it to be less pristine. I went ahead and knotted off the ends and unwound the fibers to make the ends messy. I then took my X-Acto knife and started pulling up and severing threads all along the rope. (It’s important to work in variety when doing something like this. Change up your spacing, how much thread you pull up, et cetera. It should not be a Copy-Paste process.) When I was done the rope looked rough and nasty, but was still very soft to the touch.


If you get this kind of rope, try not to sever the nylon fibers, those are what really holds it all together and they will poke into you.



The finished product.

Okay, so now I had a functional top and bottom and a bunch of fucked up rope, but the whole thing still looked too clean when it was supposed to be made from materials that have been marinating in ocean water and sand. I was not about to go out and spend bucks on fabric dye, so I turned to my old comrade in arms: coffee.

Here, again, I did not want a uniform look, and throwing in all the fabric was just going to make it slightly darker pristine fabric. So, I bunched it all up and took my time wetting it down in spots and just rubbing it in with my fingers in others. (Dude, what am I writing here? That last sentence was like a porno script.) After the initial round of staining, I let it dry. To my mind it wasn’t junky enough, so I made a pot of coffee so strong that I’m pretty sure the fumes let me see the future. (Kevin Cosner had gills and I think everything was under water. Seriously? That was the movie that called it?) I then flicked the coffee onto the fabric to give it some nice spatters, and made sure it was darker along the edges to give everything some depth.

Keep in mind it looks a lot more dramatic wet, so don't panic if you think you went too far with it.

Keep in mind it looks a lot more dramatic wet, so don’t panic if you think you went too far with it.

I did another three rounds of this sort of staining because my OCD wouldn’t let me stop until it was just right, but the results were admittedly pretty cool:


Before and after.

Staining complete, all that was left was to secure some of the rope to the top piece to help make sure it stayed in place when tied (I did this by securing a few inches of the rope to the band with clear nylon thread), and to sling the other piece of rope around my waist.

Here’s the final result:

Photo by Eddric Lee.

Photo by Eddric Lee.

Sail dresses are sexy, I wear a sail dress now. Photo by Eddric Lee.

Sail dresses are sexy, I wear a sail dress now.
Photo by Eddric Lee.

Legs! Photo by Eddric Lee.

Photo by Eddric Lee.

While it was a much more time consuming process than I originally imagined, the results were worth it.

What do you think? Leave me a comment below, and be sure to tell me what you’d like to see next on W.T.F.A.I.D?

13 Responses to “W.T.F.A.I.D? – Ariel Sail Dress Cosplay”

  1. Caitlin says:

    How much fabric did you buy? What fabric did you go with? Were there any see through issues?
    Sorry for all the questions. I’m planning on making this over the weekend so I can have something for Halloween.

  2. Mac Beauvais says:

    Hey Caitlin! Sorry for the delayed reply!

    I bought about three yards of fabric, but I didn’t end up needing it all. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and make sure you account for your own personal sizing (some women are bustier, thinner, et cetera).

    The fabric was a light-weight, textured cotton. It had the appearance of being rougher than it was, like the look of boat sails.

    I did not have issues with the garment being too transparent, but be sure to plan on wearing nude coloured undergarments. (Avoid wearing any that are white or anything with patterns or colours.)

    Hope this is helpful! Please send me a photo of the finished result! I’d love to see it.


  3. Caitie says:

    I love the way it looked :3 it’s super cute. how did you get the skirt to layer over in the front? and make it so it is ripped at the bottom? I didn’t quite understand what you meant when you explained how to rip and tear up the bottom to make it look warn. and also how much rope did you get, and did you just cross it over in the back so you are able to tie it in the front or is it two different pieces?

  4. Lynn says:

    Hello Mac,
    I wouldn’t have stumbled on this awesome description of your sail dress, were it not that I googled “Ariel sail dress” after reading this item about Jennifer Lawrence’s high couture rope dress (and its parodies).

    You got a real killer way of writing, I was laughing all through it. What I enjoyed most was your advice to “Always feel free to use things for purposes other than what is originally intended.”
    That truely good advice to live by. I am confident this will help you through lots of uncertainties almost as much as your beloved Heny Jack! ;-)

  5. Lune says:

    Hi, I’m trying to make this costume as well, and I was wondering: what was the diameter of the grommets you used? Because I’m having a hard time figuring out what a good size is.

    Thank you in advance for answering my question!

  6. Mac Beauvais says:

    Caitie – The skirt is layered over in the front by having the fabric at the waist longer than the elastic band. That way you can bunch it up. Regarding ripping it, basically you want to slash it up with the scissors rather than cut even lines. It will look real because, well, it is real. Ha! As for the rope, it is two different pieces and I bought around seven feet to work with. However, I would recommend measuring your waist and upper chest and then adding length to that.

  7. Mac Beauvais says:

    Lune – The grommets I used were approximately 1.75″-2″ in diameter. They are meant for adding to purses, so I would try in that section of a craft store first. Hope that helps!

  8. Ellie Hoffman says:

    Hi! This is so great, you did such a wonderful job. I wanted to get a head start on my halloween costume and I saw yours and decided I must do it! I’m having a bit of a hard time seeing how you blended in the top and bottom pieces to make them look like one piece. It looks like it’s just a dress but I can’t imagine how I am going to do that. I hope that made sense! Thanks!

  9. Mac Beauvais says:

    Hey there, Ellie! I completely understand where your confusion lies on this. Here’s another example to help illustrate what I did; imagine you are wearing a skirt with a t-shirt tucked into it. Now think about pulling up the t-shirt enough that it falls out over the waistline of the skirt. Your shirt is still tucked in, but now it’s completely hiding the waistband of your skirt. That’s precisely what I did with the construction of this costume. Make more sense?

    Let me know if there are any other questions I can answer!

  10. Ellie Hoffman says:

    Thank you! That perfectly answers my question. I bought all of the materials today, except the rope, which ill try a hardware store for. Thanks so much again! If I have any more questions once I start I’ll ask :]

  11. Mac Beauvais says:

    Fantastic! I would love to see an image when it’s done. :)

  12. Ellie Hoffman says:

    Hey! I am almost done, just trying to figure out the best way to attach the rope to the top, and how to tie (?) it? Thank you so much for the help!

  13. Skye says:

    Oh thank you thank you thank you for this!!! I’m making this for my best friend for Dragoncon and I’m making myself the blue sequin dress. Super helpful and not so daunting now! ^.^

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