How to make an authentic gladiator costume

Updated April 17, 2017

Since the biblical era, gladiators have enjoyed legendary status. Depicted in art, classic literature, modern movies and poetry, Roman gladiators have been lauded for their strength and valour during the expansion and rule of the Roman Empire. Roman gladiator costumes can be used for Halloween costumes, passion plays and historical re-enactments. Party goers and actors alike can make their own low-cost gladiator costumes from household materials while including detail to give the outfits an authentic look.

Rinse out the plastic milk container with soap and hot water.

Cut the milk container into a helmet shape. Hold the milk container upside down and use scissors to cut its top off horizontally where the end of the handle joins the base. Rest the empty milk container on top of your head and use your permanent marker to outline thick and long sideburn shapes on the milk carton in front of your ears. Extend your lines upward to trace where your hairline will fall and frame your face. Remove the milk container from your head and cut along the lines you've drawn to open the face area and create the helmet flaps from the exaggerated sideburn shapes. Make one cut up the back of the container to the point where the back meets the top of the helmet (the base of the carton), to allow for fit and give so you can wear the helmet later.

Spray paint the milk container with metallic gold spray paint. Lay the milk container, base up, on unfolded newspaper resting on the floor. Hold the spray paint can at least 6 inches from the container and cover with gold paint. Spray the inside rim of the container with gold spray paint and allow to dry.

Use a silver or black permanent marker to create detailing on the golden helmet. Draw curlicues beginning at the centre of the helmet and extending across the forehead. Draw vertical curlicues down the helmet's ear flaps to mimic ornate Roman detailing.

Create the top of the helmet using corrugated cardboard. Lay out your corrugated cardboard on a table and place your milk container helmet on top of it. Use your permanent marker to trace the top of the helmet using a horizontal line and extend two 3-inch lines from each endpoint, one pointing northwest and another pointing northeast. Join the tops of the extension lines in an arc that follows the shape of the helmet's top. Use scissors to cut this shape out of the corrugated cardboard. Lay the helmet top on newspaper and spray paint it red.

Assemble the helmet. Place a dab of hot glue on the end of each feather and attach the feathers to the top of the helmet by pushing them into the corrugated cardboard holes. Use scissors to cut the plumes to a 2½-inch height. Hot glue the helmet top to the golden helmet base.

Cut the pleather material into Roman skirt shapes. Measure the distance between your waist and knee using the tape measure. Lay out the pleather fabric on a table and make a cut with scissors that is equal to the distance you measured. Make a parallel cut of equal distance 1½ inches to the right of your first cut. Make two 45-degree angled cuts at the end of your two original cuts so that they join in a point resembling a picket fence plank.

Attach the pleather cutouts to the belt. Measure around your waist with the measuring tape and repeat the cutting process until the total width of your pleather pieces equals your waist measurement. Staple the straight edge of the pleather cutouts to the belt.

Create a breastplate and wrist cuffs from the cardboard. Take your tank top and lay it on the cardboard. Use the permanent marker to trace around the tank's edges, leaving at least a ¾-inch margin on each side. Flip the tank vertically on the cardboard to create a mirror image and trace it again. Cut out the combined shape from the cardboard using scissors, making sure to cut out the combined head and neck hole as well. Lay the cardboard cutout on the newspaper and spray paint it with metallic silver paint and allow to dry. Use a permanent marker to add muscle detailing to the chest side of the breastplate. Cut two 2-inch-wide strips from the remaining cardboard and form around each wrist. Add 1 inch to the wrapped length and staple each strip into a circle, cutting off excess cardboard with scissors. Spray paint the ensuing wrist cuffs gold and add detailing with your silver permanent marker.

Make and attach a cape to your breastplate. Cut out a long square of red fabric. Measure the distance from your shoulders to your posterior for the length of the cape and half that measurement for its width. Use safety pins to attach the cape to the top of the breastplate, pinning the sides of the cape around the top of the cardboard breastplate to create heft. Punch a hole in the back and front of the breastplate on either side, knotting an 8-inch piece of yarn through each hole.

Create a cardboard sword. Lay down your cardboard and trace a sword shape of 60 cm in length onto it. Cut out the shape with scissors. Spray paint the handle and hilt of the sword with gold spray paint. Wrap the area above the hilt with tin foil.

Assemble the gladiator costume. Place the cape and breastplate piece on your body, with your head poking through the centre hole. Secure the sides by tying the yarn together on either side of the chest piece. Place the helmet on your head and the cardboard cuffs on your wrists. Don the breastplate and bike shorts. Fasten the belt with attached skirt around your waist and wear your sandals. Cut four 14-inch lengths of leather string, looping and knotting one on either side of each sandal. Wrap the leather string around your calves in a crisscross pattern and tie together mid-calf. Carry your sword for effect.


Lace-up leather sandals can be substituted for regular sandals with attached leather string.


Use spray paint in a well-ventilated area or outdoors to prevent inhalation. Use a smock when spray painting to protect your clothes and home from paint stains.

Things You'll Need

  • Metallic gold, silver and red spray paint
  • Silver and black permanent markers
  • Two cardboard boxes
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Red feathers
  • Scissors
  • Bolt of brown pleather fabric
  • Bolt of red cotton fabric
  • 4-litre milk container
  • Tan yarn
  • Hot glue gun
  • Tin foil
  • Leather string
  • Sandals
  • Bike shorts
  • Measuring tape
  • Ruler
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About the Author

With a career spanning business writing and technical commentaries, Jasmine Haryana has been writing and editing since 1996. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Davis and holds her certification in grant writing from The Foundation Center.