How to make an adult mermaid costume

Updated April 17, 2017

Mermaids have captivated men and women for hundreds of years, and mermaid costumes are a great way to capture that allure. Whether you go for a more historically accurate mermaid styling or design something contemporary, gothic, or completely your own, this costume is an excellent chance to make a statement. Creating a mermaid costume for your next costume or fancy dress party is a great way to make sure all eyes are on you.

Purchase a second-hand pencil skirt that can have fabric glued or stitched to it. Using a second-hand skirt means that you don't have to worry about ruining a good piece of clothing for the sake of the costume. Use the skirt as a base and cut enough shimmery fabric to wrap around your waist at the waistline of the skirt and continue to your feet, regardless of the length of the skirt. Follow the lines of the skirt as a template, making the bottom of the tail portion fit as tight as is comfortable.

Pin the shimmery fabric to the skirt with straight pins so that you can stitch it with a basting stitch or backstitch, depending on how sturdy you want the stitch to be. (If you'll be stationary you won't require as heavy a stitch as if you intend to dance in this costume.) You can also use hemming tape.

Cut the fishnet or mesh material into swathes to swag across your hips like a belly scarf or to drape randomly from your tail. Use the straight pins to position the material before you decide where to stitch it or tape it. You can choose to leave the straight pins in instead of stitching into the shimmery fabric, but this is not going to be as secure as a stitch or tape and could cause problems with the costume.

Cut floral wire to bend into the shape of a mermaid tail. The dimensions will vary depending on the height and weight of the adult wearing the costume: a 5-foot-11-inch-tall woman will need a different size tail from a 5-foot-2-inch-tall woman. If one piece of floral wire is not enough, use two or three pieces glued together or connected with floral tape.

Bend the wire into a semicircle, then angle the top of the semicircle upward to attach to the base of your costume. Hot glue the wire to the base of the bottom half of your costume, as close to the floor as possible, so that you can cover the seams with more fabric.

Cut the shimmery fabric and tulle (thinner netted material than fishnet or mesh) to cover your wire tail. Glue the material to the wire, then stitch the material closed at the bottom to prevent tripping hazards. You can also pull the material taut and glue it along the bottom of the tail to finish the seams.

Use the remaining tulle and shimmery fabric to cover a bra or bikini top for the upper portion of the costume. A top with individual cups will work better than a bandeau-style top that is just a tube of material. You can either use the tulle to cover your midriff or use the fabric to cover the straps and cups of your top. The fishnet can also be used for the top in the same way as the tulle. Pin the material with straight pins.

Determine whether you want to stitch the fabric to the existing pencil skirt and top or if you want to make the costume more temporary by using adhesive hemming tape. While stitches are more secure, they can also damage the skirt and top by leaving small holes in the fabric. Alternately, the hemming tape can leave residue on certain materials, so weigh the pros and cons before choosing how to affix the material.

If you choose to stitch the material to the base pieces, backstitching is the most secure hand stitch and is the best choice for a sturdy costume. Basting stitches are much more temporary and are a better option if you don't plan to walk around a lot for trick-or-treating or if you are going to be sitting on a float or stage. Where a backstitch is the most secure stitch one can use hand-sewing. Basting stitches are easily torn out. (Basting stitches are often used to loosely secure a wedding ring to a ring-bearer's pillow.) Backstitching entails making a forward stitch, "backing up" half a stitch, and stitching forward again. This reinforces each stitch so that it is the equivalent of one and a half stitches.

Accessorise the costume by gluing sequins either randomly or in patterns across the top and bottom of the costume. You can also affix silk flowers to the straps or in between the cups of the bra or bikini top, or tie a piece of ribbon to a shell and dangle it from the strap between the cups.

Use a piece of the shimmery fabric to make a headband and affix silk flowers to it, either on one side of the head or along the entire band. You can also use a piece of fabric or ribbon to make a choker.

Tease the wig to make it look windswept. You can glue the headband to the wig for permanence, but be careful of the composition of the wig--you may end up melting the hair.


Use your artistic judgment to determine how to best accessorise your costume. If the silk flowers are too much, use the seashells instead. You can also forgo sequins in favour of glittery paint, or skip both and use glittery make-up.

Things You'll Need

  • Bra or bikini top
  • 6 yards of shimmery satin fabric
  • 2 yards of fishnet/mesh fabric
  • 2 yards of shimmery tulle
  • Pencil skirt
  • Elastic
  • Sequins
  • Shells
  • Low temp glue gun
  • Low temp glue sticks
  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Straight pins
  • Measuring tape
  • Silk flowers
  • Ribbon
  • Long wig
  • Floral wire
  • Hemming tape
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About the Author

A writer since 2000, Amanda Courtney worked as the news and copy editor for "The Lion's Roar," her collegiate newspaper, and as copy editor of the yearbook "Le Souvenir." She holds a Bachelor of General Studies with concentrations in English and mass communications from Southeastern Louisiana University.