Assembling a Captain America: The First Avenger POW / Bucky Rescue Costume Using Purchased Parts
As you may have guessed, I’m going to be the Cap this year for Halloween; it’s the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Captain America (in March of ’41) and it will be the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of the Red Skull in October. Since we also had Civil War come out this year, it seemed apropos, though my chosen costume is probably not going to be the first one you think of when you think of the current Cap / Marvel movie series.
Why the “Rescue” Suit?
Cost and fit. Rather than buy one of the cheap off-the-rack printed polyester jumpsuit type costumes, I wanted something that would appear more impressive than a $40 trip to Wal-Mart. This particular outfit is composed mostly of ‘real,’ period components with slight modifications. Additionally, it should be a bit more forgiving for persons without the body of a super soldier. Because this suit is designed to appear to have been made from what was available to Rogers in mid-war, many of the ‘real’ parts can be purchased online, today, as modern repros designed for WWII reenactors. Aside from painting the helmet & acquiring a ‘heater’ shield, next to no modifications need to be done if you do not wish to.
The following is my analysis of the filming costume & suitable replica components:
Starting from the bottom and going up:
Boots on the Ground
Rogers wears WWII US Army-style leather boots (likely ankle height), or possibly paratrooper ‘jump’ boots. The boots on film are most likely modern repros, with modified (modern) soles. The accurate repro boots are about $140 or more. However, since the boots will likely attract the least amount of scrutiny, you can substitute almost any modern ankle-length boot with a dark brown color and probably get away with it. I had my eye on two passable pairs of such boots on Amazon for about $35, but ended up going with a $20 (tan) pair from Wal-Mart. With a generous application of brown shoe polish ($5) no-one should be the wiser. Your boots will need to be very thin at the ankles and above to fit under your leggings. Many modern boots have padding around the ankle or top. I actually cut mine open along the inside of the ankle padding & pulled out the stuffing, since they’re really for costuming only, not daily wear.
Do the Stanky Leg
Rogers wears a pair of M1938 Dismounted Leggings. Also known as ‘gaiters,’ though that is not the most common American term for them. Rogers’ are early-war style, with many eyelets; late-war style leggings have half the number of eyelets and are therefore laced differently. Note that in the auction photos above, they are laced incorrectly. Surplus and used wartime leggings can be purchased online, as can modern repros. The leggings come in multiple sizes as well, 1-R (narrowest) to 5-R (widest). Cheap repros go for about $20, better ones about $40. I originally purchased a $20 repro pair on eBay. They were small and poorly made, so I sprang for a larger, better pair. For info on how to lace and put on / take off the leggings I recommend these two sites: WWII Medic and 90th IDPG. Lacing them and putting them on is time-consuming and unfamiliar but not terribly difficult.
Mack the Knife
On one calf, Rogers wears a large knife in a sheath. This is likely the M6 sheath / scabbard for the M3 knife. This changes sides through the film. Modern repro scabbards are about $20.
Sing the Praises of Pants
Steve is wearing a pair of reinforced US paratrooper pants. Cheap repros start at $40, nicer at $60 and up. I want to mention a possibility that occurred to me (after I purchased my ‘cheap’ pair): getting a pair of similar cargo pants and simply sewing on the darker knee reinforcements, or even masking them off and painting them on. Note that Rogers has his pants neatly tucked inside his leggings, even after the rescue.
Belts & Suspenders
At the start of the rescue mission, Steve is wearing a standard khaki web belt in the loops of his paratrooper pants. Over his jacket, he is wearing a M1923 cartridge belt, with a pair of M1936 suspenders (sort of), and an additional strap with two pouches.
Repro M1923 cartridge belts start at about $20. Steve’s cartridge belt appears to be unmodified, aside from weathering. Attached to his belt, and tied to his leg is a brown leather US M1916 pistol holster. These start at $30 on Amazon.
Repro M1936 suspenders start at about $20, however: what Rogers is wearing is slightly different. His appear to be based on the ‘standard pattern’ M1936 suspenders, but with wider straps reaching all the way to the back, and an additional D-ring sewn to the front of his left shoulder. I have a cheap pair of suspenders from eBay, though I did replace the original friction buckles with nicer, thicker repro buckles ($1 each). Somehow, during the rescue mission, Steve loses one suspender.
Rogers is also wearing a US map case strap diagonally across his chest, with two compass pouches strung on it. Cheap compass pouches can be found on eBay for $10 each, and nicer repros for $20 each. The repro map case straps start at $20, however, Steve’s is again slightly modified at the lower end.
Shirts vs. Skins
Under his jacket, Steve is still wearing his USO show top. For the budget conscious, this can be replicated by wearing a Captain America ‘uniform’ shirt. I purchased a “Cut & Sew” applique t-shirt from Amazon for about $20, which, besides being navy blue, does the job quite nicely.
Full Pleather Jacket
Over his USO show top, Rogers is wearing a brown leather jacket in a fairly stylish cut. After having little luck at the local used clothing stores, probably due to it being the dead of summer, I chose to purchase a replica jacket from eBay. The vinyl option was about half the price of the leather, but I still paid about twice what I might have at a thrift shop.
Take the Gloves Off
Rogers is also wearing a pair of yellow-ish leather gloves. I got a similar pair for $10 at a hardware store. After a generous treatment with baseball “glove oil,” a little light sanding with 2000 grit sandpaper, punching a brick wall, an application of tan shoe polish, and a second application of glove oil, I’m pretty satisfied with their current appearance.
Steve ‘borrows’ one of his USO show girls’ helmets for the rescue mission. This is a US M1 type helmet. It has a liner, helmet chin straps, a liner chinstrap and paratrooper yokes and chin cup. Cheap repro helmets start at $40 on eBay. I purchased a plastic ‘costume’ helmet from Amazon for about $15, and have since purchased repro & surplus straps to add to it. No matter what you get, you will need to repaint your helmet blue and add a white “A.” I am additionally dabbing plain white glue on the exterior surface of my helmet with a cheap, broad brush in an attempt to simulate the rough texture of the real thing.
The Goggles Do Nothing
For his parachute jump, Steve is wearing a pair of WWII US Army Air Corps AN-6530 goggles. I bought a $12 pair of all-plastic, vaguely-similar looking goggles from Amazon. They will need to be painted.