It’s hard to look graceful with a towering coiffure of packing peanuts, or powerful in a skirt of cardboard tubes.
“I’m worried about people laughing at me,” said Adam Shpurker, 15, as he waited backstage, fiddling with his helmet’s crest of toilet scrubbers.
Twenty minutes later he was pacing the stage, looking like a Roman centurion outfitted at a Walmart rubbish bin. He was third in a fashion conga of 20 history-themed costumes, all painstakingly assembled at Cary Academy from recycled materials.
And no one was laughing.
“We took that, what you could call trash, and made it something beautiful,” said Micaela Rosen, 14, who helped design a crinoline cage for a dress from coat hangers. She and a crew of other art students worked for months to prepare Thursday’s fashion show, which was backed by student-composed music.
There are no “trash couture” textbooks, so the students and teachers crossed disciplines to solve problems. There were unusual designs to be engineered, historical research to be done, grocery bags to be woven.
“Do you think I’ve ever made a hoop skirt out of coat hangers?” asked teacher Margo Smith.
“How do you make a bodice out of paper?” said Michael Hayes, director of fine and performing arts.
Micaela Rosen’s team started with an engineering solution. The malleable but strong coat hangers would hold the mushroom-cap shape of the dress, they decided. Then they looked through the piles of material that students had gathered, and found the bubble wrap and milk cartons to complete Rachel Earnhardt’s bright green antebellum outfit.
“It was really amazing and fun to see the process it all went through,” Rosen said.
Sydney Tucker, meanwhile, found a little escape in a Dutch Baroque outfit. She played “a man, and he’s very proud and boastful,” she said, flaunting a puffy shirt of green translucent plastic, a broad feathered hat and a corrugated cardboard neck ruff.
“I already look pretty interesting, so I can just go all out with him.”