These costume ideas are great for using with our Wild West murder mystery game. Who doesn't love dressing up as a rugged cowboy, a feared gunslinger, a glamorous or sassy saloon lady or a sheriff? Then there is also the moralism advocate with a highly dubious secret.
Game Characters = Pearl, Ruby (saloon ladies); Kitty (Saloon owner)
Pearl and Ruby are saloon ladies who dance with male customers and perform the CanCan. Kitty is the saloon owner.
Different costumes for Pearl, Ruby and Kitty
Consider a Saloon Girl or CanCan outfit; as the saloon owner, Kitty might alternatively choose an elegant Pioneer/Colonial/Victorian ballgown.
Think frills, tassels, fringe, sequins, lace, pearls and bright colours. Top is low-cut and off-the-shoulder, possibly corseted. Skirts are knee-length or mid-shin-length; they are brightly-coloured ruffled skirts with colourful petticoats visible. Lace, silk or net stockings and garters could also be visible. Boots or garters may hide a TOY (for safety) gun or dagger. Hair combs, artificial flowers, pearl/ruby jewellery or feather plumes adorn hair; lipstick and rouge make-up; optional fan, pearl/ruby choker or lacy gloves.
1.2 Cowboy and Rancher Costumes
Game characters = Craig, Jody the Kid and Heath (if played by males), Wild Will (if Jody and Wild Will do not choose the gunslinger outfit)
In the Old West, ranchers had to be tough to survive the work. There was also the threat of violence that came with lands that were often lawless and with dangerous and unscrupulous individuals who would rustle cattle and take lands by force. The ranchers in our game are not only tough - they have secrets to hide that make them some of the most unscrupulous and lawless individuals west of the Mississippi.
Different outfits for Craig, Jody the Kid, Wild Will and Heath
A Buffalo Bill, cowboy or rancher outfit.
Stetson, sombrero or another wide-brimmed hat. Bandana. Cowboy boots or Wellingtons. TOY (for safety) pistol with holster. Shirt is check, plaid, denim or tartan; jeans or fringed trousers or chaps over normal pants; optional vest, suspenders, fringed jacket or poncho. Fake moustache, beard and sideburns.
1.3 Cowgirl Costumes
Game characters = Jody the Kid and Heath (if played by females and if Jody does not choose the gunslinger outfit)
Female outfits for Jody the Kid and Heath
If buying: an Annie Oakley or cowgirl costume.
If DIY: brown or cream fringed skirt and a loose long-sleeved top. Or jeans and a plaid or denim shirt; optional chaps. Optional waistcoat.Wide-brimmed hat. Holster with toy guns. Bandana around neck or head.
1.4 Eastern City Slicker Turned Rancher Outfits
Game character = Hank
Hank Henderson-Hawkes is a wealthy Eastern city gent who has bought a ranch in Deadstone Creek. He can choose whether to dress as a rancher or as a city gent.
A variety of dressing up ideas for city-slicker Hank
Choose a rancher, cowboy or Abraham Lincoln outfit.
Cigar (to shake at people). If cowboy: check, plaid or denim shirt; jeans or fringed trousers; wide-brimmed hat; bandana; cowboy boots. Optional vest, chaps, suspenders, fringed jacket. TOY (for safety) gun with holster. Fake moustache, beard, sideburns. If gentleman: tailcoat, bow tie, topper hat.
1.5 Sheriff Fancy Dress
Game character = Sheriff King
Choose Sheriff outfit.
Choose casual or formal. Sheriff’s star. Stetson or another wide-brimmed hat. Optional cigar. Cowboy boots. TOY (for safety) pistol with holster. Fake moustache, beard and sideburns. If casual: loose-fitting tartan or coloured shirt; bandana; denim trousers or canvas or wool trousers; vest. If formal: white shirt with dickie tie or cravat; black trousers, vest and long jacket.
1.6 Gunslinger and Outlaw Costumes
Game characters = Wild Will and Jody the Kid are ranchers with a secret; they can choose whether to dress as a gunslinger or a cowboy.
Wild Will and Jody the Kid
A western outlaw, a gunfighter, or gunslinger costume.
Try the darkly dangerous image: black pants (or black skirt if Jody is played by a female), black striped or plain waistcoat and white shirt. Optional black overcoat or cape. Accessorise with a black neckpiece (a bandana or a thin piece of black material tied like a bowtie); if Jody is played by a female, consider a lace choker. Wide black or brown hat. And add that all-important holster with toy guns.
Or try the jeans and poncho look. (Note that a shawl or small blanket could be wrapped around the shoulders to suggest a poncho.)
Alternatively, take inspiration from images of real-life Western outlaws and gunfighters such as Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok. Ben Wittick's famous photo of Billy the Kid shows that the clothes Billy wore were functional rather than dramatic.
1.7 Moralist Campaigner Fancy Dress
Game character = Faith
Faith - outfits and placards
American Pioneer or Prairie costume. Alternatively, an American Civil War costume or a long-skirted, high-necked Victorian costume. Dark colours are preferable to conform to Faith's moralistic image - but as Faith has a dark secret, you could also have fun with lighter colours.
A long dark skirt with a high-necked blouse. Optional fan, long gloves, parasol and bonnet. Optional "Close Sinful Saloons" or "Stop Scandalous Cancan" placard.
2 Costume Alternatives: Tips for Adapting Wardrobe Basics
Your guests don't have to dress up to enjoy the murdering mystery. You can just adapt whatever is in your closet or home - jeans, a flannel shirt and a child's TOY gun give an easy outfit for an outlaw or a cowboy/cowgirl. A Scout campaign hat or a sombrero can be used in place of a Stetson. An old bit of material wrapped around the face can give an authentic impression of a cowboy's bandana - after all, poor cowboys would use whatever material they owned to keep the weather at bay while riding through sun-scorched deserts or braving winter storms. And a feather boa or some tassels can suggest a saloon girl.
But there is a Best Costume award and we have found (from our pwn parties and from customer comments) that fancy dress can really add to the fun of the party ...
3 Hair and Makeup
Most ladies in the Wild West did not wear makeup - although saloon ladies wore make-up and dyed their hair and were therefore dubbed "painted ladies" by many of the "respectable" women on the frontier. So if you are playing Ruby, Pearl or Kitty, have fun with eyeliner and rouge. (Saloon ladies used rouge on both their cheeks and lips - but modern women may prefer to imitate this look with lipstick.)
Hair could be a loose "updo" with an optional hair bun accessory; possibly use curlers to allow ringlets to fall from the bun. Then have fun with accessories such as feathers, combs, flowers.
If buying, choose a saloon girl wig, possibly an 18th century wig.
3.2 Hair: Men
Men who spent long months in the saddle often wore longer hair with beards, sideburns and moustaches. Buy fake ones or grow your own. (My husband spent several weeks growing a beard for our murder mystery game.)