Costume Magic

“I found my people.”

Paige Smith expected to end up at Disneyland when she promised her son that she’d take him wherever he wanted to go if he could pass an especially challenging math class. Instead, he chose a trip to Dragon Con, the enormous science fiction and fantasy convention in downtown Atlanta, as his reward — and changed his mom’s life forever.

Paige, a Merchandise Execution Team associate in Birmingham, Alabama, says when she walked into Dragon Con she knew she had found “her people.” Not only were Star Trek Klingons and Firefly Browncoats surrounding her, but dozens of other original characters brought to life by convention-goers in imaginative and richly detailed costumes.

“I decided to go home and try my hand at making a costume. But I didn’t have a lot of skills, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money,” Paige recalls. She turned those limitations to her advantage. Her limited know-how and budget forced her to be creative, and that led her to the eye-catching and whimsical costumes she crafts today. Her designs are rooted in the recycle-and-repurpose ethic, and she finds many of materials for free in unconventional locations such as dumpsters, road side debris and even a friend’s home torn apart by a tornado.

“I’m like a magpie. I pick up anything I find and store it with like pieces,” she says. “When it comes time to start putting it together, it’s like a puzzle with 1,000 pieces, but without the picture on the cover of the box. You don’t really know what it’s going to look like until you get in there and start.”

Paige’s creative passport

Her clever creations have become a ticket to tour North America. “An unexpected but welcome response to my unusual costuming style includes invitations to science fiction conventions and costume events in cities across the country. I’ve enjoyed unique opportunities to travel from coast to coast, from the Deep South to Canada.” Photographers also visit her hometown of Birmingham to photograph Paige and her costumes in scene-setting locations like retired industrial furnaces, or the urban decay of an abandoned school.

“My costumes get a lot of attention because they look pretty weird and are constructed so unconventionally,” Paige explains. “One of my proudest moments was being included in “The Steampunk User’s Manual,” by Desirina Brockovich and Jeff VanderMeer, author of “Annihilation.” As respected writers with a deep exposure to steampunk in both literary and active mediums, it was an enormous compliment to be interviewed by them for this definitive book on the genre.”

Pages of inspiration

When she’s not working in our aisles, or crafting fantastical costumes, Paige is a nationally syndicated book reviewer. Unsurprisingly, her genre is science fiction. As a fan, she finds special inspiration in the voluminous works of Stephen King, where at first there’s a sense of normalcy, but upon closer inspection, something seems a little bit off. Paige’s costumes reflect that dichotomy — visually intriguing, but on a closer look you’ll notice claws, piercing blue eyes, or an unmoving mouth frozen beneath the beautiful glow of a stained-glass Russian headpiece.

Named after Apple’s virtual voice assistant, “Siri” is crowned with a mohawk made of zip ties purchased from The Home Depot. Paige also incorporates the same washers and bolts she works with on a daily basis. “Siri” is designed to be “…a little rad. Like she wouldn’t take anything from anybody.” The costume was inspired by non-cellular telephones in a society continuing to move toward a fully mobile world. As Paige’s collection of broken phones and parts grew, she began to envision them as parts of an anatomy. The name followed. “This is Siri, the helpful telephone assistant, but in a Mad Max, steampunk way,” Paige explains.

Inspired by traditional Russian clothing, “Seraphina” includes Paige’s interpretation of a traditional Russian kokoshnik headpiece. “It has paper window-panes in it that are actually made from a children’s coloring book that I found at a thrift store. The headpiece is then illuminated with flashlights inside.” The rest of the costume is no less impressive. Pantyhose create sleeves and a discarded prom dress forms the base, proving Paige’s point of the magic of unconventional items.

Paige describes herself as a do-it-yourself artist and her costumes as “teachable moments.” Being unable to do more than “struggle stitch” has made her the go-to associate for Home Depot customers with questions about glue or adhesives. “I want people to know that with patience and perseverance, you can do anything.”

Working at The Home Depot is a great crossover opportunity for Paige. “I wanted to work somewhere where I could spend my days with people who are helpful and have the same ethic I do — being good to people every day.”