How to Build Your Own MST3k Live!-style Tour Jacket

Where This Starts

In 2018, MST3k turned 30, and so did I. I celebrated this by getting VIP tickets to the Anniversary tour’s Boston stop. This is where I first saw the fantastic tour jackets Jonah, Joel, and the various other performers have:

After the Q&A, I checked out the merch stand, hoping this was something they had a limited quantity of so I could throw an absurd amount of money at the problem; alas, these aren’t for sale. Luckily, I could throw a slightly-more-reasonable amount of money at the problem by making my own, and so I did in 2019 after scoping out the various bits and pieces.

Background and MST3k’s Aesthetics

I’m no stranger to MST3k cosplay, having built out both a Jonah-yellow jumpsuit in 2017 for the first live tour and a Bonehead outfit for a halloween party later that year (though that one largely happened the same year because I found the right kind of swim vest in my size for $20 on eBay and jumped on it)

When I’m building out a costume, I tend to go for shows where I can see the bits and pieces of what things are made of fairly easily. This is partly why I love Mystery Science Theater’s aesthetic – since the show’s original incarnation, it’s been very happy for you to see its home-spun nature where you can tell everything that’s been glued to the wall and spray-painted gray.

This also extended to this project – I just needed to find the right jacket, get it the right color, and add the appropriate patches.

What You’ll Need

If you want to make one of these jackets for yourself, here’s what you’ll need:

The Jacket

The tour jackets are a cotton military-style jacket with a ribbed collar and cuffs. In an ideal world, I’d be able to find one in white so I could dye it from scratch, but I found this one on Amazon that had the right style and general pocket placement. The “Khaki 2” color here isn’t as ideal as a white jacket would be, but it’s light enough that it’s workable, and since it’s cotton, that also means it’s more dye-able than a poly blend.

As with any article of clothing from Amazon where the brand name sounds like they banged on the keyboard a few times, read the sizing info carefully – I typically wear a size medium and I ordered a large here and it fits great.

Fabric Dye

We’re going to be over-dyeing the jacket since we’re dealing with a garment that’s an existing color we’re working around. For Jonah’s sunny yellow, I used two bottles of RIT liquid dye, golden yellow. If you’re looking to do green, red, or purple (for Mike, Joel, or Emily), I’d refer to the RIT website for a color consult – they’ll give you the combo of dyes you need to get to that color, though keep in mind you may not get that exact shade since you’re dealing with the original khaki of the jacket.

I also picked up a package of RIT’s color remover for this project to try and “prime” the jacket beforehand, but I’m not actually sure if it did actually had any effect. More on that later.

MST3k Patches

Support your friendly online Etsy iron-on patch maker – there are lots of sellers that will generate the nametag and Gizmonics patches you’re looking for, and sometimes they’ll even sell you a set of them. Since we want slightly smaller ones for this jacket (as opposed to a jumpsuit), I went with the smaller Heston and blue Gizmonics patches from NeitherSparky’s store. I thought about getting some sort of sleeve patch, but ultimately decided to just keep it clean.

Other Supplies

I live in an apartment building where I don’t have my own washing machine, so I did this with a lot of hot water and some plastic storage containers from Target that could hold enough water, the dye, and have some room at the top left over. If you do have washing-machine access, I’d follow that dye method (and potentially adjust your dye quantity accordingly).

Otherwise, make sure you have some containers to dye in (that you can quickly fill with hot enough water), gloves and protective gear (so that you dye the jacket, not yourself), and a pair of tongs or something to easily get your fabric in and out of your various bins.

Live and Let Dye

(sorry for the pun, I’m trying to delete it)

Alright, once you’ve got your jacket, the first step is to dye it. Literally just follow the process on the RIT website/dye bottle in terms of quantities, time, etc. I did a round of their color remover and the jacket first – that may have primed things to better absorb the dye, but it didn’t do any visible “removal” of the jacket’s original color like I might have expected.

You want to over-dye this since it’s starting with something that’s an existing color. Follow the instructions on the package, let it hang out a little longer than you think it may need, and it should all turn out.

Again, if you have the opportunity to use RIT’s washing machine method, that’s probably a better way to ensure even dyeing. If not, I had decent success with some plastic storage containers and turning the jacket with a pair of tongs to keep everything submerged in the dye.

Once you’re done dyeing the jacket, run it through the dryer so that all your hard work stays put. RIT also has dye fixative – I didn’t use it on this project and it was fine, but if you want some extra insurance, apply that as the last stage of applying dye.

Patch Time!

With our sturdy beautiful tote bag jacket now emblazoned over it’s entire surface with the color brown yellow, we can give it some personality with patches.

Iron-on patches are easy to apply! Get your iron on its hottest setting (we’re dealing with cotton here), make sure there’s no water in the tank (we just want it HOT), and use an old pillowcase as a layer between the jacket and your iron while you press each patch on for a minute. It’s just that easy. Sometimes it take a few sessions for this to fully fuse, but once it’s been applied and cooled, it’s all set.

And that’s it! The dye part is a little scary, but RIT makes it pretty foolproof. Apologies for the lack of process photos, but I promise this is a good, straightforward project if you’re cosplay-minded.

Other Work

If you liked this, you’ll probably like my write-up of how to make the Mr. Music jacket from John Mulaney’s Sack Lunch Bunch special. I’ve also pulled together various Doctors Who, The Middleman, and Star-Lord for various Halloween parties:

Mystery Hunt 2022: Is Mr. Music Alexei Lewis Okay?

From the second we needed a Minister of Music for this year’s Mystery Hunt theme, I wanted to play them, largely because I had most of the outfit already.  I had one specific visual reference in mind:

There’s also bits of Mr. B. Natural and the Dean’s peanut bar rap from Community in how the character finally shook out, but I had built Mr. Music‘s outfit a few years ago for Quarantine Halloween and wanted to use it publicly for something.

I needed a project to stop from doomscrolling in September/October 2020, so this Halloween costume idea got bumped up to “let’s make this in 2020 anyways”.

For Mystery Hunt, to keep things distinct I grew out a super-scruffy beard (since I couldn’t find a decent fake moustache to keep half-hanging off of my upper lip) and et voila:

 

Anatomy of a Mr Music an Alexei Lewis costume

The Jacket

This was surprisingly easy!  This is a Ro Rox Men’s Parade Jacket Gothic Tailcoat in black.  It was $60 on Amazon when I bought it and appears to be more expensive now, so shop around.

Xylophone Bits

If you’re insane like me and want to affix ~2 pounds of metal to your jacket, you will need two of these from Amazon.  They are surprisingly easy to dismantle (despite claiming to be “TIGHT And PREOTECT THE BARS FROM REMOVING”) if you have a decent pair of pliers and need something to do with your hands other than doomscroll Twitter on your phone.

I originally affixed the xylophone pieces with some fashion fusion tape.  This worked for 2020 but I would hear various xylophone pieces plink-plink-plinking to the floor in my closet over the course of 2021.

The main update I made to this jacket for Mystery Hunt (after also testing and learning that hot glue was basically useless for fully affixing these) was getting a bunch of adhesive velcro coins and squares from Michael’s and using those to affix things, which appears to be working well and held up over the course of wearing this for 3 days.   That was under $15 total.

You could also probably, you know, sew them on?  I have many skills but that’s not one of them yet.

Patches

ETSY.  Etsy is a goldmine for patches and iron-ons.  I bought a few sizes of treble clef, and various music note configurations, all in gold.  The MUSIC shoulder patches appear to be some kind of easily findable template as well.  These were ironed on where possible and have been re-affixed over the past year with hot glue and velcro when they’ve really started coming off the jacket.

Shirt

When I was assembling the costume, I just wanted a disgusting sateen-y gold thing like the original costume.  Amazon has tons of these and you should not spend more than $20 on one. I went this this one.  I hate it and it’s perfect.

I put some music notes-y Washi tape I found at Michael’s that is barely holding on to this slippery-ass fabric.

For Mystery Hunt, I had a normal cotton button-down with black stars on it, partially because that felt more distinct character-wise and also because I knew I was going to be sweating and didn’t want to be in a gross fake sateen-y shirt for that long.

Pants

after not finding ANYTHING that looked like the Mr. Music pants from the Sack Lunch Bunch, when I put the jacket and glockenspiels in my Amazon cart, Amazon asked if I wanted to buy this BTS-ass suit which has what appear to be the actual pants?  Like most fashion-y things from Amazon, take a look at the size chart before ordering.

Alexei/Mr. Music on a Budget

If we had needed it, I was prepared to build another one of these jackets for our team, and this is what the “budget” version would have been:

  • Ro Rox parade jacket.  That’s kind of non-negotiable
  • doing the music notes on the jacket in a gold metallic sharpie/other fabric marker
  • getting a bunch of felt from a craft store in the appropriate colors and affixing it using fashion fusion tape/hot glue (you know, since you’re attempting to affix fabric to other fabric instead of metal to fabric) after cutting to size.
  • Find some stripe-y pants?  I was sitting down for most team interactions so honestly I could have been wearing sweatpants if I wanted.

I still feel very proud about this a year and a half later.  Go build your own (and shout me out on social media if you do)