One of the fun things about deciding to build a movie accurate costume is it can open the door for you to work with new materials. Not only will you learn new skills, you’ll be required to execute them well. When The Nerdista decided to make a screen accurate Star Wars costume, I knew I’d be jumping feet first into gaining whole new skill sets.
The Imperial Belt is worn in all three original trilogy Star Wars movies by members of the Empire:
Imperial Officers, Imperial Bridge Crew, Imperial Mechanical Crew, both variants of the Imperial Scanning Crew, all variations of TIE Pilots including the Reservist, Imperial Gunners, The Black NCO Uniform from A New Hope, Imperial Grand Admirals, Imperial Security Bureau members, Line and Staff Officers, Imperial Navy Troopers and Officers, 181st Fighter Wing Dress Uniforms, and many of the face characters from the original trilogy, prequels, and extended universe such as Grand Moff Tarkin, Admiral Daala’s Green Officer Uniform, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Juno Eclipse Rogue Shadow, Director of Intelligence Ysanne Isard, and TIE Pilot Baron Fel all utilize the Imperial Belt.
In case you are wondering, yes it is possible I missed a few here. I’m confident that one of you will let me know in the comments who I missed.
Obviously nearly every member of the Empire has an Imperial Belt in their wardrobe. I imagine even Stormtroopers must have one in their closet somewhere for when they are not busy not hitting anything with their BlasTech E-11 Blaster Rifles. I decided making my own Imperial Belt is an excellent place to start.
Unless you count summer camp as a child, I’ve never really worked with leather before. Fortunately there are excellent resources available for costumers and if you are interested in Star Wars costuming specifically, you’ll want to head over to the forums at the 501st and the Rebel Legion respectively. In fact, if you’re going to build or buy a Star Wars costume for anything other than a one-off for Halloween, do not start until you have visited these forums first. You will thank me later. For the Imperial belt, I found the home of the TIE Fighter Pilots the Jolly Roger Squadron Forums to be especially helpful.
I found nearly everything I needed to make my Imperial belt at Tandy Leather Factory. and bought the following items:
Natural Cowhide Belt Blank 2″ – item #44518-00
Rectangle Buckle Blank 2″ – item #11688-00
Fiebings Dye 4 oz USMC Black – item #2100-01
Fiebings Leather Balm with Atom Wax in Neutral 4 oz. – item #2180-00
I used a new kitchen sponge cut in half to apply the dye and the sealant. This created less streaking in my dye job than those small wool daubers. Pro Tip: lightly dampen the leather belt and the sponge with water for a smoother dye application. Remove the excess water from the sponge before applying the dye. You basically just want enough water to soften the sponge without having enough to leak when squeezed.
After spreading plastic down in a well ventilated area and donning a pair of disposable latex gloves, I used three coats of dye over the course of 12 hours, giving three to four hours of dry time in between coats. The gloves are a must since your skin is essentially unskinned leather and the dye won’t know the difference between your fingers and your belt. 🙂
Not long ago, this used to be cow colored.
In the meantime, I began the process of smoothing and giving my belt buckle a proper brushed finish. The Nerdista has never worked with metal before except when I went through the jewelry making obsession that strikes half the female population at one point or another. Imagine my surprise when buying a metal file, I discovered them described as “bastards.”
First there is the “Round Bastard.”
Next we have a slightly more personable file; it’s only a “Half Bastard.”
Half-Bastard or Half *Round* Bastard?
For those in a more rural area, there is a “Mill Bastard.”
Finally my personal favorite, the “Flat Bastard.”
I call him Stanley.
Starting with my Flat Bastard file and always moving horizontally across the face of the metal, I smoothed out all the wield marks. With 60 grit sandpaper wrapped around a block, I removed the file marks and put the brushed metal marks into the buckle. I finished with a 100 grit sanding sponge to refine the brushed finish. The key is to always, always file and sand in the same direction horizontally back and forth across the buckle.
After drying overnight and giving a light buff, I applied Atom Wax to the front, edges, and end of the now black leather belt. Four hours, and a more vigorous buff later, I had a finish shiny enough to not need a second coat of sealant.
Having zero metal machining ability, I bought an Imperial Code Disk greeblie from a member of the 501st named Elvis Trooper. Yes, Elvis + Stormtrooper = Elvis Trooper. ET has three styles available; the High Detail Disc without the notch is the most accurate for the Imperial Belt buckle. I used my file to slightly rough up a patch in the center of the buckle smaller than the greeblie so the epoxy would have a little more surface area to grab. I used the tiniest possible amount to attach my greeblie so it wouldn’t squirt out the sides. Pro Tip from an adhesive expert: since the buckle has a slight curve and the greeblie has a flat back, place a small bead of adhesive on the two sides of the greeblie but place barely any in the center. This way the adhesive will help to fill in the slight gap on the sides. Pro Tip 2: use less epoxy than you think you’ll need. It is way easier to apply more epoxy later than it is to clean up extra epoxy squirting out the sides. Think of the minimum possible epoxy you need and then use less.
To make the holes for your belt buckle you can buy a leather punch kit from Tandy but I recommend heading to your local shoe repair shop who will punch a hole for you for a nominal cost and possibly even free. They can also trim the end of your belt for you if your waistline is anything less than 46 inches. Use a black Sharpie to re-blacken the cut end.
Screen accurate Imperial Belts have a large silver snap or rivet on the belt about one inch to the left or right of the buckle. I read in several places where costumers have had difficulty finding secure, permanent solutions for this detail that won’t pop off the belt. One of about a million reasons why we need more females in the nerd kingdom is most crafty chicks I know could tell you in a heartbeat what item you can use that will be a permanent and secure addition to your belt. The “button” in question is a bedazzling stud. Specifically, it’s a “half-inch nickel-plated/silver heavy duty round domed stud,” the type with prongs you would use with that infamous as-seen-on-TV item the Bedazzler. I think this is just one of those crafts that’s often taught to females while you boys are off learning how to do something much cooler like start a campfire from a box of wet matches and a piece of pine straw. 🙂 [Nerdista edit: I’ve never actually used a Bedazzler; I just somehow have knowledge of these things. I blame Girl Scouts.]
Tandy actually sells these items too – Round Spots 1/2″ Nickel Plated – but in packages of 100 for about ten bucks. It’s the type of thing a whole garrison might like to go in together for a bag.
Not actual size.
Now don’t go out and buy yourself a Bedazzler. I’ve seen them and the cheap plastic construction wouldn’t hold up to the toughness of your thick leather belt and would be a waste to apply only one decoration. You only need to obtain one of these studs, a pair of needle-nosed pliers, and something to punch some very small holes in the leather such as a fine leather punch, an exacto knife, or even the sharp tip of a dart.
Press the stud over the place you want, I placed mine on top of the belt snap, so that the two prongs make slight indentions into the leather. Now you know exactly where you want to place your holes.
The Nerdista's looked best on the first snap. Yours may look better on the second depending on your waistline.
Using your sharp implement of choice, make your holes. The Nerdista used a dart tip to make the holes shown above. Place the stud through the holes, using a pair of needle nosed pliers to pull the prongs through from the other side. Use the pliers to bend the prongs outward i.e., away from the snap. Voila! Finished!
Love, The Nerdista