How to Dress as Ursula, the Melissa McCarthy Version

September 24, 2023

A scene from The Little Mermaid 2023, now on Disney+

The live-action remakes of the Disney Renaissance are now complete with The Little Mermaid swimming into streaming. 

That means our beloved Ursula is made flesh-and-fishbone at last, with self-confessed fangirl Melissa McCarthy soaking up the role.

How do you give justice to becoming one of the most awesome villains, not just of 2023, but of all time?

Well, angelfish. The solution to your problem is simple.

How to do Ursula makeup and hair

Oscar-winning Peter Swords King got some flak from prominent drag queens who feel like the British artist's makeup on Melissa did not stay true to the spirit of the character. The sea witch is based on Divine, John Waters' muse on the films Hairspray and Pink Flamingo.

To his credit, Swords King, who identifies as straight, gave props to drag artists for improving his paint, especially the art of erasing the eyebrows and drawing on a completely new one. "So thank you all drag queens out there, because it was down to you,” he said on Vogue

For the eye palette, he used Pat McGrath Labs, switching the animated version's blue eyeshadow for a metallic green one. He also swapped the purple glue stick common among drag performers for a white version. 

Overall, Swords King went for a 1950s look in his take on Ursula, with the costume team looking to Peggy Lee for inspiration.

Given Ursula's roots in the LGBTQ community, it can be great to honor the character by taking some makeup tips from queer MUAs:  

For the hair, you could opt for a white updo wig, but know that Melissa's onscreen hair is all CGI—she had to wear a skullcap during the shoot. Her locks were added in post-production to capture the movement of hair underwater. 

How to make an Ursula costume

Now, it's happened once or twice. Someone couldn't pay the price for a ready-to-wear Ursula costume. (Or maybe you could.) 

If you want to stay true to the spirit of the character, it's best to be crafty like the banished queen. The 2023 Ursula costume is a bit tricky but not impossible. 

Ursula slinked under the sea in what looks like her own stab (looking at you, Eric) at a mermaid dress. Costumer designer Colleen Atwood and Melissa put their own spin on it for the live-action version, turning the simple sleeveless number into a bioluminescent, collared corset dress.

The collar is distinctive for its iridescent tendrils made to recall the lights dangling from anglerfish. To achieve this look, you might want to invest in wearable LED light strips to embellish on your collar. Just a token, really a trifle. 

And don't underestimate the importance of tentacle language! You can also use the LED wearables to recreate the glowing circular suckers on her tentacles. For a show-stopping Ursula costume that not a poor unfortunate soul can clock, you might want to wheel yourself out, literally:

Or you can just give them the illusion of having tentacles with a voluminous skirt. 

See, the fantasy's all about being fish, as drag queens would say. 

You don't even have to be plus-size to pull the new Ursula costume off. It's all about choosing the right fabric. Colleen used shimmering lavender sequins as base for the dress, which she then covered with a layer of laser-cut suede. The desired effect was the webbed texture of octopus skin. 

Spells, Ursula, please

Becoming Ursula is, of course, all about the attitude. First of all, Melissa knows the source material by heart, having watched countless VHS screenings of the 1989 original when she was still a nanny. It also helps that she has had practice; she herself used to perform in drag as her alter ego Miss Y. 

"My inner Divine is always with me," she said. 

For the animated version, swim over here

You Might Also Like