Saturday, 10 November 2012

Costuming - Do's and Don'ts

I'm definitely not a costume expert - I can barely thread a needle and can't follow a dress pattern to save my life! However, during my years of Burlesque, I have made (and destroyed) my fair share of costumes - I develop new acts and retire old ones all the time: sometimes I incorporate aspects of old costumes into new ones, sometimes I begin from scratch and try to create something completely new.

My costuming process is completely trial and error. I've lost count of the times I've begun a crystal pattern on a bra only to realise half way through that I don't like it, or it doesn't look right, or I've not ordered enough of the damn things! Or that I've spent hours sewing trim onto a pair of knickers then tried to put them on and it's dawned on me that I've not accommodated for the stretch in the fabric and now can't pull them over my hips! Or that I've made the perfect dress... inside out, or not taken a zip, hook or button into account.

Luckily I work with an incredible costume maker (Louise O'Mahony of Oh My Honey) who creates the most beautiful, showstopping outfits for me; such as the gorgeous blue gown for 'Midnight', and she makes sense of my rambling, often contradictory requests and requirements. However I still like to indulge the little creative, crafty bug and will usually embellish smaller items (bra, corset, etc) myself: which usually leads to burning myself with either the hot glue gun or the rhinestone wand, or cutting myself with needles, pins or scissors.

So, without further ado, these are a couple of Do's and Don'ts of costuming - they're drawn from my own experience so are not exhaustive or rigid, and feel free to add your own in the comments section!

Do's and Don'ts of Burlesque Costuming:

Do: Think about the overall act. If you are performing a comedy routine or a character piece, the costume will be different than if you were creating a Vegas showgirl act. The costume has to establish the character right from the start. And **Research** If you are creating a period act, a cultural piece or even a routine that references a movie, research the outfits and fashions of the era, culture or character before you begin.

Don't: Forget about the music. For example, if the track you are using is upbeat and bouncy, you may not have the time to fiddle with lots of costume removal. The music, like the costume, establishes your character right from the word Go, and they must compliment each other.

Do: Try and have a clear idea of what you want the costume to look like before you start purchasing items - sketches, mood-boards, colour samples, etc. Think about the style of the act - do you want a corset? a G-string or 'big' knickers? What colour scheme are you aiming for? What pattern do you want to create on the bra, corset or knickers.

Don't: Get carried away. Decide what you want and try and stick to it as much as possible. Don't compromise on shade or style unless you see something *absolutely* perfect, otherwise one costume piece may not match with the others. Same with trims - if you already have ten of one sort of applique or five metres of one sort of trim, stick with it and don't buy the entire haberdashery... save it for the next costume!

Do: Be prepared to blow the budget. Costumes are expensive and you should always aim for the best you can afford... then a little more on top! They need to be sturdy to withstand all the abuse they will be put through and a cheap feather boa or budget bra will not hold up for long.

Don't: Forget about fastenings... How do you want to remove each item? How can this be accomplished within the choreography of the routine? If there are a lot of buttons or hook-and-eyes, maybe think about replacing them with velcro, zips or poppers - anything fiddly is likely to get caught in the heat of performance. Having said that, though, the fastenings still need to be robust - you don't want to loose a part of your outfit before the right time!

Do: Use a costume-maker if you're struggling. They have a wealth of knowledge and expertise that the average person does not. You may find that the very thing you're struggling with is their speciality, and they may find ways around any costume conundrums you find.

Don't Copy another persons costume. Draw inspiration from them, yes: the Queens of yesteryear are a treasure-trove of costume ideas, but modern-day performers may get a little bit upset if you show up at the same show in exactly the same costume as theirs.

Do: Rehearse. You may think you know exactly how everything is going to work together on-stage and how each item will be removed, but until you practise, how can you be sure? That zip might catch on that ribbon, or you may not be able to undo that clasp with gloves on... Practise and make sure so you're not caught out on the night.

Don't: Forget to have fun! Costume-making is part of the process of creating an act, and there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be had, sourcing fabrics, trims, garments and accessories, then seeing it all come together in a blaze of glory at the acts debut.

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