Creative Costuming for the 99%
Burlesque Glamour on a Budget
The Shape of Things to Come
I'm your biggest fan:
Sally Rand fans are lovely, but they are expensive as all get out and even the DIY kits are beyond a lot of budgets (plus, many have moved away from feathers for animal welfare reasons). But when you think of what a fan does, you can turn just about any material into a fan, and if you don't require one that opens and closes, it can be as simple as cutting rigid cardboard into wedge shape, getting wooden dowels from a hardware store and gluing fabric, leaves, branches, ribbon etc. to them. I made this peacock fan from leftover trim and material, cardboard and hot glue: (see images below)
The most important days of your year:
November 1st and the week before and after Christmas
Overall, you want to think about venue; in my experience sequins actually catch the light in more dramatic manner than high end (read: Swarovski) rhinestones, so if I’m designing something for a theatrical venue (i.e., stage and more importantly, spotlights), I usually prefer the much cheaper option of sequins, sometimes filled out with glitter glue.. Likewise, drop-dead gorgeous detail work like intricate beading and hand-set rhinestones works best for smaller, cabaret style venues in which you are very close to the audience, or for photo shoots and on-set video.
Don’t let a costume wear you.
Finally, while costuming can play an important role in both your impact on stage and your ability to create a character, it doesn’t mean a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys if you aren’t comfortable with yourself on stage, owning what you do and working everything you got. I have seen absolutely breathtaking costumes that probably costs 100’s and 1000’s of dollars and/or hours of crafting on performers that were utterly forgettable on stage because they didn’t exude confidence and own every inch of the stage; whereas I’ve seen performers of gloriously varied shapes, sizes, beauty types and gender definitions who have about 2 rhinestones to their name, lingerie I can’t even remember, and in one case, even Birkenstocks (Hi there, Von Foxies), bring a crowd to their thoroughly entertained knees because they hit the stage with the full force of their personalities, without the slightest doubt that they were exactly what the crowd needed to see. Electrifying eye contact is a thousand times more valuable than all the rhinestones in the world. Connecting with the audience will always be your best weapon and a costume should be a tool that allows you to do that. If you don’t believe in yourself and the power you have on stage, at best you will be remembered for a pretty costume and (when it comes to the fabulous marathon of bedazzled excess that are most burlesque festivals), just one drop in a big sparkly sea of feathers and divorce dust.
Much that I have learned over the years is through the hard-won experience of making pretty much every costuming mistake known to humans (and I have the glue gun scars to prove it) but especially, through the camaraderie of the burlesque community. The best sources of costume advice I’ve ever gotten can be found through Penny Star Jr. (http://itsachick.com/burlesque.html) and Venus De Mille in the classes they’ve given at BurlyCon and various conventions. If you get the chance to take a class with them, RUN to sign up.
Also, check out Jo Weldon's book for all you need to know about not just costumes and how to use them, but the very fundamentals of burlesque in The Burlesque Handbook.
Burlesque Boston's Blog is a collection of contributions from burlesque artists.