Hello world! It’s Stripper Talk time again! This is a place where I field questions and answer them to the best of my ability, hopefully giving anyone who’s interested in burlesque some insight.
This week’s question comes from Cherry Bombshell in New Zealand:
Firstly, I’d like to say that I think you are an inspiration – love your work and a huge fan of your blog.
I have a question… I’m a newbie to burlesque – did some classes, entered a competition and won – now have my first official gig lined up and another competition to look forward to.
I am buzzing with wonderful ideas for shows, but there is one thing that I find tricky – the costume.
I get stuck because for weeks I will be trying to find a costume that will work with my idea (New Zealand resources are extremely limited), then by the time I have it sussed my costume, the gig deadline is looming and I have to rush to put together a routine, but I’m finding it really hard, dare I say it, almost impossible to plan a routine with an imaginary dress/costume on.
I keep researching my favorite US performers and they all have exquisite costumes.
I am juggling a full-time job running my own business as well as a blog and in my downtime am trying to build a burlesque performance career. I have trouble deciding which order to do things in – do you think of an idea, find a costume, then plan the routine? Do you have any tips or contacts for sourcing costumes?
Thank you in advance for your tips.
First off, congratulations on winning your competition! I’m sure that was very exciting- and inspiring for you! After a triumph like a big show or a win, the ideas start swimming in one’s head, buzzing about, begging to be made. There’s nothing like trying to top yourself, it keeps us going, that’s for sure.
Your question is a good one, and one that a few readers have asked me to address. I hope that this helps you with your deadline-I apologize for the later reply as I am juggling this writing thing with performing and preparations for performance travel.
It’s wonderful to hear that you’ve been doing your research, looking at the costumes of your favorite performers. I think it’s a great way to begin your journey with your new act, so long as you have an idea of what you’d like to create, keeping in mind your resources. Looking at other mediums are great too- old movies, art, nature, fashion and photographs can help to shape your new fancy.
That being said- burlesque is an investment. Of time and of money. Since the dawn of burlesque, queens and headliners have been investing their hard earned money into their acts to make something unique and original. If you’ve checked out the book: Pretty Things by Liz Goldwyn, you can see in original receipts that they were investing hundreds of dollars (a mini fortune by today’s standards) in their beautiful gowns and skirts.
The most inexpensive way to make a costume is to do it yourself. If you have any crafty or sewing bones in your body, it’s in your best interest to start experimenting. I myself am intending on going to fashion school in the Spring (barring any big performance tours and engagements) to be able to create the costumes that have been swimming in my head for the last couple of years. I want complete creative control. A good instance of a performer with complete creative control of her costumes is Catherine D’Lish. She has an excellent list of people that can make the things that she doesn’t have time to create (like a corset for instance), and then makes costume separates like giant skirts, outrageous feather pieces, appliques, and rhinestone embellishments (among other things) to make her art her own.
If there’s something you’re envisioning, a good thing to remember is that somewhere out in the world is somebody who knows how to make it. Even better, they’re probably online, unless they’ve been living under a rock. You might have to make a ton of inquiries, but it’s possible to have shoes specially made for you, or even specialized rhinestone jewelry. So you’re in luck!
Whatever you do, make sure that the costume fits and flatters you. If you are a performer that wears corsets, you need to INVEST. A badly made or boned corset looks cheap, no matter how many sparkly bits you put on it. Same with dresses, simply buying off the rack rarely does the trick in this game, and it can make a performer look like they’re going to prom instead of being a performer meant for a big grand show. Take your time and figure out exactly what your costume needs and then do some pricing. Invest in a good tailor to work with your ready-made pieces. Contact costumers in your city and beyond, get price quotes, and in most performers cases, start saving. Why premier an act in two weeks with a poorly made costume, when in 2 or 3 months you’ll have something that really works and LASTS.
I’m a big fan of rhinestones (and hey-who isn’t in this business) but I do think they’re the cherry on top, not the frosting or the batter of your burlesque cupcake. Make sure the costume fits, flatters and does what you need to do on stage before you go putting $500 and more worth of stones on it. I’ve seen performers hit the stage with nary a sparkle on their costume and still look stunning because they’ve picked their pieces well. What’s even sadder is knowing that there are sparkly bits sitting in your closet that you don’t use anymore because it wasn’t made well. That’s when it’s time to get some tweezers and start picking those flashy puppies off one costume to apply to your new and better one. It’s time consuming, annoying, and your fingers will ACHE.
Sequins are a great alternative for bling. There’s a lot of sequin dress makers to be found online, you really need to get your fingers to do the walking on your computer to find a company that can provide what you need. Beads are another, you can get some great beads online, and books that covers all of the basics you need to know to make something fun.
On-line shopping can be extremely rewarding if you make the time to search. I searched for hours upon hours until I found a site that had the right stay-up stockings in my color that were long enough for my 35″ gams. Sometimes you order something and it doesn’t workout, do research, look at online reviews of businesses and know that sometimes it really is too good to be true (I’m looking at you $50 steel-boned corsets!).
You want things to last so that you can hone your act for years and add to the costume without necessarily having to replace or repair major parts. Re-soleing your shoes is a necessity, but buying a new corset every 6 months doesn’t have to be if you go to a reputable maker like Mechantes or Dark Garden (the mother of all beautiful corsets). There are also performers that make gorgeous corsets and costumes, facebook is an amazing way to source them. Ask in burlesque groups for names, and I’m sure you’ll get some answers.
As for creating an act choreography-wise, you should be all about your music FIRST. For my process, I’m moved by music before I’m moved by a costume. I also take into account that if I’m planning to have a corset in my act that it will change the quality of my movements (I even have an old corset that I practice with so that I can make sure a bit of choreography will work with the act). I have a tinge of synesthesia (I see colors when I hear music), so when I hear a piece of music I just know that the costume has to be a deep wine color and not green (for instance) and I go from there. Music will tell you what you need to do. It will tell you if you need a big gown, a boa, a fringe belt, a panel skirt, short gloves or long. It will tell you if you need a slit in your gown because the bass deems a big strut necessary. When you listen to the music, if you’ve picked a piece of music that’s dynamic enough- you’ll hear parts that would be perfect to unlace a corset or take a glove off one finger at a time, etc.
There’s not much more disappointing for me than to see a costume that doesn’t match with the music. A sultry piece to me doesn’t say ruffles, for instance, so if I see a ton of crinoline dancing to Night Train, I feel that the vision of movement that could have been expressed in the song isn’t coming to fruition.
The burlesque act is about the sum of it’s parts, not just about an epic piece of music or a bangin’ dress. The movement quality with the body, character of the movements, expressions on the face of the performer, costume and the music must all align to make something truly transporting.
Remember that not every act needs a corset, or a gown, or gloves or anything you’ve seen before. You have a blank slate- have fun with it!
Everybody’s path to a fantastic act is different, and over time you might find that your process changes. More often for me I’m moved by music first, but when I was primarily a neo-burlesque performer I was inspired by a concept and went in search of music to match my artistic vision.
Whatever way you choose to go though, don’t rush your process, and write your ideas down. Something that may not work for you now might work later down the line as you have more ideas and more experience. Each part of the process is important- make sure not to cut corners on your costume to pump something out quicker than it should, don’t worry- the audience will be there when it’s ready.