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Custom Costuming Advice w/ Vagina Woolf

What is the first thing you notice about a burlesque performer when they appear on stage? Their costume! The glitz, the shine, the beautiful accents, the mood it evokes or the humor it presents. A well-crafted costume can take a burlesque performance from at-home bedroom dancing to a stage-worthy performance. Burlesque is an escape from reality and it is the performer’s job to transfer the audience from real life to a beautiful and lustrous world beyond.
For me, creating costumes was one of the biggest draws to burlesque. With a background in fashion design and fine art, creating something tangible, designed to move with the performer, was very appealing. I found myself creating costumes in my head before I ever had the desire to dance on stage. Although I prefer to create my own costuming, many performers do at times order custom pieces from industry sources or work alongside a local seamstress on a shared project. So, let me share a few secrets with you on how I begin the costuming process. Every person is different in their techniques, but mine draws from pure inspiration and gut intuition.
 
1. Set your tone, know your mood, create a color scheme. These three items are completely cohesive. The colors of your costume will tell the audience how you are feeling and how you expect them to feel. Dark colors such as eggplant, black, and deep blues will create a moody feel– whether it be sad, mysterious or a little sinister. Pastels seem playful and flirty, youthful and fresh. For more vibrancy and energy, choose bright colors like yellow, lime green or hot pink. Set the tone with your colors and make sure it matches your dancing and music. If I am creating a costume before I have a song picked out, I am often inspired by one particular item such as the fabric of a robe I already own, a beaded fringe I fell in love with or even the colors on a piece of china in my home.
 
2. Choose a silhouette. Once you know your mood, you want a costume silhouette that will match. Some examples of silhouettes could be a classic hourglass shape, a softer floating silhouette, or perhaps a more natural silhouette showing a lot of skin. This will help you decide what types of pieces you want. Here are a few examples: an hourglass shape may include a form fitting gown, a corset and lifted bra. A softer floating silhouette could be a sheer babydoll robe or or softer fitting lingerie. A natural silhouette may be a mesh bra, panel skirt or harness. Of course these pieces could mix and match, but you want to consider the initial shape you are presenting on stage.
 
3. Choose your embellishments. Is your character high glamour? Simple? Over-the-top? Do you need movement in your costume? Will any of your dancing be restricted by certain embellishment layers or additions? These are all things to consider when you order the abundance of shiny items you will need to take your costume from basic bra and panty to performance level.
Here are some things to remember when choosing embellishments:
a. Fringe can add movement and interest which is great for fast shaking or twirling. Beaded fringe has even more show however it is not great if you plan to be sliding across the floor a lot or if it could get caught on something like fishnets.
b. I love a fully embellished bra however using only rhinestones is expensive. Consider creative options to fill space. I love to use a variety of appliques, with sequins, beading and rhinestones. Also, different sized stones fill more space and add textural interest. Covering a bra with shiny or sparkly fabric can also fill gaps.
c. Embellishment will make items heavier! I have definitely over-embellished a panty before and had a hard time keeping it on. Especially if the piece is small or made of a thinner fabric, be careful not to get crazy with the sparkles.
d. Create a unifying pattern. To bring all of your various pieces together, you want to have one set design that unifies everything. This design can be literal or just decorative. I have created designs to look intentionally like fish scales or stars, but sometimes I just want a gorgeous and interesting layout. Take inspiration from fabrics, textures, geometry, things in nature! Anything can be transferred into a pattern. Look around you and take pictures of patterns that you like and stow them away for future use.
e. And finally, create costumes that can mix and match and transfer to other routines. I spend a lot of time on my costumes and I want to make the most of them. I always make sure that at least my base layer (bra and panty) is something classic that I could mix with other top pieces in the future. This will ensure that you get to reuse pieces in the future and provide options when you need a last minute costume. It also make it feel like your costume wardrobe is much larger than it truly is. Sometimes a costume just won’t ever match anything else, but if 70% of your items mix and match, then your options double.
 
Always be creative and feel truly inspired. I pay attention to small details and try to imagine how every piece will look from offstage. Every new costume is my new favorite and I try to make each more beautiful than the last.

How to Get Into Burlesque (by Frenchy LaRouge)

How do I get into burlesque? It’s a question we get a lot from fans and friends. It’s a question most established dancers get on a regular basis from other ladies (and sometimes gentleman), and we’re not the first, nor the last I’m sure, to finally just post a set of guidelines on the internet for those who are curious. So here it is, folks, Frenchy’s advice on how to get started in the world of burlesque:

1. RESEARCH. Go to shows, read about the history of burlesque, watch videos of experienced performers online, talk to performers in your area about what the community is like. Get as much info as you can! We may make it look easy on stage but trust me when I say, we did not wake up like this. If you’re doing it right, burlesque takes a lot of time, effort, and (usually) money. I personally have to book an act 3-5 times to recoup my costume expenses, for some people it’s more or less than that. Figure out what you can put into it as a hobby, what you’d like to get out of it (are you an entertainer at heart or do you just want to experience the thrill of the strip a few times?), and what you might be able to offer the community as a whole.

2. Take a class, or find a mentor. Would you pick up an instrument without finding out how to play it first? Burlesque is no different than joining a band, or trying out for a play. You should know what you’re doing before you get on that stage! If you can find a class in your community, take it! If you can’t find a class in your area, see if you can find someone who is willing to mentor you, someone who has been in the game for several years and can give you solid, honest advice on how to put together a performance and get booked in a show. Find someone who can tell you WHY they’re qualified to teach you the art of the tease, and can back that up with facts and experience. Having a mentor can save you time and often money on costuming as well. Learn everything you can! Never stop learning.

3. Pick a name! Picking a stage name is important, and fun. Do yourself a favor and steer clear of overused, typical “burlesque” names. They might sound fancy and exotic to a new performer, but once you get further into the community you’ll wish you didn’t have the same last name as 15 other girls, trust me. If I could go back and tell noob Frenchy one thing it would be to pick something other than LaRouge. Choose something that tells the audience who you are, and make sure it’s something they can pronounce and chant. Also, once you decide on something, GOOGLE IT. It’s no fun getting a message from someone who’s been using the name you picked for 10 years already.

4. Network. Introduce yourself to performers and/or producers at shows, get their email address or business card if they have one, and send them a quick, professional message that you’d love to help in any way you can. Volunteering to work the merch table or stage kitten a show is a great a way to get behind the scenes and develop relationships with people you want to perform for or work with. They can’t book you if they don’t know you!

5. Develop an act. Come up with a solid, unique routine that you can shop around to individual producers or troupes. I always suggest starting with something that isn’t specific to a certain theme, that way it’s easily repeated and can potentially fit in anywhere. Some troupes have auditions, and in that case you will want to be able to show them a fully realized act. If you can, get video of it to send to producers, even if it’s just on your phone in your living room, that way they know what they’re booking. A lot of cities, Indianapolis included, have at least 1 regular showcase for new and independent performers that are a good place to get some experience under your belt.

6. Be professional, honest, and open. It’s ABSOLUTELY ok not to know everything, and to ask questions, and to need help. A good attitude and willingness to listen will take you far in this community!

I hope this is helpful for anyone passionate about getting into striptease. It can be an extremely rewarding hobby/career and something that has definitely changed my own life in so many ways I can’t even begin to explain.

Thanks for reading!

xoxo,

Frenchy LaRouge