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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.

Doll Parts: Performance Rituals

With all types of performance, there is a certain amount of preparation to do before you go out on stage. Everyone has a routine or a ritual they go through before they walk out on stage, here are a few of ours.

Desiree De Carlo: I always twerk, bounce, & writhe in front of the mirror, often lip synching, to the songs leading up to mine. Gets me super amped. I also have to stand around naked for at least 10 minutes before costuming. Air bath!

Phyllis Thriller: I wear my grandma’s rhinestone jewelry in every show. She was also a performer in her youth, so I feel like I am bonding with her when I am onstage with her accessories.

Frenchy LaRouge: I have to show up super early or I feel off all night. I just like to get everything set up and have a moment to stretch or chat with the owners/bar staff. If I’m singing I go over the lyrics in my head several times in the back outside of the dressing room, by myself.

Lula Lawless: Before every show (that I’m able to) my beauty routine is as follows: candle lit bath with atomic lounge music. Then I curl and pin my hair and perform my makeup ritual to either doom metal or booty bounce music (usually depends on what character I need to become for my routine). Bad bitch night? or Eat you alive cunt? I also try to stretch and have 1-2 cocktails to loosen up.

Trini Bikinii: I just need a congratulations on how big my hair is from my man.

Gurl Haggard:  I always sneak to the back and set my intention for my performance before I walk out. I say how I want the audience to feel out loud either in gibberish adjectives or an actual sentence.

Patsy Blue Ribbon: I always make sure we coochie crunch. It’s an all-hands-in tradition that I did pre-show in New Orleans and happens all around the country. It’s the official pep talk of the show and sets the tone for everyone to go out there and kill it on stage and give their all.

Vagina Woolf: I like to take a long shower with candles lit and lounge music playing. I spend at least an hour preshow stretching and meditating. I always put a drop of lavender oil on my wrist and take yogic breaths before going on stage. I really like when another doll touches my tummy before going on stage to ground me.

How to Keep the Glitz, and Add the Weird!

By Kelzey QuickLee

Burlesque is about a lot of things, but somewhere at the core is sexuality. So, it stands to say that becoming a burlesque performer involves becoming acquainted with one’s own sexuality. One must also come face-to-face with one’s self-view. Are you a diva? A queen? Are you submissive? Subversive? Commandeering? Coy? Deviant? Furthermore, what is your character going to be like? Is he/she a glamorous stage presence? A goofy clown? A cheesecake pin-up? As you build your character you must figure out what of your personality and sexuality you can comfortably fit into that mold.

My stage name for the very first Rocket Doll show was Sin Dee Licious. It didn’t suit. I am not that overtly sexual. I am not a fuckin bowl of ice cream. I discovered that what i really wanted to do was avert the attention from sexiness. I aim to make people nearly forget about my toplessness – or even to be disturbed by it. This aesthetic is in direct confrontation with the presentation of classic burlesque, which, as we Dolls like to say backstage, is all about making people LOOK AT IT. Classic burlesque is about detail, glamour, sheer confidence, epic costumes, small, beautiful dance movements, long pauses, slow peels. So, how does one combine that with the weird, character-driven, often “ugly” aesthetic of Neo Burlesque? It took me a long time to figure out how to get the raw feeling i wanted without scrapping all of the glitz from the stage (because there should still be some glitz). Below is some of the best stage advice I’ve stumbled into after 5 years of being RDR’s resident oddball.

1) WHAT WOULD YOUR CHARACTER DO?

This is the first question of neo-burlesque. With neo, one is 8/10 times creating a character and a storyline. You will refer back to this question often. Just keep it close and use it often.

2) GLITTER

Let’s talk glitter. I hate the shit. Boyfriends hate it. Girlfriends hate it. Roomates find it in their goddamned lettuce. Let me fill you in on something wonderful: you DO NOT have to wear glitter. Refer to step one. The question is: would your character wear glitter?

3) RHINESTONES

Another burlesque staple that you do not HAVE to use. However, open your mind up a bit on this one. Would your character use rhinestones? No? Okay, what about the stage version of your character? Better yet, would rhinestones add shock value or visual appeal to your act? Let me give an example: One of my trademark acts features a corporate pig. He has no use for rhinestones on his suit (he is not Vegas Pig, he is Corporate Pig) but, his belly calls for attention. Lots and lots of attention. Hence, rhinestones.

4) MAKEUP

The makeup tips for a neo act differ greatly from the makeup tips for classic, beautiful stage face. But, i would venture to say that makeup in a neo act is one of the most important touches. Refer to Step 1. Now, RESEARCH. Go all out. Do not be afraid to look messy or over the top. You probably do not – you probably look like a character deserving of a stage. Invest in spirit gum and liquid latex.

5) HAIR

Sometimes I feel a little weird when the other gals have their hair all curled and did and mine is… Not. DO NOT GET IN THE HABIT OF NEVER DOING YOUR HAIR. Your hair is still important, no matter the act. That does not mean that you have to do all the classic pinup styles. It DOES mean that your hair should suit the routine. Put a wig, mask, or hat over it. Tease it, twist it, braid it. Just do something to it.

6) FABRIC

If you decide that your act does not call for so much sparkle, try to add some interest with texture. Use various fabrics to create interesting focal points.

7) STORY

If your body and your presence are not to be the purpose of the entire experience, then your story and your character must be. Ask yourself if the story you are trying to convey is relatable. Create a beginning, a middle, and an end. Maintain the character throughout OR develop a change in character. This also translates to the striptease. In a situation where you are not simply a beautiful glamazon there to take them on a magical journey of the flesh, the audience must understand WHY your character is taking off their clothes. Don’t just get onstage dressed as a giant donut and take off your clothes. Use music choice, dance, and narrative to make the strip make sense. Examples: Trini Bikini has a signature act as a gigantic cheeseburger. She uses the song “Any Way You Want It” to create narrative. I have an act as a cyborg. I become human and use dramatic music and dance to create the feeling of breaking free.

8) DANCE/CHOREOGRAPHY

Dance is an important aspect to all of burlesque. There are many different levels and types of dance represented in burlesque. But, no matter what level you dance at or what type of routine you are creating, it is important to choreograph the main bits. Know when you will take things off/put things on. Know when you will look at the crowd and when you will look away. These little nuances can pull together all of the story.

9) PROPS

Props can be fun and even important. DO NOT USE TOO MANY. Until you have had quite a bit of experience – and sometimes even then – props have a way of making an act look messy. Limit yourself to 5 – and even that might be pushing it. Do not be afraid to mime! Miming can be magical.

10) COMMIT

Be your character. Know your character. Know your story. For the 2-5minutes you are onstage, DO NOT stop being that character.

11) HAVE A GOOD TIME

… Dammit!

Total Dollmination

We have so much in the works! Check our facebook page (www.facebook.com/therocketdollrevue) for daily updates on things Rocket Doll related.

We’ll be posting a new promo video soon, and we have a monthly collaboration with the Society of the Golden Garter coming soon to Mass Ave! Plenty of chances to see us jiggle our bits.

Stay tuned!