Beyond Feathers And Fans: Jumpstarting Your Burlesque Costume Creativity

Posted by Missi Hathaway On July - 24 - 20133,479 views

One of the most freeing things about neo-burlesque is that, stylistically, almost anything goes. If a costume gets a performer’s creative juices flowing and makes them feel comfortable, beautiful and triumphant, it’s likely to be fair game. Yet this lack of rules can also be overwhelming, particularly for fledgling performers. Working in a space of true freedom takes effort and self-understanding, but there are some tricks which can inspire spectacular new costumes. Whether you’re a first-timer or queen of the stage, harnessing the world’s inspiration and wonder is the best way of recovering from a creative dry spell and wowing the crowd.

Performers From the Past

Knowing your history isn’t just a sign of respect for the performers who came before you – it’s also one of the best ways of jump-starting your costuming creativity. This doesn’t mean that you should simply go on stage as a carbon copy of one of the big names, of course. The history of burlesque has been written by countless women, and if you dig deep enough you can learn their stories, as well as the stories of equally fascinating non-burlesque stage performers.

As you immerse yourself in history, make note of anything that interests you. This may be as obvious as a trademark prop or as seemingly unrelated as a club name; the goal is to create a list of things which spark and shimmer in your thoughts when you read them. Once you have your list, try to think of at least one potential costume idea for each item, without limiting yourself by what is actually feasible (turning ideas into reality can come later). Even if nothing comes from this exercise to begin with, keep the list around; you might be surprised when three months later you suddenly realize how to make one of the wilder ideas work perfectly.

Fashion’s Alternative History

Anyone involved in rockabilly knows that how most people think about fashions of the past isn’t the whole story. Fashion is a lived experience, influencing everything from what people wear to bed, to what socks they wear in what shoes, to what costumes appear on what stages.

Sometimes styles linger in certain subcultures before disappearing entirely, while others move from the stage to the salon and back again, and the in-between stages of mutating styles can be rich mines for both costumes and performances.  If you know yo


u tend to stick to one facet of the past, expand your frame of reference by branching out; knowing the context for your favorite fashion can make the old new again. Books, particularly fashion textbooks, can be the best way of understanding the changing face of style. Since costumes tend to take the fashions of the era and exaggerate their features, they can be one of the deepest wells of inspiration. “Costume History And Style” by Douglas A. Russell is a fantastic resource, since it takes cultural context into account, while “Fashion And Cultural Studies” by Susan Kaiser allows the academically-minded to look deeper into what fashion means and how it evolves.

Stealing From Yourself

Burlesque at its best is a form of storytelling and, no matter what your performance is about, part of that story is your own history. By harnessing their creativity, performers draw from all facets of their own life, whether intentionally or inadvertently, and costume design can also be inspired by these personal stories. This doesn’t necessarily mean turning your performance into a festival all about you, simply that your own experiences can – and should – inform how you respond to whatever the heart of your piece is about. In order to tap into this vein of inspiration, play therapist with yourself: what is your first memory about clothing? When was the first time you felt beautiful, and what were you wearing? When was the first time you saw someone dressed in your favorite subcultural style, and what were they wearing? Only you know which questions appeal to you the most, so pour a drink and sit yourself down for a conversation. From these dreams and memories, you can pull the kind of significant details which really pull a costume together.

Building a costume takes hard work and inspiration, and the process can be a tiring one if you’ve lost some of your shimmy and shimmer. By finding ways to reintroduce wonder and creativity into your life, you’ll see the difference in your costume, performance, and sheer enthusiasm for your art.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.




About Me

There is something about me..



    Activate the Flickrss plugin to see the image thumbnails!