Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Creating a Simple Burlesque Costume - Part One: Selecting Your Understructure

I wrote this for a workshop I taught at Theatre Unleashed in 2008 and revised parts of it to post here.  Please do not republish without permission, but feel free to link back to this blog entry.  I'm sharing this information because I know I have readers who are burlesque pioneers who need a little guidance.   These are instructions for making a very simple burlesque costume, and are a good guideline for beginners.  :)

The simplest burlesque costume consists of a decorated bra, panties and shimmy belt.  You don't have to spend a ton on your understructure, but you want to be sure you have good support.  You'll be decorating your understructure with some heavy items.

What to look for in a bra:
  • Padded cups to support the weight of fringe and rhinestones and to hide the shape of your pasties.  Some dancers like their pasties to peep out of their bras.  If you go for this look, make sure the bottom of your pasties fit under the bra so your bra doesn't push the pasties off your nipples.
  • Comfortable size so your boobs don't fall out the sides -- underwire should rest on your ribcage and not be suspended off your boobs.  If you want larger breasts for the silhouette of your costume, you can always sew pads into your bra.
  • Appropriate style that you don't need a rocket scientist to remove.
I recommend getting a cheap bra and panty set in your regular size.  You may select a standard bra with shoulder straps and a rear closure.  You might want a bustier with or without straps.  You might go with a halter, but be sure your halter has neck ties or alter your halter and add neck ties so you can easily get out of your bra.  You may go with a front closure so you can pop open the bra and let it fall off your arms and to the floor.

If you'd like another piece to strip off your midsection, or if you want something to cover what some dancers refer to as "the boyfriend area" (meaning they'll show their boobs but the midsection is too private for public viewing), you may decide to wear an underbust corset or waist cincher with plastic boning.  You might also consider a cupless bustier.  I had one of these that zipped down the front, making removal very easy.  I got mine on eBay for $12.  Walmart has something similar for around $13.  Check local lingerie stores and department stores for the best option.  Underbust corsets and waist cinchers are considerably more expensive, especially if you want something good.  You can find off-the-rack corsets and cinchers for under $100, but it costs to get something custom made for your body.  (Anastasia von Teaserhausen made the corset I wear with my mega costume.  It moves well with me, is durable and unique.  I highly recommend her stuff if you really want to invest in something that will last.)

What to look for in a panty:
  • Comfortable fit, meaning they don't cut into your body and you'd be willing to wear them in front of others.
  • Ability to accommodate a "safety panty" (a nude panty or g-string to keep your lady bits from saying hello to the audience).
  • Appropriate style for your body type.
Again, I recommend you get a cheap panty.  The safety panty protects your costume from getting messy, particularly since it's hard to wash costume panties when they're decorated.  You can select your safety panty later, but keep in mind that there should be room under your costume panty for a safety panty.

The panty style is up to you.  Some dancers wear thongs, others wear boy shorts.  Figure out what panties are most flattering for your butt.  Don't get a g-string for your costume panty of your first costume unless you know the venues where you'll be performing will allow it.  (Many places have a rule that the panty must be at least 1" wide and cover the buttcrack.)  If you do purchase boy shorts, know that the center seam can and will creepy crawl its way into your most sacred of crevices.  To hide the creepy crawl, you can get a cuchini or have longer fringe on your shimmy belt.

What to look for in a simple shimmy belt base:
  • 3" to 4" wide ribbon that is 3 to 4 yards long so you have enough to wrap around your lower abs and tie in back.
I usually buy double-sided satin ribbon.  It's thick enough to support glue, rhinestones and beaded trim.  It costs around $3 a yard.

If you want to play along and work on your costume as I post, you have this weekend to go find your understructure garments.  Next week I'll get into selecting embellishments.

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