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 embellishments on your costume are as personal as your color and style choices for your understructure. You can use as much or as little embellishment as you like, knowing that it's only too much if the weight of the embellishments cause the garments to fall off on their own. You can use any combination of fringe, beaded trim, sequins, feathers, fur and tassels. You can also go back later and add more to your costume as time and money allow. (I've been working on the bra for my mega costume for close to a year and have almost finished the last of the hand beading.)
Rhinestones: Rhinestones will probably be the most expensive things on your costume. You can use inexpensive, plastic rhinestones. You can use glass stones that have many facets like Preciosa. You can also opt for Swarovski crystals -- very flashy with more facets than Preciosa at greater expense. There are different sizes and colors of stones. Some dancers choose to purchase a handful of Swarovski crystals and use those on the parts of the costume that catch the most light, filling in with Preciosa and/or plastic stones. It's cheaper to buy any stones by the gross (144 pieces) or 10 gross.
Fringe: Fringe comes in a variety of colors, lengths and styles. A good rule of thumb is the longer the fringe, the more it costs per yard. You'll want fringe on your shimmy belt to emphasize your hip movements. You may decide to put fringe on your panties and bra. You'll need at least one yard of fringe for your shimmy belt, more if you want to put it anywhere else on your costume.
Beaded fringe: This is like fringe with benefits. It's a bit heavier than regular fringe and tends to cost a tad more. Beaded fringe is sold by the yard. It can be used on the shimmy belt, bra and panties. It catches stage light nicely and accentuates your shimmies and shakes. You can find it for as little as $3 a yard. You'll probably want at least one yard of beaded fringe for your shimmy belt because layered fringe looks awesome. You may decide to get two more yards if you want to decorate the leg openings of your panties, and maybe a yard or two for your bra.
Sequins: Sequins have worked best for me when they were in strands and I used them to cover up edges. I've stopped using sequins for the most part since I focus on event costumes and use more rhinestones. It's too easy to lose a sequin from a strand and too difficult to replace that single sequin. Strands have been easier for me to manipulate than single sequins.
Other embellishments: You can use any other embellishments you want on your costume. I used multicolor ric-rac on top of the ribbon top of some beaded fringe and it looked amazing. I used sequined fur trim on another costume and it looked quite fabulous. You might use complementary colors of cheaper trim to make your costume look even more smashing. One of the great things about a one-stop craft and fabric store is taking several trims and layering them on the counter before making your final selections for cutting and purchasing.
If you're playing along at home as I post, you have a few days to start collecting embellishments for your costume. In the last part of the series, I'll give you some hints on how to put everything together.