Saturday, March 2, 2013

DIY Crazy Horse - Josephine Baker Pearl Costume

The Crazy Horse - Josephine Baker pearl costume is very popular.  You see a version of it in the film Burlesque.  I've seen various versions of pearl costumes over the years, often made for chorus girls.  I even had a version of the pearl costume for the play I did in 2008; the costume designer thought the pearls screamed burlesque.  She and I built the costume pictured here.  She was right that the pearls scream burlesque, which is why I'm building three pearl chorus costumes for a burlesque scene in an independent film.

To build the pearl chorus costume, you will need:
  • a flesh-toned thong or G-string
  • a flesh-toned bra
  • 2 yards of 5/8"-1" wide flesh-toned elastic
  • 20+ yards of pearl garland
  • a large metal snap
  • flesh-toned thread
  • a needle
  • a thimble (trust me on this one)
  • a pants hook and bar
  • a swimsuit hook
  • 1 gross rhinestones and 5 gross pearl studs (optional - most of the pearls I got were used on the pasties)
Pearl garland - 22 yds. per roll
I recommend you check out Ross, Marshall's, or Nordstrom Rack for the flesh-toned underthings.  I usually buy my lingerie elastic online, but you can probably find some in your local fabric store.  I bought a 22 yard roll of 8mm pearl garland for each costume on Ebay.  (I went with 8mm beads because they take up more space than the 4mm beads I used for my shopping estimate.)  The costume designer I worked with for the above photo hand strung the beads for my costume, taking far more time than available or necessary for these chorus costumes.  Pearl garland is also more cost effective.

Prep the bra for embellishment by clipping off the straps.  Measure for your halter strap.  (I estimated 18" per costume, but your measurements may vary.)  Machine stitch or hand stitch one end of the strap to the top of one cup where you clipped off the old strap.  (If you use lingerie elastic, make sure the plush side will face your body.)  Turn under 1/4" of the other end and finish it so it doesn't fray.  Attach the male side of your snap to the finished edge of the strap so it will face the bra.  Make sure your strap isn't twisted before attaching the snap to save yourself a headache.  Attach the female side of the snap just inside the top of the free cup.  Be sure everything fastens correctly before adding any embellishments.

For stripping ease, replace the bra hooks with a pants hook and bar.  You can leave the factory hooks and eyes on the bra and attach the pants hook and bar over them.  You may consider taking jewelry pliers to bend the factory bra hooks closed so they don't catch on fishnets when you remove the bra.

Where to start & round the edges
Attach one end of your pearl garland to the top edge of the bra where the cup meets the wing (where the underwire is usually located).  Hand stitch the garland along the top of the cup between each bead.  You can use safety pins to attach the beads to the bra, keeping the weight of the beads from pulling the garland off the bra while you stitch and helping guide your stitches.  Work your way across the center and over the other cup.  I recommend you curve the garland below the strap to present a more pleasing finished silhouette.

Hand stitch garland across center of cup
When the entire top edge of the bra is beaded, stitch the garland along the side edge and the bottom of the cup, crossing the center and following the curve of the other cup.  Using the same length of garland, cross the center of the cup where you started.  Attach the garland, then pin more of that length across 1/3 of the top of the cup.  Turn the corner at the edge and cover the last 1/3 of the cup.  Wind the garland down and follow the procedure on the bottom half of the cup.  You should have a total of seven rows of garland on one cup of the bra, including the top and bottom edges.

Follow the arrows from the X

I did a crazy ass drawing that may or may not help you.  Follow the arrows with one continuous length of garland.  After finishing the first cup, cross the center of the bra and the center of the other cup.  Follow the same procedure.  Zig and zag, friends.  Once you have seven rows (or the bra is symmetrical and covered to your liking), clip that length of garland.


Note the strap, the snap, and 7 rows of beads
You might find your own way because my sketch is pretty screwy.  This is my finished product with one continuous length of garland.

Clarus stones & plastic pearl studs
Now we add dangly bits to the costume.  Cut two lengths of garland: one at 40" and one at 60".  (The costumes I made were for small to medium frame girls.  You may want to add a few more inches if you have a little more body to work with.)  Attach the center of the 40" piece to the center of the bra with a few stitches.  Attach the center of the 60" piece to the center of the bra just below the center of the 40" piece with a few stitches.  Tie it off and attach the tail ends of these strands to their respective sides.  I like attaching the edge of the longer piece right next to the back closure, then putting the end of the smaller piece just inside of that, keeping the closure free and clear.  Safety pins are great for pairing the strands and keeping them from tangling when you're stitching each side.

I finished off the bra by using Clarus (very inexpensive Korean) rhinestones between the rows of pearls, and alternating the rhinestones with pearl studs on the wings and strap of the bra.  I needed a little more dimension and a little more pop for the costumes I made since they were going to appear in a film.

Loose garland on front
The panties were much easier.  Determine where on the crotch the embellishments will end.  (I stopped about a centimeter below the panty lining fabric because I didn't want unnecessary bulk between our legs.  Badum-ching)  Fold the panty in half and lightly mark center front at the waistband and at the crotch stop line.  Start your zig zag of garland at the waistband about 2 1/2" from the center line.  This part takes a lot less hand stitching.  Secure the garland at the start point.  Run a length to the crotch line and safety pin it by the leg opening, then run it back up to the waistband and safety pin that length halfway between the secured end and the center.  Run the length back to the crotch line and safety pin it about 1/2" before the center mark on the crotch, then run it back up to the center line at the waistband and safety pin.  Repeat this on the other side of the center mark.  You should finish with five attachments (secured end and four safety pins to hold the length in place) at the top, and four attachments at the crotch.  Do not cut the garland yet.  Try on the panties and adjust the garland if you have too much dangle or if the panties are bunched up.  Hand stitch the garland at the safety pins and remove the pins.  Now you can clip the garland at the end.

Thong center back
I got really scientific with the leg swags.  For the shorter swags, I sat down and wrapped the garland around my upper thigh once (cut two of these).  For the longer swags, I wrapped the garland around my thigh where the leg opening of a panty would go (cut two of these).  Secure one long swag and one short swag at either side of the front decor on the panty.  Attach the loose ends on the rear of the panty, each side 1/2" from center.  Use safety pins to keep the swags out of the way while stitching.

I used spare Clarus rhinestones and faux pearl studs to embellish the rest of the thong.  I didn't embellish the crotch or the crack of the thong because the pearl garland was embellishment enough for what the audience would see in the number.

If you got the 20+ yards of pearl garland, you should still have some left.  You can use the remaining supplies to make a sexy choker.

Swimsuit hook & lingerie elastic
Cut a length of flesh-toned elastic to go around your neck with an extra 1 1/2" for your hook and loop.  Machine sew the closed end of the swimsuit hook onto one end of the elastic.  I suggest you put the hook so you can open and close the choker with your dominant hand, which is why I put all of mine on the right.  (If you use lingerie elastic, make sure the plush side will face your body.)  Sew a loop on the other side so the swimsuit hook catches it.  Try it on now and make any adjustments before you start embellishing.

Stitch a length of garland from one seam of the collar to the other.  Don't tighten your hand stitches too much or the collar won't fit.  Try the collar on to be sure it fits, then cut the garland.

Notice the center of the collar
Cut six lengths of garland for your collar swags: two 34", two 40" and two 50".  (The costumes I made were for small to medium frame girls.  You may want to add a few more inches if you have a little more body to work with.)  Stitch the end of each swag to the center of the collar.  Attach the shortest swag to the center of the collar first, then the medium swag just outside of the smaller swags, finishing with the longest swag outside of the medium swags.  (Center will be short medium long long medium short.)  Safety pin the ends to the collar opening by the seams to keep them out of your way while you stitch.  (The garlands are relatively heavy compared to the elastic, so you need the safety pins to distribute the weight and keep the entire project from continuously sliding into your lap or onto the floor.)  Try it on again.  The pearls should hit just below the bra, near the natural waist, and just above the panties.

You can use the remaining garland to add more swags to the bra, panties, or collar.

Cheap plastic pearl studs
For pasties, make buckram bases.  Check out my video tutorials if you've never made pasties before.  Glue the pearl studs around the outside edge of the pasties, working your way around the circle.  Keep gluing rings of studs around the pasties from the outside to the center.  You can continue the rings to the center, or you can add a flash of color with your Clarus rhinestones.  I wanted the nipple of the pasties to really stand out so I used a few stones at the tips.

I'll share photos of all the ladies in these chorus costumes from the film shoot.  Please feel free to contact me with questions if you try to make these costumes, and I'd love to see photos.

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