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Altering Your Perceptions of Off-The-Rack Costumes

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Mon, Nov 04, 2019 @ 10:11 AM

dress form-cropAltering costumes can be a valuable tool to enlarge your wardrobe. You are very lucky if you perfectly fit ‘off the rack’ costumes that you might find at a dance competition or exhibition. This article is NOT for you, unless you like to ‘tweak’ found costumes to ‘make them your own’.

If you do NOT perfectly fit a ‘ready-made off-the-rack’ costume, but you lust after those fabulous fripperies on those racks, then here are some guide rules for buying-to-alter.

The costs for alterations mostly involve labor. If you are talented yourself, you can alter to your heart’s content. If you work with a friend or family member who will do the job for you, as a labor of love – good for you, and keeping your budget low. If you or your friends do not have the expertise or the time or will to work on your ‘find’, then you will need to contract with an experienced design/alterations person. You need someone who works with costume fabrics and trims, which are not easy to work with. Sometimes only real fashion/costume designer/couturiere businesses should be contracted for the best results. At Satin Stitches, we have been working with costume and bridal fabrics and trims for over 40 years. We all have different areas of expertise to ‘do the job’ as a team. Designers have an ‘eye’ for what should be changed to create a fabulous result, Patternmakers can create a pattern for making additions to your garment. Experienced machine and hand-sewing technicians can do the sewing. Experienced fitters can eye what needs to be done to create that better fit, and direct our team for the best results.

Do you LOVE it ‘as is’ but it doesn’t fit?

Many things can be done by a talented designer/dressmaker/alterations person to adjust the fit of a garment. It is all a matter of what needs to be done and if it is realistic to do. ‘Simple’ alterations would include taking in or shortening, or adding straps, for example, depending on the construction of the garment. (A fully beaded garment is NOT simple to shorten or take in, whereas a garment with no design details located at the side seams or at the hem can be relatively easy.)

If a garment needs to be ‘let out’…unless you have additional fabric, this is nearly impossible UNLESS the seams are ‘generous’ (most are not, these days).

Adding straps can work out…consider matching or contrasting straps, ‘nude’-toned straps or clear elastic straps. Straps can be decorated with rhinestones or beading, to incorporate themselves more into a design.

Lengthening a garment, unless there is a substantial hem allowance to work with, can only be done by adding something creative, such as a contrasting banding or ruffles for example.

Gussets (smallish extra pieces of fabric) can be added between the sleeves and armholes, to add better ‘reach’ in the arms. Gussets can also be added in the underarm area to give extra width to the sleeves…These gussets will need to match the fabric – so if you can find a matching mesh to add to mesh sleeve (such as black, nude, or other basic colors), you may be in luck. Every manufacturer buys their fabric from SOME of the same sources, but many from different sources.

Sometimes necklines gap and sometimes there is too much fabric in the bustline area. Those of us who work with bridal gowns, in addition to dance and other costumes are very familiar with the sometimes hand-work required to adjust/take in these areas. Sometimes if sleeves just don’t fit, they can be removed.

Do you LOVE it, but with a minor change?

If you have found that nearly perfect costume, but you think it needs extra fullness in the hemline or it needs sleeves, or it needs a filled in neckline to be perfect, you should consult with your professional costume maker/adjuster to see if they think that the changes that you wish, are practice and doable. Don’t assume that ‘anything is possible’ as it may not be, or it may not be economically prudent.

Major design changes can also improve your ‘off the rack’ costume. Please read my blog/article for more specific information. Minnesota Dancer September 2017 Transforming Off-the-Rack Garments into Danceable Duds!

Do you LOVE it, but want it in a different color?

If you are looking at a ‘one-of-a-kind’ costume, then your only option would be to contract a designer to recreate that costume in an alternate color. Perhaps the manufacturer has the ability to make a design in your favorite color? Most likely it will cost you more, as generally ‘off-the-rack’ garments are priced below what a brand new, one-of-a-kind, made from scratch garment would cost.

And no, dying a costume generally is not an option. We have been asked this and my answer is that dying a ready-made-costume is always a crap-chute…I’ve done some dying in my day, but will never touch something that someone brings to me. I will dye garments that we are creating – while the garment is still being constructed, as then we may have the option to start over and re-dye to a better result. Fabric dying is an art, it is not a science. All fabrics take dye differently…some well, and some hardly at all. Learn to love that not-perfect colored costume!

Do you LOVE it, but you need more embellishment?

Ah….now you are talking! What dancer doesn’t love adding glitz? Many dancers or other performers have supported their glitz habit by learning how to sew on or glue on additional rhinestones, beads, sequins or feathers! If you don’t have the time or inclination to bedazzle a new costume, I’m sure you have friends or family who might enjoy your project – for a price. If not, here at Satin Stitches, we have several embellishment specialists who would love to design your added glitz, or simple follow your specific directions on what you would like.

I hope you have enjoyed my ‘mind altering’ guidelines. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send me an email or Facebook message!


(Submitted for November 2019 issue of Minnesota Dancer)

© Deborah J. Nelson/Satin Stitches Ltd.

Tags: Costume Design Tips, Minnesota Dancer Magazine


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