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Bad designs or… “what were they thinking?”

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Fri, Jan 03, 2020 @ 14:01 PM

Oh my…”what were they thinking?” occasionally applies to dance costumes that I have seen online or in person. Thankfully, not very often. But once in a while, I see something that I can only respond with raised eyebrows and shake of my head. With a fashion design degree and over 40 years of being in the business of dance costume design, I have a perspective of what looks good and what is appropriate for all styles of dance costuming. And of course, what looks really bad, no matter what your personal taste is. (Many costumes are not to my personal taste, but are still beautiful costumes.)

Costuming uses the art of illusion. Dancers are trying to create an aura and mood of their music and emulating the style of dance that they are performing to, whether it is soft and fluid or sexy and rhythmic.

Nude-looking fabric is very useful in costume design. It is one of the many tools in the designer’s toolbox for creating beautiful costumes. But as with other design tools, this tool must be used wisely. Please refer to a blog (The Scoop on Nude, How to be Tastefully Nude) that I shared, years ago, but the basic concepts are still very current.

Whenever you are contemplating the use of lined or unlined nude-toned spandex as part of your costuming, keep in mind how it really looks on stage/in performance. Be aware of the illusion. Whether you are really totally covered or not, does it give the ILLUSION that you are uncovered in the wrong places?

If your costume gives the illusion that you are covered in the most important parts, you will appear to be modestly (well, sort of!) dressed. If there is fabric covering these parts, but from performance distance, if it appears that you are not covered in these areas, some people – If not all, are going to be uncomfortable, and you will be thought to be wearing an immodest costume.

If you are an exotic dancer, maybe this is your intention. But if you are not, then rethink and rework your costume so modesty takes precedence. There is a difference between sexy and sensual, and cheap and tawdry.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about. This costume has some beautiful basic design principles. The skirt is lovely and the proportions of the slim fit to bouffant, is great. There is good use of color accenting. The dress fits the wearer, nicely. The combination of fabric textures creates a winning design. But it is lacking in the ‘tastefully nude’ arena.

Bad Ballroom design for article from Satin StitchesThis costume features a nude-looking bodice. I personally see a nearly-nude-toned bra underneath the mesh. I find this costume lacking in tastefulness. I also supposedly see nude, where the dance most likely is wearing either panties or pantihose, yet it appears to make us want to think it is nude there. Is this a good illusion? In my opinion, NO!

Here are several ideas that could improve this costume:

  1. A nice sweetheart lining that filled in the bustline and midriff areas – maybe in green?
  2. Extensive rhinestoning over the bust area
  3. Raising the skirt level so it doesn’t look so naked
  4. Just about anything bodice design rather than what we see

So always visualize what your costume looks like ‘from performance distance’ and if it shows the illusion of nakedness, where you didn’t intend – please make some adjustments to create a non-eyebrow raising costume!

Tags: Costume Design Tips, Costume Budgeting Tips

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