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Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Wed, Jul 24, 2019 @ 14:07 PM

Black-Lyrical-crop-e1563155444659-1170x1064Whether your dance team is on a very tight budget, or you have a flush bank account because of tremendous success with your fund raising, you should always be aware of ‘getting the most bang for your buck’ with any new team performance costume.

What should you consider?

  • Order in a timely fashion to take advantage of any specials or discounts offered by your preferred costume company.
    • Know your order date deadline to achieve your delivery date deadline.
    • Don’t spend more, just because you need to pay rush fees because you waited too long before placing your order
    • Plan ahead, when possible, to take advantage of any ‘early bird’ discounts.
  • Always consider what a costume design looks like, viewing from ‘performance distance’. Sure, your costume may be stunningly beautiful when they are right there, in the mirror, or on a team member that is a few feet away.
  • Be aware of limitations of any specialty fabrics or trims that might not survive the rigors of a full season (or two) of intense competitions or performances.
    • Are specific fabrics fragile and need special care to survive?
    • Currently, most performance fabrics such as holographic or ‘Mystique’ fabrics do not launder well, if at all. Will your team take care of their costumes to assure that laundering will NOT be necessary, other than the occasional spot-cleaning that is recommended or the use of an odor-eliminating spray?
    • Is there enough stretch in a fabric (such as specialty laces and certain sequin fabrics) to insure that your team can dance as choreographed?
    • Will your rhinestones, beaded appliques and feather trims stay attached to your costume and not shed?
    • Are you assured that the company you work with manufactures their costumes to withstand the rigors of performance?

All these listed bullet points are the nitty gritty things to think about. Now I’ll list the more fun and creative aspects of costume design, and assuring that you ‘get the most bang for your buck’.

Don’t over design. Rely on costume/fashion design professionals to ‘edit’ your design concept to eliminate any redundant or superfluous details that just ‘muddy up’ your design. Make sure your design doesn’t include ‘everything but the kitchen sink’.

A pleasing combination of textures and colors on a design is attractive, but watch out for too many of these details that simply drive up the materials costs or labor costs. The most important factor to determine if details are a good or bad thing, is to imagine the design from 20 feet away. If you don’t notice a detail ‘from performance distance’ then you are spending money on a detail that is not visually necessary on the stage.

Be aware when using pastels or white, they may need lining for ‘no show-through’. If you need to add another layer of fabric, you are adding cost. If another color or fabric can be used that will not require lining, you can lower your costs.

Visual flow is another design concept for successful costuming. A focal point (where you look first at a costume) or two, should be a part of a costume design. Visual flow is where the audience’s or judge’s eyes first ‘see the costume’. An example of ‘visual flow’ would be a focal point at a shoulder with details then work across and down the body to another design detail at the hip. You don’t want too many random details that cause you to visually jump around, all over the costume. The old adage of ‘less is more’ is something to consider with costume design. Generally, less detail results in less cost for the costume.


Especially with kick performances, design details can add to the pleasing overview of your costuming. Traditional kick costume details from the beginnings of high school dance team, in the 1980’s and 1990’s involved manipulating color blocking that didn’t add cost and didn’t need more skill from your dancers, but added to the visual performance value of your team should be considered.

What were these effects? Front-to-back color changes, side-to-side color changes and surprise details such as under-arm color changes and inseam or outseam leg stripes. When strategically placed, all of these color-blocking features can add so much to your team’s routine, without adding costs and without needing a higher level of dancing.

Overheard at a competition, when seeing under-arm color changes and color blocking on the unitard legs of a particular dance team…’oh my, those color effects look sharp, but if the dancer doesn’t kick to the same level as other team members or if they mess up and kick with the wrong leg, the mistake will REALLY be seen.’ Yes, that is true. When done badly, the performance perception will suffer. If danced with perfection, the audience and judge’s positive performance perception will be increased.

GreenBlk-Cheer-crop-684x1024Color choices are important. Colors used together on a costume should be pleasing. One color should not overpower another color in a costume. The intensity of colors should be similar. For more specific color information, please check out my blogs about color in costuming: The Wonderful Wide World of Color, and Tips for Great Colors & Textures for your Ballroom Costumes & Gowns. Generally bright colors should be used, versus pastels – especially pastels that can be perceived as ‘skin-toned’ from performance distance. Except for dramatic, ‘dark’ themed performances, be careful to not over use black. Black can be very boring. Watch out for fabric colors that are similar to the color of a gym floor, so your costumes doesn’t fade into your floor. For any front-to-back color changes, keep the prettiest color on the front and a ‘wow’ color on the back.

Piping and banding and edging – if seen at ‘performance distance’ is a worthwhile aspect of any team costume, but if these labor intensive detailing is not very visual, it can be left off of a team design.

Rhinestone details is another place where your team can spend wisely or just spend. The quality of rhinestones is important. The color of rhinestones can also be important. The size of rhinestones greatly affects the cost of your rhinestone detailing. And how your rhinestones are attached is also important.

Military-Unitard-crop-1-760x1024At Satin Stitches, we use only Swarovski hot-fix rhinestones. They are considered the gold standard of rhinestones. Rhinestones manufactured by other Austrian rhinestone manufacturers are also a good investment. Less quality, such as acrylic instead of glass rhinestones – are not a wise investment. We use hot-fix rhinestones because they instantly adhere to fabrics. We do not use the glues that take hours to dry. We also apply our Swarovski hot-fix rhinestones by 3 different methods, depending on the design requirements of each costume order.

Crystal rhinestones reflect the most light and therefore are the most noticed, on a costume. They are also less expensive than colors and specialty rhinestones. Colored stones are the next higher priced. Sometimes a certain color of stone works best with a costume, especially if you want a more subtle look, such as red sparkle on a red costume, rather than the ‘polka-dot look’ of crystal on red. The top tier level for colors of rhinestones is the specially coated rhinestones such as aurora borealis or jet hematite (we use this color on black fabrics, as plain black tends to disappear).

The size of your rhinestones also affects your cost, as well as how they are patterned on your costume. For most purposes, we recommend using the size #20 rhinestone which is 5mm is size. Why? Because it works the best and is the fastest of our methods of applying rhinestones. We use an ultra-sonic rhinestone attaching machine, and this size is preferred. With our other application methods, smaller is more difficult to use (which adds time) and larger – works well, but the larger the stone, the higher the cost. The next larger size is #30, which is 6mm in size, but not all colors are available in hot-fix in this size. This size rhinestone is approximately double the cost of the size #20 stones. The next larger size, which we use most often when a big impact is needed (and where many colors are available) is the size #34, which is 7mm in size. This size is nearly triple the cost of the size #20 stones.

Consider the pattern of your rhinestones. Scattered over an area is the fastest for labor costs. If a strict and compact pattern of outlining stones is needed, it takes much longer to do, translating to higher labor costs. Or if an exact pattern is desired, it takes longer to create. So determine if an all-over scattered pattern can work for your design – to give you sparkle, or if you really need an intricate pattern. Remember to consider these options when viewing ‘from performance distance’.

Purple-Theme-crop-711x1024Other details, such as bows, rosettes, or draped details…consider if these details are necessary and are visible ‘from performance distance’. If not, then they are NOT providing ‘the most bang for your buck’.

Lastly, it has become ‘a thing’ (a fad) to have a costume that ‘transforms’ right before your eyes. At Satin Stitches, we have created many of these costumes over the years. Will you get the most ‘bang for your buck’ with these innovative costumes? Perhaps, if you have invested well, with transforming features that your team can consistently execute during their performances. Keep in mind that these features add cost to your costume because of the investment in the time it takes to perfect the transformation. Will it be worth it? That is for you and your team to determine, but unfortunately you won’t know until after your team has competed and performed with these specialty costumes.

Keep in mind that the overall perception of your team costuming needs to be positive. Your costumes should not detract from your dancing. But mostly, your team will be judged and scored on their dance ability and their execution of their choreography, along with their ability to smoothly achieve their formations. There are no scoring marks for ‘oh my, that tricky costume transformed wonderfully’. It is your team’s dancing that earns their scoring marks.

©Deborah J. Nelson/ Head Designer and President of Satin Stitches Ltd.
(as published by MADT Coaches July 2019)

Tags: Custom Dance Team Costumes, Quality in Costumes


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