With group costuming, you want everyone to look the same. What is ‘the same’? It is when even though you have a variety of sizes, you want everyone’s costumes to look proportionally the same. Specific design details, such as an applique, or even the lengths of a skirt can be problematic, if you get them wrong. When no attention is paid to proportions, someone (usually the tiniest or largest person) might stick out like a sore thumb. Similar hairstyles, similar makeup and jewelry will help with the illusion. If all performers have successfully been dressed in correctly proportioned costumes, you will not zero in on any one person, but you will see the group as a whole, no matter the diversity of their sizes.
At Satin Stitches, we are continually working with trying to create perfectly proportioned costumes. We always strive for seeing the group, not the individuals. Working with junior high aged groups are probably the most problematic, as the sizes of these kids can vary from child sizes to very large adult sizes. Another group that includes a wide array of sizes, is adult women’s singing groups, such as Sweet Adelines. We have had the opportunity to costume many of these lovely ladies, and their sizes range all across the board.
When working with a limited range of sizes, such as for our high school dance teams or professional cheerleaders, we rarely need to make any proportional changes for style accents, such as appliques or color-blocked details, but with groups with a very diverse size range, these style accents may also need to become smaller or larger, to create a good proportion for all.
But, if we are needing to add sizes up to a 6-X or so, we might consider enlarging style details, as they may look ‘lost’ on a much larger size. And especially if we are working with our Child Sizes, dancers will be overwhelmed with a proportionally large design detail.
‘Grading’ is the technical term for creating proportional sizes, based on a Sample Size. All companies work with their own ‘Grade Rules’ for making the mathematical changes to pattern pieces to create all sizes needed for group orders. If you wish to see more of this, just go to satinstitches.com and find our size charts. You will see all the measurements that we have decided upon, for our full size run of Child XXS through XXL, Adult Womenfrom XS through 6X and then our Men’s sizes from 34 through 52.
The key for having all different sizes in a group looking uniform, is to have costumes that are correctly proportioned for all of the sizes. Additionally, they need to fit properly and not look boxy or too tight. An expensive costume, if not fitting correctly, will not look classy and expensive. Conversely, an inexpensive costume can look much classier, if it fits everyone well. If you are unable to order correct sizes, make sure that you have someone available that can correctly tailor ill-fitting costumes. If you need larger costumes, be sure and purchase an extra costume to cannibalize (if matching fabrics are problematic to fine), to be able to add additional fabric to extend the largest size that you have available.
Lengths of skirts need to be proportional with the locations on the leg. If it is a really short skirt – then consider how the skirt covers the butt and where it hits on the thighs. If the skirt should finish, ideally around the knees – either slightly above or below, then the length from the waist to the knee is really important. If a skirt is ‘tea length’ then everyone’s skirt should be hitting the same location on their lower calves and above the ankle (we generally reference the ankle, or specific distance from the floor). And of course if skirts are to finish ‘floor length’ or similar, the measurements should reference the heights of each dancer, down to the floor, with the dancer in their heeled dance shoes that they will be wearing.
If pants are worn, then the same parameters should be considered for pant lengths, as for the skirts. One of my pet peeves is when I see short ladies wearing a cropped or Capri pant that was cut to hit the area of the leg of a taller lady. How can you tell? Look in the mirror – does it look ‘right’ or would it look better, shortening a couple of inches. Your eye should tell you.
I’ve seen many a Capri pant on ladies that creates a ‘high water pant’ look because it looks too short to be a long length, and too long to be a proper cropped length. Many times it is also a matter of how wide the Capri pant is. If it is too wide – this also creates a wrong proportion. Yes, I realize that altering clothing can get expensive. But it can also make your clothes fit you better, and they will look more expensive and pleasing, rather than looking like you are wearing hand-me-downs from your taller sister!
The same can be said for those of us with long arms. We need to watch for long sleeves that look like a ¾ length sleeve, when they aren’t. My personal, inexpensive fix? I roll up any sleeves that are too short. Since I am a warm person by nature, so it seems an excellent option. There is no good option for lengthening sleeves on an ‘off the rack’ garment, as most don’t have hems that can be let down, so you must always check to see if sleeve lengths work for your long arms. (Conversely, toolong sleeves look sloppy.)
Other areas to be concerned with proportion besides skirt, pant and sleeve lengths, would be the natural waistline (at the smallest circumference or indentation) or empire waistline (under the bustline) or dropped waistline (set at the high-hip or hipline), if there are actual seamlines or accents at these horizontal dividing lines.
One thing that can be a big problem, is with working with a variety of bust (cup) sizes. At Satin Stitches, our ‘Sample Size’ fits a B/C cup well. Ladies with smaller bustlines generally employ Victoria’s secrets for a great fit, but those with larger bustlines need their costumes to be adjusted to fit, especially with an empire seamline.
There is nothing as distracting as seeing an empire seamline hit way too high on ample-bosomed ladies. I personally haven’t had that problem, but I have a sister, a cousin and a daughter that struggle with getting a good fit, in this area. At Satin Stitches, we alter our CAD patterns to accommodate D, DD and even larger bustlines, when needed. We also have the expertise for working with all different types of shapes that may not fit into the ‘norm’.
So in summary, ‘one size does NOT fit all’. One of the keys for fabulous group costuming is to pay attention to the details and make sure the details of your costumes expand or contract for fitting larger and smaller, plus shorter and taller dancers. And additionally, achieving great fit, is very important. Any costume looks much better, if it fits right, than any expensive costume that fits poorly.
(Submitted for August 2016 issue of Minnesota Dancer)
© Deborah J. Nelson/Satin Stitches Ltd.