What is one of my most often mentioned pet peeves when I critique “Dancing with the Stars” costumes? …It is the overuse of “nude” elastic straps on dance costumes.
Why do I dislike “nude” elastic straps? Because, to be frank, they are a lazy way to deal with the physics of creating wearable women’s dance costumes. It shows a lack of well thought-out, strategic designs and, often, they aren’t as “nude” as they should be. Just as mismatched or poorly crafted straps can destroy the look of a classy costume, straps made of thin elastic strips that supposedly “match” the dancer’s skin can have the same negative effect. And the clear plastic elastic isn’t any better, as these straps are extremely shiny, and are very noticeable. They are not ‘invisible’.
Straps that we are to think are ‘invisible’ is what separates a social dance dress with a costume dance dress. We do not have supposed ‘invisible’ straps on our ‘out to dinner’ or social dancing dresses. That would look tacky.
Construction is key when creating costumes for an adult woman’s body. The bodice must cover the bust area, show just a hint of cleavage (but not so much that it will create a distraction if the costume shifts too much), and remain secure throughout the performance.
Securing a minimally covered costume typically requires one of two options: sheer (or presumed sheer) mesh fabric or genuinely uncovered skin with straps. If you’d like to use a mesh fabric instead of flesh, you’re in luck! Mesh is very ‘in vogue’ on the red carpet these days, and it’s a great alternative for giving the illusion of bare skin in dance costumes. It also keeps all the parts of a costume smooth and flat against the body. When straps anchor a particular part of a costume, other areas can bow or buckle out with dance movement.
If your desire is to have uncovered skin, there are certain anchor points that need to be secured by a strap of some sort. Besides the bust area, straps or mesh sometimes needs to anchor sleeves or sleeve bandings in place, a top of a costume to a bottom of a costume, and of course, securing a bra-section of a top or bodice.
With the bra-section or top of a bodice, those points are generally in line with the top, middle and bottom of an actual brassiere as well as the point where a strap holds up the cup area of a bra, on the front. A neck-strap can then either attach at the back of the bra, or as a ‘halter-strap’ going around the back of the neck. A decorative ‘halter-strap’ is much more attractive than just a “nude” elastic strap, wouldn’t you agree?
If straps are needed to keep a costume up, they can match the garment and become an integral part of the design. Adding rhinestones, beads, studs or chains to straps can easily enhance the costume. If designed well, these decorative straps can greatly add to the visual flow of a costume.
Aside from the distraction that “nude” elastic straps (that rarely even accurately match a dancer’s actual skin tone) can cause, the elastic that attaches one part of a costume to another part of a costume can also create an unwanted focal point. The pulling of the costume causes a peak or point and, when viewed from a distance, all you will see is the straining of the fabric. How does our brain process this? It causes a distraction from the lines of a costume.
In my opinion, the worst distraction is when a bra-top ends mysteriously at the side of the body near the underarm, defying all laws of physics. So why do costume makers keep doing this? I assume that it continues to be done for one of three reasons:
- “It has always been done”
- Dancers continue to request it for the ‘open back’ look
- Designers cannot create a decorative strap that would be visually attractive in its place.
I don’t typically mind the elastic straps that anchor one bra-cup to the other or the strategically placed elastic straps that hold a costume together at the back waist to keep a nice deep ‘V’ line. Wide set sleeves also require a little reinforcing so that they don’t fall off the shoulder. In this case, an elastic strap across the top of the shoulders is also useful and not distracting. Without these strategically placed straps, the costume would not work and, usually, if you squint your eyes these costumes look fine.
I’ll conclude by leaving you with one piece of advice, dancers: challenge yourselves (or the designers of your costumes) to creatively incorporate your straps into the design of your dance costume. Don’t settle for “nude” straps and don’t just tack on random fabric or straps so your costume doesn’t fall off! Use your straps as an opportunity to add to the design and lines of your already gorgeous costume.
Maybe you, too, will now be more attuned to good strap design. Perhaps you will think about superb design the next time you marvel at how those skimpy costumes actually stay up on your favorite “Dancing with the Stars” dancers!
This article was submitted in the November 2018 issue of Minnesota Dancer
© Deborah J. Nelson/Satin Stitches Ltd.