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‘Unfortunate' Costume Designs

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Fri, Jul 05, 2019 @ 06:07 AM

Sometimes our best costume intentions go badly (both intentions by our clients and by our design staff). Sometimes we don’t ‘see’ what could be an ‘oops’ moment! Thankfully, we haven’t had more than a hand full, in the 4 decades of custom costume creation! As I’ve been going through old performance photos from the years before digitizing, I have recalled a few instances that stand out to me. These are all group costumes.

Oops Leotard created by Satin StitchesMany years ago, we created a leotard and pants for a group…I truly don’t recall what type of group…it must have been either a dance team or drill team (yes, they are different!) This particular costume/uniform had sort of balloons on the front bodice. This design was NOT dreamed up by our design team, but was presented with sketches, by our client. We created their prototype and it was approved. These ‘balloons’ inspired thoughts of something else that wasn’t very ‘family friendly’ in our opinion, as we looked at the results.

Most times an instance like this isn’t ‘caught’ in the design/sketching stage, but comes to life when the sample/prototype is created. It seemed glaring to us! But the client was very happy with their design.

Thankfully I cannot recall many ‘oopsies’ with group costumes. After a prototype is created, based on our collaboration with our clients, we recommend that our groups try on the prototype and view it ‘from performance distance’ and run through dance moves that will give everyone a visual on how the costume ‘performs’. We hope that any weird visuals surface at this time, and we can alter the costume to steer clear of any unfortunate, unintended visuals.

Dusty Pink and Black Dance Costume designed by Satin StitchesMy very first ‘oopsy’ moment was realizing what can happen with skin tones on costumes along with being aware of the background that our teams perform in front of or on (the stage floor), and how this impacts the ‘readability’ of performance costumes, was back in the 1980’s. Near the beginnings of our extensive high school dance team costuming, Satin Stitches created a classy dusty pink and black spandex danceline dress for Winona High School. I frequently attended competitions to see how ‘our’ and competitor costumes looked, in person. They looked lovely close up. BUT, on the basketball court, the dusty pink looked skin-toned, and that was not a great look against the yellow/tan gym floor.  But the worst visual was that the dusty pink looked positively nude…naked…oh my! From that visual revelation forward, any color remotely similar to skin-tones, I made sure was not used in a way to create a naked look for the team! And we steer clear of peach, ivory and pink pastels that can look like skin from a distance.

And we consider what gold and tan may look like against a gym floor. Additionally, black costumes are classic and sophisticated, but invisible against a black stage curtain!

Unfortunate Arrow design by Satin StitchesBesides the above mentioned and pictured ‘sperm’ (sorry, I said it)…costume, we created a beautiful sparkly, sequined dance dress for another high school team in the 90’s. It featured a sort of upside-down pine tree shape, outlined in silver sequins. It followed the rules for keeping the design focus on the upper bodice….except…that the bottom of that design was construed by randy high school boys at a pep fest, as an arrow pointing directly down to the girl dancers’ crotches (oh my!). No one our design team and no one from the team (coaches, booster parents or dance captains) ‘saw’ this! After having it pointed out, with much ‘tittering’ by the boys, (it was clearly an adolescent boy ‘thing’), we took the costumes back and did a slight sequin addition that minimized this glaring look!

Another look to avoid, is to watch where design lines cross the bustline/bust are. My first design job boss was an elderly gentleman (I recall he was in his mid-80s, and I was a naive 22) who was not a part of the #metoo movement. He truly enjoyed seeing me blush. There was an official design term relating to the area around the ‘bust point’ where you needed to work with seams and darts to shape correctly over the bustline. He referred to this area as the ‘bust action’ area. He giggled whenever he mentioned this, giving me a big grin. No, I never forgot about the ‘bust action' area! With costuming, you need to avoid design features that call attention to that ‘bust action area’. In the 90’s, at Satin Stitches, we used to call it ‘Madonna-izing’ the bust area, if too much attention focused on the bust area. We avoid it!

Yes, with over 4 decades of creating custom performance costumes, we have had many very successful group costumes and thankfully, very few disappointing group costumes. But we have had very few ‘Unfortunate’ costumes!

 ©Deborah J. Nelson/ Head Designer and President of Satin Stitches Ltd.

Tags: Quality in Costumes, Costume Critiques

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