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What is an Age Appropriate Costume?

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Wed, Jan 04, 2017 @ 12:01 PM


Deborah-Nelson-Satin-Stitches-Minnesota-Dancer.jpgI’ve done articles that deal with inappropriate costumes for children in the past. I will be discussing the other end of the spectrum this time:

The other end of the ‘age appropriate costume’ debate, is costuming for mature adult women. Men: generally you luck out with your costuming as you age, as many of your ballroom costumes include looser-fitting trousers, tuxedos and such. Pouring yourself into a tight one-piece catsuit might be problematic, so then you can refer to my upcoming comments about supportive undergarments.

Unless the dancer has the skin of a twenty-year-old, backless and sleeveless costumes are not the best option. Over the years, Satin Stitches has created countless ballroom gowns and custom dance costumes for all age ranges, including those of us (I now include myself) whose skin’s elasticity has seen better days. When we look in the mirror, we are wearing our rose-colored glasses and don’t see those wrinkles or the sagging and bagging. We try to think of ourselves as ‘forever young’.

But keep in mind how others see us, and use some tricks to maintain that youthful appearance. Stretch spandex fabrics can control the looseness or jiggling of older skin. Sheer mesh fabrics can hold everything in place and not be really noticeable from a distance. If you match your skin tone, it will barely be perceived, and it can add the finishing touch to a dance costume. A bright color or black sheer mesh can coordinate with the other features of your dance costume and can be very visually appealing. Of course if you LOVE rhinestones, you now have a perfect area to stone to your heart’s content!

In addition to stretch fabrics holding your skin in place, you can also use looser fabrics to simply cover the area that you’re hoping to camouflage. For a smooth gown, a looser sheer chiffon sleeve or upper arm drape can eliminate that naked arm.

Besides the dreaded upper arm, on our older bodies, necks and neckline-area skin can lose its tautness, as well as the skin on our back. The open-back look from your youth may now be more attractive, covered with sheer nude mesh, for that youthful look. If you have a wonderfully toned body with minimal wrinkling or looseness, you can take advantage of your good genes or your good workout regiment to still show some skin. Just take off those rose-toned glasses and really see what others are seeing. If you are happy with the look – go for it! If not, use a little camouflage.

But don’t simply cover up. Go with beautifully designed, classical lines and you will continue to look beautiful, all through your senior years. I think it’s more of a challenge to create stunning Latin-style dance costumes for the older dancer, simply because scanty costumes continue to be the norm, leaving little room for older bodies, so to speak. Concentrate on interesting diagonal lines with emphasis on great skirt movement. Make sure that any sleeves or higher necklines blend with the design – so they don’t look like they were an afterthought to make the costume more covered or modest. Do beautiful things with your rhinestone embellishment to create a stunning costume. And if a faux cut-out or two strikes your fancy, just make sure they are tasteful and classy.

Supportive undergarments also become very important, when we age. And remember that the most flattering of costumes, are those that fit well. Don’t try and squeeze yourself into a too-small costume, just because you can. And on the other hand, don’t clothe yourself in a baggy, boxy garment so you don’t show your lumps and bumps.

Try out the many brands of ‘shapewear’ that are currently available, and let these garments do the work, to smooth out any lumps and bumps. Just make sure that these garments fit nicely under your dance apparel. Keep in mind that all undergarments can be altered and sections cut away, in order to work under any gown or costume that you might have. But watch for lumps and bumps that are created above or below these garments. When clients ask for ‘cups’ to be sewn into a costume, I always present an alternative. I suggest bringing their own comfortable, correctly fitting bra. The straps can be cut off, along with the back. The actual ‘neckline’ of a bra can also be somewhat cut away, to better fit under a dress or costume, as well.

Older dancers should act our age and look our age (at least within a decade or so!). Dance choreography along with dance costuming should reflect our body sizes, shapes and ages for the most flattering and attractive result. Nothing is more distracting or uncomfortable to watch, than seventy-something dancers dressing like twenty-somethings. In my forty years of designing for clients, I have regrettably created a few costumes and gowns that made me wince. I have always tried to be honest in working with individuals and offered my opinion on if something ‘worked’ or didn’t. My advice was not always taken. Those instances that stand out include creating ‘fairy tale princess dresses’ for a very elderly client (she loved them!), and noticing that dance costumes created by others for my client included lots of wrinkled, exposed skin (mine didn’t). As a custom designer, we are at the mercy of our client’s whims, but I have always done my best to influence against bad taste.

But do realize that the rule in costuming is that you CAN break the rules, if done tastefully!

(Submitted for January 2017 issue of Minnesota Dancer)

© Deborah J. Nelson/Satin Stitches Ltd.

Tags: Costume Design Tips, Costume Fit & Size Tips, Minnesota Dancer Magazine


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