Sunday, September 13, 2009

DIY Stripper and Burlesque Costumes

In these tough economic times, it has been suggested to Granny Panty that she share her hints for making your own costumes. And I'm happy to do that.  Just as I admire Bettie Page for making her own costumes -- and for many other things -- it makes me proud that I make my own.  On a fixed budget it's particularly challenging to get new costumes, so I'm happy to share what I know with you.  I never buy an outfit from a stripper store because most of what I see there is too expensive, shoddily made and cheap-looking.  And who wants a cheap-looking stripper, right?

First, you do know your own lingerie sizes, don't you?  That's where we'll start.  We'll get in our cars or on the bus or subway and go to a national discount chain store, such as Ross Dress for Less or TJ Maxx in the States.  We've cleared a couple of hours for this adventure, by the way.  First we find our bra size, but if we want extra "oomph," we go down one cup size.  For instance, if I wear a 34C under street clothes, I'm going to buy 34B to use as costume bases so that I get that voluptuous overpour and extreme cleavage. We prowl the entire stock in our size, pulling out anything that looks promising.  We're looking for highly structured bras, by the way, not soft cups.  We're looking for underwire push-up bras, in other words -- Wonderbras, if we can find them.  Then we take the armload to the dressing room and find four or five we love that flatter our pretty parts.  Bras that once cost $40-50 in a department store we'll get for a steal at $4.99 at a discount house.

Next we go to the panties and start looking for panties that will coordinate with the bras we've chosen.  We'll consider any style:  g-string, thong, bikini, boy short.  This is the time to mention that white bras and panties are fine, because, next to Velcro, RIT dye is a burlesque artist's best friend.  You can buy white gloves, g-string, panties and bra and dye them all together to whatever color your little heart desires!  Get plenty of panties, and make sure some of them go all the way up to the waist in case you want to build a costume element like a tail onto the panties.  These lacies will set you back $1.99-2.99 a pop, as opposed to up to $20 at a department store last season.  You can get your g-strings here for $1.99, many times exactly the same ones selling for $16 at your local stripper store!   If you don't have enough garter belts, look here, too, and snag them for $3.99-4.99 as opposed to $20-30 elsewhere.  You should also look through the one-piece foundations, body suits, leotards and nighties while you're there.  You may find something good to use as the base for an old-time showgirl costume.  If it's bathing suit season, don't leave without checking them out, too.  While more expensive, swimsuit bottoms are much more substantial bases for building costumes on than panties.  Bathing suit tops, not so much.  I prefer bras for embellishment. 

For about $50 you should now have scored the base elements for five or six new costumes!  Of course, you could also have gone to Target, but there you would have paid two or three times more for what you have, and the quality's not as good.  You can also do your shopping at a thrift store (especially if you're looking for vintage bras), but you'll be unlikely to find sets there so you'll be spending quality time with RIT dye afterward, as a result.  Granny's a little put-off by the thought of her pretty parts nestling up where some other lady's did previously, so she buys her undies discount, but new.  And, of course, you can always raid your own lingerie drawer, if anything's appropriate and you're willing to sacrifice it to the cause.  Consider dyeing it a new color, if it's well-worn. 

Next we go to a chain fabric store, or the fabric section of a crafts store like Hobby Lobby.  We bring in our bag of new undies, because now the fun part starts.  Go up and down every likely aisle looking for things that match that you're going to encrust and embellish your bras with, and the tops or butts of your panties.  Fringe and stringed sequins are the natural place to start, of course, but look in the upholstery trims and at the lace, ribbon and pom-pom balls too.  If you really sew, make sure you have the needles and thread you'll need to do most of this by hand.  If you don't sew, stock up on fabric adhesives like Stitch Witchery and buy a low-heat glue gun.   Are any of your costumes going to be tear-away?  Then you'll need Velcro.  I recommend the soft, sew-in kind.  And do you need to sew snaps on to anything for easy removal?  Look in the netting department:  do you need net or tulle to make fanny drapes or headdresses?  Do you need cheap strings of beads to festoon your costume with?  Do you need feathers?   Just remember as you pick out things to work with that your audience loves everything that glitters, like sequins, or moves, like fringe. 

Before you leave, head to the felt squares section, and pick up any stiff felt you may need for making pasties to match your new stripper costumes.  A stiffened felt square will put you back about $1 and you can make at least half a dozen pasties out of one square, whereas the cheapest commercial pasties are about $10-15 a set! And, surely, you've already picked up enough sequins to decorate them!  There's a great pasties tutorial by Randi Kittens here:

Sadly, you'll find at the check-out counter that you've spent at least as much on the decorative add-ons to your costumes as on the bras and panties that are their bases.  View it as an investment, since you'll probably be able to use any left-overs on future projects. 

Go home now and spread everything out.  Squeal with delight and anticipation!  Look at how everything is working together.  Maybe do a little internet research for inspiration.  Sketch out some ideas.  Dye anything that needs a color change  -- the longer you leave it mellowing in the RIT dye the darker and more intense the color gets; I use a plastic waste bin, myself, as a dye pot.  Then knock yourself out, sewing sequins and fringe on your new undies for days and days!  I like to do it while watching old movies, because it's a labor intensive task and it's gonna take you a while.   But the result will be worth it.

When you're all done decorating, you may realize you need new stockings, gloves, boas, etc., to match.  If you stuck to one color family when you designed your costumes, you'll get by with buying fewer accessories because more will match many outfits.  As Halloween approaches it's easy to find lots of cheap boas, gloves and stockings.  And they'll be even cheaper the week after Halloween, if you can wait to stock up.  You can swoop up white fishnets after Halloween for about a buck, and dye them later, if you need to.  Same for cheap long white gloves.   The cheap marabou boas you'll find everywhere at Halloween for $5 are not so good for burlesque acts, but they're great as sew-on trim on costumes or in tail pieces.

Granny has to use all the money she saved making her own new fall burlesque ensembles on a real, high-quality boa.  That's gonna set her back at least $60.  But it's an investment, right?  And a very good boa played with effectively is just so sexy, isn't it?

So here's Granny's $45 worth of new costume makings for fall.  When they're all spread out you can see I can use black or white accessories I already have with them, and if I wanted to buy something new, fuchsia or hot pink would probably be the best color.  And they match the new pasties I made a couple of weeks ago.

Have fun making costumes, and fun performing in public or private with them when you're finished!  I think it would be a great gift idea to give someone a bag of undies in their size and a roll of sequins, yards of fringe, rhinestones and feathers as a DIY stripper outfit kit.   Your mother or grandmother, for instance.  With a cute Bettie Page postcard sending her all your love and many kisses.

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