Prepping a New Costume for Use
Updated: Mar 20, 2022
New costumes are exciting, whether you make them yourself or buy them. Unfortunately you can almost never put a costume on right from the box: even when it has been custom made to your measurements there are some important steps to take before trying to perform in a new costume. This post should help you get a better fit, make your costumes more comfortable (sortta'), keep things in place when you're dancing, and help them last longer. We can't really cover major alterations too much here, those will depend too much on what your specific situation is, and might need a full-on sewing class, depending on your skill level and the situation of your costume. We CAN, however, cover the things you'll need to do to almost every new costume.
Let's start at the head and go to the toes. Headbands: a lot of costume will come with something that goes in your hair, if it doesn't connect under the hair line (along the top of your neck) then grab some elastic and connect it! This goes a long way to helping it stay on your head when dancing. The elastic should be close in color to your hair, so it isn't visible. Another good idea is to get some sort of jelly headband form the drug store and whip stitch it to the inside of the band. If you have slippery hair like me this is a life saver, I couldn't wear my new Saidi costume without it!
Next comes the bra. This is where the most work usually has to be done. First, you'll need a trusted friend to help you set the hooks to their proper position. You want it tight enough to support you, but not to tight you can't breath or that you'll be worried about breaking loose while dancing. Use a button hole stitch to secure them, and always check them after a performance to make sure the metal hasn't started sawing through the thread.
I bet you all just thought about what could happen if the hooks failed, didn't you? If you've ever gone surfing or snow boarding you might have thought of this solution already, but here we go: before performing in your bra get some flat elastic and skirt hooks, attach the elastic to the inside of the cups at the underwire (be careful to keep it at the same angle as the band) and attach the skirt hooks to the other end. This will give you a backup to keep your bra on in case of a hook or two failing AND it will give you some extra support that stretches with your breath. You might want to do this before setting the hooks, since it will help keep the bra on while you're trying to fit it. You will probably need to make a guide to keep the elastic hidden under the band, as you can see here:
Bras can also need the cups themselves tinkered with.
You might need to add padding or a boobie-dam (fabric added to the top to prevent your cups from running over). I find a lot of fit issues can be addressed by actually shaping the underwire. Grab the underwire firmly and gently, slowly, bend it in your hands. Be careful not to snap it, but if you find it's not giving you enough lift bending the sides inward can help a lot.
Another important trick is the placement of that top strap(s). If you are getting too much side-boob but the cup should fit OR if the bra just seems too wide for your, moving the strap sideways along the cup can drastically alter the fit. You can see under the mesh on this dress that I added ribbon to pull on the cup in the specific places I needed in order to improve the fit.
The next step on the bra is one of the most important: dealing with how the straps connect from your cups to the band. Many ready made, and even a lot of custom, costumes are halter styles. Which is just plain painful. Professional dancers know to make sure the show goes on, but why give yourself any more distractions to contend with when you don't have to? If you are making your own costume, or if the straps are long enough, I HIGHLY recommend crossing the straps in the back, you get good lift out of it, the bra will usually stay in place if a hook were to pop-even without an elastic backup- and it's super comfortable. Usually if the bra came in a halter style you don't have enough fabric to make X straps. The next best thing is T straps. You need to get a strong, non-stretching, fabric like grossgrain ribbon, as well as some trim that will coordinate with your costume. If you can't find anything to coordinate you might need to bead the ribbon yourself, but you can usually get a good look with pre-made trim. Open up the lining and attach the ribbon to the neck strap at the top with a VERY strong stitch, be sure to go all the way through the fabric, but also not to let your stitches show. The difficulty of this will vary depending on how your band is decorated: if it's fully sequined you won't have much trouble, assuit also hides stitching well, you might need to keep your stitching hidden by the beaded edge. Once attached at the top have a friend pull it down and mark where it needs to be attached to the band. You need to pull tight enough that the weight of your breasts is transferred from your neck the new strap, which will transfer it to the band where it belongs. cover it with the nice trim then attach it, tucking a few extra inches into the lining, so the bra can be adjusted if you decide to sell it.
Moving onto the belt!
There usually isn't TOO much to do to the belt. If it's not too decorated you might be able to add darts- if needed- to accommodate the curve you of tush and hips, but most costumes are too decorated for this to be an option after it's finished. You can, however, adjust the angle of the top and bottom hooks to address any muffin toping. If you have a bra and skirt combo, instead of a bra and belt, you might need to add elastic to the inside to shrink it up, if you find it slipping down on your because it's too big. If it fits but is just heavy try adding something grippy to the inside. Velvet will provide some traction, you can also use the headbands that are made out of rubbery gel, or even rubber shelf liners, to help the skirt grip your hips.
The bra and belt should both have felt added to the inside with a quick and easy whip stitch. This is to absorb any sweat and keep you from having to wash your costumes too much, which wears them out. When the felt gets icky just take it out and replace it, the bedlah is still in great shape! I like to stitch a little pocket into the front of my belt for my business cards. You can't keep much in there, but having some cards on you during (especially restaurant) gigs can be really helpful!
Lastly: Skirts! I mentioned a way to take them in above, making them bigger is a whole other ball game, and is outside the scope of this article. Length is something we can talk about here!
If you've any luck your skirt is either the right length, or too long. Too long is much easier to fix! If it will go under a belt you can just roll the waist band up, stitch it down, and you're all set. Very full skirts and skirts with decoration at the hem should be altered this way. My new asuit costume has coin trim along the edges and hem, so I rolled the waist as described. This simpler way to shorten them works better for straight skirts than for full ones and saves the length incase you want to re-sell it to a taller dancer. Stretch the elastic out to ensure you have a smooth fold and that you're not creating twists anywhere, those could cause tearing when you stretch the elastic to put the skirt on and off.
If the skirt had a lot of beading at the bottom and doesn't go under a belt, your best bet is going to be to either get a pair of heels, or sell the costume. Unless you are feeling ambitious enough to move the beading it will look a bit crazy if you have to take off enough to cause the beading to curl under the hem. The costume in this picture has a few inches at the bottom of just fabric, so it could be re hemmed the traditional way with up to that point. I've chosen to wear it with heels.
There are some options for making a skirt longer, you can add a ruffle, an underskirt, or a yoke. The yoke is best if you don't need to add anymore length than the width of your belt, and the skirt will be worn under a belt. A ruffle could change the look of the costume, so explore your options there, and make sure to tie the fabric into the rest of the costume. An underskirt gives you a layered look, so the original skirt is still going to be short, but your finished look is better.
That's all! Don't forget to check your accessories for their fit, and do lots of shimmies, back bends, etc to be sure everything stays on. Happy dancing!