Lady Velvet Cabaret

You’ve read Sugar du Joure’s Top 5 Expensive Burlesque Costume ‘Worth-it’s, so now it’s time to embrace the cheap and cheerful DIY side to burlesque costuming that ANYONE can try at home!

It’s no secret that Burlesque is an expensive profession. Yet I find myself constantly amazed when I am backstage staring slack-jawed at a performe’rs gorgeous garment, and they lean in toward me to whisper: “Did you know I made that myself?”… MIND BLOWN!

The reason I tailor a lot of my own clothes is purely because what flatters my shape isn’t always available on the rack in a store. Notice I wrote tailor, not make; I couldn’t follow a sewing pattern to save my life. However throughout my career as a performer, I have adapted and picked up some skills to save myself from spending too much money too quickly. I had to start with no skills whatsoever, and SO CAN YOU!

If you are reading this; chances are you have read my first article “Five Expensive DIY Costume ‘Worth it’s” If you haven’t, zip there and have a quick read. But if your purse strings are tight enough as it is, then read on…

1. Save money on cheaper Crystals
Oh I learned this one the hard way. I absolutely adore a Swarovski flatback. The sparkle and shine is mesmerizing. When I first bought some Swarovskis online I realized quickly that $100 worth could only cover a glove… So I had to find an alternative. Luckily a lot of websites can sell you some knock-offs that look great, and won’t break the bank. My favourite is Avant Crystal. They sell Swarovskis online, but also cheaper options like Stellux and Czech Preciosa. A third of the price and a similar colour schemes. I would much rather buy bulk crystals and have more of a lower quality than spend far too much on the real thing. Let’s be honest, I pop a few crystals everytime I hit the stage, so losing a few Stellux won’t hurt.

2. Budget on your Shoes
I wish I could wear a gorgeous high stiletto, but my weak ankles won’t allow it. I also often find myself walking across lawns when I do roving entertainment, or running across bitumen when I am late to a gig. My shoes always get a battering, so if I’ve bought an expensive pair that I know I am going to treat terribly, I feel guilty.

My solution is comfy and cheap! I frequent shops like Famous Footwear, and Spendless shoes. They almost always have a simple strappy heel in a variety of sizes and colours. I purchased a low heel in black, and rose gold from Famous Footwear and I find they go with most of my costumes. I never pay over $50 for a basic dance shoe unless I need something extravagant for an act. Have two pairs of heels that go with the majority of your costumes. Wear them in before you embellish them with crystals or paint so you know they are comfortable. Badabing-badaboom.

3. Need a quick costume? Go online! Sometimes I get booked for a gig that is very specific for what they would like. Sometimes you have to pull off a character act and you have no idea where to find all the pieces you need for the perfect outfit. Everyone’s simple solution is also mine: Go online!
Places like Costume Box.com are great starting points for a character or themed costume. You can search for specifics and often find a range of cheap accessories or wigs to go with it. But I cannot stress this enough: This is a starting point. A cheap factory-made costume will always look cheap. You have to be willing to put in the work to make it special. Add some zips or snaps to make the garment tear-away. Brush and style that wig to high heaven. Cover everything in embellishments and for goodness’ sake have a wonderful reveal underneath it. I repurposed a silly men’s Seventies costume and turned it into a tearaway BeeGees fantasy with some fake hair and elbow grease. I like to think of this style of costuming like a colouring in book. I didn’t draw the picture, but I am putting in the work and colouring it in my way!

4. Challenge yourself with Pasties
Pasties are a great way to challenge yourself when it comes to costuming. I make my pasties out of hard felt, fabric glue and crystals. The hardest part is finding out how to create the best shape. Need some practice? Try making paper cut outs first before you try the real thing. Pasties can be made in one night if you are dedicated enough, and they are also a fun little activity to do while bingeing your favourite show on Netflix. I recommend you start with a simple circle pastie to get the ball rolling, then do something a little different each time! Felt will cost you around $1 a piece, and try some different crystal patterns to see what takes your fancy! (see point #1)

5. Op Shop Extravaganza or Raid your own wardrobe!
One man’s trash, is a penny-pinching performer’s treasure. I’ve grown up raiding second hand shops and I still have some treasures that I found there in my closet today. My advice to you is try to go shopping when you have something specific in mind. If you go there with no direction you may end up leaving with more than you need, I know I do! Keep a keen eye out, write yourself a list, and set yourself a budget.
Raiding my own wardrobe is something I very much enjoy! I am strict on myself with what I know I will and won’t wear. I have taken a few key items in stretchy fabric out of my closet that I am happy to sacrifice to the costume gods. Cut up a stretchy dress and use the fabric to cover a plain bra set! Take out an old pair of pants, and make them into thigh-high boots.
I follow a lot of DIY YouTube channels for some guidance. Choose something you haven’t worn in a couple of years so you don’t miss it when it’s cut up. If you make a mistake and it doesn’t work, at least you tried! Donate the fabric to another performer or use it to practice your sewing skills.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you may not like the first thing you make. But if you aren’t breaking the bank on a few of these costume pieces then why not?

Happy crafting!

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