So you’ve formed a troupe and you want to look professional and stand out from the crowd… Here’s a little how-to!
Firstly, what are troupe costumes? And why?
When you get together as a troupe, it’s not just the moves that should be in-step, you whole look should be in keeping with everyone else in the group too. A cohesive costume makes a troupe look professional and together as one unit – and most importantly, that the troupe are all together in the dance/act. It creates identity and unity and sets the expectations of the audience. A costume is a visual clue to the style, genre and even character of the troupe and for the members, it creates a sense of belonging and all having an equal part of the whole.
The Basics of Troupe Costumes:
Every member of the troupe is an equal, which means that if it is decided that a part of costuming is to be worn, everyone in the troupe wears it – with no excuses! If everyone is wearing a headdress, and one member decided not to wear theirs because it itches (or whatever reason) then this is not entering into the troupe spirit and will ruin the look of the group. It will single out one member rather than focusing on the whole. A troupe costume should be uniform, but without looking like a uniform.
Who Decides On The Costumes?
The troupe leader (or teacher/artistic director) should have final say on the costumes and finer details. The troupe leader is responsible for the overall look of the troupe (which includes choreography, the style taught and the visual impact the group have) so therefore they have the final say. But the troupe leader should always consider everyone’s opinion and input. If members are paying for their costume, it’s the troupe leader’s responsibility to ensure that costumes are affordable for all members.
Here’s a checklist to bear in mind:
- Bear in mind that everyone should feel comfortable in a costume. Avoid designs that are going to be unflattering to some.
- Make sure there’s a general ‘yes vote’ on costume options. Rarely everyone will agree but going with what ‘most’ have voted for keeps everyone happy.
- Costumes, pieces and props should be affordable for everyone
- Ebay finds are great – but bear in mind you might want the same of that thing, so make sure it’s a seller who has plenty in stock (and that the stock is likely to be held for a long time if you need to purchase extra pieces down the line)
- Costumes, pieces and props should be easy to get hold of
- Think of the visual impact that the costume pieces will have together. Do all the colours/styles complement? And also, the impact on stage. Most stages have a black backdrop, choose something that will stand out against this (as tempting and uniform as black is, the whole troupe could disappear if black is against black)
Who Owns The Costumes?
That is a matter dependent the troupe. Some troupes run on ‘community funding’ and may have a budget for costumes. In this case, the costumes would be owned by thw troupe leader and loaned out to members (this is where we get into the minutiae on who washes the costumes, who repairs them…) In most cases, the troupe members supply their own costumes and are responsible for them (cleaning, maintenance and ensuring pieces don’t get lost!)
There are many ways of looking like a troupe without spending loads of money. And there are many more options other than buying off the peg (shop-bought fancy dress costumes can look cheap and purpose bought dance wear never looks individual). Take a tip from the belly dance world – decide on one or two shades and allow a bit of ‘artistic license’. At our first ever Bluestocking showcase in 2011, we taught our students a routine and set the colour theme as blue and black. All the girls wore matching blue scarves (tied around their necks or waists) and it was up to them what black items they wore (gloves, corset, shorts, pants, skirts, etc). We thought they looked lush! Colour themes are great! a few ideas are black with a second colour accent (as before), autuminal colours, shades of blue, fire colours, etc…
Another option for a troupe – if you are lucky enough to know someone who can make basic items – is deciding on a few key pieces of costume and bulk buying fabric to make these pieces. Again, easy designs are best if a lot of items are being made.
Other options to think about are key items that are exactly the same in shape and fabric but in a different colour, or different pieces made in the same fabric and colour.
Individuality, Without Looking Like An Individual
We recently costumed our belly dance troupe and the general consensus was that most of the group liked the velvet Ghawazee coats with taffeta pantaloons and tassel belts, with a head covering and black and silver bra. While we are strict with the fabric and shape of the coat and pantaloons (must be black velvet for the coat/must be in shot taffeta in a jewel colour for the pantaloons) there is an opportunity for individualism and creativity with the choice of trim for the coat, tassel belt (although on a black back ground, the performer can choose the colour of their tassels and the decoration of the belt itself), and even sewn on silver metal for the bra. They can also be creative with the silver jewellery that is piled on. They can put whatever colour they like in their turban (the only rules are the main bit must be black and it shouldn’t be matchy matchy with the colour of their pantaloons). The result looks uniform but with individual creative input…
Costumes on a theme can also look great. I make a lot of costumes for attractions including the Dungeons brand (London, York, Edinburgh, San Francisco, etc) and although the costumes are the ‘same kind’ they are slightly varied so the actors don’t look like they are wearing a uniform (varied in colour, fabric and sometimes details, eg one jacket will be a lace-up, while the other might have buttons…) When myself and DeeDee performed our French Revolution-themed act, we had the same basic costume pieces in red, white and blue but the pieces looked very different because of the details…
Hit The Sales!
Customise easy pieces such as bras, bikinis, vest tops that can be bought for cheap in the sales. Equally, keep an eye on those jewellery stands as you can buy a heap of necklaces, stretch bracelets, etc which can be taken apart and sewn on costumes. You can find more ideas and inspiration here
Finally… Some Essentials:
- The Costume pieces should be fit for purpose – ie if you are required to dance in them, they shouldn’t be restrictive
- They should be hard-wearing – especially if they are going to be used on stages a lot and washed a lot (sweaty!!)
- They should be in a suitable fabric (one that isn’t going to fall apart! One that is going to flatter) that is going to be comfortable for everyone (think if the group has any feather/gum/nickel allergies)
- They should have a visual impact and set the tone of your act
- For burlesque: that everyone can remove the item easily
And a final tip – sew inside a discrete name label – or, if a name tag would be too obvious, coloured piece of ribbon (different colours for different members). This will be particularly handy if everyone in the troupe has black gloves! Returning a pile of black gloves to their owners can be like doing that impossible baked beans jigsaw puzzle!
Main pic: the Flamin’ Feathers from BSl Mad Love, Feb 2015 by Miss Moth.