How to Make a Show-Stopper Costume for £3.49

21st Century Burlesque Magazine

Hula Hooper extraordinaire Helen Orford shares her beautiful bargain costume creation!

For the past few months I’ve been getting lots of requests for a 1920’s/Great Gatsby themed act, and for the most part I forwarded on the details of other performers who have such acts as I didn’t want to fork out for a new costume for just one show. Bearing in mind I normally spend anywhere between £400 and £1500 for a costume, I’m sure you can see why. Then one evening I was tidying up some unused bits and bobs of haberdashery and realised that with a bit of imagination I could make a perfect costume for this theme, and almost for free! Winner.

Helen Orford.  ©Ayesha H
Helen Orford. ©Ayesha H

Admittedly I had pretty much everything I needed to make it, but that’s because I designed the costume around what I had. I think if when working on a budget you start the design stage of your costume working around what materials and bits and bobs you already have in, it’s possible to make an incredible costume for super, super cheap!

  • I had a cheap nude leotard which I’d never worn as it’s practically see-through. Not ideal.
  • I also had a f**k-ton of 12inch white fringing from when I was developing my hula hoop quick change act (which you can see here). In that act I perform a quick change from a short black dress to a long white ball gown all while spinning a big pile of hoops. I had originally planned to cover the entire stack of hoops in solid material, but that acted like a sail when I hooped it and the hoops dropped instantly. My second plan was to attach this long white fringing along the inside of the hoops to help disguise the quick change behind, but that failed too as the centripetal force made the fringing go horizontal when spun, not hiding me at all! I since decided that it’s actually quite nice for the audience to see the transformation as it completely blows their mind!
  • I found a good amount of nude, crystal, crystal AB, and other random rhinestones left over from previous costume projects.
  • And last but not least I had a pair of old (but still nice!) nude dance nights.

I concluded that a flapper dress would be easy enough to make for a beginner seamstress like me (especially as I’d helped a friend make something similar out of my old bits and bobs in the past when she was in need), so I set to it. As the fringing wasn’t elasticated I knew I had to sew it onto the costume while the costume was stretched, else I wouldn’t be able to get it on! As my hips are the widest part of me I pinned each strip of fringing while that part of the costume was over my hips to ensure that I could put the costume on after all that work! Row by row I pinned and sewed each line of fringing with a machine, repeating the process with a 4 inch gap between each layer. At the top of the costume I decided to follow the line of the leotard (which I’d already cinched in at the centre to give a nicer shape at the cleavage.) to keep the fringing hanging over my shoulders as I was afraid it would look too block-ish otherwise.

How to Make a Show-stopper costume for £3.49.  ©Helen Orford
How to Make a Show-stopper costume for £3.49. ©Helen Orford

Next I glued on (using gemtac) all my spare crystals onto all the blank bits of material of the leotard underneath. I knew that while hooping the fringing would move, so a bit of sparkle underneath would add a level of glamour and would make the costume look that little bit more expensive too!

It was here that I splashed out the £3.49 (forgive me!). I bought a metal hair accessory comb piece thingy for £2.49 and an off-cut of lace (from what I can only imagine was curtain) for £1.

How to Make a Show-stopper costume for £3.49. ©Helen Orford
How to Make a Show-stopper costume for £3.49. ©Helen Orford

I attacked the lace with a pair of nail scissors and cut out a selection of appliqués of flowers and vines from the design. And then pinned these bits onto the aforementioned tights (while they were on me to keep the stretch correct, as the lace wasn’t stretchy), and section by section I painstakingly glued the appliqués to the tights.

How to Make a Show-stopper costume for £3.49.  ©Helen Orford
How to Make a Show-stopper costume for £3.49. ©Helen Orford

I feel that all good costumes are good because they’re complete. Doesn’t matter whether they’re made from Primark bras covered in glitter, or a £1000 bespoke dress; the thing that sets good costumes apart from ‘nice’ costumes is that it all comes together and is cohesive.

How to Make a Show-stopper costume for £3.49.  ©Helen Orford
How to Make a Show-stopper costume for £3.49. ©Helen Orford

So to finish the look I glued a selection of the cut out lace flowers onto an old bit of material (I think it used to be a bed sheet!), and then cut out the whole shape and glued onto the hairpiece. I also added a crystal to the centre of each flower to continue the sparkly effect (plus I LOVE crystals!).

Helen Orford.  ©Ayesha H
Helen Orford. ©Ayesha H

Overall I’m really pleased with this costume, It’s really comfortable to wear, moves really well, looks incredible in photo shoots, it looks fantastic on the stage (if I do say so myself!), it only took a day to make, and most importantly? It cost peanuts.

See Also
10 Burlesque Costume Tips for DIY Performers

I hope this post inspires you, before you hand over all your hard earned cash, to look in your cupboards and use your imagination to create something unique, striking and best of all, CHEAP!


Helen Orford

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