Designing a Costume For Dance Performances: Design Process and Elements
Dance costumes are an essential part of any performance. They can add color, style, and flair to the stage while also helping to tell the story or convey the mood of the piece.
But designing custom dance costumes isn't as simple as picking out a pretty dress. Several processes and design elements need to be considered for your costumes to look their best on stage.
Costume design can seem daunting, but it can be a fun and rewarding process with careful thought and planning.
In this blog post, we'll take a look at the six essential steps to designing dancewear and the skills needed for a costume designer to create successful pieces.
Costume design process
Custom dancewear is an integral part of any performance or production. While many ready-made costumes are available, a custom design is frequently necessary to achieve the desired look.
Unlike typical clothing, a custom dance costume needs to be designed with movement in mind. They must be durable enough to withstand vigorous activity while still looking elegant and polished.
Costume designers usually follow a specific process when designing dance costumes. This typically includes the following steps:
Step One: Research
The first step in designing custom costumes is to do some research. Look at other performances or productions with similar themes or styles and take note of the colors, fabrics, and accessories used. Collect images and inspiration as you go so you have a clear idea of the look you're aiming for.
You also need to consider what kind of dance style you're designing for. Each style has its own specific needs and characteristics that need to be considered when designing costumes.
For instance, cheer teams have a distinct look that is often quite different from other dance styles. The costumes must be bright, colorful, and eye-catching to stand out on the sidelines.
On the other hand, Ballet costumes are typically more subdued with simple lines and elegant fabrics.
I keep boards on both Pinterest and Trello specifically for costume ideas and inspiration, along with resources for supplies that I can reference when I need to.
Step Two: Sketch out Ideas
Start sketching out some ideas once you have a general idea of the style you want to go for. This can be done in any medium – pencil and paper, Photoshop, or even a simple drawing on napkins at restaurants. The more sketches you do, the better your chances of designing a costume precisely what you want.
Often times, clients already have an idea of what they want and approach me with a picture of a costume they have seen but want it in a different color and/or with modifications. So sometimes I skip this step, but it is still a good idea to sketch out what the final design should look like to eliminate any surprises.
Step Three: Select Materials and Colors
Start selecting materials and colors once you have a few sketches nailed down. This can be one of the most challenging parts of designing costumes, as there are so many options to choose from. It's important to select colors and fabrics that will look good on stage and hold up to wear and tear.
There are various fabric selections and garments designed explicitly for dance costumes. The most common fabric is spandex or lycra, often with glitter or flat sequins added to the fabric for added sparkle. Due to the weight of these fabric, they are usually great choices for the base of a costume. However, if your costume requires a lot of movement like a flowy skirt, then a light weight power mesh is a great option.
Always choose fabric with adequate 4-way stretch for your base that makes it easier to move on the dance floor.
Talk to your local fabric store about some fabric options that would work well for your costume design.
Step Four: Create a Sample Garment
Once you've finalized your design, it's time to create a sample costume. This is often done through patternmaking, where the costume designer creates a paper or cloth pattern that can be used to make the actual costume. The sample garment is usually made in the same fabric as the final product to work out any construction or fit issues with the design.
I often create my prototype to fit myself as it is easier to fix mistakes and make adjustments on the fly. I also like to have a replica to keep for my collection, although I often don't finish the prototypes but get them far enough along to show the client for approval.
Since I am not a professional patternmaker, I like to work off of a master pattern set that I invested in years ago. The patterns are designed to create swimwear and athleticwear, including bodysuits. I then alter these patterns to fit my needs by tracing them onto large graphing paper and adding any alterations like side cutouts or varying necklines.
When working with a more complicated design, I like to find other patterns for fashion designers that I can modify into dancewear. Mood Sewciety is a great resource for this. I've made some very interesting combinations from partial patterns that were completely altered from their original intent.
Step Five: Get Approval
Once the sample garment is complete, it needs to be approved by the client or team. This can be tricky, as everyone involved may have different ideas about what they want. It's essential to listen to feedback make changes if necessary while staying true to your original vision.
Sometimes what the original design idea may need to be modified during this stage and it is important to stay flexible and offer creative solutions as needed.
Step Six: Produce the Final Costume
Once the costume design is approved, it's time to produce the final costume. This can be done through various methods, such as sewing, screen printing, or even laser cutting. Make sure all the details are accounted for, such as zippers, buttons, and straps.
The final product should reflect the initial sketches and design ideas you had. It's essential to take your time with the process to create a costume that is both beautiful and functional.
4 Skills Required to Design A Custom Dance Costume
If you are a costume designer, you need a few critical skills to create beautiful custom dance costumes. These include:
Good costume designers can communicate their ideas through sketches. This is an essential skill for designing costumes, as you need to visualize the final product before creating a sample garment.
Patternmaking is creating a paper or cloth pattern that can be used to make a garment. It requires an understanding of how clothing is constructed and knowledge of various sewing techniques.
Sewing is the process of joining fabric together with thread. It's essential to have strong skills in this area in order to create costumes that are both durable and beautiful.
Once the costume is completed, it's important to take the time to add finishing touches. This includes things like hemming, ironing, and adding labels or tags.
By understanding these essential skills, you can create stunning custom dance costumes that impress everyone who sees them.
Designing a custom dance costume can be a challenging but rewarding process. By following these six steps, you can create a dance costume that is both beautiful and functional. Make sure to take your time with each step to ensure the best possible outcome.
Remember, the better your sketches, the better your chances of designing a costume precisely what you want. So get creative and have fun with it!