INFORMATION BURST! A Collection of Thoughts and Ideas on COSTUMING

Info Burst

By Duane Laflin

Excerpt from January 2013 Grand Magic Magazine: 

To purchase the entire issue, click here.


An “information burst” is a listing of ideas, briefly stated, to give you food for thought about an important subject!

1. Remember that costuming is not about being the “best-dressed” person at an event. It is about being interesting. Your first goal is to dress in a manner that makes people want to know who you are and what you do.

2. Credibility is an important issue relating to costuming. In the quest to be interesting, keep in mind that you must also appear as competent and worth what you are getting paid. Wearing bright pink tennis shoes with a black tie and tuxedo may get you noticed, but unless you are a clown, it will not be the kind of attention that helps your career. The challenge is to look smart and capable while also being appealing and different.

3. When purchasing a costume, always view it from a distance. The audience will not view your attire from three feet away. Most of them will be ten feet away or more. When considering a purchase, step back as far from the mirror as possible. If you can, walk all the way across the store and try to glimpse yourself in a mirror from far away. Does your garment look good then? Some patterns and designs are great when seen up close, but with distance they blur or change.

4. Don’t forget about Good Will and other thrift stores when considering sources for costumes. There are people who purchase something for a wedding or special occasion and then, after only wearing it once, donate it to such stores. In places like this, an enterprising performer can find wonderful garments at many times less than the original price.

5. Shop “after prom” and “after Christmas” sales. Holiday and party wear is typically much more flashy than regular clothes. When the holiday is over, or the party time is past, such clothes may be tremendously discounted because no one wants them for normal use. (That is, no one but professional entertainers!) So when a season such as Christmas 27 INFORMATION BURST! A collection of thoughts and ideas…this month about “COSTUMING! is over, take a trip to the mall and see if any bargains have appeared!

6. If a garment seems too old for use, see if it can be rejuvenated! The worn spots on an old suit can be covered with fancy braid. Faded color can be brought to life again by adding crystals. Cloth with sparkles can be sewn right over the top of fabric that is already there. If you have a suit or a dress that fits you great, but is starting to show wear, experiment with it before giving up on it.

7. Go to a place like Hobby Lobby or Michaels and learn about Swarovski crystals and/or gems that can be applied with E-6000 glue or a hot gun. This has become a popular hobby activity. Teens use the gems and crystals on belts, purses, etc. Performers can use them to turn normal clothes into show clothes.

8. Remember that just because it looks good on someone else, it will not necessarily look good on you. Dress for who you are. What looks good on a tall slim person may not look good on a short heavy person. Different complexions respond differently to various colors. For example: gold is a color that looks terrible on some people and great on others. Yellow is another color that works for some, but not others. Green is an especially difficult color. It can look terrific or terrible on various people.

9. Dress for the audience. Differing audiences mandate a differing appearance. What works for a children’s show, may not be appropriate for an award banquet on the corporate level. What appeals to teens may not appeal to senior adults. To save money, you may want to find one costume that works for all shows, but it is highly unlikely that you can successfully do such a thing. To be an effective performer you are going to need several different looks.

10. Physical activity allows for latitude in a costuming choice. If you are dancing, escaping, flying through the air, or jumping from boxes the audience will understand and accept the fact that your costume is somewhat casual. It may not make sense to be strapped to the Table Of Death while wearing a tuxedo, but it also does not make sense to be wearing faded jeans and a T-shirt while doing stand up magic as you stand in front of a gorgeous red velvet curtain lined with gold fringe in a theater decorated with gold accents. It comes back to the matter of understanding that audiences and circumstance must guide costuming choices.

11. Normally it is best to stick with primary and solid colors. Patterns and designs rarely look good on stage. Pastels and secondary colors are almost never as impressive as standard choices such as red, blue, black, and white. It is possible to find something in an off-color or unusual design that works, but be careful about it.

12. There are professional costumers who will custom design garments, but the cost will be high and, in the end, you may not be happy with their work. Before you try that route, find a friend or someone in your local community who enjoys sewing projects. Pick out a garment that you know fits you well and let the person who sews tailor and embellish it. This is the easiest and most affordable way to get a costume that is just right for you.

13. Costuming is an easy way to add production value to your show. For the past few years it has been popular for entertainers to dress poorly. Jeans and a t-shirt, or a sport jacket over jeans and a t-shirt, have often been the garments of choice. Because of cultural trends and fads, such choices have worked for some. Times are changing again. Now the big name entertainers are returning to a more spectacular look. Male entertainers are starting to wear ties again, (sometimes at strange angles, but they are wearing them). Cee Lo Green is catching attention with wild and unusual costumes. Female entertainers, like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, are wearing some of the most amazing garments to ever be seen on stage anywhere. The time seems right for magicians to increase the appeal of their shows by paying more attention to what they and their assistants wear.

14. Remember not to sit or drive in your costume. This is a show-biz adage from way back. The costume needs to look crisp and unwrinkled. When necessary, find a place to change before the show begins. No matter how nice the garment may be, if it is messy and unkempt, it will not make you look professional.

Garment 1

This fancy jacket was purchased at an after Christmas sale at the Harold Penner store in indianapolis, Indiana, at less than half the original price. It has now been in the show for over five years!

Garment 2

Although she may not want the fact to be announced to the world, the gown Laura is wearing was purchased at a thrift store for $30.00. The suit Duane is wearing is over fifteen years old. The color was fading, but rather than toss it, Mary sewed red color bands and braid onto it. She added crystals and replaced the buttons. The result was sensational. Duane may now get another fifteen years out of the garment! 

Garment 3

The above “Card Dresses” were purchased online from a costume supplier. They are one of the few costumes that we purchased new for the show. The price was good. The quality was not great, but they are holding up well and serving the purpose for which they are intended.

Garment 4

Megan’s levitation dress is actually a wedding dress, purchased at at a Good Will store for about $30.00. It came with a long train that had a hole in it. Mary removed the train, altered the dress, and it looks gorgeous in the illusion.

Garment 5

At the end of the show all of the ladies are wearing dresses that once were worn to a prom. We collected the dresses at discount prices from thrift stores and jazzed them up with limited tailoring and fancy stones. Duane’s jacket is an off the rack sport coat to which Mary has added black velvet cuffs & collars, silver braid, and gems put on with hot glue.

Garment 6

Zach’s shirt was purchased for $10.00 from a clearance rack at a western wear store. Mary sewed sparkly red material on the collar and made the design. It looked great on stage.


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