Feathers, fringe, rhinestones and more…the glamour of a well constructed burlesque costume will wow the audience right out of the gate! As a burlesque performer, I spend countless hours conceptualizing a look and seeing it to fruition. This means hundreds of hours bedazzling while taking in a good Netflix marathon, hot-glueing until I have burned every tip of my fingers, and hand sewing until my hands have completely seized up. And yes, I love every minute of it.

I’m most proud of my creations when it accomplishes these things: lends well to my choreography; has visual impact; looks expensive but is far from it; and can be constructed and deconstructed in interesting ways, allowing for seamless reveals.

Once you have the idea for your act, there are a few things to consider before designing and constructing your costume. I’ve learned many tips and tricks along the way and I’m happy to share them with you!


STEP 1: Start with Basics Pasties: For your first set of pasties, visit your local craft store (or dollar store) and pick up some craft foam sheets, jewel glue, glitter, gems, and a couple of tassels. You will also want a hot glue gun on hand. Begin by cutting two circles slightly larger than the circumference of your nipple out of the foam (use a protractor or find something circular and trace it). Cut out a small wedge (like a pizza slice) and glue the ends of the circle together with the glue gun. The bigger the wedge, the more “pointy” your pastie will be. Brush the top with a thin layer of glue (E-6000, Jewel -It, or Glue Gun are what we typically use) and pour glitter on top. Once dry, you can use glue to create a fun pattern of gems and jewels for the top. If using cheaper gems, be sure to remove the adhesive that is already on the back first. Once this is dry, poke a hole in the centre, insert your tassel, and tie a knot on the inside. Once you have gotten the hang of it, you can upgrade your pasties using more expensive materials. There are endless resources online that can inspire you!

Fringe: To add more movement to your costume, consider adding fringe. Many of us simply safety pin or glue fringe to our bras, waist bands, and underwear to make those bump and grinds more exaggerated on stage!

Embellishments: Adding rhinestones and sequins are a must in burlesque. Lingerie is pretty, but will not have the pizzaz of a crystal bustier or bra. We embellish everything – our shoes, corsets, bras, fans, stockings, which can be very time consuming and expensive, but well worth it when the stage lights hit you. Swarovski’s are beautiful, but can be expensive. I like alternating between sequins, expensive crystals, and cheap gems from a dollar store to stretch my budget.


STEP 2: Be Resourceful: Recycle/ reuse, repurpose: That bra that you don’t really wear anymore? Use it! The appliqué’s from that old scarf? Cut them out and use them as accents on your costume! A burlesque performers’ budget won’t quite pay the bills, so being creative and thinking outside the box is key. My “Raven” costume included a skirt I already owned, masquerade masks, pantyhose, old jewelry, and a hacked up Halloween costume. I have also worn a stewardess pillbox hat that was made entirely from paper plates, felt, and Christmas decorations!

Hunting for Treasure: Thrift stores are your friend. I often find vintage pieces I couldn’t find at a regular store and these one-of-a-kind items won’t break the bank. Add some jewels, extra lace and sequins, and you have a garment ready for the stage. I also make sure to go shopping after Halloween and Christmas season to get some clearance items.

STEP 3: Constructing for Reveals: A major part of burlesque is the art of tease. How a costume is constructed and how it deconstructs is very important to the act you are creating. In many instances, the costume is the prop, the concept, and the choreography. It is important to think of interesting ways the costume can disassemble to peak the audiences’ interest and keep them guessing. We have been known to alter our clothing using hooks, adding zippers, snaps, Velcro…even magnets, to help make reveals seamless.

Hooks: If you are having a hard time unhooking your bra, you can try adding a larger hook or prying the hook open a little beforehand. To master the one-handed bra reveal, slip your index finger under your bra and use your thumb and middle finger to grab and pitch the material together. Practice makes perfect! If hooks are still not your thing, replace it with a snap, Velcro, or a tie.

Magnets: Sewing some magnets inside your costume can add extra weight. This is handy for making clothing drip to the floor seamlessly. Velcro: Mostly used for quick and snappy reveals Snaps: A little more intricate and time consuming in the studio (as you need to constantly do up every snap after running your routine once, which burns a lot of studio time), but can be very effective if revealing in smaller increments (reveal the ankle, then the knees, then the thighs, etc.). Zippers: A good quality zipper with an added tassel on it can make for a seamless and sexy reveal.

*Basic Sewing: Many of us do not know how to sew. In which case, a glue gun, safety pins, or even a good quality fabric glue can save you. Learning how to hand sew can get you started, but I would recommend taking a beginners sewing class or just do what I did – get yourself a husband who can sew! -Thanks Emcee Unicorn!

*HIRING a Professional: When my ideas are beyond my skill set, I will bring it to a professional. Hiring a seamstress can help bring your vision to life with quality results. Plus, they typically love these kinds of projects as it allows them an opportunity to do something a little different and to inject some of their creativity into your piece.

STEP 4: Do what works for YOU! Unlike many shows you might audition for that involve the ideas of others, this is all about what you want! This is your concept and the sky is the limit for your costume! Do what works for your budget, your song choice, your concept, and of course your body. Believe me when I say that enjoying the finished product is the most satisfying part when it comes to creating these garments. The time and money you have put into a costume that looks amazing, operates the way you want it to, and makes you feel sexy, will be completely worth it in the end.



Dolce Tetas is a burlesque dancer from Sudbury, Ontario. She is also co-founder and artistic director of Sudbury Burlesque and choreographer for the Sudbury Burlesque Troupe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *