Taking It All Off – Part 1 (Creating Your Costume)

Okay, now you’re feeling your sexy again and want to show it to the world, so let’s start casting your clothes aside to join your inhibitions.  Contrary to what people may believe, creating a memorable striptease requires some true skill and hopefully some forethought.  Yes, most men will be happy when you end up naked, no matter how you got that way, but we want our audience to be stupefied into submission and not just satisfied.  So, let’s plan your striptease out, even if it will just be you and your mirror spending some quality time together.  Since this is a burlesque column, I will talk about creating a striptease as if it will be performed on stage, but trust me, this attention to detail translates just as strongly to the bedroom, maybe even more so because it will be so unexpected.  What a great birthday surprise for that special someone!  In this first segment of the four-part series, we will talk about all of the things you should consider when gathering and creating the “costume” that you will be stripping out of. 

Generally a routine consists of several components, any of which can be your first point of inspiration:  a costume, a particular song, choreography, a prop(s), and a theme.  For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to assume that you know the song you want to use.  If you don’t have one already, start researching and going through your collection and try to find one that winks at you.  When looking for inspiration, it may help to think of the tone of the piece you hope to create – will it be slow and sultry, upbeat and flirty, down and dirty?  Now that you have the song that makes you move in ways that you just can’t help, let it tell you the character that would dance to this.  Is she a strumpet, a 40’s film star, a dominatrix, a Catholic school girl, a wood nymph?  Knowing your “character” will go a long way towards picking out and creating the costume for your piece. 

Now that you know the character you’re dressing, start to think of your act as a game of strip poker:  the more items you start with, the more you have to play with.  Unless you are planning to be a real tease on stage, I’m assuming you plan to strip down to pasties and a G-string (or maybe your birthday suit at home), so let’s think of all the extra items you can put on so that you can have fun taking them off later.  Some typical burlesque costume items are:

  • Fishnets
  • Panties (over your G-string)
  • Fringe or shimmy belt
  • Garter belt
  • Stockings
  • Bra (including “illusion” bras with pasties sewn into nude netting)
  • Waspie or underbust (corset that doesn’t cover the breasts)
  • Corset
  • Bustle skirt
  • Slip or negligee
  • Dress
  • Opera gloves
  • Shoes

These are just some of the basics, but of course you should pick pieces that create the image you are looking for and that are unique to your act and character.  For instance, maybe your character is a hardworking corporate lawyer, dressed in a white button-down shirt, silk tie, and pin-striped suit, with leather bondage pieces underneath it all.  Again, keep in mind that burlesque focuses more on the tease than on the strip (even if you will end up pretty naked), so the more you have to take off, the longer you can keep your audience panting for more.  Now is also the time to consider how hard an item may be to remove and how much practice it will require to do it well before adding it to your ensemble.  Sure a corset is a burlesque staple, but taking it off in a way that doesn’t devolve into you looking down at your hooks in frustration requires some real skill and practice.  Ditto with a dress.  Yes it might be all slinky and glamorous when you have it on, but pulling it over your head to take it off probably won’t be.

Once you have your items selected, or know what needs to be created, start making them your own with alterations and embellishments.  As of yet, I have little experience in this area, but there are legions of videos on the internet on creating pasties, adding fringe to bras, dying costume pieces, gluing on rhinestones, you name it.  Again, this is what makes it “burlesque,” that element of glamour and luxury, even if you’re going to portray a garbage man.  This is also the time to add bigger hooks to bras, Velcro to skirts, zippers to dresses, etc.  If you do add Velcro to a costume piece, try to dye it to match the material so that it doesn’t stick out when your clothing is discarded.  Likewise, make sure to cut the tags out of any off the rack pieces.  Nothing is more distracting or dissolves the element of illusion more quickly than a lingerie tag peeking out from where it shouldn’t be.  Finally, keep in mind that a lot of these adornments are frenemies, often seen in company together, all sparkly and pretty, but just waiting for the right moment to fight with each other.  So keep this in mind, for instance, when adding Velcro or sequins to a costume piece that needs to come in contact with fishnets – you may be courting a performance disaster. 

You should have your work cut out for you this week, coming up with a song, character, costume ideas, and then gathering and creating the necessary pieces and making them yours.  Come back next week and we’ll talk all about timing out your striptease so that you keep your audience breathless with anticipation : )