Ask Black Mariah — May 2009

I’m just getting into performing burlesque, and of course, I am very money conscious (read: broke). I am currently buying costumes, pasties, props…. How can I do some of this on the cheap?
-Lucy, Pheonix AZ

Good Question!
Burlesque rookies have to start somewhere, but that doesn’t mean you have to LOOK like a rookie! Rarely does the budding burly-q babe have an extensive budget with which to outfit and prop her numbers. There are a couple of ways to be ultra fabulous on a budget, but you have to be very resourceful.

  1. Consider costuming your numbers from items that you already own. Upon first inspection, you may not think your closet may hold anything that screams Sex Kitten. Look for items that are sexy like corsets, panties, heels, bras, and prom or bridesmaids dresses. Consider apparel that you may not wear often, things you would not mind parting with or even of you do, wouldn’t mind updating for more frequent use. After all, wouldn’t your clothes be happier in the spotlight than on the hanger? Now look at each item and think “How can I make this look unique, and more custom made.” Sequins, rhinestones, trims, fringe, feathers, embroidery, and patches are all quick, low cost additions you can make to apparel to bring them closer to stage ready. The idea is to make your costumes one of a kind, not off the rack at Wal-burlesque-mart or Stripper-avenue-department store.
  2. One of my favorite places to bargain for burlesque goodies is my local thrift store. Oh if audiences only knew how little I spent on some of my costumes……I’m not sure I would have their respect anymore! I can’t even box a style of burlesque that would have more reason over another to peruse a thrift store for their next costume piece! I have snagged vintage stockings, perfectly spotless designer prom dresses, the perfect cabaret chairs as well as numerous other props and costume pieces that made the perfect addition to a number. I often peruse them just to stock up on items that look like something I can make use of in the future. Designer apparel is not a requirement to be a burlesque dancer. No one should be looking at your tags while you dance anyway!
  3. Some much desired burlesque props are quite an investment. The price is well worth the beautiful result, but to the beginning dancer trying to make her mark, how do you justify such a cost when you aren’t making that much in your first year of performance? If you are in a burlesque group/troupe or you and a fellow burlesque dancer care to split the tab, then consider pooling your investment into community props that all may be interested in using. Ostrich feather fans, for example, are an investment in your career, but a large investment. Quality feather fans may cost upward of $500-$1000 dollars. A set of community fans may be the answer to this financial dilemma. Cabaret chairs, corsets in bulk, set props are all items you could share the cost, and still get the look you want. There are also many burlesque sites that offer tutorials on how to create expensive props on a budget like fans and glitter chairs. Many websites offer bulk feather that may be slightly damaged or a bit off the dye lot for a huge discount. Rhinestones by the gross are also a major way to save dollars while making your 4 dollar dress look like a million bucks! If items have imperfections, add rhinestones or sequins. You can’t go wrong with adding sparkle.
  4. Lastly, sewing is a great way to cut your costuming costs. The amount you can save is just immeasurable. Simple tucks and hems go a long way in giving you greater dynamic in your costume pieces. The ability to sew leaves you the choice between altering an item you already have or could buy for cheap, and spending time and energy and much more money searching for that perfect dress or bra. Many fabric stores offer free sewing lessons, but I bet by just asking your friends you will find at least one who knows how to sew and will more than happy to teach you or sew for you. Many people have sewing machines they don’t use or don’t know how to use, and that might be a clever way to acquire a machine to learn with, if only until you can purchase your own!

Thanks so much for the question Lucy and good luck with your budding burly-q debut!

Speaking of Sewing and being Crafty, Next month, in addition to the question, I will leave you lucky readers with a how to on…….MAKING PASTIES!!!!!! I KNOW YOU ARE EXCITED! You are already dreaming of twirling tassles aren’t you?!

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