Costume companies answer frequently asked questions from school owners
Thanks to the following people for contributing to this article:
Sue Gordon, Algy Performance Collection
Art Stone, Art Stone/The Competitor
Mike Robertson, Costume Gallery
Carol Hazel, Curtain Call Costumes
Tina Burrows, DesignWorks
Aletia Ferreira, Ferreira Dance & Costumes
Michelle Bronner, Meekelle Costumes
Deborah J. Nelson, Satin Stitches Ltd.
Claudia Reed and Annie Beck, Weissman’s Designs for Dance
The dancers in a lyrical routine range in size from medium child through large adult, with a wide variety of body types. Is there a certain style or cut that will flatter all of them?
Algy Performance Collection: Look for a costume in an empire style with either a soft, knee-length cascade skirt or a regular skirt. This cut can make the heavier girls look thinner and the much thinner girls look a little fuller. Knee-length skirts also create the illusion of height on shorter students.
Art Stone/The Competitor:
A wide range of sizes means that some costumes will not look as good on small children as on larger ones. Using different costumes in different colors will help to make everyone look good and feel comfortable.
Costume Gallery: An empire-style line camouflages many body flaws, such as large hips, thighs, and tummy, while elongating the legs and torso. The best length is just above or just below the knees.
Curtain Call Costumes: Black-and-white groups can be visually arresting, and then you can choose individual styles that flatter each dancer.
DesignWorks: A-line styles are flattering. Look for styles that cut in just below the bust line and flow out.
Ferreira Dance & Costumes: Interchangeable pieces—for example, boy shorts, capris, a skirt, or jazz pants with the same top—allow you to create an overall uniform look while flattering all the dancers individually.
Meekelle Costumes: Lyrical dresses with empire waistlines tend to be the most forgiving for any body type. They provide an updated look along with great movement around the hip area, taking the focus away from troublesome body parts. Also, a split-front skirt adds movement and draws attention away from problem areas.
Satin Stitches Ltd.: Always consider the least “perfect” body shapes when looking for costumes. But the key to being flattering is correct fit. No style will look flattering if the garment does not fit properly. Check to see which styles are offered in all the sizes you need. Always be considerate with the bigger girls, especially those with ample bust lines. Choose a style that allows them to wear supportive undergarments.
Weissman’s Designs for Dance: Styles with flowing skirts are always appropriate. Using different styles in the same fabrics creates continuity while allowing you to costume different body types appropriately.
My competition teams start their events at the beginning of March and I like to have the costumes a couple of weeks before that. When should I order the costumes to be sure they arrive on time?
Algy Performance Collection: Start shopping as soon as the costume books come out. Find out the companies’ ship dates and plan accordingly. Some companies offer styles with earlier delivery dates and state the availability on the catalog page. Provide your vendor with an actual date you need the costumes by, and contact them three weeks before that date to confirm on-time delivery.
Art Stone/The Competitor: For an early March delivery, have your orders in by mid- or even early December. This gives the company plenty of time to deliver and puts less stress on you.
Costume Gallery: Many costume companies keep current styles in stock. However, orders are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. We recommend that you place your order by December 1 to ensure delivery by mid-February.
DesignWorks: Most 0f the fabric used in recital costuming comes from overseas, forcing costume companies to purchase fabrics months in advance. The earlier you place your order, the shorter the manufacturing and shipping time will be. Place your order before the end of the year for the best ship times. Keep in mind that many companies require you to place a new order for exchanges (if in-stock is not available). Always give yourself four weeks of wiggle room.
Ferreira Dance & Costumes: We usually ask for four to six weeks to get an order out the door. If your events are at the beginning of March, order by January 4 and your costumes will be shipped on February 8.
Meekelle Costumes: We like to assure delivery in at least 10 to12 weeks at that time of year. So if costumes are needed in March, we would like to receive the order by the Christmas season.
Weissman’s Designs for Dance: For a ship date of mid-February, it would be safest to order costumes by early December; however, we have a broad selection of “Ready to Ship” costumes that can be found online or by calling your customer service representative.
Our school has a lot of male students and I’m tired of putting them in black pants and a shirt. Do you have any suggestions for how to break out of the box but still give the boys a masculine look?
Algy Performance Collection: The trend in costuming male dancers is toward a more theatrical look as opposed to just matching the girls. Dressing as a character or for a concept has become fashionable and can be created by looking at streetwear with a different eye. Many companies now have men’s shirt programs with multiple fabric choices for a customized look.
Art Stone/The Competitor: Look at all the catalogs. There is a larger selection for boys this year than ever before, with a big range of colors.
Costume Gallery: Depending on the dance genre, cargo pants are very popular with guys. This will create a contemporary look for your production, and the dancers can even wear them after the show.
Curtain Call Costumes: Cargo pants and stretch jeans are a great option. Also, ask costume companies if they will make special costumes for your male dancers.
Ferreira Dance & Costumes: Since fewer boys take dance classes, it is less cost-effective for costume companies to offer many styles of male dancewear. We suggest jeans, button-down shirts, and T-shirts.
Meekelle Costumes: Any color of top and most pants work on any male dancer, but take it slowly—keep them in black pants and start with a different colored top to mix things up a bit. Fashion magazines are a great source to show your male dancers the newest colors and styles and who is wearing them.
Satin Stitches Ltd.: The key to a masculine look in male dancers’ costumes is being well designed, well made, and well fitting. Inexpensive boys’ costumes don’t have the styling or structure to provide the masculine look you want. The closer the costumes look and fit like regular boys’ clothing—even if they are in nontraditional colors or fabrics—the more masculine they will look. Find a local dressmaker/tailor who can sew traditional boys’ clothes in colors and fabrics to coordinate with your girls’ costumes. Spandex can be sewn to look like regular clothes, but it doesn’t always need to be used. Bright stage colors can be used for boys’ pants, but they need to be made like street pants, not like girls’ costume pants.
Weissman’s Designs for Dance: Along with a series of tops in coordinating fabrics in a wide variety of colors, there are also pants in great colors that still look masculine. Add a splash of color with a necktie, available in sparkling colors and polka dots—an inexpensive way to coordinate with your girls’ costumes.
I have always wondered why costume company sizing charts are different. Can’t you all offer the same sizing?
Algy Performance Collection: Each company has invested thousands of dollars in patterns. The cost to standardize size charts would be astronomical.
Art Stone/The Competitor: Sizing charts for costumes are similar to charts in all fields. For example, most dress companies have different charts than their competitors. We would all love to use the same chart, but when the materials come from different suppliers, there are differences (for example, the stretch). And the variety of suppliers would make huge differences and cause more problems.
Costume Gallery: Apparel companies have created huge libraries of body measurements, which are used to develop patterns to create the best fit possible based on fabric characteristics. Unfortunately, no two companies have the same data. We have developed a class sizing/organizational chart to help you. Go to our website and click on “size chart” and then click on “download class sizing chart.”
DesignWorks: We do all of our patterning by computer, so our size charts are accurate. However, teachers should read fabric descriptions carefully since some fabrics (like those with a “wet” look) will be tighter fitting. Your sales representative is a valuable resource. Ask about fit and fabric before you buy!
Ferreira Dance & Costumes: Size charts are as arbitrary as the manufacturer wants them to be. We offer a “true-to-size” fit as well as an in-between size for wider-girth kids.
Meekelle Costumes: We use fit models (girls of all ages) for our sizes, so we stay within the junior sizing of all apparel. In addition, we use fit mannequins within our size chart to ensure fit in a range of sizes. However, not everyone wears a garment the same way as someone else.
Satin Stitches Ltd.: There is no standardization in any clothing. Each company creates its own sizing, based on its own expertise and feedback from customers.
Weissman’s Designs for Dance: Many of the top costume companies’ size charts are similar. The apparel industry publishes standard size charts, but costume companies find that customers’ bodies don’t necessarily fit these standards and are constantly trying to find their own best fit. For this reason they may vary somewhat in an effort to find the “ideal” standard size chart. Communicating your needs to your customer service representative helps us continue to attempt to meet your needs.
Last year a parent came to the studio with a copy of the costume catalog that I order from. She shared the wholesale prices of the recital costumes with the other parents at my school. Are there any measures in place to keep parents from getting your catalogs?
Algy Performance Collection: We work hard to protect the confidentiality of our price lists. Our websites are password protected and proof of business ownership is required before we will send a catalog out.
Art Stone/The Competitor: Costume companies try very hard to send catalogs to teachers only. But even when parents know what you pay and what you charge them, you should not feel intimidated. When a butcher buys meat at $3 a pound, he charges a markup for his work. Think about how much work you put into looking at catalogs, picking out costumes, measuring the students, and sending in the orders—and then all the time you spend on the phone with the suppliers. You are entitled to a fair markup.
Costume Gallery: We require proof of profession before we add a dance studio or organization to our mailing list. Maintaining confidential price lists for studio owners and teachers is a priority for us.
DesignWorks: That should never happen. We do not provide catalogs or price lists to anyone who is not listed as an authorized buyer in our database. We require proper identification before we will release information as well.
Ferreira Dance & Costumes: We have strict measures that request studio contact information and letterhead verification. There is no better way of regulating this business. Our website allows studio owners to unlock the prices with a code that is unique to that studio. Parents and students may view the costumes, but without the code they cannot view prices.
Meekelle Costumes: We send to owners, instructors, and directors (with appropriate signatures) with legitimate credentials only. The computer era has made this a difficult task, but we do check on every catalog request.
Satin Stitches Ltd.: Every dance studio needs to be straight with its clients. Most people understand that overhead and markups are needed to run a business. If you sell costumes, you need to explain that this is how your studio is able to cover costs and make a profit in order to stay in business.
Weissman’s Designs for Dance: We label our price booklets as “confidential” and put language in the catalogs that they are not to be sold online or otherwise distributed. But when we find one of our catalogs in an online auction, we purchase it ourselves. We have made a formal complaint about this activity; unfortunately, there are no laws governing this kind of thing.
Is there a good way to clean costumes that have sequins or rhinestones without damaging the garments?
Algy Performance Collection: Today’s sequins are more durable than ever. Hot-fix rhinestones stay on through gentle hand washing. The biggest problem with washing costumes is letting them soak. Most manufactures of gentle detergents say to wash for 2 minutes. If a garment is constructed with different colored fabrics, you need to be careful to keep them off one another when wet and especially when drying. Laying the garments flat to dry is usually your best bet. Blot wet costumes with one colorfast towel and let them dry on another.
Art Stone/The Competitor: Use a Tide or OxiClean stick to spot clean stains. If that fails, most costumes can be dry-cleaned. To remove odors, use Febreze.
Costume Gallery: All costumes should come with care labels; follow the instructions carefully. Unfortunately, many of the unique fabrics and trims used in costumes cannot be washed or dry-cleaned. If in doubt, talk with a professional at a local cleaner’s.
Curtain Call Costumes: Each garment should have cleaning instructions on the care label. If you need information about a specific garment, the customer service department of the company you purchased it from should be able to assist you.
DesignWorks: No heat on rhinestones or sequins, ever! Look for a product called Fresh Again, which will keep garments fresh without having to clean them after each use.
Ferreira Dance & Costumes: We always recommend spot cleaning until the performances are complete. Asking a reputable dry cleaner for advice is the best bet.
Meekelle Costumes: You can use a very mild detergent and hand wash or spot wash when necessary. Hang dry, because a lot of fabrics are heat sealed and react to heat more than you know. Deodorants and perfumes can cause stains that are impossible to get out; using a mild antiperspirant will minimize damage to the underarm areas.
Satin Stitches Ltd.: Each costume should have care instructions on it; if not, the information should be listed in the catalog. Our costumes include care instructions on the label, hang tag, and an instructional sheet that is shipped with each order. Check your orders for care information provided by the company. We post many articles on our website that address all aspects of costume laundering and care. Sequins should be able to be gently hand washed, but with rhinestones it depends on how they are applied. We use only Swarovski hot-fix rhinestones, which can be hand washed or dry-cleaned (as long as the fabrics that they are attached to can be too). Many of the glitzy Spandex fabrics cannot be dry-cleaned without losing their special finishes. Many fabrics cannot be washed easily, either. We always recommend gently spot cleaning when necessary and using a product such as Fresh Again to control odor.
Weissman’s Designs for Dance: Some professional cleaners may be able to clean your garments, but you must make sure that they are experienced with sequins and rhinestones. Most garments can be hand washed in cold water with a small amount of mild detergent and rinsed thoroughly. Roll them gently in a color-stable towel, then lie flat to dry.
Any additional thoughts or suggestions?
Costume Gallery: Check your order confirmation as soon as it arrives. If a mistake was made, it is much easier to correct it at that time than when you receive your order in April.
Curtain Call Costumes: If your choreographic ideas are not clear, consider browsing catalogs and letting the costumes be your inspiration. You may see a costume you fall in love with, and it can generate ideas for the piece. Use the costume as the starting point for the choreography and music.
DesignWorks: Do not let someone who has no experience with a measuring tape measure your students. You will be assured of a proper fit when you take accurate measurements. We recommend that measurements be taken with the students wearing a leotard and standing tall with feet together. Take the girth measurement first; it is the most important. Then move on to bust, waist, and hips. If the girth measurement is at the end of the size chart table for that size and the child is in a growth-spurt year, move up to the next size. Fit the students in their costumes as soon as possible to allow time for exchanges.
Ferreira Dance & Costumes: Understanding how the different companies operate and relying on positive past experiences could be a guide to successful costume ordering in the future.
Weissman’s Designs for Dance: Attending UDMA shows or visiting costume manufacturers through hosted preview events or by appointment is a wise investment of time. Our costume book replicates our fabrics as closely as possible, but some colors are not reproducible in four-color process printing. Some costumes have fabulous catalog appeal; others are stunning but do not photograph well. The relationships that studios build with costume manufacturers are worth the investment.