Like all performance artists, burlesque girls create and maintain a few types of characters that they can bring out for shows. As varied as the performers themselves, these characters are more of a theme or an identity, like an alter ego this performer has created. Of course this isn't a hard and fast rule, but if you're starting out in burlesque, a character approach might be something for you to try.
Whenever I go out to a burlesque show, I like to think of the characters in each performance as an alter ego of the performer and each burlesque outfit just seems to fit with the personality of the performer. So how can you develop your alter ego and create a look that is just right for you? Here are a couple of tips to get you started.
Choose your burlesque character
To get started, think about a character that you would like to build upon. This is not really about copying a person or character exactly, but more about developing who you will be on the stage. You're only limited by your imagination and really the sky’s the limit. A character idea may be something specific like a take on a legendary star, or more broad like a 1920s movie starlet, or even just a classic burlesque performer who specializes in fan dances. Other popular characters are things like the armed services girl from the 1940s or, especially appropriate in Austin, the cute cowgirl.
Develop your theme
Whatever your character, you will put a lot of thought into the overall theme. The outfit and look are of course important, but that's just one part of it. At this point you'll need to think about various dance numbers, appropriate music, stage lighting, the mood, and props. Think about the first moment that you'll step out onto that stage with a full house. What is the impression that you want to make with your new alter ego?
Put together a wardrobe that can be easily modified through DIY ingenuity
So you have your character figured out and have started picking out ideas and music and even have a look in mind. It's time to start working on outfit ideas. Most people aren't made of money, so here's where it pays to be thrifty and crafty. If you're good at sewing and alterations, you'll have a real advantage. You did listen to your mom when she tried to teach you to sew, didn’t you? Buy a few key outfit pieces to get started. These will be the main part of a look or two. Lingerie and corsets are the quintessential burlesque outfit foundations, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re good at sewing, you can add accents and trim, or remove things from garments that just don't work for you. Get crafty. And think about thrift stores for some basic shift dresses or tops that can easily be altered. Spend your money on cute new lingerie and underwear, as well as high quality, versatile hosiery that you can wear with many different outfits.
Share your look and get some feedback before you debut your outfit
A burlesque troupe really is like a second family and each performer benefits tremendously from members’ encouragement and feedback. Ok, so you haven’t started your troupe yet! But you still have friends and family that you love and trust right? Once you’ve put together your alter ego’s burlesque outfit, ask a few close friends for some honest feedback. Arrange a private preview party with your closest girlfriends. Make it a fun event, where they can share what they like and don't like about your outfits, and can help you refine the looks.
Add pieces that can be mixed and matched for variety
If you've invested the time and money into developing your new character, you'll want to get as much mileage out of it without the routines and costumes getting too stale. Many performers will spend a lot of time between shows picking new music and choreographing a new routine for their characters. As time goes on and you can afford it, consider adding an occasional bigger ticket item into your burlesque outfit lineup. A smart gal knows how to pick things that can be mixed and matched into many different variations and ideas. Don't forget to keep an eye open for costume additions or possible alterations. Accessories are a great and affordable way to keep things fresh. Hosiery has almost limitless possibilities, and it's cheap. And again thrift stores and discount stores have tons of stuff that can be worked over into something new. Now what about those sewing skills? Time to give mom a call.