two female aerialists perform on the cube in Sailor Moon costumes

Costume Drama: A Primer on Choosing Your Performance Wear

So much goes into creating a great circus act. Often, the process starts with a piece of music that moves you or a story that you want to tell. You then select the skills you love and find interesting ways to transition between them.

You sequence it all together and run it over and over again until you can do it in your sleep. You’re ready to perform, right? Not so fast, my friend! Let’s talk about what you’re wearing when you get up on that stage. Costume can be an essential part of both your act and your performance persona.

What’s Your Venue?

Are you headed out for your first professional gig (congrats, btw!), or are you getting your feet wet at your home studio’s student showcase? If it’s the latter, you can probably wear whatever you like. From your everyday workout wear to fancy and frilly, most kinds of costume are accepted at these lower key events. Make sure you check the event guidelines however for specifics about theme and formality.

If you are performing professionally, you need an outfit appropriate for the type of gig you’ve been hired for. A wedding or a corporate engagement may have different requirements than a burlesque show or club act. Make sure you talk with the person who hired you and that you’re clear on their expectations.

If someone is shelling out the big bucks for your performance, your costume should reflect your professionalism. This means doing your research and either making yourself something amazing, if you’ve got the skills, or paying someone else to make you something amazing, if you’re prone to Pinterest fails.

Note that sewing isn’t the only way to make yourself something amazing. Sometimes it’s purchasing something plain and bedazzling the bejesus out of it. Or scouring thrift stores and recombining your finds into a funky new look.

What’s Your Apparatus?

Keep in mind that what you’re hanging your body from might limit what you can hang on your body. The need to protect your skin from silk burns doesn’t magically disappear when the stage lights come on. If your character demands a metallic bikini, consider a flesh-toned base layer underneath to keep your skin happy.

You’ll also want to think about how your costume will work with your apparatus and your movement – is that skirt going to wind up in your face every time you invert? While sparkles look amazing onstage, beware of anything pronged, which can snag and damage your apparatus. Glitter is great, but do you want it all over you (and your apparatus and venue and fellow performers)?

Find out what your backdrop will look like so you can plan a look that pops. If you’re performing on fabric, find out in advance which color your apparatus will be. If you’ve got a black background and black fabric, do not choose a black costume – your movement will get lost without some kind of contrast.

What’s Your Budget?

If you’re going to be performing regularly, a high-quality costume can be a solid investment. Sites like Etsy have a good selection of gorgeous, well-made costumes, specifically designed for circus artists, but the price tags can be steep.

You can also look at dancewear sites like Discount Dance and Dancewear Solutions for less expensive options. As noted above, you can also save money by making or embellishing your own costumes or by repurposing existing clothing into something circus-appropriate.

Take It for a Test Drive

Once you’ve found or created the perfect costume, take it into the studio and rehearse in it repeatedly. Make sure it doesn’t interfere with your choreography, isn’t too slippery on your apparatus, and won’t leave you facing an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. Some of these issues might be fixable with slight modifications, spray rosin, and/or lingerie tape, but you want to know about them now, not when you’re in front of an audience.

Choosing a costume is an important part of performance preparation. Take the time to find a flattering costume that complements your piece and will make you feel fabulous onstage!