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Put some showgirl Glamour in your costume

Updated for 2024


Nothing speaks of sexy fantasy glamour quite like the showgirl.


The skimpy outfits covered in rhinestones and the exotic feathered headdresses are iconic, and an endless source of inspiration and creativity for costume.


3 Showgirl dancers on stage in Las Vegas show. They wear rhinestone bra and feather backpacks
Full on glamour in the finale costumes for Jubilee!, Las Vegas.

In this article I will take a brief tour into the origins of the showgirl look, and then show you how to use tricks from the showgirl playbook to create your own show stopping themewear outfit or stage costume.


Before we dive into how you can make your own showgirl look, lets delve into some showgirl moments from the past.

If you want to skip the (it's super brief btw) history lesson, or my fabulous inspiration section and head straight to my essential showgirl checklist click here.


The beginnings of the Showgirl Aesthetic


Early showgirls were the cabaret dancers and entertainers of the music hall and variety shows of the early 20th Century in Europe and the US. The Folies Bergère in Paris, well known for it's raunchy female dance troupe inspired Florenz Ziegfeld Jr to create the Ziegfeld Follies in 1907. The Follies hit Broadway with their elaborate revue show of costumed chorus girls and were a spectacular hit, delighting Hollywood audiences with cheeky routines and OTT costumes.



You can already see the costume staples of the showgirl showing their tail feathers in these black and white photos from the 1920's and 30's, but the golden era of the showgirl was in the 40's and 50's after Hollywood got it's hands on it.


Hollywood cleaned up the image of the Showgirl for the silver screen, but it was the rise of stripper super stars such as Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand and Lili St.Cyr that really established the showgirl look as part of the uniform of the Burlesque performer.





Modern Showgirls


Showgirl aesthetic has been inspiring artists and fashion throughout the modern ages, artists such as Cher and Tina Turner even had legendary Follies costume designer Bob Mackie design their stage and red carpet wear.

And in the early 2000's Retro glamour and Burlesque came to take centre stage in the cultural Zeitgeist. The movie Moulin Rouge (Dir: Baz Lurhmann), was a massive hit and rising stars such as Dita Von Teese presented vintage glamour to a whole new generation and filtered back onto the world stage with artists such as Kylie, on the fashion shows of Victoria's Secret and the costumes in the Miss World pageant.


Kylie Minogue singing on stage wearing a blue showgirl costume

Kylie's showgirl style is sassy but classy and dripping with ostrich feathers and bling. Keeping the colours to tones of blue and using silver and crystal as contrasting highlights keeps this voluminous outfit from overwhelming our teeny Kylie.

I love my corsetry, and this particularly stunning piece was designed and made by Mr Pearl...a total legend in the corset community.



Victoria's secret model in 2012 show throwing a kiss at the audience, she wears underwear and a showgirl headdress









Victoria's Secret also borrow heavily from showgirl aesthetic in their fashion shows to dress up their rather ordinary undies into show stopping glamour.

This Victoria's Secret outfit from 2012) is perfectly curated in the classic vein of the Follies girl.

I love the feather head-dress with it's cut ostrich feather and crystal...it's delicate in material and colour and the addition of gloves and chunky over the top crystal jewellery is another cheeky nod to Burlesque performance.









These two fabulous costumes are from Miss World pageants.

In the red is Miss France (2016) and she looks every bit the Folies Berger Showgirl in this cracking ensemble of crystal fringe bikini and ostrich feather stole.

And in white is Miss Sweden in 2013. The simple block of white doesn't take over because it has a combination of texture, ruffles and feathers en masse, which are a perfect foil for the volume of silver diamante flowing from the sleeve.


Miss France 2016 on stage in National Costume round wearing red and crystal showgirl costume
Miss Sweden 2013 on stage wearing white showgirl inspired costume in white

Be inspired...but don't copy


There is a huge array of visual inspiration for your theme wear outfit and accessories to perform with to enhance your stage presence.

Here I have started a pinterest board. Click my pincode, browse the idea's and follow the board as I frequently add idea's there as I come across them.

Circle frame divided into quarters. Each quarter has an image of a showgirl


The 5 costume pieces you need to create your Ultimate Showgirl look


So now we feel suitably inspired, lets have a look at how we can get some showgirl sauce into your costume.


Headdress


No full showgirl costume look is complete without a headdress. The showgirl headdress is usually made from a wire base covered in crystals and an arrangement of feathers on top, but sometimes can be more like a jewelled crown or similar. Headdresses can be difficult to balance, so are secured tightly to the head with straps and grips to cause as few problems for the dancer as possible. Getting used to walking and moving in the headdress is necessary to avoid oopsies, so make sure you get it in advance of your show and practice your routine in it.



Jewelled Bikini


Traditionally the showgirl wears very little in the way of body costume, which usually comprises a jewelled bra top and knickers of some description. The style of your underwear or bikini is entirely up to you, but to qualify as a bonefide showgirl piece it has to be covered in crystal.

You can buy a crystal bikini, have one specially designed for you or you can DIY it depending on your budget, available time and crafty skillset.



Feathered backpack


A backpack is optional, and can take many forms, a collar, shoulder piece or full on wings...but it must have feathers (or similar). Backpacks are worn over the shoulder and secured with straps. If they are really heavy they are sometimes also stabilized at the waist.

Showgirl Athena Patacsil, who wore the famous White Star costume in Jubilee! reports that the backpack weighed 35lb's ( that's15.9kg's for us metric users) and spanned 6ft wide (1.8 mtr). When choosing your backpack do be aware of it's size, especially if you are sharing the stage with other performers or competitors, you may even have to adapt how you walk when moving around so you don't hit people and objects. Athena Patacsil reports she had to walk "...sideways, like a crab...so you didn't break the feathers..." ( to watch her full white start story click here Jubilee! Finale Principal Star Backpack - (showgirls.life))



Heels


Sorry ladies, but a showgirl always wears heels!

If you are actually performing you will need some dance heels, whether you opt for something low(ish) like a Latin dance shoe or go fully stacked in stripper heels do make sure they have an ankle strap for security.


Once you have your costume pieces assembled make sure you practice, practice, practice!



 

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