Burlesque: Budgets for Beginners – Part 1

This week, ABC hen party teacher & performer / designer Daiquiri Dusk takes a look at how to work out your budget for costuming and props when you’re starting out.

When you first enter the world of the burlesque as a new performer, it can be pretty daunting, not least because of the extravagant costuming and props that seem to go hand in hand with high-end burly-Q. Swarovski crystals don’t come cheap and if you’re wondering why your ensemble doesn’t quite pack the same punch as one of Dita’s particularly lavish costumes, remember that her pay scale is in the multi-digit thousands, compared to your £30 plus travel costs as a newbie.
So how important is the quality of your costuming? How can you achieve your dream outfit on a realistic budget and still attain the glamour you’re aiming for? I’ve put together some handy tips and pointers that I’ve picked up over the years in the world of burlesque and cabaret, on how to make the most out of burlesque on a budget.

Be Realistic
Chances are, if you’re putting together your first costume then your budget is more likely to be in the £50 region, rather than around the £500 or £5000 mark. But do not despair. As we always tell our students: fake it til you make it, and that applies to costuming too. There are plenty of budget-friendly tricks when it comes to putting together your burlesque wardrobe.
Don’t set yourself a ludicrously high budget for your first act. You’re just starting out and chances are, your style will evolve and you may well ditch the act or change it further down the line so why invest all those pennies at this stage? There will be plenty of time to revamp the costume and add more bling later on, once you’ve gotten a feel for the act and performed it a few times. Set a sensible proportionate budget to begin with and stick to it.

One of my own biggest and ultimately pointless expenses was a stunning £320 custom corset. I’ve worn it a handful of times and it’s been hanging in the back of my wardrobe for the last couple of years untouched.

Scots Gypsy
My old faithful black velvet underbust corset; a simple but staple part of my costuming, still going strong after 6 years.

Compare that to my (numerous) own-made corsets, done on a budget of about £35-£50 for materials each (plus the hours to make them) which have all been used more times than I can count, the oldest is still featured in two of my acts six years after I made it. Big-money investments do not always make a costume a keeper in the long run.

How much should I pay for my first costume?
How much you invest into and pay for your first costume depends on a number of factors. Your income / available expenditure is probably the foremost of these. Work out what you can afford to spend: can you save up? Buy one piece at a time? Primark and eBay can be your friends – both offer a plethora of bargains. eBay can be great for sourcing cheap materials, dance shoes, tights, vintage and second-hand costumes and plain Primark undies are the perfect base for jazzing up into costume pieces (I’ll talk more about the importance of embellishments in next week’s blog).
To give you a more exact idea of costings, let me demonstrate with my own first act / costume, which was done on a budget of less than £50. It was a simple cheesecake striptease with a cowgirl theme. Bearing in mind, this was nearly a decade ago and also before I started making my own costumes, here’s a rough breakdown of costs:

Material / fabric / trimmings (to make skirt & top) – £20 (kindly sewn by my wonderful mum)
Pattern – £5
Hat – no cost (already in my wardrobe)
Nipple tassels (eBay) – £7.00
Fringed bra & pants (eBay) – £10.00
Suspender belt (eBay) – £3.99
Shoes – no cost (already in my wardrobe)
Stockings – no cost (already in my wardrobe)
Total – £45.99

Compare this to Dita’s Opium Den act (rumoured to have had a budget of $100,000) and you’ll get an idea of the scale and variety of costs in burlesque budgeting. But it’s all relative. I only kept my first routine for about six months and then moved on, so in the end it served its purpose at the time.

I’m going to wrap up there this week, but I’ll be back with Part 2 and more burly budgeting tips next week, with ideas for costume embellishments, DIY tricks of the trade and planning your future budgets as you expand your repertoire.
Until then, why not check out our beginner blog series Getting Into Burlesque?

**Burlesque: Budgets for Beginners (Part 2) is now available.**