On a Monday morning I like to torture myself by scrolling through Facebook looking at photos of all the events I didn’t go to. In spite of the green-eyed shadow of ‘hafla envy’ I still enjoy seeing pics showing lovely ladies enthralled with the dance. Of course, it is the nature of my work and interests to pay particular attention to the costumes that everyone is wearing. Some days see me enthralled with the photos (‘ooh I want that!’) , some days see me recoil in horror (‘what was she thinking?’). There is a very fine line between the two.
What crosses that line is a bit of a mystery really. Take tribal ladies for example – sometimes you can look at a group and think ‘Wow!’ how colourful and vibrant, how glorious’. Yet another photo will have you thinking ‘jeez, who blew up the jumble sale?’. Keeping a troupe in a simple colour palette can go a long way to prevent the jumble sale vibe, and can give unity to an otherwise very diverse group of costumes. Before you think about lynching me, I should stress that groups which teeter on the very fine costume line aren’t all restricted to tribal ladies. I recall one xmas halfa where a troupe in red and white ‘Mrs. Claus goes for glamour’ frocks all lined up at the front of the stage and it was very evident that in the group of seven ladies there were no two ladies of a similar shape or size. I briefly felt for their dressmaker until I realised she was the only one wearing a dress that fitted or had the correct proportions for her body shape.
What looks good on one body can look hideously on another. Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking fat here. You can take two size 12 ladies and they will differ wildly in what they need. Some have long bodies and diddy legs, others have long legs and a short trunk. Some girls have size 12 curves, others have a size 12 rib cage and no boobs. The possession of a butt or a tum can dramatically alter the effect of a costume, it can easily teeter from gorgeous into trashy. So do double check with both your mirror and an honest friend before you go on stage.
I noticed recently a trend for groups to all wear the same costume, or same colour and similar costumes which flatter their own shape. I also noticed that in some workshop photos some troupes will wear the same gear. Is this fashion I ask myself of the teacher and/or group trying to forge their identity?
When my students were new I never expected or asked them to buy matching stuff to dance in. Part of this was because I knew that amping up the costs of classes might lose me students who were already struggling with finances. Another reason was that as a costume provider I felt they might feel forced into buying from me and that felt wrong and rather self serving , so I avoided it altogether. We wore what we had in the wardrobes.
As time went on and my girls were no longer ‘new’ people ribbed us about having no costumes to speak of. There was one memorable night when we finally had matching items for our dance and told one of the jokers that she’d be amazed as we had a costume tonight! ‘What, one between you?’ she queried. We laughed, but cried inside.
We did one choreo which required (they were essential) cowgirl hats and paired them with with gingham hip ties and neckerchiefs. When we reprised the same dance at a Halloween hafla we swapped gingham for blood-stained white satin, at the xmas halfa two weeks later we had wide red satin hip sashes with bows instead of blood-soaked rags. It worked for us, the costumes worked for the dance, we didn’t spend a lot and we could all be the same.
Eventually we felt the need to graduate to matching frocks and we’ve had a couple of homemade outfits which worked very well for us and we got several uses out of each set. One rather tipsy xmas party night we talked ourselves into buying saloon girl fancy dress outfits for our next few performances. They worked well and still wait in the cupboard to be called upon for a halloween/witch dance next.
What’s next for us? Well, I doubt we’re ever going to move into ‘proper’ costumes as we don’t dance enough to warrant it. But the girls do like to plan ahead and enjoy scrolling through ebay for bargains. Our next planned dance is rather bizarrely going to have a strong 80’s vibe to it. I missed out on rara skirts the first time around, I have a horrible feeling I may not escape this time.