Competition season is here, and you've finally received your beautiful new costumes. But how can you keep these ensembles looking stage-ready through Nationals next July? Here are the tips and tricks you need to prevent and troubleshoot costume problems.
It's All in the Bag
According to Rhonda Bass, who has been making costumes by hand for DC Dance Factory in Franklin, TN, for years, keeping costumes in their best shape has everything to do with storage between competitions and while traveling. "You want to make sure costumes aren't just wadded up in a bag," she says. "Keep them hung up nicely using garment bags." And as tempting as it can be to keep every part of a costume stored in the same garment bag or on the same hanger, Bass suggests separation. "Each costume should really have its own bag, because parts of one costume might snag another. Keep hair accessories, jewelry, and tights in separate baggies, and even wrap individual parts of costumes that could catch on material with tissue paper."
Patty Sutera, director of merchandising and design at Costume Gallery, agrees that proper hanging is essential to costume longevity. "Hanging prevents wrinkling and snagging," she says. "You especially never want to fold a costume that contains sequins. When it folds in on itself, the sequins can get caught on other parts of the fabric, or on each other, causing a plethora of issues." Additionally, Sutera suggests using dry-cleaning bags to separate costumes with sequins. "This is an easy way to keep costumes separate while storing them within the same garment bag for ease while traveling. The costumes can hang directly beside one another and never actually touch."
One of the hazards of wearing costumes over and over again is a build-up of sweat residue. No one wants to compete in a foul-smelling outfit, but you can't just throw these duds in the washing machine. Sutera suggests handwashing carefully, and only when absolutely necessary. "Turn the garment inside out and use very gentle detergent," she says. "Make sure you always use cold water, because heat can cause colors to run and stains to set."
If you aren't sure that your costume can handle handwashing, Febreze it or wipe it down with a baby wipe. According to Bass, "Febreze is a great tool for freshening costumes between uses. Spray it on, then let the costume hang in the open to air out." Even if they don't already stink, allowing costumes to hang outside of a garment bag between competitions will also help.
Dance competitions and an abundance of rhinestones go hand in hand, but those sparkly pieces often become loose or fall off your costume altogether. Keep extra rhinestones and a tube of E6000 glue (a very strong craft glue) in your competition kit. "Put some kind of protective layer between the two sides of the costume so the glue doesn't bleed through one side of the garment to the other," Sutera suggests. "Carry toothpicks, too, to make application easier." Place a dab of the glue on one end of the toothpick, apply it to the back of a rhinestone, and carefully place the rhinestone on the costume.
Some costumes include jewel-bedecked appliqués, and those stones can be trickier to replace. Bass has a hack to keep those stones from falling out of their metal encasings: "Applying clear nail polish to pieces like this and to other jewelry keeps stones in their settings," she says. "It'll also prevent those jewelry pieces from snagging sheer materials or other delicate parts of a costume."
Despite your best intentions, makeup, dirt, and sweat are all likely to leave their mark on costumes—but there are simple solutions for most of these stains. According to Bass, all you need to remove a lipstick stain is a baby wipe, and Sutera says saliva on a makeup pad followed by a little cold water will quickly remove blood.
When a costume is worn multiple times, sweat is to be expected, but Sutera has a classic trick for treating sweat stains. With the help of an adult, "mix three parts water and one part vodka in a spray bottle, spray it lightly on the stain, and pat it with a towel," she says. "The stain should lift right out of the material." (Bonus: This mixture is also known to absorb odors.)
The Bottom Line
To avoid competition costume emergencies, it's important to give attention to each costume piece at the end of every competition weekend. Check carefully for loose or missing rhinestones, make sure straps, hooks, and snaps are all secure, and take care of any cleaning needed. And always make sure your competition kit is stocked with safety pins, glue, a sewing kit, and any extra items you might need to fix costumes while on the go.
A version of this story appeared in the October 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Costume Conundrum."