Camouflage

(Ya know when you suddenly feel as if you have never spelled a word before, so you look it up, are surprised by the spelling, and are sure you have been spelling it wrong all your life?!  Having issues with “camouflage” this morning…now singing “kamooflayge” as a mantra…I know, now I am saying it wrong, but I will know how to spell it for the rest of my life.)

A mom wrote to me as she begins working on her young dancing daughter’s first solo dress.  The little one is thicker around the middle.  Since I have some experience with that because of my oldest diva, I told her I would write about how I dealt with it…and since I have been digitizing ’til I am dreaming about creating food out of embroidery stitches in my sleep, I figured a little writing break was in order.  I am by no means an expert in dealing with this figure (I just slap a shapeless shirt on my own [say that 10 times fast: slap a shapeless shirt, shlap a slapesesh shirt, shap a shapish sh…]), but I have a couple of dresses under my belt and perhaps some readers will offer their own experiences and suggestions as well.

We all know that there are certain silhouettes that look good on different body types.  There are certain silhouettes that certain body shapes shy away from.  Some people wear whatever they want, whenever they want, whether they should or not, and I say more power to ’em!  But Irish dance, not unlike other dance forms, does dictate a certain dress “look.”  I was glad when the teeny-tiny bodice on top of the gigantoid skirt became a thing of the past as it was a rare child of any shape who looked good in that.  Don’t really know why, but the wide skirts always reminded me of the Flying Nun… and I always felt I was looking at a costume that would fit right in with this group below –

Am I right? Ever hear of “The Triadic Ballet,” Bauhaus, or Oscar Schlemmer?  More info here if you are curious: Bauhaus

That overwhelmingly wide, stiff triangle look was particularly unforgiving when it was under a thicker torso.  It was a good thing when the waists started to drop, and even better when the skirts began to narrow.  Now we are seeing some extreme dropped waistlines…nothing better for making all but the skinniest minnies look like sausage tubes (brings back horrid anorexia-inducing memories of college and gray unitards and clanging gongs and a hippie choreographer who never came to rehearsal with her feet on the ground, if you get my drift…)……..deep sigh.

There is a freaking point here somewhere…

…yes, kamooflayging thicker torsos to create an attractive balanced look for the incredibly logical creation that is an Irish dance dress. Tongue Out

There is always the usual use of dark colors over all, as well as using darker colors strategically so that brighter colors can pull focus.  There was a time when it was de riguer for ID dresses to have a bright color down the center of the dress while the bodice and skirt sides were darker.  Those were passing when I started with my girls in ID.  You do see some of that still but it is not as stark a use of contrasting colors as it used to be.

So, off to the fabric store you go.  You want a color that complements your dancer’s coloring, obviously, but make life a bit simpler for yourself by letting the dancer loose to be drawn to the colors she likes.  It is rare that a dancer (or anybody, for that matter) will claim as their favorite a color that looks bad on them.  You may not like it, but hold it up under your dancer’s face to see what happens.  It will probably work beautifully. 

A few years ago, I brought a whole box of fabric to begin working with a 10 year-old.  Susan had given me all sorts of things that I loved as well as some that made me cringe.  This red-cheeked, slightly sallow little dancer went straight for this bright coral metallic silk that set my teeth on edge.  I knew she had to be wrong, but when we held it up, her complexion brightened, her red cheeks turned pink, and her eyes sparkled!  This is the dress:

I have since always trusted the dancer.

In my diva’s case she chose plum.  She was young yet, but we both wanted something a bit more understated than the bright flourescent colors that were still the rage at the time, so no dramatic color shifts for us.  This is her first dress (I just realized that we were a bit ahead of out time!  Applique was still what everyone was doing, but we did just embroidery!):

Now, it is rather subtle, but you can see that the center of the bodice and the center front skirt are lighter than the sides and the sleeves.  There is a black sparkly overlay over the darker parts.  In the sunlight in that pic it is not as pronounced a difference as it really was.  The design also worked to draw the eye in…you can’t see the top of the cfp but the design comes to a point like the bodice design.

The diva’s next dress was a bit more dramatic.

This time we made more of an effort to draw the eye in by using black on the bodice & skirt sides and by making the bodice point down the center along with the long tapering design.  In fact the black was so successful that it looks as if the bodice is standing away from the offset skirt waist.  It is a 2 piece, but the bodice fit snugly so there was no space at the waist between the bodice hem and the skirt.  The long straight lines of crystals also help draw the eye in.

I did make this skirt very offset which means the “sides” of the dress were more than 2 inches forward of the diva’s actual side.  This again tricks the eye into interpreting the front waist into a narrower width.

The longer, dropped, pointed bodice look is another tried and true device for altering the look of a thicker torso.  I wrote about making the pointed bodice here: Bodice/Jacket for 2-piece.  At the time that I made the dresses in that post, those were drop-waisted jackets…compared to now, they are high waisted, but I would make the same pattern alterations with a longer waist.  I know many people feel that the 2-piece dress makes dancers look thick.  I do not agree, because, in fact, there is no difference in the bulk of fabric that is in the waist area or at the point of bodice & skirt overlap.  There may be even less because there is no bodice/jacket fabric in the waist seam at all (just a single layer of cotton for the under-bodice).  The problem in the look comes when the bodice is poorly fitted so that it looks too big on the dancer or it cannot sit down far enough over the skirt.  I have never been a fan of the faux bodice point that is appliqued onto the skirt as I find the actual waist seam to be very obvious, which is why I like the 2 piece plus the fact the jacket can be removed in between dances to alleviate the sweat factor.  (That being said, I am working on an OTR with Susan and she wants to incorporate that faux point…I have to learn to never say never because it always comes back to bite me in the…)

Another trick is to direct the eye upward to the face by creating interest above the bust line.  You can do this with a collar design and/or a corset bodice look.  I wrote about my approach to the corset bodice here: corset-style bodice .

And that brings me to the design itself.  As I just wrote above, you can keep the eye away from the torso by keeping your embellishments above the bust line.  Another technique is to make sure that any design that comes down below the bust is thin or tapered…anything wide will just accent the dancer’s width.

Ultimately, I am a big believer in making the dress that the dancer wants, making the dress that makes the dancer feel like a spectacular princess.  When she feels beautiful, she dances beautifully.  Over the course of my life as a performer, I had to wear some pretty awful & humiliating things because someone (choreographer, director, costume designer) forgot that embarrassing the dancers meant they would not dance their best…we tried, but when you feel like a stuffed gray sausage you tend to dance like one!

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