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How to Build a Tear-Away Gown for Burlesque

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In my experience with making costumes – both for theater and burlesque – there are 2 basic ways to make a tear-away gown:

  1. Alter an already made garment and make it tear-away – take apart seams or existing closures and add in quick closures (Velcro, snaps, magnets, zippers, etc.) to make the costume come off (or go on) quicker than originally intended.
  2. Build a tear-away garment from scratch – while making the garment, design in the quick closures from the start.

Obviously, they each have their advantages and disadvantages. The second method would be the ideal way to go for quality if you had all the time and money in the world, but that’s clearly not always the case.

Today’s post is about one of the few times I was able to design and build a tear-away gown from scratch. The look of the gown was taken directly from Dancing with the Stars, but how it comes apart is all me.

How to Build a Tear-Away Gown for Burlesque

Miss Riding Good and her Big Bad Wulf is the name that Miss F-Bomb and her husband perform duets under. They are fabulous social dancers and do amazing partnering and have brought that to the world of Maui Burlesque. For one of the Hawaii Burlesque Festivals, they decided to do a waltz to “Earned It” by The Weekend, and needed a gown.

Here’s the inspiration pic:

How to Build a Tear-Away Gown for Burlesque

I found a pattern for a basic dress that I had and altered the bodice a lot to create the look of the gown. I did a simple mock up to make sure it would work. The bodice opens up in the back. I used a sturdy cotton fabric for the base of the gown and then used a chiffon for the top layer.

The pleating was very much a challenge and just took a whole lot of time, focus, and straight pins.

How to Build a Tear-Away Gown for Burlesque

The closures on the back of the bodice are snaps. At the neckline I added a decorative button to disguise the snap, and at the lower back I made a little bustle and added a beaded appliqué to hide the closure.

How to Build a Tear-Away Gown for Burlesque

The skirt is 4 panels that each tear away from the bodice. I used Velcro to attach them to get the smoothest, most “seam-like” look where they attached to the bodice. Since I was designing that in, I sewed the Velcro to the bodice lining to hide stitching, which isn’t usually possible when making a ready-made garment tear-away. That’s often one of the drawbacks of using Velcro.

How to Build a Tear-Away Gown for Burlesque

Another Velcro drawback is the sound it makes. When you’re performing in a small space that Velcro noise can be pretty obvious. The way the number was choreographed it’s supposed to look like he’s ripping the skirt apart, so the Velcro noise works out fine since it kind of sounds like fabric ripping.

The only real issue with the costume is that the stitching that attached the Velcro to the skirt panels will sometimes come out after several uses. I’ve reinforced it with gros-grain ribbon, but it continues to happen. It’s not ripping the chiffon, which is nice, but the force needed to tear off the panels is stronger than the stitches. This happened while we were on Oahu for Burlesque Fest and I didn’t have a sewing kit at the theater so I had to staple it together during rehearsal. I hand sewed it back together before the show.

How to Build a Tear-Away Gown for Burlesque

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Introducing “The Devine Double-D’s” of Sadie Vine. Sadie Vine is world-famous for 2-things: her high kick, and her boobs. Although, technically that’s 3 things. Sadie has a vast dance and theater background and is the lead organizer, script writer, and costume maven for Cabaret & Cocktails.

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