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Cirque Costumes: Not To Be Confused With Your Underwear

Duo Trapeze Costumes

Dear Danglers, today we will be chatting about a topic near and dear to my… heart. Please, I beg you – do not confuse your underwear (or yoga pants or nightgown) with a proper costume! If you’re billing yourself (or hope to someday) as a professional, but show up at my event in some tired looking orange unitard with a rhinestone bracelet super-glued to the collar, or a bra & panties hand sewn to a flesh-toned unitard, eyebrows will be raised – and not in a good way. So what makes a good costume? And what does your choice say about you as a performer? Read on.

Consider This

Different types of shows will of course require different costumes – your cousin Janie’s Sweet 16 Burlesque Extravaganza will look really different from the promotional launch of a new energy bar. For the sake of narrowing the field a bit, let’s zero in on cirque-style costumes you might wear for corporate parties, stage shows, and higher budget private events.

  • Consider the act. What do you need in a costume? For example, for our silks costumes, we prefer 3/4 sleeves, lower backs covered, and legs ending mid-calf; but for trapeze doubles, we need arms and shins completely exposed, with no extra fabric around the middle. (Note: ladies, pay special attention to the neckline – one good reach could send your “charms” flying out of your costume. Awkwaaaaard!)
  • Consider the look. Your costume should highlight the very best of you (your superty buff shoulders for example) and downplay… ahem, what needs downplaying (your less than buff derriere perhaps). And please – no panty or thong lines, ain’t nobody wants to see all that.
  • Consider the audience/client. Is this an upscale cirque-style show? Than don’t show up in something resembling lingerie from 1875. If bloomers are an integral part of your act, fine, but generally speaking, you want to blend into the main theme or feel of the show.


Elements Of A Great All-Purpose Costume – A Summary

Trio Silks Costumes

  • Protects your body from burns or abrasion, while leaving essential skin exposed.
  • Makes your body look smokin’ hot (but not too sexy, makes the corporate folks nervous)
  • Projects the image you’re aiming for (professional)
  • Looks expensive and well-designed
  • Fits in with the show or theme
  • Has a little pizazz to it – rhinestones or something to catch the light. Go bold or go home!
  • Careful about using lots of black – you’ll be performing against a lot of black backdrops (The Great Floating Head from Brooklyn rides again!)

Preferred Materials – moleskin (spandex with a little heft), stretch velvets, sparkly materials (beware of fabrics with loose glitter on them though), etc.

More on this soon – I want to see you all looking gooooooooooooood! Whether you sew it yourself or hire someone else to make it for you, a good costume is an investment in your career that can’t be glossed over. Now, pack those bloomers away and design something fabulous!

PS – Let me hear about your wardrobe malfunctions! If you share yours, I’ll share one of mine (it’s a doozy).


Photos: Kenneth Feldman

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31 comments on “Cirque Costumes: Not To Be Confused With Your Underwear”

  1. Andrea Reply

    Great post!! I do hoop in a lot of club settings, so my outfits are generally pretty small. One time (of course the club decided to place me in a more “main act” location rather than the ambiance areas they had previously put me (outdoor venue))—- I usually tape my ladies to my bra rather than my costume because the costume can move around, the bra does not—- aaand of course I mistakenly taped them to the costume. Three moves in and OUT come the ladies! I go to fix it and OFF slips my butt from my hoop—– THANKFULLY putting me in a crucifix…which I immediately styled and (hopefully) passed off as intentional :-\ Needless to say I switched to my “family friendly” costume for the next set!
    -Andrea ( and FOR COSTUMES:

  2. jj Reply

    Test your costume!!! I had the bright idea to wear an open-neck halter leotard in a hammock performance, with a hard drop in it. OH BOY, the ladies did not stay put no matter how much costume tape I layered all over the bra and leotard! Sure glad I tested that out with enough time to re-think and get my hands on a turtleneck leotard instead.

  3. WolfenHoops Reply

    Could you share any good stores, locations, websites for purchasing great costumes? Since there are no other aerial units anywhere (like hours) from us here in SC, there isn’t a large pool of resources to ask.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hmmm – sadly, no. I make all of our costumes, so I can’t be much help there. You can always find a good costume designer and have them made, or you can order from a site like (but do note that you have to be REALLY careful about quality here). In all honesty (and you’re probably going to hate this answer), if you want affordable, amazing costumes, it’s worth putting in some time and learning to sew them yourself. I’m self-taught, and learned for this very reason – our costumes were running us upwards of $600 apiece, so it was a neccessity. Once you have a good unitard pattern that you like, it’s easy to embellish by sewing pieces of fabric here and there, or adding trim. My costumes run us about $35-$50, way better than $600! Anyone else have any good leads?

  4. Sabrina Reply

    Hi Laura! Looking for guidance. I’m working on creating a skin-toned unitard with lots of embellishments. I purchased a “nude” unitard and then dyed it to as close to my skin color as possible. Given this was my first RitDye attempt, it came out really well. Now here’s where the guidance request comes in…does it make sense to use clear crystals or something close to the unitard color, or should I use color? Also, what is preferable? Hot fixing, E6000, stretchy fabric glue?

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Great question, Sabrina! I would go for clear-ish for the majority of the unitard, with color only if you’re doing a specific design – a flower for example. Colored rhinestones dotted over a nude costume have a tendency to look like measles, so be careful here (it’s also really easy to tell when they pop off – and they will). Placement is important too – identify your high traffic areas (waist on silks, for example) and leave it free of rhinestones or you’ll be replacing them after every show. I hot fix all my rhinestones, and have been really happy with that. Sooooo, long answer short, unless you’re doing a design, stick with crystals the color of the unitard. Hope that helps!

  5. Sabrina Reply

    Thanks. This is very helpful. I’m glad you mentioned scattered crystals give the appearance of measles. I was thinking of using red crystals, what a disaster that would be! A few more questions. Does it matter in appearance if I use Swarovski crystals or glass crystals? Will any hotfix wand work (Bedazzler v. Jolee v. Bejeweler Pro v. Hotfixer?

    • Lewitwer Reply

      I use Swarovski hot fix, with an ancient hot fix wand I bought in Canada. Just don’t use anything with prongs!

  6. Kelly Reply

    Any suggestions on finding a good unitard pattern? I’ve made various pants/shirt/vest combos for trapeze work, but its been difficult finding a pattern for a single piece unitard that could be used on silks. Love the rhinestone advice! I’ve recently tried playing around with fabric paint that has a shimmery/glittery effect, but it tends to crack and doesn’t stretch with the costume fabric too well 🙁

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hi Kelly! Try Kwik Sew patterns # 2722 and #3052 (you can get both from I mix and match the two to get the silhouette I’m going for, and they’re super easy to sew. Send pictures of your finished costumes – I’d love to see how they eventually turn out! 🙂

    • Holly Reply

      If you are looking for patterns, Kwik Sew is always a good bet. They’ve historically done a lot of lingerie and body wear, and so are experienced in form fitting design. Another site to check out is sports/dance/athletics specialists Jalie. They specialize in body wear, and are used by dancers, skaters and other athletes. They also have handy costume sewing tutorials and tip videos on their site. Finally, in terms of patterns, Burda will sometimes have body wear patterns (unitards, etc). They are often great design, as well as more standard silhouettes. If you are looking for fabric recommendations, pattern suggestions, or suppliers, consider posting in some of the forums on (I’d suggest the jazz, modern, ballet, disco forums would be a good start. Disco for high sparkle stretch fabrics). The site is HUGE, and likely others have had the question before! is really active, and the with the community being so large and wide-spread, it’s a resource you almost can’t afford not to tap into! Good luck! (Presently doing ballet 3 x a week and trying to get my strength/stamina up for silks – I’m seriously overweight so I figure ill need the extra strength!)

  7. shimarella Reply

    I just discovered your blog and am having a great time swimming through it as I recommit myself to NOT falling off the silks practice wagon. I perform burlesque and am exploring my costume options for aerial silks burlesque, where yes, things do come off. Recommendations for costume underpinnings? I don’t want to get fabric burn but do want to commit to the tease aspect.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Thanks Shimarella! 🙂 Hmmm – I’ve got nothing on this one (I practically costume myself in an aerial burka to avoid silk burns). My experience with nude mesh has been so-so, it’s better than nothing, but not great. Anyone?

  8. Clare Reply

    I am looking for someone to build a fantastic Rag Doll head and possibly costume for me for a Holiday show. If anyone knows of someone who specializes in these Cirque Rag Doll heads, please let me know, and thanks. Clare

  9. Tish Reply

    I feel like I am fighting this in pole, we have to have bare skin for grip, but people persist in looking as skanky as possible, which just perpetuates the cycle of people perceiving us as strippers.

  10. Julie Reply

    I made a practice leotard out of a sparkle stretch velvet. Love the fabric, but after a few months all my sparkles were on the mat!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      LOL – I’ve made some that look like it’s raining glitter! So pretty though. My husband drew the line when sparkles started ending up all over his combat boots, so now I have to be really careful while I’m sewing sparkle-icious fabric! 😉

  11. Rebecca Reply

    We made friends with some local fashion design students and have never looked back! Our costumes cost half the price and they have a really cool ideas.

  12. CircusCherry Reply

    Hey Laura! I’ve got my first show on tissu in 2 weeks time and just realised today that my spandex onesie (looks great) is super slippery on my silks!! Do you have any tips for anything that you can put on the fabric other than rosin to make it less slippery? Help!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Kind of. Rosin remains the gold standard for taking the slip out of fabric, but there’s a method to it. Get yourself some spray rosin (Tuff Skin). Spray a good layer over the costume, follow with powder rosin (then “massage” it in to get rid of marks), then follow with another layer of Tuff Skin. You can treat the costume and the fabric if needed. I usually do a test run in rehearsal, and do another layer before the show. Have a great performance! 🙂

  13. CircusCherry Reply

    Thanks heaps! We don’t have Tuff Skin here in New Zealand but I have some of the Cramer QDA which is similar so i’ll give that a whirl.
    LOVE your work! 🙂

  14. CircusCherry Reply

    Gave this a go on my tech run and worked like a dream! You seriously rock!!

  15. Silkydrop Reply

    For my daughter’s first solo aerial act…. I bought I simple biktard…looked perfect…nothing to fancy..when she did one of her tricks….where th fabric makes an x in the back she was snagged and couldn’t go further. We promptly changed her costume. Even thought the bike yard should have worked…..her tiny waist gave room for the fabric to snag. I was surprised.

  16. Visitor Reply

    Hi! ‘Just a question: What is the best material to wear when doing a lot of tricks? Like, breathable, skintight material? It’s getting pretty cold (since it’s now winter), so maybe something not TOO light? Buying material that is too thick or not as breathable is a big waste of money. ;/ What materials (or clothing pieces) do you recommend?

    • Julie Reply

      I have bought several pieces of stretch velvet from Good quality, breathable, not too thick, but definitely warmer than standard dance leotard fabric. I wear them in all but the hottest weather.

  17. Corey Reply

    Hi! I’m having trouble finding great costumes for silks. We aren’t allowed to have any sort of embellishments that might snag or damage the silks so any sort of crystals, studs, sequins, etc. are out. I looked into fun leotards/unitards, but they’re all made out of the slipperiest (is “slipperiest” even a word?) fabric possible. What other types of embellishments do you recommend that are “silk friendly?”

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Try applique-ing different fabrics onto the base unitard, like a stretch velvet, or a contrasting pattern. 🙂

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