Friday, March 20, 2015

Costumes for Legally Blonde: The Musical

I've been pretty busy with costume work again, this time for our local high school performance of "Legally Blonde: The Musical." Because I apparently live under a rock, I was not familiar with the story at all. Why on earth would a movie about a ditzy lawyer need a bandleader outfit and a Playboy bunny suit? And why did they also need a cheerleader's outfit copied in shades of gray and white? And what's with needing a breakaway dress?

YouTube to the rescue! There was an upload of an MTV broadcast of the Broadway show, so I finally understood the context of the outfits. So I got to work.

I knew the most challenging piece was going to be the bunny suit. Ever try and find a pattern for a Playboy Bunny suit? I tried, I really did. The best I found was this Instructable, which at least got me started. I used PatternMaster to get the basic top fitted, but even they didn't offer a tightly-fitted princess seam bodysuit. I ended up doing a bit of a Frankenpattern routine, using a princess-seamed strapless top and adding the front and back by hand, drafting the leg curves and crotch pieces. I knew what her crotch measurement was, so I used that as a basic guide to get the length right. In looking at pictures of the traditional Playboy Bunnies, I saw that the peak of the leg curve was in the front of the leg, rather than over the hip, so I had to figure out where that fell as well.

The first muslin wasn't too bad; I pinned out the extras and sliced where it was too tight, then did a second muslin in the final fabric, which looked worse.

I was despairing of ever getting it right, but fortunately the third time was the charm. We used a scrap piece of rabbit fur for the tail, and I also made cuffs, a collar, and bunny ears (thanks to that Instructable!).

On to the Bandleader outfit!

The prime concern about this one is that it was a double quick-change. The actress had very little time to get into it, and to get out of it. So I decided to make the top and the jacket into one piece, zipped up the front. The slinky gold shorts were worn under the previous costume, so that wasn't too much of an issue. In the end, it came together pretty quickly.

The costume director also wanted me to decorate the hat they had for her, with the proviso that I not damage it, which meant not gluing or sewing anything directly to the hat. The hat was a very deep blue, so it had to be completely covered. My solution was to make sort of a "slipcover" for the hat, and gluing decorations to that. The tassel and button are actually part of the original hat; I just cut a slit into my cover and pulled them out. The front ornament is also part of the original hat.

Now, about that cheerleader...

The director handed me this cheerleader dress and said she needed a copy in shades of white and gray for the same actress.

 I traced the dress rather than try to create a pattern, and got a pretty decent fit the first time. The contrast stripes were simply topstitched onto the bodice; I knew the costume would only be on stage for a few minutes, so I applied my "30 foot rule" and didn't bother with edge finishes. It was knit fabric, after all, so it wouldn't fray. I didn't even hem the skirt.

Breaking Away

In one of the earliest scenes of the show, the main character walks onstage in a flimsy white dress and moans that it just screams "bride".

She is then surrounded by a circle of her friends and two seconds later emerges from the scrum in a vivid pink number!

How did she do the change so fast?

Snap tape to the rescue! I just opened up the entire back seam and sewed in about three feet of snap tape. It's pretty much undetectable, even from just a few feet away, and once the actress is within the circle of girls, the one in back simply yanks the entire back seam open and pulls the dress off in one smooth motion, revealing the pink dress underneath. It's a great stage moment!

Closing night is Saturday the 21st, and I'm looking forward to being in the audience. I always have fun making costumes for this group, even though my kids have long since graduated from the school. I'm also happy that my daughter has become adept at hand sewing and on-the-spot alterations backstage; for this show she is serving as the main character's dresser backstage. I'm so proud of her!

Note: All production photos taken by Eric Lader.


  1. You are a textile engineer! Really!

  2. Great work as usual!!!!!

    You've been awarded the Liebster Award...check out my blog...


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