How to Make a Show Girl Headdress

(continued)

The feather cage…

Florist Wire

Pre-cut, packaged florist wire. You want the thicker stuff, which I believe is 18 gauge.

Cut the wire to 9" lengths, and make little loopsie-doos at the ends.

Cut the wire to 9" lengths, and make little loopsie-doos at the ends. You will need 4 lengths per headdress.

Use a pipe cleaner to secure and space the wires.

Use a pipe cleaner to secure and space the wires.

Do you remember those silly camp crafts with the sticks (or tongue depressors) and the yarn, where you weave the yarn around the sticks and eventually a) you have something that would be hung on a wall in the 70s, and b) the sticks don’t move anymore?  Our camp lady called them ‘Ojos de Dios’.  That’s basically what I’ve done here, using a pipe cleaner.  It’s just an over-under weave, like the bottom of a basket.  (I’m a highly referential crafter.  I only know so many solutions, so I try to use the ones I have over and over to avoid all the trauma of learning something new.)

Cut a 2" styrofoam ball in half, and place it, cut side down, in the center of the wires.

Cut a 2" styrofoam ball in half, and place it, cut side down, in the center of the wires.

What?  Ok, here’s the deal….   Feathers come from birds, right, and they’re meant for flapping and flying.  You need to secure them fairly tightly when you work with them.  Normally, we wire or hot glue (sorry, it’s an ugly truth, but a truth none-the-less) them within an inch of their little fluffy lives.  Usually, this is done using a very solid surface.  Or, maybe, if you’ve got a little extra time on your hands, you’d pierce the spine and sew it to a heavy wire that can be fixed to a hat or headdress.  (Truthfully, though, the times I’ve gotten my hands on show-girl headpieces, they were rather crap and the feathers were hot glued between arches made of cardboard.) I don’t have a lot of time on my hands.  I also don’t have a cast of trained show girls who have to fear that they’ll be replaced if they damage the feathers.  (Because I don’t live in Vegas, that’s why.)  I have actresses (and worse, actors) who mostly think of costume as a cool dress-up situation when and if they think of it at all.  Some of them will entertain notions that I ran out to Showgirls-R-Us and bought the headdresses.  So I’m not expecting them to be as reverent as I’d like them to be.  The wire frame will be basically indestructible, but the feathers….  Oh, the feathers.  Feathers are pretty easy to destroy.  So I need a way to secure them, but also be able to replace them.

So my cunning plan is to insert the feathers through the loops at the end of the wires, and push them into the styrofoam ball.  The styrofoam will keep the ends secure so the feathers don’t flop about, and the wire loop can be crimped over the feather spine to keep it in place.  And yes, I’m a paranoid costumer.  As a milliner, I’m generally terrified.  (I get choreographers who have people do summersaults in bowlers that have bunny ears sewn to them.  I’m not even kidding.  It took two weeks of mangled ears and constant repairs before we found out what was happening….)

Bend the wires upwards against the styrofoam ball, then bend them so the loops angle out a bit.

Bend the wires upwards against the styrofoam ball, then bend them so the loops angle out a bit.

Secure the wires by weaving a bit of pipe cleaner around the upper bend. Try to space the wires evenly.

Secure the wires by weaving a bit of pipe cleaner around the upper bend. Try to space the wires evenly.

At this point, we have a working feather holder.  We need to attach this to the wire headdress frame.  Now, my original plan had been to wire these to the frames.  Unfortunately, through the general miracle of me being like me, I’ve managed to use the same jig six times, and turned out six slightly different headdresses.  Only two of them are quite precisely the right dimensions for my little cages to be wired in, so I need a backup plan.  I decide to hot glue the cages to the frames.  Now, there’s not a lot of frame there to glue things to, so I need to get it partially fleshed out and covered before I can go farther….

17 thoughts on “How to Make a Show Girl Headdress

  1. The Cheap Chick says:

    Wow. You really CAN make anything, literally ANYTHING!!!! As usual, you are my costuming hero. And congrats on how fabulous Chicago looked – excellent work!

    7 years ago | Reply

  2. Please Please help me….I'm gong to a fancy dress party and? says:

    […] How to Make a Show Girl Headdress | Sempstress […]

    7 years ago | Reply

  3. missa says:

    Hi, Lulu,
    I’m sorry, but since I don’t know how it’s made and what sort of structure it’s built on, I can’t even guess. You should contact the maker and find out what suggestions they have.
    Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

    7 years ago | Reply

  4. Kathy Bee says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. I’m learning more about hat designing from from friend Josie Silva at http://learnhowtomakehats.com. She also wears big Show Girl Hats…I am going to pass this site on ton her!
    Thanks again!

    7 years ago | Reply

  5. That Amidala Headdress - Sempstress says:

    […] I decided to go with the two-hangers-and-some-craft-foam approach to millinery. […]

    3 years ago | Reply

  6. Rebecca Ermisch, The Costume Shop says:

    Hi, I am new to this site and I am so impressed! I needed to purchase some white collar sailor hats recently for a show and they asked what I was using them for. In this case it was to make cloches for a 1920s show.( If you fold down the brims they make a great base to build your hats.) Anyway I asked why they wanted to know . They said that this is what the Mummers use in Philadelphia to mount all of they’re elaborate headdresses with the many feathers. I tried it and they do make a very sturdy base if you can use a helmut -looking headdress. I have cut out the ears at times and added wire where needed. I also found if I cut out at the back of the neck it fits better. Anyway , just wanted to share.

    2 years ago | Reply

  7. La Cage Aux Folles - Desktop Backgrounds says:

    […] made the headdresses following this Sempstress tutorial. It worked out really well – some of the cast helped me make them assembly-line style.  […]

    1 year ago | Reply

  8. gbet63 says:

    Hair and headpieces do not mix unless it’s a Carnival type event. For a showgirl in Vegas, the hair is never shown.

    3 months ago | Reply

  9. How (not to) Make a Carmen Miranda Hat/Costume Thing - Sempstress says:

    […] be heavy.  You can only find so much light produce.  I know how to build a stable, heavy hat if I can anchor around the skull.  I know how to build one if I can permanently embed it in a hairdo.  I can’t do either, […]

    3 weeks ago | Reply

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