How to Make a Show Girl Headdress

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Glue bits of fabric, sequin, or whatever to cover the exposed foam and hide all the ugly…

Cover both the band....
Cover both the band....
...and the base of the feather cage, which will not be entirely hidden by feathers.
...and the base of the feather cage, which will not be entirely hidden by feathers.

Now we’re ready for the whole point of the project: adding a mass of feathers to the top of an actress’s head.  (Yes, everything up till now has simply been necessary tedium to me….)

If you've not got a huge budget for feathers, use something cheap and fluffy as filler.  I'm starting with a rather tasteless feather boa.
If you've not got a huge budget for feathers, use something cheap and fluffy as filler. I'm starting with a rather tasteless feather boa.
I've cut an 12" section of boa, which will be twisted between two sets of pipe cleaner.
I've cut an 12" section of boa, which will be twisted between two sets of pipe cleaner.
Once the boa bit is thoroughly trapped between twisted pipe cleaners, I'm folding it in half and twisting it around a central stake. (In this case, it's a pick that came out of a fruit-flower basket my sweetie gave me for Valentine's. He probably didn't think he was buying me crafting supplies....)
Once the boa bit is thoroughly trapped between twisted pipe cleaners, I'm folding it in half and twisting it around a central stake. (In this case, it's a pick that came out of a fruit-flower basket my sweetie gave me for Valentine's. He probably didn't think he was buying me crafting supplies....)
The bit of boa is now something I can stick into styrofoam, and will be the centerpiece of the headdress.
The bit of boa is now something I can stick into styrofoam, and will be the centerpiece of the headdress.
And in it goes...  Almost like I planned it that way.  ;)
And in it goes... Almost like I planned it that way. ;)
Similarly according to plan, I've inserted feathers through the wire loops of the feather cage, and into the styrofoam ball.  The styrofoam has become a giant feather pin-cushion.
Similarly according to plan, I've inserted feathers through the wire loops of the feather cage, and into the styrofoam ball. I'm crimping the loops so that they've got a tight grip on the feathers. The styrofoam has become a giant feather pin-cushion.
The final headdress has white ostrich plumes (thoroughly glittered and gilt) surrounding the black and silver boa.
The final headdress has white ostrich plumes (thoroughly glittered and gilt) surrounding the black and silver boa.

Now, since my budget is limited enough that I’m cheating out the center of the headdress with a bit of boa (and I managed to get six headdresses out of one boa), you can bet it doesn’t include funding for first rate ostrich feminas…  (Wouldn’t those be nice, though?)  Instead, I’m sparing a few (39, in fact) out of the remains of a pound of ostrich second, slightly defective drabs and spads I bought years ago.  These are basically on par with the rather sad, vacuum sealed dealies you can buy in the craft store. They’re cheap, and they’re meant to be used in quantity so you don’t see the lack of quality.  But I’m a miserly sort, and I don’t want to donate that many of my own feathers to the theater, so I did a little work on them to make them look like something a little better than what they are.  That’s the magic of theater, in a nutshell: make it look, you know, a little less like what it is.  If you’ve seen The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, you might have noticed the slight differences between the carnival costumes inside and outside of the Imaginarium.  I thought that was one of the most brilliant commentaries I’d ever seen.  (But then, I do tend to take these things a little seriously….)  That’s theater, right there, and the difference between seeing costumes under fluorescent lights in the changing room and seeing them on the stage after the lighting designer is done with them.

Anyhoo….  Here’s the final deal:

Fan dancers in full regalia, for All He Cares About Is Love. (Clockwise from lower left: Nikki Dizon, Sara Malloy, Julie Rodgers-Baker, Jen Ciombor, Angela DiMarco, Jessica Orozco. Center: Garrett Ard as Billy Flynn. Production Photo courtesy of Ken Beach.)
Fan dancers in full regalia, for All He Cares About Is Love. (Clockwise from lower left: Nikki Dizon, Sara Malloy, Julie Rodgers-Baker, Jen Ciombor, Angela DiMarco, Jessica Orozco. Center: Garrett Ard as Billy Flynn. Production Photo courtesy of Ken Beach.)

The rest of their costumes (and I assure you, they are covered!) consist of sequined bras built on dollar store coconut bras, and panties constructed from a commercial pattern (er, minus the sides, which are sequined trim and fringe).  All of this actually velcros to a rigged body shaper, because the idea of wardrobe malfunctions haunts my dreams.  You can’t really tell in these photos, but the bras (affectionately referred to as “muppet boobs” are covered in flesh-toned craft felt.  The outside crescent is done up to match the headdress, and the center has a swirl of pink sequins.  The two halves, put together, make a heart.  Awwww…. Because all he cares about is love, and five thousand dollars.  And that’s show biz, kid….

17 Comments

  1. *laugh* There’s an image – you’ve clearly never seen my try to dance. ;) How about pics of me chasing showgirls with a pliers?

  2. I recently bought a showgirl headdress for a dance recital. It is quite large and will not stay in place. It often slides backwards. Any tips on how to make it stay in place?
    Thanks
    -Lu

  3. 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!

  4. thanks for your site. I have to make a Fastasy Fest (Key West) show girls’ headdress. My headdress is for a garden club’s exhibit made out of plant material!

    1. hi, Karen – That sounds like awesome fun! There’s more than enough room to embed a wet sponge or something in the middle of this design to keep more delicate flowers alive. I’d love to see pictures when you’re done!

  5. 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.

    1. Hi, Rebecca – Thanks for the tip! That’s pretty fab. :) Glad you’ve enjoyed the site, and I hope to keep impressing you!

  6. its very nice!!!!!!11t hanks for sharing your wonderful ideas how to make show girl headdress…….its wasting my time..

    1. The director wanted period wigs and show girl headdresses. So, that’s what we did. (IIIRC, we put most of our wrestling for artistic control into not having to costume our male actors as literal giant babies in diapers and bonnets.)

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