September 12, 2012

Figure Skating Outfits Part 3: How To Decide On Shape For Your Costumes

Welcome back, if you've been reading part 1 and part 2 of this series on costume design, or welcome full stop for those of you joining us today for the first time! Be sure to check out the previous posts in this mini-series on breaking down the figure skating dress design process.

Today we are going to be considering the role of shapes in dress design, and how you can use cut and shapes to relay a given message or atmosphere to your audience. So let's get cracking!

Shape To Suit The Mood
One of the first things one thinks about when imaging what shape to give a dress (or men's costume!) is how that outfit will fit with the music, and overall mood which the skater is trying to convey to those watching. It seems instinctive to give spaghetti straps to a ballet-style dress for skating on classical piano, because those thin straps are synonymous in our minds with the barre, the leotards, and that type of music resonating through a mirrored dance studio (whether you're a ballet dancer or not, this stereotyped collection of items and shapes are universally known).

So the first question you can ask yourself is a simple one: do you want to follow convention and stereotypes (nothing wrong with that at all, and I have done this the my entire skating career), or branch out and wear something one wouldn't normally associate with a given style?

Once you've answered this question, you can go forth and start analysing which styles you'd like to consider. If you take the more classic route of using styles which are deemed appropriate and correct for a given type of music, this process will be easier than if you decide to go for something daring and unexpected, as you will already have a wealth of image and video resources to trawl through for inspiration (just check out Google Images or Youtube for videos of your fave guys and gals doin' their thing!).

Now's the time to get out your sketch pad and pencils. Don't worry, you don't have to be a dab-hand at drawing or art, or even show your sketches to anybody. These are personal, and will help you decide on your short-list of styles. Once you've narrowed it down to a few different shapes, bring in your colour inspiration, use pencils, watercolours, fabric swatches, print out colours from colour websites, such as, and piece them all together into your sketch book. Get creative! I used to make collages of all my design inspirations, sticking in rhinestones and beads too if I had something to hand I thought would work well!

Decided on your shape? Awesome! You go! Now make sure you check out the tips below for making sure your costume will come out top-notch.

Age-Appropriate Shape
This is one of the biggest skating faux-pas I have seen over the last 15-20 years in our sport. It really bugs me, because I feel a child's innocence is precious (Lord knows once we're all grown up we long for childish innocence and ignorance a new, at times!). Skating outfits which are too revealing, or just down right sexy, on a young child are just a great big no-no. Showing flesh or suggesting shapes that haven't even developed yet are just as distasteful, in my eyes, as a child skating to sexy music, hip rolling, booby-shaking choreography included.

I think a good rule of thumb is: if the skater can't understand the costume (the symbolism of showing a flesh-coloured cut-out panel of their body, the example) then the skater shouldn't wear it. If a 15-year old skater understands the message being sent, and is looking to portray a sexy character and can deal with what that means (does the skater understand the skater-character being portrayed relationship? Perhaps a good subject for a future post!). Anyway, that's getting a little off-topic, sorry guys ^_^

This issue seems to be even more important these days with the role that social media and the internet in general has taken in our day-to-day lives. Images of your child will most almost certainly end up on the event photographer's website, and anyone with internet access can see that content (unless the pro is savvy enough to password protect the albums and distribute the password at the event! I have seen this about twice in 15 years though...). And then there's Facebook. You may not even realise your kid's image could find its way onto such a site, but this has happened to me numerous times, without a hint of permission being asked.

Bottom-line: don't put your child out there in something that doesn't suit his or her age. There'll be plenty of time for Latin-writhing when they're older. Look after your kids, both on and off the ice.

The Structural Integrity of Shapes
So now you've decided on your shape, and checked whether it is age-appropriate for your skater, it's time to make those final considerations: will the dress stand up against the test of wear and tear?! There is no point having a stunning dress that you feel fragile in. Not only will this be a constant source of stress, it will diminish the skater's performance, and may possibly lead to an exceedingly embarrassing moment!

Here is a list of points that need to be triple-checked and tried out on the practice ice before any big events:

• Make sure straps are well attached (the thinner the strap, the more secure it needs to be)
• Ensure back popper buttons and zippers are sturdy (nothing popping open mid-routine)
• Any and all decoration must be perfectly attached (I have seen skaters have accidents on previous competitors' feather adornments which came loose earlier in the event)
• High-neck collars must not be too tight: not only will this be uncomfortable, but unnecessary stress is put onto the fastening mechanisms and may pop open
• If there are any extra decorative fabrics (e.g.: on the edge of a skirt) make sure they are sewn on correctly, the whole way 'round. No to fabrics semi-detaching mid-program and getting in a skater's face.

Examples of Shapes To Use In Figure Skating Dresses & Outfits
When it comes to your skating dress shape, your imagination is pretty much the limit. As long as it covers everything it should, as doesn't infringe on any competition or federation regulations, then you can go as far-out as you like.

I already have quite an exhaustive list of classic shapes that can be used, along with some sketches, on this blog post, so here let's look at a few ideas of more daring and modern cuts that we're starting to see on the skating scene:

• flesh cut-outs, e.g.: dress fabric cut out on the stomach area, and in-filled with flesh-coloured mesh
• asymmetrical skirts, in figure skating as well as ice dancing 
• replacement of classic skirts with fringes, feathers, or other embellishment pieces which give flow and movement to the skirt
• the replacement of fabric with crystals! (one of my personal faves! ^_^) You can see what I mean by watching Sasha Cohen at the bottom of this post
• bra tops and flesh-mesh in the stomach/back area, then a skirt, for Latin vibes (use with caution where old fudsey-dudsey judges may take offence!)

Now For A Recap...
Here's how to get from vague ideas to a defined dress shape:
  1. Decide on what shape your music evokes
  2. Decide on whether you're going to roll with that, or quash convention!
  3. Make a few sketches of the shapes you're imagining. Add colour, fabrics, crystals, etc. to make your inspiration look-book of figure skating genius (!)
  4. Check it's appropriate for your skater
  5. Guard against any weak structural points that could cause embarrassment
  6. You're done! You now have a defined dress structure and are ready to start making your design, or take it to someone who can turn your sketches into reality!

For the 4th and final part in our series on dress design, check back next Wednesday September 19th for ideas on how to embellish your beautiful design!

Until then, happy dress-plotting, happy sketching, and of course.. happy skating!

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  1. Just discovered this site :) neat stuff. Do you have another example of "replacement of fabric with crystals"?

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  2. @Amy Hi Amy! Thanks for reading the blog and for taking the time to comment! I hope you'll find lots of useful information here :)

    For the replacement of fabric with crystals, a few skaters have done this over the years but it's not the done thing per se. I suppose that is due to it being non-conventional, perhaps a little sexy (!), and very very pricey to COVER a dress in crystals. Jennifer Kirk did it about 10 years ago (I think her music was from the musical "Chicago"), you can see a picture of her dress here:

    Hope that helps! Don't hesitate to get back in touch!

    Happy skating!

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