1920s Showgirl Costume – Chicago

Aug 17, 2021 | Dance Costumes, Theatrical Costumes

Drury Lane Chicago show girl costumes

Drury Lane Theatre, 2017 production of Chicago

Our inspiration for the showgirl costume in this number was Drury Lane Theatre’s 2017 production of “Chicago”. The director and I loved these costumes, and, although we didn’t have the budget for anything quite as ornate, we wanted to get the same feel at a high school level.

Showgirl Costume Top

The Basics

For the top, I started with a simple pink leo from Discount Dance supply. The pinch front on this leotard is particularly nice.  It provides built-in lines to guide the addition of decorations. To give the costume a vintage feel, I used champagne-colored (off-white) decorations. For the front center decoration, I hand-sewed a cheap lace applique to the leo, and then embellished the applique by gluing Crystal AB rhinestones to the applique. (See Decorating Costumes blog post for more info on selecting and applying rhinestones.) 

If I can only find white appliques, I tea-dye them before attaching them to the leos to make them look vintage. Instructions for tea-dying can be found in my blog post on Tea-dying materials for a vintage appearance”.

Adding the Feather Trim

Close-up of Chicago showgirls costume

For the feather trim, I used heavy white maribou boas.  A 72-inch length of boa (the usual length they’re sold in) is enough trim for 2 adult costumes. To cut the boa, I make sure to cut through the cording that runs through the middle of the boa. I’m careful to avoid sewing through the individual feathers. As soon as I make the cut, I apply a generous amount of Fray Check to the cut end of the cord. This prevents the feathers from falling out of the cut cording end.

I hand-sewed the boa to the leotard in this order:

  1. Started at the front bottom edge of the left shoulder strap
  2. Worked to the back of that shoulder strap
  3. Attached across the back between the shoulder straps
  4. Attached from the back of the right shoulder strap to at the front bottom edge of that shoulder strap.

I stretched the leo fabric slightly as I attached the boa. This insured that the top of the leo maintained some stretch. To sew the boa:

  1. I took a very small stitch in the fabric on one side of the area where I was attaching the boa.
  2. Then I passed the needle through the cording in the boa.
  3. For the final leg of the stitch, I took a very small stitch in the fabric on the other side of the boa.
  4. I repeated this, alternating sides and taking a set of stitches every ½”, attaching the entire length of the boa.

Showgirl Costume Skirt

The skirt  for this costume is a simple circle skirt, made using a self-drafted pattern. I used a hot pink stretch velvet spandex fabric for this. (I purchase about 2 yards per skirt.) Any heavy stretch fabric will do for this costume, but stretch velvet works especially well. Velvet hides flaws (with bodies or costumes) under the stage lights. It also adds a little sparkle to make the costume a bit more “show-y”.

Matching Hat

For the hats, I started with a bright pink hat form.

Hat form for Chicago showgirl costume

I covered the forms with the velvet used for the costume skirts, gluing the velvet to the underside of the form frames along the edges. I then gathered a poof of light pink tulle (to match the costume leotard) and glued it to the back edge of each hat. I glued 2 hat clips to the underside of each hat to fasten the hat to the actresses’ hair or wigs.

Hat form with velvet glued in place