Layering costumes allows for a very quick transition to another costume when there is no time for an actual costume change.
Guidelines for Layering Costumes
In Chicago, Roxie has several very quick changes that can only be accomplished by layering costumes. This is pretty simple to do, if you keep a few guidelines in mind:
- The costume worn closest to the body should be close-fitting, with a looser style for the costume worn as the outer layer.
- The hem on the outer costume should be longer than the hem on the costume worn next to the body. With varying body positions (especially on dancers), the hem lengths in relation to each other can change, so you should test the layering in several positions, including with hands raised above the head. It is best if you can do an early dress rehearsal with the actor wearing the layered costumes, watching to make sure the hem of the bottom costume doesn’t show at any point in the scene and/or dance.
- Design the layered costumes with similar color schemes if possible, so tights, shoes, and other accessories match both costumes.
- Velcro can cause issues during quick changes, especially the super-quick changes that usually occur with layered costumes. It is much better, if possible, to use snap tape for the outer costume closings. Instructions on how to use snap tape can be found here.
- For outer layers, test the quick-change with wigs on – Large wigs may mean that you need to make openings larger to accommodate the wig.
Examples of Layered Costumes
Here are some layered costume examples from my costuming work for Chicago. The “Over Dress/Robe” of each pair was worn over the “Under Dress”, and the Over Dress/Robe was removed either on-stage, or in a very quick change in the wings.
Over Robe – Act 2; Scene 1 – “I Know a Girl”
Under Dress – Act 2; Scene 1 – “My Baby and Me”
Over Dress – Act 2: Scene 6 – Courtroom scene
Under Dress – Act 2: Scene 9 – Finale
Over Dress – Act 1: Scene 8 – “Press Conference Rag”
Under Dress – Act 1: Scene 9 – “Roxie”
For further reading, Dramatics Magazine published a good article that gives more information on constructing costumes for quick changes.