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How to Design a Custom Dance Costume: Finding Inspiration

Posted by Meagan on Oct 6, 2017

dance costume design inspiration shoes

 Green Bay South West High School found inspiration for their 2015 pom uniform in a Nike shoe!

Inspiration for your next dance costume can come from anywhere: the runway, your Instagram feed, a sneaker, or that gorgeous peach that's sitting on your desk. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to narrow down your focus, and create a performance concept that is unique from your competitors.  To help, we've rounded up some of our favorite resources for finding dance costume inspiration, as well as some tips to get it all organized! 

The Best Places to Find Dance Costume Inspiration:

1. Music

Your music determines the mood of your costume, so it's always a great starting point.  "I find that, when I’m planning for a performance, where I find most of my inspiration is from the music," said Mollie Sylvestre, a choreographer and instructor at Dance Arts Centre.  "I start there and dream in shapes and create a theme from what the music tells me. I try to use the music to create a story and then build from there."  

You want your costumes to flow with your music and choreography - so it's always a good idea to send the music to your designer! They love to hear it and it will give them a better sense of the costume concept.  For example, if your music is hard hitting and edgy, you'll want your costume to be the same (rather than light and flowy).  Here are some great places to find new music:

2. Pinterest

Pinterest is (of course!) the number one spot for finding inspiration! We suggest using the search tool with keywords to describe what you want, like "open back dance costume."  

You can even make a "secret" board to keep your costume design under wraps - making the reveal that much more dazzling! Here are some suggestions of who to follow on Pinterest:


dance costume design inspiration frozen sleeping beauty

Team Delaware's Frozen theme, and Fond du Lac Blades's Sleeping Beauty theme.

3. YouTube

There are so many dance-centric YouTube channels out there! Not only are these great to follow for choreography inspiration, they are also full of great costume design ideas. Some our favorite YouTube channels are:


beyonce inspired dance costume design inspiration

Totino Grace High School's "Poison Ivy" theme dance costume pulled inspiration from Beyonce's necklace in her Formation video, as well as design elements from a rhythmic gymnast's costume.

4. Pop Stars

Mega pop-stars are always wearing gorgeous, elaborate costumes for their performances - which translate perfectly to dance costumes! Whether it's a SuperBowl performance, a red carpet dress, or a music video outfit - the following divas are always on trend:

5. Fashion Blogs

Fashion blogs are both visually appealing and full of curated trend information and style advice! Some of our staff favorites are: 

dance costume design inspiration books and movies
Onyx Synchronized Skating Team's The Night Circus inspired skate costume (left), and Hockettes Synchronized Skating Team's My Fair Lady inspired skate dress

6. Movies, Books & TV

Every year we there's always one movie inspired theme that makes a reoccurring appearance on our designer's desks.  Frozen, WonderWoman, and Beauty and the Beast have been major players as of late! Thinking beyond movies, TV shows and book covers are also a great source of inspiration, too. Here are some lists of popular movies, as well as great dance shows on TV right now: 

7. Any Photo You See! 

Color inspiration can come from anywhere! If you see an appealing photo - from a landscape to a floral arrangement to a shoe -  you can use this as inspiration for a color palette. There are some great automated tools online, like the Color Palette Tool, that make creating color combinations easy.  Simply upload a photo and it will generate a color palette for you and your costume designers to work off!

fabric swatches and photo inspiration for custom dance costumes
The color palette for this Confetti Skirt design was inspired by a vintage photo found in Vogue Magazine.  

8. Instagram

Not only is Instagram full of impressive dancers, it's full of impressive dancers wearing gorgeous costumes! We also follow a few fashion designers here at The  Line Up to inspire us for new styles. 

9. The Runway

Stay on trend with the newest looks from the Runway! Sometimes runway styles can be a bit eccentric, but we recommend taking a look at necklines, fabrics, and patterns used to get a sense of what will translate to ready-to-wear fashion for the season.  Find runway photos here:


custom dance costume design inspiration ideas

Mood board for Ashwaubenon Dance Team's 2017 Pom costume

Tips for Bringing Your Ideas to Life!

Now that you have a ton of great resources for inspiration, what do you do next?  Here are some tips to help you better define your team's concept once you've found your inspiration:

1. Create a mood board to organize your thoughts and inspiration ideas in one place, and make notes about what you like about each.  Include costume inspiration, color palettes, fabrics, and mood images all in one place, like the example above!  This is incredibly helpful to create a focused look, convey your ideas to your designer, as well as get organized. 

2. Narrow down the number of inspiration images to 3-5. While a mood board is helpful, too many images can cause confusion and create a lack of focus.  Pick a select few of your favorites, and go from there!  

3. You can use elements of an inspiration image, even if you don't like the overall look.  For example, if you like the neckline of garment, but don't like fabric used, make a note of this for your designer.  It's fun to combine different pieces of several garments.  It is important to keep in mind that your designer will likely want to know what you DON'T like about an image, in addition to what you DO like. 

4. Try not to copy another teams costumes,  but instead, focus on what specific elements you like. For example, "I love the feminine flowy skirt this team wore", or "I love the edginess of this biketard and the strong shoulders" Your designers should be able to go from there and help pull together something that fits the mood you've defined.  

5. Use Quality Photos so your designer can get a better look. If an image is too pixelated or small, the designers might have trouble pinpointing the details or how what it is you like about the garment. A picture is the best way to ensure everyone is on the same page!

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Recommended Blogs:


Free download: Top 2024 Dance Costume Trends

Topics: Behind the Design, Costume Design Resources, How to Design a Custom Dance Costume

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