Ever get your guard costumes half way through your season? Not have your flags for the first three shows? Ben Hipp at Algy Costumes shows you how to avoid not having what you need by planning ahead and meeting company deadlines that so often are the reason students are not costumed in time or don’t have their equipment. Ben literally fits and sizes and outfits thousands of students every year throughout the Carolinas, and he has some great advice about how to make sure your kids step off the bus at their first show ready to go!
It’s that time again! State concert festivals are behind us, and we’re enjoying the last moments of another winter guard season. As we all enter the last half of the final semester of this school year, everyone’s thoughts are turning to next year’s marching band show. As you begin to create and develop your next show-stopping concept, remember that preparation is the most important first step to a successful season!
The school year is winding down all too quickly when it comes to making plans for the next year, and as you’re finalizing your music and staging, remember that it’s time to begin putting together your color guard designs as well. Making your color guard or dance team look its best takes time. It’s not an overnight miracle; it’s a process. Know your designer(s) and seamstress as well as your production companies. Being familiar with all of their requirements and expectations will allow you to produce your award winning designs. Save yourself all that undue and unnecessary stress by knowing your timelines and deadlines.
If you’re having custom costumes created for your team, start early. You will need time for your designer to create a sketch, get fabric swatches to you, provide pricing options, perfect sizing and fit and create patterns. You will also need time to pay deposits to assure timely deliveries of costumes and equipment. Remember, however, that that doesn’t include time for revisions if you require them! Be prepared to provide your designer with as much concise, yet helpful information as you can. How many students do you need to costume? Do you have males and females or females only? What’s your show’s theme, music or concept? Do your costumes need to incorporate your school colors? Don’t forget to provide a picture of your band proper if the costumes need to coordinate with the band uniforms!
If you know what you want when you come to the table, GREAT! Communicate your vision with as many pictures as possible. If you don’t know what you want, don’t worry. Be flexible and open-minded to suggestions. You’re now relying on someone else to create a custom look for you. You’re using their vision, not one that you’ve communicated to them. Help them out with inspirational pictures from fashion magazines and/or images relating to your concept. Just be careful…make sure that your budget supports what you’re asking for. Make sure you get fabric swatches. Do not wait for your flags and costumes to arrive before heading to the local paint store to purchase paint for your props. I’m sure the prop moms and dads will thank you in the long run!
Another major component of creating a custom costume is budget. I know we all have champagne dreams for our students, but in reality, many of us are operating on a beer budget…or less. Be prepared for the question, “What is your budget?” Let’s just be honest, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to have your designer sketch a costume for a $175/member budget when you really only have $125/member. $50.00 is a huge difference in fabrics, cuts, etc. Many companies offer lots of budget-friendly options and those options can expound indefinitely as long as you’re flexible.
A final key to custom creation is communication. Who do the designers need to contact if they have a question? If you need to communicate with multiple staff members once you receive a design, make sure you allow time for that to happen on your end as well. If you’re coordinating with a visual designer and a color guard designer then, you need to be prepared for both of them to have time to digest your design as it relates to the whole picture and give them time to respond to you with their constructive criticism.
If your costume company provides such services as free fittings, take them up on it! Let a professional take care of the fitting for you. They know the ins and outs of the cut and fabrics you’re using more than you might imagine. It’s one less headache you have to worry about later. Most importantly, everyone wants their students to look their best from head to toe. When the company sales representative comes out to your school to fit your students, it’s a good idea to have at least a 50% deposit ready if your booster club is paying for the costumes, or if your school is paying, provide them with a copy of your signed purchase order. You can then allow the sales rep to take care of the paper work for you – it’s their job!
Now that we’ve discussed the design and paperwork process, let’s take look at several scenarios and time lines to help plan a more successful and less stressful year for you next year. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume for the first performance you plan to wear your costumes and wave your flags is the weekend of September 22nd. Now, we also need to assume that not everyone of your students has the perfect body type and that you’re not paying your flag company to ship your flags already on the poles. Let’s say you need one week to make minor alterations and hem your costumes and put your flags on poles. So, now you’re looking at taking delivery on September 14th at the latest.
For custom costumes, a good rule of thumb is 14 weeks from start to finish. Begin the conversation with your designer by June 8th or before the last day of school. Allow two weeks for your designer to get back with you for your first sketch. Remember, this timeline doesn’t include time for additional revisions of your sketch! May companies will provide one or two revisions of your design as part of the design service, but be careful… that 4th revision may cost you, and I don’t just mean time. It may cost you financially as well.
Next, have your finalized sizes and deposit by June 22nd. Even if you’re still working out designs, be ready to proceed to the next step. A great tip is to have students pay the first half of the costume deposit out of their pockets as part of their band
fees. This helps to make it much less likely that costume will sit empty in the fall.
Of course, there are many other alternatives to creating a custom costume from scratch. Each of these options diminishing enormous amounts of stress on you and your staff. I’m a huge advocate of what I like to call re-fabrication, meaning taking an existing design featured in a company’s catalog or on their website and changing the fabrics to create a costume that 9 out of 10 people who may have seen it before will think is an original. The re-fabrication process takes less time and money than creating a costume from scratch, but this process still requires planning. If you’re going the catalog re-fabrication route, plan for 10 weeks and have your sizes and deposit by July 6th.
If you’re just not able to have everything ready until August, then rush costumes are often available, but they will have their limitations. They are usually offered in a small range of colors and sleeve and/or pant options. If it is only offered in black and red for example, then expect it to cost you additional time if you desire it in purple. Rush costumes can usually arrive within 4 weeks, so have your sizes and deposit to your company by August 10th. And if you’re going with in-stock costumes, plan on 1 week with your sizes and deposit to your company by September 10th.
Just remember if it says, “ships within 48 hours” that means it leaves the factory or warehouse in 48 hours. What it does not mean is that you will have it in 48 hours. We haven’t even talked about shipping yet. So, when your costumes leave the factory within 48 hours, they will still travel at the rate you paid for through UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc. In reality your 48 hour item can take up to a week to arrive.
Finally, make sure you have not only taken care of your costumes but also taken care of everything costume related. Have your flags ordered by July 20th and make sure your shoes and tights order is in by August 17th. Your color guard and/or dance team moms and students are going to love how organized you are and that everything is ready to go for your first exciting performance. You’ll be much more at ease and able to enjoy the success and achievement of your students!
Benjamin Hipp is the Distance Learning Coordinator and Color Guard Director at Summerville High School. He is a graduate of Lexington High School and the University of South Carolina with a Bachelors in Music and minor in Art. He began work on his Master’s in Education at Illinois State University in 2004 before joining the Summerville staff. In 2007, Ben became the director of the Summerville Color Guard and has served in that position since.
Ben has been involved in the pageantry arts for over two decades, winning state and national accolades as a performer, instructor, clinician and designer. As a coach his teams have garnered hundreds of medals including 24 state championship titles, 9 regional and national titles and a world championship. Ben has also been an active adjudicator for the Florida Federation of Judges Association since 2003. His most recent adventure is working for Algy Costumes out of Hallandale Beach, Florida where he is involved with consulting and designing for countless high schools, universities and professional teams in the carolinas and all over the nation.