Costume Design: Three Silly Girls

Welcome to the second post in my series on Beauty and the Beast costume design!

After completing Belle’s blue dress, it made sense to move on to another costume that would be similar in construction. And as it happened, I actually needed THREE costumes that were similar in construction.

Yep. You guessed it. Gaston’s three “Silly Girls.”

Picture taken during rehearsal. (Photo Credit: Amy Burns)

This trio (also known as the “Bimbettes”) are comic relief characters, and spend the entire show swooning over the self-satisfied Gaston. Their costumes need to stand out enough for them to be easy to spot, and yet not look out of place with the other villagers.

Inspiration, Concept, and Fabric

The Silly Girls don’t have a certain “look” or even color scheme that their costumes must adhere to. The original animated film had them in dresses that were identically styled but in different colors (also NOT historically accurate). The live-action film gave them a much more historical look, but put them all in the same colors (white and pink). And a quick search on google images shoes the Silly girls wearing almost anything you can imagine. From striped stockings and giant hair-bows to more muted, historical styles.

When I first went shopping for fabric, I had only a vague idea what I wanted for the Silly girls. I liked the idea of 3 different outfits of the same style but in different colors, and I knew I wanted something fairly historical. I also figured I could use the same bodice pattern I used for Belle’s peasant dress. But other than that, I didn’t have much of a plan. I had no idea what colors I wanted. And I never even made a sketch!

However, I ended up making some really great finds at a thrift-store about 45 minutes from my home. I found TONS of material there, including most of the fabric for Belle’s blue and gold dresses, an entire bolt of tulle for Babette, a TON of blue fabric for the operatic Wardrobe, and everything I needed for the Silly Girls. It was quite a haul!

All the fabric in this photo cost only $6.50!

In the warehouse at the back of the thrift store, I found reams of sewing fabric and odds ends, including some perfect, coordinating pieces that I used for the Silly girls. The skirts were made of curtain sheers in cream, sage, and gold, ($4.50 total) and right nearby I found a piece of striped fabric that had all three colors in it ($2), perfect for the bodices! For the cream-colored under-layer I ended up using an old sheet and a table-cloth. (And…I forgot to write down how much I spent on those. Probably about $2 a piece though).

Construction

I started out with the bodices, since they were going to be more or less identical, and made from that same Townsends laced bodice pattern I used for Belle’s blue dress. I had a general idea of the size of the girls from pictures (and from measuring one of them), so I knew I needed to make two in a women’s small, and one in what I call “women’s tiny” (An altered version of the pattern which I made years ago when I was a very petite young teenager.  Thankfully I saved the pieces!)

The first thing I noticed as I was cutting out the bodice` is that this fabric was MUCH harder to work with than the blue stuff I used for Belle. It was thin, slippery, and had a little stretch to it. Yikes! Not at all the kind of canvas-like fabric that is ideal for this garment. I looked around, wondering what I could line it with that would add the proper stiffness, and was quite happy to discover I already had an entire roll of stiff ivory canvas lying around (a thrift store find from years ago). It ended up working so well as a lining for these bodices, that I used it for several other costumes later on.

Here are the almost finished bodices, with lining and eyelets. I didn’t hem them until after the actresses tried them them on. (Torso length varies widely.)

After having had the practice on Belle’s costume, these bodices came together very quickly. I was much faster and neater with the machine-stitched eyelets, this time around, and the boning slid in smoothly with this fabric, It only took me a few hours to complete all three bodices. (For more details on the bodice construction, check out my post on Belle’s peasant costume.)

Sleeve elastic/lace

Next, I moved on to the main dresses. I had not originally planned to do an underskirt layer for the Silly Girls. But since I ended up with striped sheer curtains as the top layer, a solid under-layer became very important! At first I thought I could just make the full shift/chemise pattern from this book instead of the half-version I used for Belle, but the old fitted sheet I bought at the thrift store didn’t have enough fabric to it for that. So, just like with Belle, I made a “half-shift” blouse first. (For more in-depth details on the chemise, check out the post on Belle’s costume) Since there was no built-in lace this time around, I found a big roll of flat, cream-colored lace in my stash and used it around the sleeves, running elastic cording through it to make a ruffle.

Folding/sewing neckline edge to create casing over elastic cording.

The necks were slightly harder, because of how large the holes in the lace were, and how delicate it was. When I tried just stitching it to the edge and lacing through the holes, the strain of the elastic seemed like it was going to be too much on the lace (unlike when it was backed by fabric on the sleeve). I ended up folding the serged edge of the neckline over the elastic cord and stitching it down to create a tiny self-casing with the elastic inside. I had tried that with Belle’s dress, unsuccessfully, but this fabric handled it much better.

For the underskirts, I ended up using a thrifted, cream-colored tablecloth. I liked the weight it had, but wish there had been more of it. The underskirts ended up quite straight-cut, with hardly any gathers at the waist. I think some more fullness would have been nice. However, the fact that each petticoat was only about as wide as the bottom of the shift made it easy to attach the two pieces together without doing a bunch of gathering. I simply took a few tucks as I was sewing around the top, and it easily fit.

The over-skirts were super simple to construct. Since they were each made of a long, rectangular sheer that was already hemmed on all sides, I simply cut them in half, leaving two squarish pieces. Then I sewed them together at the side seams, serged the top (which was the only raw edge) and gathered it down to fit the shift. I made a double row of stitches about half and inch apart, and used the “tunnel” in between as a casing to run the elastic waistband through. I did this with the skirt lying the “wrong way” up over the top of the dress, so that when it was folded down the casing disappeared under the skirt.

Here what everything looked like before I folded the skirt down to hid the waistband. The extra row of stitches in the middle of the casing is left over from gathering the skirt fabric.

There was no need to finish the the side-seams or hem the bottom, as they were all pre-hemmed edges of the curtain. I slipped one of the main dresses onto Mandy (my mannequin), put the bodice over it, and  laced  it up. Then I stood back and took a look.

Hmm. Not bad. But the silhouette was almost identical to Belle’s peasant dress. They were basically only different in color, and I realized I wanted the Sill Girls to have a slightly different look.

I wasn’t quite sure how to go about that though. So I took a break and  googled internet images of styles from the time-period, looking for inspiration. Something I could add to the costumes I’d already made that would give them a bit more character. That’s when I noticed how popular “side bustling” was.

Big hips were a popular look at the time. And were sometimes created with “pocket hoops” under the dress. But a softer version could be achieved just by bustling the fabric on each side. I decided to try doing something similar with the Silly Girls.

Side bustle

It turned out to be pretty easy. I just grabbed a pinch of the fabric from underneath on each side seam and pulled it up, letting the fabric fold over itself in a soft “puff” and tacking the pinched part to the underskirt higher up.  I was very happy with the results. I helped differentiate the Silly Girls from all the other peasants (none of whom wore this style), plus it gave them a “fussier” look, which made sense for girls so preoccupied with appearances that they would fall for the pompous (though handsome) Gaston.

You can see in this picture of the green version how the over-skirt is pulled up inside itself.

Once I made that change, I was quite happy with the look. I was even able to switch the ribbon lacing out for elastic cording, which made the bodices faster to take on and off. And since the skirt was made of such a thin, light fabric, it still pulled in nicely around the waist and didn’t look bulky.

Finished Costume

The finished Silly Girl costumes turned out very well. I liked the way the three different colored skirts differentiated the girls, but still blended well and looked perfect with the striped bodices.

Picture from rehearsal. (Photo credit: Amy Burns)

The elastic lacing turned out to be a fantastic costume hack! It looked completely authentic (like regular lacing) onstage, but made changing in and out of costumes much simpler backstage.

You can see in this picture how I used a zigzag stitch to hem the bodice.

Those curtain sheers were so perfect for the skirts! I really loved the satin stripes. They added a nice shimmer and texture that a plain solid would not have given.

The neckline worked well too. Unlike Belle’s version, the elastic cording was completely hidden inside the self-casing, and tied on the inside of the dress, rather than the outside. If you look closely in this picture you can spot the tail under the fabric.

Adding the off-white lace gave the neckline a nice ruffled look, and allowed it to match the sleeve too. It was so handy that I had that giant roll of lace lying around!

More zigzag stitches on the sleeve hem! I used them a lot for hemming.

If I could have changed anything about the costumes, I would have added more fullness in the underskirts. Due to lack of fabric, they were more narrow than I liked and didn’t “swish” nicely when the girls moved. Thankfully, the light, gauzy over-skirts were very “swishy” and made up for it (though more fabric in those would have made the side bustles bigger and more fun too).

Overall, I was quite pleased with the final costumes, especially considering they were so quick to make (I think all three took me only a day or two), and only cost about $10 total in material. Thrift stores rock!

If you enjoyed this post, stay tuned! I’m going to be posting about Gaston, Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and the rest of the characters soon! (Also check out Belle’s blue dress, if you missed it.)

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