Everything You Wanted to Know About Costumes But Were Afraid to Ask

Tips, tricks and a timeline

If your year-end studio recital involves costumes, you’re aware of what headaches, hassles and horrors lie beneath every glittery sequin. Year after year, studio owners take on the challenge of making sure every costume arrives on time and fits perfectly—without sending their business into the red. (Competition costumes, usually ordered near the beginning of the studio year, pose their own problems—though they operate on a similar but slightly more compressed schedule.) Costume ordering may never be a profit center for your business, but managed poorly, it may force you to dip into general revenues (and cut overall profitability) because of costly mistakes like incorrect orders or having to pay significant staff overtime.

Streamlining your recital costume process will help eliminate these potentially pricey oversights and bolster your studio’s reputation as a well-run business. We’ve spoken with four veteran studio owners to get their advice on how to make the measuring, ordering, fee collection, alterations, organizing and distributing go off without a hitch. Be sure to check out our year-end recital costume timeline. DT


The studio owners

Kathy Blake

Kathy Blake Dance Studios

Amherst, NH

600+ students

Samantha Gobeille

Arizona Dance Artistry

Phoenix, AZ

230 students

Hedy Perna

Perna Dance Center

Hazlet, NJ

486 students

Andrea Polyak

8*Count Dance Studio

Queen Creek and Mesa, AZ

280 students



Get parents involved Samantha Gobeille takes her students’ measurements during parent observation week, so parents can help measure their kids.

Strive for consistency “My office manager measures every kid in the studio herself,” says Hedy Perna. “If too many different people are measuring, it’s a little off here, a little off there. I like the consistency of one person.” Perna allows for two weeks to get everyone measured. Be sure to have all measurements complete by the end of November.

Don’t forget to convert Different costume companies may have different sizing charts. Be sure to convert your students’ measurements accordingly.



Time it right Most studios with early summer recitals place orders before the winter break—and make parents’ deposits due at the same time.

Take advantage of discounts “If you order from one company, you can get a big discount,” says Kathy Blake. But you may sacrifice artistry for price, she warns. “You’ll get more uniformity of size and bigger discounts, but will each costume fit its dance artistically?”

Keep on top of deadlines Because Gobeille uses CostumeManager.com, an online self-service ordering program, parents are responsible for placing their own orders. To make sure no one forgets, she sends out weekly e-mails to stragglers, with a countdown of how many days they have left to place their order.


***Get parents to make timely costume payments by offering a discount if, instead of putting down a deposit and then following up with the balance, they pay in full.

***Don’t send off your order without having someone else audit it for mistakes—especially if you’re the one who creates the order.



Mark it up Blake adds at least $20–30 onto each costume, making sure parents know that the final price includes the cost of labor: sizing, fitting, alterations, shipping and handling.

Forget the guilt “Parents know I’m taking the extra time and effort to outfit their kids properly,” says Perna. “And I’m sure they’re aware of pricing—if you buy a shirt at Macy’s for $39, you don’t think it cost Macy’s $39.”



Schedule the seamstress After costumes arrive—typically at the end of March or early April—Perna sends out a notice informing parents that the studio’s seamstress will be on-site on a particular day. Parents are responsible for setting up five-minute appointments per costume that needs to be altered. They pay the seamstress for their own alterations, though Perna pays if she adjusts a costume’s design for an entire class.

Blake doesn’t charge extra for alterations, since she calculates it into the full price she charges for each costume. “Four or five classes in a row may not need any alterations, and yet a percentage of their fee went to alterations,” she says. That’s to balance out “a class’ costume that requires a lot of alterations.”


Organization and Distribution

A place for everything, everything in its place Blake sorts newly arrived costumes into laundry baskets on shelves in her studio, with a label for each class, such as “Tuesday morning tap and ballet” plus the teacher’s name.

Quality control Because some companies send costumes in plastic bags and others package their costumes with more flair, Blake puts every one in a drawstring plastic bag with the studio’s logo on the outside. “It doesn’t look very good if someone gets a costume in a plastic bag and someone else gets a nicer bag,” she says.

No payment? No costume! “If parents haven’t paid, I’ll hold the costume,” says Andrea Polyak. “We don’t make a big deal of it in the classroom—you don’t want to embarrass the child. I’ll just tell the student, ‘I need to talk to your mom.’”

Show them off Perna posts a sign “Costume work in progress!” where she organizes and hangs the costumes as they arrive. “It’s an exciting time at the studio,” she says. “Parents see the costumes on the rack, and they’re not about to let their kids go home without one.”


***Looking for costume ideas? Consider attending one of the United Dance Merchants of America’s exhibits in October each year. You’ll see more than 10,000 costumes in one place.


In-House or Outsourced?

Hiring Your Own Costume Manager

Kathy Blake employs a year-round, all-in-one costume manager and seamstress—known as the “Sew Wiz”—at $15–20 an hour. “She attends every meeting regarding costumes, costume budgets, our dance shop, dancewear, dress-code requirements, anything we purchase,” says Blake. Her costume manager measures and orders every costume, helps set prices, organizes them upon arrival and makes any needed alterations.

Despite the salary Blake has to pay, she is convinced she made the right choice hiring someone. “With a studio our size, there’s no way I could do this myself,” she says.

Using a Virtual Costume Storefront

More and more owners use a software program designed especially to help studios handle large costume orders. Samantha Gobeille has used CostumeManager.com, which is free for studio owners, for the past three years. (CostumeManager.com makes its money by adding a markup to the price of each company’s costumes; parents see only CostumeManager.com’s final price, not the original fee charged by the costume company.) She chooses which costumes she’d like for which class from the program’s database, and parents are responsible for ordering their own children’s costumes online (after their kids are measured in class).

Gobeille also uses the dance studio software The Studio Director, which integrates with CostumeManager.com. “All of my classes in The Studio Director synchronize with CostumeManager.com, which takes out the huge step of creating every class within CostumeManager.com,” she says.

Gobeille adds her own markup to each costume’s price (which includes CostumeManager.com’s original markup) and the program charges the total fee to parents. “The later they order, the more the service and shipping fees go up,” she says. When the entire exchange is complete, she gets a commission check from the company.

“There was definitely a learning curve,” she says. “At first we didn’t communicate with the parents enough—we didn’t know how many times we’d have to connect with them on every little detail.” See costumemanager.com.




• Pick out costumes

• Attend United Dance Merchants of America show


• Have teachers

decide on costume choices by November 1

• Measure and size all students


• Place orders before winter break

• Deposit due from parents


• Nudge stragglers


• Organize all incoming costumes

• Balance due from parents

• Distribute costumes


• Set up seamstress and alteration fittings


• Distribute any backordered costumes

• Return altered costumes


Illustration by Emily Giacalone

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