From sew-stoppers to show stoppers: 7 simple tips to costume success by West End Costume Designer David Stringer

I am honoured to host exclusive tips for making outfits for kids by West End costume designer, David Stringer who has 20 years industry experience and has created costumes for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock the Musical and other notable work includes Wicked, Cats, Legally Blonde, fitting and dressing the costumes in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympic And Paralympic Games, and the costuming for Little Mix’s current tour.

David Stringer has almost 20 years’ industry experience in costume design, with notable work in the West End, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock the Musical, Wicked, Cats, Legally Blonde, fitting and dressing the costumes in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympic And Paralympic Games, and costuming for Little Mix’s current tour.

As the year draws to a close, both Christmas plays and Halloween have parents splashing the cash on high street costumes or begrudgingly reaching for needle and thread as they prepare outfits for their children. But it doesn’t always have to be stressful or expensive – think cable ties and the pound shop!

Wicked UK Tour – Photo by Matt Crockett

David’s top tips for kids’ costumes this year are:  

Don’t panic!

Firstly, don’t get stressed when you hear the words ‘fancy’ dress’! I know that lots of  parents feel that they don’t have any ‘creative inspiration’ when it comes to thinking up costumes for their children, and often put too much pressure on themselves to create something out of the ordinary. Creating costumes should be fun and is something the whole family can do together.

To get the creative juices flowing, browse Pinterest for inspiration of costumes that have already been made or YouTube for tutorials. Once you’ve done your research, put pen to paper and do some sketching. It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece, but it will help relieve stress if you have a plan.


Find a hidden gem & support a good cause  

Before you start making your costume, pop into your local charity shop. They’re an Aladdin’s cave of retro outfits with beautiful patterns that can be re-made into costumes – all on a budget.

You never know, you might discover a hidden gem that sparks your imagination for a whole costume, and at the same time you’re helping a worthwhile cause.

… and don’t rule out the pound shop!

Pound shops, jumble sales and cheap fabric shops are also amazing places for purse-friendly materials and accessories. The pound shop is a personal favourite of mine; lots of my pound shop purchases are being worn on the West End stage. 


Sewing isn’t the Bee all and end all…cue cable ties!

I know lots of parents will panic buy costumes for their children because they’re worried their sewing skills aren’t up to scratch.  However, you don’t need to be a dab hand with a needle and thread to make your little one’s costume shine on stage.

There’s lots of ways you can bring your costumes together, such as: Wonder Web, staples and even the trusty cable tie – you wouldn’t believe how many costumes on the West End stage are being held together by cable ties! All of these best-kept secrets are available from your local stationery store which will do the same job as a stitch.

So you don’t need to be a natural with the needle to create fantastic handmade costumes, and remember your little one is always around for you to do plenty of fittings or adjustments. Lastly, don’t forget the humble old safety pin – it’s always good to have a couple of those on hand if there any wardrobe malfunctions before your star is about to walk out on stage.


 A sew-stopper can still be a showstopper!


Build up from a base  

Just because you’re creating your own costume, it doesn’t mean you can’t use a pre-existing base to make life easier and cheaper. A onesie, leggings, or even an oversized jacket are great pieces to use as a starting point. You can cut the item into a new shape, adjust the length, or add extra fabric and materials, like feathers or glitter, until you get your desired result. This is a great way to save both cash and time.


Keep one eye close to home

Household items like milk bottles, shampoo bottles or kitchen roll tubes are all great, low cost options for building additional height or shape to a costume. Or get creative with some bubble wrap or foam to add in some interesting textures. Plus, your recycling bin can be a treasure trove for finding empty packaging to create weird and wonderful accessories (cereal boxes can be turned into great headpieces!)


Re-use, re-wear, recycle 

If your children love a particular costume – there is no reason why it can’t be worn again. Repurpose World Book Day costumes for Halloween with a little face-paint and fake blood for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a completely new one. Similarly, if they’ve outgrown old pieces, it’s great to donate them to a charity shop to  give other children the chance to enjoy them or provide parents with exciting materials to use in their costume creation.


Davy was speaking to celebrate the launch of Virgin Media’s Christmas Stars competition which is giving UK primary schools the opportunity to have their festive play professionally recorded and made available via On Demand, to four million Virgin TV customers this Christmas. The play will be narrated in person by TV presenter, Stephen Mulhern and the winning school will receive unforgettable experiences from School of Rock the Musical, including a performance masterclass and tickets to see the show in London.

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