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Twister fashions

...until you *are* good, you should at least *look* good.
- Dona L. Oliver
Visibility
On the need for costumes:
How your costume affects business
Normal, comfortable clothes
On the "uniform" look
Your outfit is part of your act
On clothing covered with pictures of balloon
Keeping Cool More examples of what people wear
Other fashion-related resources in the Guide


Visibility

I've worn a variety of costumes for twisting. For a while, when working the streets (Balboa Park) here in San Diego, I wore clown garb, but since I got an extremely visible mad hatter's top hat and a spangly vest, it doesn't matter; it's VISIBILITY that counts. And kids still think I'm a clown since I'm dressed wildly and making balloons.

I like the bright clown makeup and clown costume the best myself and the kids like it. A clown is easy to spot the length of a football field away, since you are the only thing in yellow pants on a green field at a company picnic.

When we're doing nothing but twisting, my husband and I go by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Balloons. The costume consists of simple black pants - cotton, comfortable very washable, a comfortable polo shirt (long or short sleeves depending on the weather) which has balloons in primary colors airbrushed all over front back and sleeves (find an airbrush artist and or student for this) and a red Fedora hat which we found in the LL Bean catalog for about $25. This is a very colorful outfit that tells people what you do without saying a word. They can be at the back of the line and they see a colorful looking person with lots of colorful balloons twirling around him/her as they twist. It draws the attention - that's what you want to do.

Balloons draw people to the balloon person. Always have on a balloon hat so that people know where you are...

On the need for costumes:

Costumes are important but they don't make the clown. I believe that a costume MUST be professional i.e. neat, clean and fit the personality. But as someone who spent 2 years studying clown & comedia in European schools, I take great offense to entertainers that dress like clowns and act like someone's uncle. To be professional, your character must "carry the mask". If your costume is bizarre, your character had better be bizrare. If you can make people laugh by dressing like an english butler and acting like an english butler, you're more of a clown than someone who looks like Bozo and acts like a regular guy.

The main point of a costume, uniform, or whatever, is to make the performer distinctive. Whether a clown suit or a Tux, the outfit points one out as different, and different in a way that takes time and care, and distinguishes one from the customers/audience/bums-on-the-street/etc., etc..

If entertainment is your goal, a solid character and costume is essential. Your clients and audience will see and appreciate the care and attention... Otherwise, you had best be the most superlative twister and friendliest most personable human (unless you do it for nothing).

If you are an entertainer, you need to dress like an entertainer - whether it's in character costume or in a fancy dress or suit. If formal, you must dress a tad better than your audience. I have seen performers in white shirt, black pants and a balloon apron with the name of the company on it. I'm sorry but that is not a performers outfit. They look like waiters or waitresses and not performers. It looks like they hired someone that answered an ad and they gave a uniform to. Balloon twisters if hired for events are performers first and must dress accordingly. Create a character or dress up if your "on stage". Now don't get me started on clowns that don't put white face on their necks...

I am certain that for some people and in some markets, there is no point or need to costume or appear in character. I get BORED if I'm not in character and performing while ballooning. I like the interaction my characters have with the audience. Clients see a value in the character and costume.

Hopefully, the costume foreshadows or suggests in some obvious way the nature of the performer. There are few things more incongruous than a clown in costume and whiteface lighting up a cigarette, slamming a beer, and bitching about life... Conversely, the twister's shirt with the balloons airbrushed on would, I imagine, do this suggesting admirably, non-verbally, and unambiguously.

I use the costume to my advantage. When 'Looie' twists, he wears big, baggy pants with double pockets; two on the front thighs, two on the hips in back. Each pocket actually has two pockets within one. Thus, I effectively have eight pockets in which I can hide balloons. The pockets are long enough to house the entire length of the 260s. I segregate colors since I use a lot of color-specific creations. No one knows I have any balloons until I whip one out. (which means I can say I'm out if I want)

How your costume affects business

In this neck of the woods and for this twister, I have made a few observations:
  1. Tip-wise (and this is by no means my major income source), I do better when in full costume (more later) than when I dress up brightly and colourfully... but in obviously normal clothes. I have 4 clown costumes for my main character, a Klondike, Western, Medieval and other theme costumes. I make up simply (or some of my characters have make up). There was about a 50% increase in tips when I started doing balloon busking in costume and character two years ago. And I get my picture in the paper more often.
  2. The client at a commercial function appreciates and sees the value of a COSTUMED CHARACTER performer. I get many bookings in our small market because I can costume and provide a character to suit a client's needs.
  3. My goal is to entertain FIRST and make balloons SECOND. Object lesson: While busking the Edmonton Fringe Festival I spent 1 1/2 hours working a crowd. In that time I made about 20 balloons. But the ENTERTAINMENT provided was so appreciated, the hat worked out to about 4 times what I can get just twisting balloons (NOTE: I never suggest a donation now. I had an increase in my take of 20% when I just said that I accept tips. Vendors set prices, buskers entertain and let the change fall where it may.)
  4. Working in costume increases your tips, as well as helping you to identify yourself as a performer and not a balloon machine. If you are entertaining and another balloon artist is there, people will come to you because there is laughter and smiles being given as well as balloons.

I have tried it several ways.

  1. Clown makeup and costume both talking and non talking. didn't make much difference in tips or how many balloons I tied etc.
  2. Just a top hat and tail coat, no makeup talking, this is one of the outfits I wear when strolling and doing balloons at company picnics outside. Talking or not talking made no difference since most were freebies for the folks at company paid events and they never had any money in their hands.
  3. Mime makeup, now made a great difference in tips. The non talking mime makes it harder for the kids to tell you exactly what they want. Mom and Dad especially will drop the folding kind of money into a tip bucket for a mime, since I wear a badge that says "I work for tips!!!" The mime makes three times the money in tips of any of the others. Same person doing the same balloons but the rewards are greater. I usually make more on company picnics since I have a starting price which covers balloons, and any other handouts the company wants. Also do the usual Geo's and balls in balloons at company picnics. But for street fairs where you have no paying sponsor the Mime is the only way to go for me.

There is a perception that clowns are hired to hand out balloons for free, since clowns are always handing stuff out free. If that is how your crowd feels it is a disadvantage to be a clown working for tips.

I work in restaurants and have tried usually dressing in my black pants, dressy shirts, and my collection of wide ties ie mickey mouse or snoopy ties. but I find I make much more in tips when I wear my tuxedo and long tail coat and fancy vest or fancy cummerbund which is just a very colorful one.

I quit putting Magician under my name on nametags because too many people would "skim" it, reading just the "MA...." and assume that since I was dressed well, wore a tie and had the nametag, that I was the MAnager.

My solution is: don't dress like a clown, just act like one.
A few years ago I became a permanent plain-clothes clown. I was just learning clowning and did mostly balloons with some magic. I found that once I started doing balloons no one cared about the magic (I must need some work there) or what I was wearing. So now... No more extra time applying and removing make up. It is easier to leave a gig without being noticed (just remove fancy vest, tie and hat and I look almost normal). More comfy during gig. I now sell myself as an entertainer using Balloon Artistry. It has actually opened up some venues that wouldn't have been in the market for a clown. It's easier to sell my skills for a variety of corporate functions and adult (older, not naughty) gatherings now. I have a casual outfit and an almost formal outfit so I can switch depending on the job. I have nothing against clowns and actually still study clowning to sharpen my entertainment skills. I just see the two as quite separate talents that a lot of folks choose to do at the same time. I prefer to concentrate on the balloons to minimize my overhead.

I point out lazy or dirty employees to restaurant management. I do not do this to belittle them; I want high class people who want to eat in a high class place and give me big tips. (Sometimes I'll make friends with the employee and try to explain it to them, a lot of teens just don't know). You don't have to be rich and educated to be clean, hard working and polite. I cringe when I see a shabby twister and skill level has nothing to do with it.

Normal, comfortable clothes

In regards to what to wear, no matter what you wear, above all you've got to look and be professional. If you look like a street bum the parents will not want you near their kids let alone giving them stuff.

Good advice from T. Myers: I don't bother with a clown costume. Clean and comfortable helps when you are putting in long hours and the balloons will start and keep the line going. It is important to be clean and friendly. I want to look like a (slightly dressed up but comfortable) dad wearing a silly balloon hat. As a dad-looking-person I still have a position of authority, even in a silly hat. As long as you look just a little better than most of the fathers out there in the crowd, the balloons will sell themselves.

Be comfortable. You don't need to be in costume to draw attention. The balloons will draw attention for you. I wear a hat and attach lots of balloons to it. A hat made entirely out of balloons is a bad idea. It will begin to feel really awful against your skin in hot weather if you're out for a few hours.

Unless a customer specifically requests something ( ie. Tux, or whatever), I try to dress one step better than most of the people in the room... generally I wear a shirt and tie in the summer time because most of my work is in a restaurant where 99% of the folks are dressed casually. I add a jacket in the winter and really rare occasions I'll get fancy.

When I work the restaurants I feel wearing a suit works best, people tend to be intimidated by someone in a tux, especially since I'm only 19.

And let me add one piece of advice for people in this costume that was handed to me by the Amazing Jody Baran: shine your shoes! People unconsciously take away performance points if your shoes are scuffed.

As a restaurant twister, I started with a white, long-sleeved shirt and necktie. Then I went to the shirt, no tie and suspenders. Then came the loudly colored vest, which I liked for the extra pockets; but I didn't like the extra heat it contained as I worked. I've gone back to the shirt, with short sleeves, and the necktie.

On the "uniform" look

My balloon twisters and I all wear normal clothes when we work (black and white, with our colorful balloon apron) and we do just fine. It's comfortable, fast, easy, and we're all uniformed. That way people know that they are with Balloons With A Twist. When people call and ask if we dress in a costume, I explain to them how we dress and tell them it's because we entertain for all ages and all occasions: ie. kids that are too young are scared of clowns and costumes, and adults just want an entertainer. It works for us! I think people use costumes as gimmicks, and our balloons are so impressive they speak for themselves. Individuality is important, but my "team of twisters" as I affectionately call them are a group of individuals. I don't think we are balloon making factories, and I don't think we look like waiters. I think we look very clean and professional and so do my clients.

I often pinch hit for twisters on vacation or sick and work for a company. Otherwise, I twist free-lance. The company I work for requires its twisters to wear white shirt and black pants. It is in the contract. I believe when working for someone else and under contract, if the contract stipulates what to wear, then that's what I wear.

Many companies do insist that their twisters wear "uniforms". Just because these "uniforms" require, for instance, black pants and a white shirt, does not make them true uniforms. The performers add their own personality to the "uniform", e.g., amusing buttons, crazy ties, colorful vests, interesting headgear, etc., and turn it into a costume.

My #1 rule is to be and express myself, so my choice in colors/ties/socks/nametag and all is totally me. My argument against the "uniform" style is that to me you are taking away an entertainers identity and self when you do that, and IMHO this is where most of the entertainment and character comes from. A good entertainer can rise above what they wear, but what you wear can also help to attract attention and to help "solidify" yourself/character in the audiences mind, which is one of my main goals. I want them to remember me, not just the magic and balloons. I don't want to just be known as The Balloon Guy, or Mr. Magic.

I have seen twisters going out in a white shirt with a bowtie , black pants and an apron. By putting twisters in "service oriented" uniforms you homogenize their performer status to just being a group people who went through the training and are just working their shifts. YOU may know that they are working from the heart but the audience perceives them as service people and NOT entertainers. That may not bother you, and they may not care either. When the audience looks at the uniformed people the first thing that crosses their mind is not "entertainer" but rather "Oh, here's a balloon delivery person." My father had a balloon delivery and singing telegram business once. He had special "costumes" made (red with the pill box hat and sequins all around). Yes they were uniforms, but each one was unique. Some performers that he hired wore flowers, some wore pins. His business stood out because of the entertainers and the unique COSTUMES he used.

I did a lecture a few weeks ago for some ventriloquists in Connecticut on promoting yourself through advertising brochures and gimmicks. One of the hardest things to do when you're creating a flyer is to think about the way the GENERAL PUBLIC perceives you. Ventriloquists call their puppet all sorts of fancy names but the truth is that the public calls them dummies. White shirts, black pants and an apron is seen as a UNIFORM and NOT a costume. Uniforms are uniforms and costumes are costumes.

Not everyone can afford to go out and buy the full regalia for a part-time job. So, let me just say that bow tie, white shirt, black pants, balloon apron is as much a costume these days as baggy rainbow striped pants. In the old days, you put on a coat and tie to go to a matinee. Today, people don't generally dress this way unless they're going out to eat in a fancy restaurant or they're going to a job. Nowadays, who wears the costume we've described? Waiters, true, but only in better restaurants (most of the chain coffee shops have gone with cheaper colored shirts with open collars). Dealers in Vegas dress in white shirts, black pants and aprons. Bellmen in better hotels. When twisters put on this garb, they are dressing up in a costume that identifies them as a service provider, true, but as an elegant, high-class service provider. When you wear this outfit, it automatically changes your behavior, making you want to be more suave, more professional.

There is a big difference between career twisters who go to conventions and work on the street and so forth, and twisters working in agencies. I have been working for an agency (BalloonAbilities) for 2 years and I can tell you, there is a high turnover rate for agency twisters. We are mostly students and we don't have much money. The initial investment of an apron, a few bags of balloons, plus a white shirt and black pants is as much as we can afford. We're not really all that serious about this thing -- it's just a part time (temporary) job for most of us.

Your outfit is part of your act

Hats are part of the act. They should always be. I wear a purple madhatter-style top hat with a bright shirt and a sequined vest. I'm also covered in Looney Tunes buttons. Everyone loves this outfit, and yes, I have other costumes, but none of them attract attention and tips like this one does. It gives my a comical appearance without making me clowny. I also do clown work, but when I work a restaurant, I prefer to avoid the clown aspect of what I do; for the most part, I'm just myself out there. Since I'm naturally bigger than life, and outgoing, it all works out pretty well. I save clowning for when it's specifically requested. A good hat is worth more than its weight in gold. My madhatter hat paid for itself in just a few weeks. Invest in an eyecatching, tasteful costume and you won't be sorry.

I use a little doo-dad that I bought from restaurant magician Jim Pace, which slips into the tie and causes it to roll up quickly when pushed by a hand or touched in the right spot by a finger. It gets a lot of reaction!

I perform as a non-speaking whiteface clown, so it is hard to communicate effectively that my time was up. I happened to be near the end of the balloons in my pocket, so I decided to just continue until they were gone. I grabbed the last 260, pulled out the pocket, left it sticking out, looked sad, waved Bye-Bye. Wow! I thought, "why couldn't I just plan out the exact number of balloons every time?"

Then I made a "magical balloon pocket", patterned after a change bag. My real pocket is deep, it holds a full gross of balloons. But at ANY point in my show, I can reach into it and (seemingly) pull it all the way out and show it empty. I could also set it up to reach in, pull out a whole handful of blue balloons, telling the kid, "I'm sorry you can't have a red one..." The second pocket could also hold hearts or other special balloons.

Regular pockets are made with 2 pieces of cloth. My right hand *pocket* (actually 2 pockets) is made from 4 pieces.

You could make two identical, regular pockets, and then sew them together. (with the front of first and the back of the second pocket sewn into the proper place) However, the seam between the two pockets will be visible.

This is a regular POCKET pattern. You will need 2 of these (don't forget to make one with the GOOD side up and one with the GOOD side down)

X * * * *  *
X - - - -- - - *
X- - - -- - - - *
X - - - - - - -  -*
X - -   - - - - - -*
  *- - - - - - -  - *
    * -  - - - -  - -*
     * - - - - - - - *
      *  - - - -  - *
       * - - - - - *
         * - - - -*
          * * * *
This is the special part. .. make two of these also..( Again, make one with the GOOD side up and one with the GOOD side down.) Sew together on the $$$$$s with the seam on the inside and the two GOOD sides facing out.
* * * * *  *
   $  - --- - *
     $- -- -- - *
     $ - - - - - -*
   $ -   - - - - - -*
  *- - - - - - -  - *
    * -  - - - -  - -*
     * - - - - - - - *
      *  - - - -  - *
       * - - - - - *
         * - - - -*
          * * * *
Then lay one of the regular pocket pieces on top (GOOD side down) and sew this piece to the top piece of the 2 special ones. Sew along the * * * * s.

Lay the other regular piece face up on the bottom and sew along the * * * *s to the third piece. Then sew each of the two 'regular"' pieces into the side seam of your pants.

If I reach in and keep my fingertips close to my body, I go into one pocket. If I put my hand in just a little bit and then aim my fingertips away from myself, I go into the other pocket. Use which ever pocket seems most natural to you for the balloons and keep the other empty. Also, consider which pocket will look the most believable (hiding the other one) when you pull it out to show it empty.

On clothing covered with pictures of balloon

Our 'balloon shirts' are airbrushed with round balloons all over and provide Identification. A simple suggestion I have is to buy the balloon vests available from the Creation Station. They have a full color Ad slick and price list to send you. From my experience the quality is excellent and you really get noticed when you wear them because the colors and prints are so great. The vests are very colorful with a splashy balloon print, and they even make bow ties and long ties. This eliminates the service oriented apron look while still giving you a clean polished look. Vests are a very generic clothing item which looks good on 90% of the people and if you change employees, the vests can be passed on to the next person.

The Creation Station carries two types of vests, three styles of aprons, pants, baseball hats, bow ties, straight ties, cummerbunds, 260 cinch sacks, fanny packs, duffel bags, earrings, tank covers and more. They have 5 different prints/color to, choose from.

Dawn Farrier 
The Creation Station
P.O. Box 825
Los Alamitos CA 90720
http://www.thecreationstation.com
Phone: (310) 430-0295
Fax: (310) 594-4540
Balloon HQ Merchandise
From time to time BHQ has made shirts available. You may get to see some of these at various conventions around the world.
BHQ T-Shirts: "Balloon HQ, the pop culture" appears on the front in the upper left chest area. On the back, our multi-colored design features step-by-step illustrations for how to make everyone's favorite balloon sculpture, the basic dog. Future edition shirts may feature different balloon sculptures and instructions on the back.
BHQ golf shirts: These are nice, collared shirts, sporting the BHQ logo.

I've traded services several times with local air-brush shops. I entertain outside their mall store in exchange for a custom airbrushed balloon-animal shirt. When I wear them on a gig, they are always very popular. The most effective use is just wearing them. People are curious and the subject of balloon twisting comes up in the conversation. As we talk, I'm able to educate them about how twisting would be good for their next birthday party or business (i.e. crowds and happy customers). I've worn out several "dress" shirts and sweat shirts and continue to have a good working relationship with local air-brush artists. Good for them -- Good for me.

I've had shirts with lots of pictures and shirts with only a few large animals. I like the few large pictures best. They seem less busy and generate the same amount of curiosity and conversation.

T-shirt decorating. There is a product called "TRANSFER-IT" I believe it's by Aeeleen Crafts and can be purchased at craft stores. Take a color Xerox copy of your picture, cover the copy with the Transfer solution. Put the image on the fabric and let it set up overnight. Then, iron the paper backing to set the picture and rinse the paper off, leaving the image on the fabric. You can get about a dozen pictures from one bottle of solution, which costs about $5 a bottle. You can also buy Cannon T-Shirt transfer paper. Scan your picture into a computer and print it with an ink jet printer onto Transfer paper. Then, iron on your transfer's. A package of 10 transfer sheets (8 1/2 x 11) is about $20.

Keeping Cool

A cooling or ice vest. Either make your own "vest of many pockets" and fill with "blue ice" from the store, or contact Thermo-TEC at 1-407-952-1200 1-407-722-4144 1-800-991-5655, Palm Bay, Florida. I have their "heavy duty" vest. And it has saved me more than once from hospitalization or worse while stilt walking in 90 to 100 degree heat. Cools for about two hours and can be recharged in 20-30 minutes from a chest of ice water.

More examples of what people wear

My balloon lady character wears several things with consistency:
  1. a HUGE, purple Mad Hatter style top hat
  2. a pair of red Doc Martin boots that have fruit all over them (my "frooty boots")
  3. a sequined vest adorned with Looney Tunes character buttons
  4. and my balloon apron (T. Myers 5-pocket with Adrienne's koosh 260 arrangement)
  5. an appropriate fanny pack to keep things in (tips, cards, keys, etc.). This fanny pack is always small enough to hide under my balloon apron, or to place at my hip just beneath my pouch for balloon droppings.

I have added a pouch to my apron for 'balloon droppings' so that I can always clean up after myself.

I have a variety of brightly colored shirts and I either wear bright pants or a loose fitting miniskirt, depending on the weather and my expected audience.

Whether my skirt is short or I am in baggy turquoise pants, my costume is family oriented. I never dress in a seductive way... it is not my role as a family entertainer, nor is it part of my balloon lady character.

I have discovered that people are VERY disappointed when I vary parts of my costume that have become permanent parts.

My tips go down when I wear REALLY nice shirts... they also go down when I accidentally leave my hat or vest at home.

I have a denim jumper with a bright yellow shirt. I've got yellow and orange clown (stripes) socks and a beanie with a propeller on top. I had balloon animals added by air-brush around the collar. Have them put one animal in the front (on the neck line) an animal on each sleeve (my local artist charged $3.00 per animal). It's pretty simple, but professional looking, and cool/ comfortable to wear.

As for aprons, I use two; one T. Myers 5-pocket on my front, one 3 pocket on the back. I pass the strings through those click together plastic buckle things, and then cut off the excess length.

Other fashion-related resources in the Guide

Balloon Care has a lot of good information about carrying balloon and costumes... especially in the Aprons Section.

You may wish to develop your character or your act as you expand your wardrobe.
Refer to Your Balloon Act

The Business Sections of the Guide also have a lot of related information.


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