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November 30, 2022

Emma McFall

While Dancing with the Stars has become renowned for celebrities’ hours in the studio learning and choreographing, no one works harder than the show’s costuming team. The large ensemble of over 20 people consistently produce elaborate costumes, all under incredible time crunches (Aslanian). The diversity of celebrity dancers provides the additional challenge of requiring the designers to cater to a variety of clientele. However, one of the larger and more idealistic challenges facing costume designers working in the entertainment industry today, including those on Dancing with the Stars, is how to improve sustainability within their show while maintaining production value.

The cycle of costume creation on Dancing with the Stars occurs weekly and is completely dictated by the show’s schedule (Mohr). Costume design cannot begin until the dancers’ music is released for the week on Tuesday. Designers meet with the couples almost immediately to ensure that each duo has a distinct color scheme and theme that will not clash on television with any other pairs’ (Mohr). The most collaboration occurs between the professional dancer and designer, each of whom have individual relationships that they utilize to communicate the vision of both their artistic work and the celebrity dancer’s costuming needs. For example, the professionals are responsible for evaluating and acknowledging the celebrities’ dancing weaknesses and communicating how the costuming needs to flatter and hide them. The show is based in downtown LA, making fabric shopping a momentous next task that must occur over the course of a single day for the entire week’s costumes. A team of more than 10 cutters takes over the manual labor behind each set of costumes until Friday, when the show has first fittings. After fittings, adjustments are made and final alterations must be completed by the end of the day on Saturday (Mohr).

The team of designers enters this challenge reminiscent of Project Runway each week and faces a variety of obstacles. While each costume requires about 30 to 40 hours of work, they are all sewn over about half a day of time, thanks to the incredible amount of collaboration amongst the members of the team (Aslanian). The designers must tailor the costumes perfectly to a variety of celebrity body types and must serve a range of movement purposes. Additionally, the ages, sizes, sexes, and styles of the celebrities’ have varied wildly over the seasons, anywhere from Charli D'amelio to Trevor Donovan (Ilchi, Pham). Every costume requires an incredible amount of stretch– it cannot rip on camera, and it must accommodate intense, abrupt movements. With live showings happening this season, these risks become even more pressing (Aslanian).

A challenge the show’s designers face overall, however, like most designers in the entertainment industry, is the struggle between production value and sustainability. Costume and fashion design differ in nature, as costume designers are bound to a narrative and must answer to those responsible for pushing the narrative (director, writers, etc.).The same people concerned with protecting the narrative are relatively unconcerned about the means through which it is achieved, leaving the designers to deal with sustainability as a sort of “side-project”. It is difficult to define sustainability in fashion design, as costumes are really only meant to be temporary. When movies, such as Little Women, require extensive costuming and historical accuracy, they generate massive quantities of clothing, more than a single person could possibly have in a lifetime (Johnson). It becomes harder to identify a sustainable amount of material for projects. The biggest way costume design can be unsustainable is the disposal of costumes after one use. Since costumes are integral to the work of art in film, tv, and other forms of entertainment, reuse can often mimic a form of plagiarism, depending on the circumstances.

For shows like Dancing with the Stars that rely on a weekly production cycle, improvements can be made to limit their waste output. Dancing with the Stars is one of few shows that sometimes reuses costumes from past seasons, taking advantage of the time constraints in a way that benefits material usage. Often, the celebrities will even buy the costumes to add to their own wardrobe or the costume will find reuse by other non-celebrity dancers off the show as well. However, one of the major ways this show could be more sustainable would be to increase their emphasis on costume reusage, which is often avoided for entertainment value and “freshness” (Aslanian). Improving sustainability in costume design is an ongoing challenge added to shows like Dancing with the Stars, but is becoming an increasingly crucial component to production integrity.

Works Cited

Aslanian, Emily. “Wardrobe Confidential! Secrets from the 'Dancing with the Stars' Costume Designers.” TV Insider, 3 Apr. 2017,

Ilchi, Layla. “How the 'Dancing with the Stars' Costume Designers Brought Each Week's Theme to Life.” WWD, 19 Nov. 2021,

Johnson, Reana. “Beyond the Red Carpet, What's Hollywood Doing about Sustainability on Set?” Sustainability On Film Sets And Costume Departments, 6 May 2021,

Mohr, April M. “Interview with ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Costume Designer.” Threads, 15 May 2009.

Pham, Jason. “The 'Dancing with the Stars' Cast Includes Charli D'Amelio & Teresa Giudice-Meet All the Contestants.” StyleCaster, 21 Nov. 2022,

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