I don't claim to be an expert on fashion shows but have been in quite a few, averaging about 6-8 a year, and have produced a couple. So I have some experience and decided to share that since I get asked questions about it.
First, from the writer/producer/director's standpoint: it's time consuming, sometimes tedious, and like pulling teeth to get the information you need to carry on. My favorite term to describe this is like “herding cats”. Besides being the sheep herder, I've been one of those “cats”.
I'm currently organizing a fashion show for next month for a womens club, with a fashion time line, and asked for dress descriptions of the models. Blue Victorian gown with gloves and jewelry doesn't take you very far. So I wrote up a questionnaire for them to fill out. Until now I was only sharing this with my friends who run fashion shows or are in them but decided it wasn't a state secret and many of my costume readers have themselves been in them and would benefit from it. Its not copyrighted so feel free to share this and add to it to fit your needs.
FASHION SHOW QUESTIONNAIRE
- Year of dress (approximate if not known but with a time span like 1900-1908)
- Pattern used (if known)
- Fabrics used & color/colors (if known)
- Trims on dress (types and show where)
- Style of dress (type of bodice/ skirt/ overskirt/ bustle/ neckline & sleeve shape/ men's jacket and pants.
- Underpinnings worn with skirt (hoop skirt/ corded petticoat/ multi-petticoats/ bustle/ pannier)
- What or when would it be worn for? (day time/ dinner or evening/ ball gown/ promenade/recreation)
- Bonnet/ hat/ or head cover (style, shape, materials, color, trims used)
- Accessories worn (parasol, gloves, jewelry, watch-- describe them)
- Anything you'd like the audience to know about your dress- did you make it, your first attempt, favorite pattern, for a specific event)
- If possible, include a photo of your dress or you in it, so the narrator has a visual reminder of what you're wearing.
For the narrative portion of the show, if you have a theme that tells a story, the description can fit into that, such as women's activities. For the one I'm in this coming weekend, in Port Townsend, WA, I decided to write my description for my Seaside gown that would include a name of a recognizable street in the area. So my narrative ran something like “you might see this lady walking down Water Street in her Seaside gown”. But it was pointed out to me that a “lady” wouldn't have been walking on Water Street unless she was looking for business. Ooops. So that portion is going to be corrected for the show. But I thought that might be fun to include street names like that, especially in an historical area. There are many ideas you can use for the narrative instead of just a dress description. Little vignettes are fun too. A group of ladies sitting around a table, gossiping, playing cards, or drinking tea, and each takes a turn on the stage as her description is read. We've been lucky sometimes to be on a stage that plays have been put on and are able to use their props. Other times we've provided a couple props but this only works if you have someone in charge of them and can set them up. That's too much to ask of your producer and models.
Our guild doesn't charge for providing fashion shows but we do usually ask that we be fed with something light. It doesn't have to be fancy, and most of us prefer to have it set in back as a buffet where we are so we can eat at will when we have a moment.
It helps the director/narrator to have a backstage manager to keep everything moving in a timely manner. Have a couple copies printed out of the lineup, in LARGE PRINT as some of us won't have our glasses on, and post it near the area where you line up to go out. The manager should also keep the director/narrator up to date if there are any last minute changes to the line up so you don't describe any ghosts onstage, or the wrong person. An idea that came up at the last show I was in was the director/narrator had the description of the model along with a photo of the dress on it so she could immediately see she had the right one.
Along with your manager, it REALLY helps if you have someone that can volunteer to be a dresser and help the models get dressed, or with last minute emergencies. Hopefully they're familiar with wearing corsets and other historical garments so she has experience with the unusual clothes we wear. She should be prepared with a sewing kit with lots of safety pins.
If food is not something that's available then the organizer of our group will bring water and something for nibbling on. We don't want to have anyone fainting on us. Believe it or not, its hard work getting in and out of these dresses. At one show a couple of us volunteered to bring some fruit, meat slices, little finger sandwiches, and deviled eggs for our buffet.
NOW FOR THE MODELS:
BE READY AND DRESSED ON TIME. While you're dressing, keep your voices down. Guaranteed those in the audience will most likely be able to hear everything from backstage.
Here's my favorite tip for the models: carry a prop. Having something in your hand to do something with, rather than just walking around. This especially helps the Nervous Nellies or first timers. I feel like I have gorilla arms with them just hanging there. I've used a parasol, and even opened it up onstage, and once carried a hankie and bouquet of flowers when I was the weeping Miss Havisham of Great Expectations. But remember you may be removing your bonnet or shawl, lifting your skirt to show off petticoats, etc, or any number of things to point out parts of your gown, so don't overextend yourself.
BE READY AND DRESSED ON TIME. Nothing screws up a show more than when someone is late or not ready. Some of us are crazy enough to wear two or even three outfits in a show, so they have a bit of an excuse.
It really helps if you can have a gentleman “dressed to the nines” that can help you up stairs onto the stage or down the stairs if you have them, or even walk you out onto the stage to be different. His job is to listen to the narrator and when its time for you to step out, he takes your hand. If you don't have one, then your backstage manager is in charge of making sure you are ready to go out on time.
I don't wear my glasses when I'm wearing my costumes, so I'm almost entirely dependent on the manager or our gentleman to let me know the narrator is nodding at me to come out. If you are lined up with the other models, you can always ask the one behind you to prod you on, but make sure they're paying attention.
Remember if you move too quickly they can't take a photo of you.
When the narration is over, and the narrator thanks you, (which is your cue to step down) I often dip a short curtsy to the audience. If the Queen is seated in the front row, that's a requirement.