One of the most important features of a standout production has got to be the dazzling array of costumes, not just for the main characters but for all of the cast including vocalists, dancers, minor characters and the MC/narrator.

Whether you’re a professional costumier, a seamstress or dressmaker who wants to expand into costume design or a design student who has a passion for theatre, it is always useful to know the basics of how to choose and apply rhinestones for costumes. There is a myriad of costume embellishments on the market, so how do you choose the right ones for you? Here’s a handy guide to help choosing the perfect rhinestones for costume making:

Types of embellishment

First let’s look at the different types of embellishment.

  • Rhinestones - The most popular and widely available sparkly embellishment for costumes is the flatback round rhinestone in either non hotfix, also known as glue on, or hotfix also known as iron on. The common round rhinestone is a faceted cut glass crystal with a flat foiled backing, ranging in size and colour. There are many brands who manufacture rhinestones, the high quality brands including Swarovski, Preciosa and Zodiac, all producing rhinestones suitable for gluing on and hot fixing on. You do also see a lot of cheaper brands producing lower quality gems made from plastic or acrylic, these are cheap and cheerful but don’t offer the same high quality sparkle and durability as the more well known brands. The durability of costume rhinestones is very important, as they will be subject to a lot of movement and washing.

    Rhinestones make a huge difference to how a costume, and therefore a character, looks on stage – the sparkle and shine drawing the audience’s eye. And for a glitzy show like 42nd Street and Dreamgirls (both of which feature Crystal Parade rhinestones), the more sparkle the better! Not only are rhinestones used for theatre costumes, but film and TV costumes (we have worked on RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Crown, The X-Factor), as well as costumes for big events; award shows, music tours, themed parties, opera and ballet performances, drag and burlesque shows – the opportunities to parade in diamante sparkle are endless! Here's the iconic drag artist The Vivienne adorned in Crystal Parade Zodiac rhinestones:
  • Sew on stones – Another common choice of crystal embellishment for costume making is the sew on stone, these are large flatback crystals with two holes, enabling them to be sewn onto the fabric. They are available in many different shapes and colours, and the larger size of the stone means they cover a larger surface area, ultimately bringing more glitz to the costume. An advantage of using sew on rhinestones is that they are longer lasting than glue on, as the application method is more durable, and can withstand movement – this is particularly useful on costumes for musicals. Sew on rhinestones are also ideal for creating costume accessories, such as crowns or tiaras, because of the variety of shapes available. See how Preciosa have used different sew on shapes in Clear crystal to create this beautiful Snow Queen tiara and part of the costume:
  • Sew on mirror shapes – Similar to sew on stones, are sew on mirror shapes. These are a simpler version of sew on crystals; a flat mirrored acrylic shape that has no facets, but a shiny reflective surface. These come in a variety of geometric shapes, and again can be glued or sewn onto fabric to create a ‘mirror ball’ effect. Using mirror shapes is a more cost effective way of bringing shine to a costume. See the dress Holly Willoughby wore for the Dancing on Ice Final this year:

(Photo credit: The Mirror)

  • Pearls – Using flatback pearls within your costume design adds a more subtle and sophisticated effect. They are particularly popular for vintage style or period costumes and are loved by designers who don’t want too much bling. Combining pearls and crystals is a popular technique as they look so beautiful together, they are often used for bridal or formal costumes. In 2012, Madame Tussauds unveiled the current wax figure of HRH Queen Elizabeth II in honour of her Diamond Jubilee. The piece features hundreds of rhinestones and pearls (supplied by Crystal Parade).Rhinestone size guide

The sizes of round rhinestones used in costume making vary from small SS12 (3.2mm) to large statement SS48 (11mm) and everything in between. The sizes you want to use really depends on what part of the costume you want to embellish.

  • SS12, SS16, SS20 (3.2mm – 5mm) – These smaller sizes are ideal for creating very intricate designs, filling gaps, outlining a design, or depicting an image, logo or wording on the fabric. They are the perfect size for adding sparkle to the sleeves or collar of a costume as they are not too heavy for material, and can be easily scattered to create a shimmering effect. They are also commonly used for embellishing costume accessories, jewellery, shoes, wigs and headwear, and microphones. Here are the shoes and microphone used in SIX The Musical, embellished by Jane White using Preciosa 4mm and 5mm round rhinestones:
  • SS30, SS34, SS40, SS48 (6mm – 11mm) – These bigger crystals are great if you want to bring ultimate bling to your costume, and if you’re looking to cover a large area of the fabric with rhinestones, it is more cost effective and time efficient to attach larger sized stones.

Applying rhinestones to costumes.

Flatback rhinestones are manufactured to have either a Hotfix backing or Non Hotfix backing – in simple terms this means they can either be heated onto the fabric with an iron or hot tool, or they can be glued on. The hotfix backing is a rough textured foil that has the glue inside, ready to be heated on. The non hotfix backing is a smooth, lighter coloured foil that bonds well with fabric or craft glue.Many of our customers ask us what is the best way apply rhinestones to costumes? Truthfully, it can be tricky choosing which way to go – there are pro’s and con’s to both methods, and the answer depends on a number of factors.

  • Hotfix Rhinestones - Hotfix rhinestones have the glue already incorporated into the back of the stone and requires heat to melt the glue, allowing it to be adhered to the material. The main advantage of using hotfix crystals is that you don’t need to purchase any additional glue, as it is already the on the stone. Hotfix rhinestones can be attached using a hotfix applicator wand, heatpress or household iron. It is also important to think about the scale of your project; if you are crystallizing multiple garments for a theatre production, event or show, using the hotfix method is quicker, plus there is no mess as you are not having to use glue. Hotfix rhinestones are popular among costume designers and dress makers because there is less chance of glue leaking onto the fabric, and once you invest in a hotfix applicator wand it can be used for future projects.
  • Non Hotfix Rhinestones - Non Hotfix rhinestones can be applied to almost any fabric or material with Gem Tac or E6000 glue, making this a popular application method for smaller projects. It is more cost effective, as non hotfix rhinestones are cheaper to buy, plus you don't have to invest in a hotfix applicator tool.
  • Sew on Rhinestones – As we’ve said above, using sew on stones is a quick way to cover a large surface area and they bring ultimate sparkle to a costume. If you have the time and budget, sewing on your embellishments is a fail-safe way of ensuring they never fall off during a performance or in the wash.

Rhinestone colour guide

When it comes to choosing the perfect crystal colour for your costume, the options are vast, and it becomes even more overwhelming when you think of colour combinations too – Mix and match? Contrast or compliment? Bright and bold or neutral and chic? The possibilities are endless!

But Crystal Parade are here to help… with over a decade in the industry, we have the experience and knowledge to advise which colours work together, and we are always keeping up to date with the latest seasonal trends.

Our top selling rhinestone brands Preciosa and Zodiac, produce an amazing array of colours, effects and coatings in their flatback crystal range. Here we will guide you through each of these and how they can be used:Clear Crystal – This is a colourless, diamond effect stone, with a mirrored foil backing to reflect the light. Because of their colourless nature, clear crystals will work with every other colour, and dazzle beautifully under the stage lights.

AB Crystal – AB (Aurora Borealis) gets its name from the natural phenomenon that occurs in certain skies at night known as the Northern Lights. It is a coated crystal that has a rainbow effect, much like a soap bubble, or sometimes described as an ‘oil on water’ effect. This is the most popular colour by far, especially in the theatre and performing arts world, the stunning AB coated crystal reflects light superbly and looks gorgeous in any light. The coating reflects the colours that surround it so use on pale gel colours for pinks, purples, pale blue and golds to shine through. Or use on a darker shade to see greens, yellows and darker shades of blue. Like the Clear crystal, AB crystals work with any other colour so the possibilities are endless.

Standard Colour – Standard colours make up the majority of the range, these are crystals that are just one colour throughout and have no effect or coating over the top. If you’re looking for a simple block colour in a variety of shades, go for one of these. Examples of standard colours are Light Siam (red), Fuchsia (pink), Citrine (yellow), Sapphire (blue) and Peridot (green). These are great for adding a splash of colour to your costume, and you can choose between bright bold shades, pastel vintage style shades or neutral tones – they really do spoil us for choice!

Special Effects/Coatings - Special effect crystals, also known as rhinestone coatings, are where a thin layer of material has been laid over the top of the crystal, coating it, to create an unusual effect. This could be metallic or two-tone. These special effect crystals often give off more sparkle, looking amazing under the lights. There are two different types of coating: metallic and two-tone.

• Two-tone rhinestones are just that – two (or sometimes three) tones of colour coming through. For example, Preciosa Volcano shines purple, red and blue. Two-tone, sometimes referred to as multi-tone, crystals have the magical quality of appearing to change colour at certain angles. So with movement comes the effect of lots of different colours.

• Metallic rhinestones such as rose gold, aurum (bright gold) and chrome are really on trend at the moment. The solid metallic finish has a different kind of effect – it shines with bright flashes of light, rather than a twinkle like the standard colours. They are great for steampunk, rocky or edgy designs.

Neon – Neon rhinestones are as bright and bold as the name suggests and some even glow in the dark! Neon crystals are perfect for creating eye catching designs and are a timeless colourway for dance costumes.Choosing the right colour for your project

With the huge choice of colours and coatings on offer, it can be hard to decide which colour to choose. Don’t worry if you have no idea where to start when it comes to choosing the perfect colour, here are a few useful tips and ideas to try:

  • Look at the Pantone Colour of the Year – this will tell you which colour is on trend each year and may give you a good starting point. For example, the colour of the year for 2023 is ‘Viva Magenta’. Many designers choose to base their designs on the current trending colour.
  • Check out what other people in your industry are doing on social media; fashion designers and make-up artists are always keeping on top of the latest trends, so take a look and see what works for you.
  • Take inspiration from your surroundings and interests. Designers often use ideas from nature, the time of year, events in the calendar or travel to create themes and colourways in their work. Seasons are a popular starting point for many people – use pastel and neutral shades in the springtime, bright bold colours in summer, deep warm jewel-tones in Autumn and cool shades of blue, silver and white during the winter. By creating these colourways, you can tell a story or take a journey through your design.If you need some more tips or inspiration on crystal colours, you can order a handy colour chart to see all the colours, coatings and effects available. Or if you have an idea of colour but would like to see the different shades available, you can speak to one of our team who will happily send free samples.

Performance costume