Smuin Ballet’s Tess Lane talks about clothing and costume design, and her favorite thrift store in San Francisco

Whether you spot Tess Lane in the studio or around San Francisco on her day off, chances are she’s wearing one of her own designs. The Smuin Ballet dancer first learned tailoring from her mother, who owned a business making bespoke wedding dresses. Lane began to take the craft more seriously when she was sidelined by injury in 2013. Her first track? A leotard, of course. “I was very upset that I couldn’t perform, so I started making leotards because I was like, ‘I have to do something,'” she recalled.

Those early leotards led Lane to countless home sewing YouTube videos and blogs, helping her develop the skills to produce everything from t-shirts to denim shorts, and even a dress for the Smuin gala. Ballet. “I love the puzzle of creating something for myself,” says Lane. “I get satisfaction from wearing it, and also from the process.”

When looking to add pieces to her wardrobe, Lane often turns to area consignment stores. (She discovered her favorite Everlane jeans on one such visit.) “My favorite place to save money is called Held Over on Haight Street,” she says. “I also like going to vintage stores, and I feel like that’s where you notice the difference between things that fall apart quickly and things that are really made to last. I try to buy things that last.

In addition to making leotards for herself (and the other dancers in the company) in the studio, Lane has recently been able to see her creations on stage. When company artist Tessa Barbour choreographed and created thumbnails this spring, Lane was commissioned to design the costumes. “It was really cool to see the costumes on the bodies on stage,” she says, noting that this was her first time making men’s clothing. “It was definitely a learning process because it was the biggest project I had, but it was very exciting.”

The details—the street

Photo by Michael Winokur.

Jacket: “The black denim jacket is from Zara, and the patch I found at a local store in San Francisco and sewed on myself. I like to put my own spin on things.”

Jeans: “I love Everlane jeans because they fit me so well and the brand is transparent about things like durability and paying their employees a living wage.”

Slippers: “I go for comfort, so I usually wear Keds or a small tennis shoe. These slippers are actually from Target. They are quite comfortable because the heel is not too high and it is rather thick.

The Details—Studio

Tess Lane is wearing a mint green square neck leotard and turquoise gym shorts.  She is holding open a blue velvet curtain with both hands and smiling towards the camera.  Her brown hair is in a bun.
Photo by Michael Winokur.

Sticky: “I found tiny pieces of this heavy cotton fabric – similar to those old cotton leotards we used to wear that are really comfortable – so I made this square neck mint green leotard.”

Shorts: “I like the color of the leotard to coordinate with my warm-ups. I’ll keep my warm-ups at the barre, but I’m not a big skirt person, so by the time we’re in rehearsal, I’m just in a leotard and shorts or leotard and tights.

Tess Lane poses in front of a blue velvet curtain wearing a light blue leotard, chartreuse spandex shorts and nude pointe shoes.  Her highlighted brown hair is pulled back in a twist.  She faces to the side with her left leg downstage in a bent and turned forced arc.  His right leg is turned over and bent.  She arches her back slightly, her face in a soft smile turned up, and her arms are held above her head, palms facing up with fingers relaxed.
Photo by Michael Winokur.

Tips: “I wear Freeds. I don’t have very flexible feet, so I chose leather uppers. They’re really malleable and they don’t really die because they’re leather. They come in half stems, and sometimes I cut them a little lower than that. I get them with extra glue, but I always jet glue the tip.