From 'The Slip Test' To Underwear Glue: DWTS Costume Designer Reveals Backstage Tricks

Underwear glue, nip slips, and 'the graveyard' -- the 'Dancing With The Stars' wardrobe department is certainly no place for the prudish.

And really, what's a boob or two when you're one of the most celebrated costume designers in the world?

Tim Chappel is the best in the business, known for his work on major productions like 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' and 'The Masked Singer', the Oscar-winning costume designer now helms the 'Dancing With The Stars' wardrobe department.

And it's certainly not a job for the fainthearted. Tim spoke to 10 daily about all things sparkles, spanx and stage magic -- allowing us an insider's look behind the costumes that light up our teles every Sunday night.



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To have our stars looking and performing their very best, it takes a heap of work behind the scenes. And it's not always glamorous.

"I’ll be grabbing their boobs and putting them in the right place," Tim said with a laugh. 

I have people nude in front of me all the time, and I don’t even see it! It never occurs to me that they’re nude or that they’re in their undies.
Tim Chappel won an Oscar for his work in 'Priscilla' back in 1995. Image: Getty

Behind every breathtaking gown and showstopping reveal is a team of six wardrobe superstars working tirelessly behind the scenes.

Before the celebs and their partners even hit the stage, they go through two or three dress rehearsals and every kind of disaster-avoidance strategy you can imagine. Namely, a cheeky little competition called 'the slip test'.

"I put my talent in their dresses and if it’s something really skimpy, we have this competition," explained Tim.

I say ‘okay now try and make your boobs pop out. Shake as hard as you can! Upside down! Upside down! Shake your boobs out! Make your boobs come out!...

"And if they don’t come out, we’re doing okay."

Beyond extinguishing all possibilities a nip slip will occur on live television, Tim has a number of other tips and tricks in place to stop the Australian public from copping an eye full.

There's underwear glue, elastic corsets, and straps and clips so well-constructed, the costume crew should be handed a Master's degree in engineering.

Because it’s live TV, the stakes are really high. So if they f**k up and fall over and break their leg, that’s going to happen on camera. You’ll see it.

"When you think about it, our dresses have to look like evening dresses, right? But they have to be able to bend like a gymnastic acrobat."

While the contestants and pro-dancers only have a week to pull together their performances, Tim and his team work three weeks in advance.

The show is plotted out ahead of time by creative director Kelley Abbey, who assigns each contestant their dance style for the coming weeks -- the costume team start designing before the contestants even know if they'll still be in the competition.

"I have to design very specifically for each dance. For example, a Viennese waltz, I need to create what’s called a slow dress -- because you want something that’s soft and long and floaty," Tim explained. 

"But if I’m doing a cha or a samba, I have to do a fast dress, which means something that’s short that has lots of flicky things that are going to move and shake."

So what happens to the costumes that were made for eliminated contestants? "We have a graveyard," said Tim.

"We have a little wardrobe graveyard for all the dresses that never get worn. They just sit there looking really sad, just waiting for somebody to put them on."



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Despite his long list of illustrious projects and decades in the business, to this day Tim remains thrilled by the theatrics of it all.

"What’s amazing is watching these artists -- those dancers are these incredible combination of being amazing partners and choreographers, and athletes! And they have to make it look glamorous," Tim said.

"All of the hard work and athleticism and fitness and skill -- it’s important that it’s invisible. And I think that’s so fascinating to watch."

The stars make no secret of the fact that DWTS really pushes them out of their comfort zones. And to dress someone requires you to be truly close to them, especially when they are at their most vulnerable.

Image: Supplied

"It is super super intimate. Emotionally and physically," Tim told 10 daily.

"Because a big part of what we do is nurture them and make them feel really supported. Sometimes you need to just listen."

It’s a combination of making them look as good as you can and making them feel really great.

On the dance floor our celebs and their partners may look fine, fresh and finessed. But backstage it's a whole different story.

But with pros like Tim and his team doing their thing, we can rest assured our Sunday night viewing will be nothing but wedgie-free and glamorous.

Featured image: Getty

Dancing With The Stars airs Sundays at 7.30 on 10 and 10 Play.