Smuin Ballet’s Tess Lane on Designing Clothing and Costumes, and Her Favorite Thrift Store in San Francisco

July 11, 2022

Whether you spot Tess Lane in the studio or around San Francisco on her day off, chances are she’ll be dressed in one of her own designs. The Smuin Ballet dancer initially picked up sewing from her mother, who owned a business making custom wedding dresses. Lane began more seriously mastering the craft while sidelined with an injury in 2013. Her first piece? A leotard, of course. “I was very upset that I couldn’t perform, so I started making leotards because I was like, ‘I need to do something,’” she recalls.

Those first leotards led Lane to endless YouTube videos and blogs on home sewing, helping her develop the skills to produce everything from T-shirts to denim shorts, and even a dress for Smuin Ballet’s gala. “I enjoy the puzzle of creating something for myself,” says Lane. “I get the satisfaction from wearing it, and also from the process.”

When she’s looking to add pieces to her wardrobe, Lane often turns to area consignment shops. (She discovered her favorite pair of Everlane jeans during one of those visits.) “My favorite place to go for thrifting is called Held Over on Haight Street,” she says. “I like to go into vintage stores, too, and I feel like that’s when you notice the difference between things that will fall apart quickly versus things that were really made to last. I try to buy things that will last.”

In addition to whipping out leotards for herself (and the other company dancers) in the studio, Lane recently got to see her creations onstage. When fellow company artist Tessa Barbour choreographed and premiered Vignettes this spring, Lane was commissioned to design the costumes. “It was really cool to actually see the costumes on bodies on the stage,” she says, noting that it was her first time making menswear. “It was definitely a learning process because that was the biggest project I’ve had, but it was very exciting.”

The Details—Street

Tess Lane hangs from yellow metal bars above her, both arms outstretched on upward diagonals. She gazes strongly to the right, with both her legs in a pike position in the same direction. Her feet, clad in brown leather shoes, cross in 5th position with her left leg on top. Her brown wavy hair is behind her shoulders. She wears a white t-shirt, black denim jacket, and blue jeans.
Photo by Michael Winokur.

Jacket: “The black denim jacket is from Zara, and the patch I found at a local shop 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 really nicely and the brand is transparent about things like sustainability and paying their workers a decent wage.”

Booties: “I opt for comfort, so I usually wear Keds or some little tennis shoe. These booties are actually from Target. They’re pretty comfortable because the heel isn’t too high and it’s pretty chunky.”

The Details—Studio

Tess Lane wears a mint-green square-neck leotard and turquoise gym shorts. She holds opens a blue velvet curtain with both hands and smiles towards the camera. Her brown hair is in an updo.
Photo by Michael Winokur.

Leotard: “I found tiny pieces of this heavyweight cotton fabric—similar to those old cotton leotards that we used to wear that feel really comfy—so I made this mint green, square-neck leotard.”

Shorts: “I like to have the leotard color-coordinate with my warm-ups. I will keep my warm-ups on 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 brown highlighted hair is held back in a twist. She faces the side with her left leg downstage in a bent, turned out forced arch. Her right leg is turned out and bent. She arches her back slightly, her face in a soft smile facing upwards, and her arms are held above her head palms facing up with relaxed fingers.
Photo by Michael Winokur.

Pointe shoes: “I wear Freeds. I don’t have very bendy feet, so I chose leather shanks. They’re really malleable, and they don’t really die because they’re leather. They come in half-shanks, and sometimes I cut them down a little bit lower than that. I get them with extra glue, but I still Jet Glue the tip.”