It’s all about having fun – and amphibian symbolism – when it comes to creating inspired Gecko Ball costumes, says Gulfport designer Jon Ziegler with his signature laugh.
Ziegler’s body unfurls like the sail on a tall ship as the sound of his delight breezes throughout the room touching eardrums at every compass point.
Then he smiles broadly with twinkling eyes. His exuberance coaxes couture to life.
“Beware!” is the one word he uses to describe the costume exhibit Behind the Seams that runs through June 4 at the Gulfport Historical Museum.
Ziegler’s costumes and those made by others since 2009 are showcased in photos or in textile form on mannequins and hangars.
“It’s always fun once you have the annual theme to try to integrate the gecko into the costume,” he said.
Themes have been included since 2010 and include Gecko Night Fever, Gecko Gras and Roaring Geckos.
For the Lizard of Oz year, he knew that Dorothy, lion, scarecrow and tin man costumes were going to be popular choices, so he opted to create a Winkie Guard outfit for himself and a hip-hop version of the cyclone for his ball partner.
For some years, he’s included the symbol of the ball on a vest, while for others the gecko can be found on sleeves, a spear, a hat or parasol.
In 2013, the annual Gecko festivities began to include a queen – either a woman or man – who is willing to be Gulfport’s ambassador for the year, said Ziegler.
“Jon has a creative mind that we all love,” said Brian Liggins, the 2017 and reining Gecko queen. “I marvel at his talents. He’s over-the-top fabulous. He’s a fantastic part of the community.”
Museum admission is free and the retrospective of costumes can be experienced on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. More information can be found on the Gulfport Historical Society’s Facebook page or their website: gulfporthistoricalsociety.org.
Due to space limitations, Behind the Seams is “primarily featuring Jon’s costumes and the five Gecko queens,” said Karean Dorn, events chairperson and museum board member. “Everybody’s costumes are awesome but Jon’s are just exquisite.”
How did he learn his craft?
“It’s almost like an inherited gene,” he said. “My grandmother taught me sewing and I also had home economics classes in middle school. My grandfather was a tailor and then he became a dry cleaner. In the shop, my grandmother did all of the alterations.”
Before moving to Gulfport, in his home state of Illinois, Ziegler was the costumer for both community and high school theater productions, especially musicals.
“The last show I did was ‘Hello, Dolly!’ with 50 cast members and six costume changes each,” he said laughing. “Crazy!”
When he gets an idea or inspiration for costumes to either customize purchased components or make them from scratch, he said, “Some of the construction is not the greatest but so long as it gets the look, hey, it’s fine!”
For instance, his Mad Hatter outfit is his favorite. He bought the pants and cut them off to make them too short.
“Men’s pants are tough to make,” he said.
He also bought the shirt and the hat.
Then he made the vest, jacket and bow tie. Take a look on the inside of the jacket and you’ll see lining that showcases spools of thread.
“There’s nothing wrong with purchasing things so long as it gets the full effect,” he said. “It can also save money.”
He’s also learned not to use heavy fabrics because of Florida’s heat and humidity.
His favorite textile is not a Gecko Ball costume. It is a quilt his grandfather made out of men’s suit fabrics. “It’s a little moth eaten, but I do have it,” he said.
The 2018 ball theme is Gecko Con. For details, visit facebook.com/Geckofest.
“We all say, ‘What’s Jon going to wear this year?’” said Liggins. “He loves what he does.”