“It’s not very comfortable but it looks amazing!”

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“It’s not very comfortable but it looks amazing!”

Well, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration but as I step backstage to work with some lovely costume ladies once again, it reminds me what unsung heroes the wardrobe department often are.

Their job is quite diverse – it’s all about the preparation, the measuring, the sourcing & ordering costumes, many wardrobe departments have to make them from scratch and then there are all the necessary accessories – the scarves, gloves, hats and so on.
Of course, don’t forget the Directors comments at the dress rehearsal “ mmm, I’m not sure that dress/suit really works” and then these patient ladies have 24hrs before opening night to do their magic!!

So as the cast nervously pace up and down and warm up ready to take to the stage, these ladies are still frantically sewing and making last minute alterations.  Maintaining the costumes throughout a run is as important as getting them right in the first place. Lost buttons…split sleeves…. shortening hems… and of course, they are also counsellors for the cast with their never-ending worries about how they look in a certain costume or how a costume should be worn and then giving back reasons why it just can’t be worn that way! However, these saints will put all those worries to bed and make sure that you go on stage looking fabulous!

For any wardrobe team when we talk about period costumes – the attention to detail is vitally important and these gurus of period clothing know their stuff. Those little items that are sometimes overlooked – Gentlemen with elephant grey outdoor gloves in turn of the century suits, the buttonholes, the dolly bags, the hair accessories and the hats, all of these are what makes the whole costume ensemble work and it is what keeps the wardrobe mistress happy. Trust their judgement and wear it how they tell you – it may seem alien to you but they know how it should be worn even if it is a bit uncomfortable or you feel a bit self-conscious.

Oh, hats… now that’s a real bug bear of mine! Why do people always plonk them on the back of the heads like a demented flying saucer remember, depending on the period, they are worn in different ways and for a lot of period wear they are worn on the front of the head and they need the essential hat pin – don’t complain your hat is going to fall off or if it does indeed fall off, if you don’t have at least one or four hat pins in place!  Then there is the brave individual who tries the elastic under the chin way to wear their hat – Oh my god NO!!! When was that ever a fashionable look and god forbid you should ever try that in one of my shows – that would be a very brave move indeed!!

Sorry I got a little off topic there – but I do like people to look good on stage, as I promise does every wardrobe mistress I have ever had the pleasure to work with. It’s often said “it will look different under the lights” and never a truer word has been said. I have seen dresses and suits which when hanging on the rail or ever on the actor in the dressing room look drab or unflattering but when on stage with the lights and the atmosphere look fabulous – even better if the actor stands tall and wears it with pride!

And then there is the other comment that always makes me smile inside –“ it’s rather hot in this costume under all those lights” – and often the person stating this is wearing something quite modern and just the one layer – think again about the period plays and musicals when the actors and/or dancers are wearing tights, bloomers, petticoats, dresses and jackets with all the accessories or for the men a t-shirt, shirt, cravat, waistcoat, jacket, overcoat and so on and it’s even worse when you are under-dressing one or more costume to aid with quick changes. You might feel (and sometimes look) a bit like the Michelin Man with all those layers on but you know come the time for the quick change the benefits are so worth it!

‘The Quick Change’ – that moment when the actor initially goes into meltdown because they have so little time to perfect a complete costume change and sometimes wig change too!  I often hear those words –“‘it’s impossible” – which is usually answered by the immortal phrase from the wardrobe team “it’s been done before” in other words, it’s never impossible, it’s just a challenge and with a competent and experienced team of dressers it can be done. The best way is usually if it’s a big change is for the performer to stand still and let the dressers do it all for you because if you are trying to move and help, it is often a complete hindrance and I guarantee after a couple of times you will wonder why it was ever such a big deal!

Organisation is also the key to costume changes – knowing where and when you need to change and have everything ready and to hand. I can relate numerous stories over the years and some spring immediately to mind like that of a an elderly gentleman rushing up several flights of stairs back to their dressing room to do a quick change rather than bring the costume down to the wings to change and so came on stage semi dressed, with a very red face and unable to sing or speak for most of the scene as he was completely out of breath! I also have to mention one wonderful lady I know, who during a quick change in the dark managed to get her dress on back to front – but she went on stage and in true professional style she carried it off and because she performed with great aplomb and style, I guarantee not one audience member would ever have known. We still laugh about the incident to this day.

Yes, we do sometimes suffer for our art – but let face it, it is worth it – as long as we look amazing!

So Thank You to the ‘Goddesses of the Needle’ without them and their amazing costumes – it doesn’t ‘bare’ thinking about!!!

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