itsjusttheatre: musings from a community theater costume shop organizer

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maidenform_brassiereOne of my organization problems at the costume shop is what to do with undergarments.  Over the years we have accumulated a number of bras, panties, pairs of socks, slips, and other unrecognizable things – some used as costume, some donated, and some left in dressing rooms after the production is over (I don’t ask).

We have a lovely piece of furniture which I think was a display unit in a department store in a previous life.  It has drawers where merchandise was stored and has worked quite well for some time as the place where the undergarments of all descriptions have been stashed along with the small stuff – jewelry, glasses, spats, suspenders, etc.  However, time has taken its toll and things have gotten crammed in, mis-organized, and generally the drawers aren’t working anymore because we can’t find what we need in there.

I can’t keep it all – what to keep?

First, we don’t (as a policy) provide undergarments as part of a costume.  UNLESS, the undergarment IS the costume.  That covers repro things like corsets, petticoats, etc.  But I don’t remember ever providing a bra to an actress (or actor for that matter).  So clearly the bras can go.

Coincidentally, as I have been considering what to do about the undergarments as a storage issue we are in rehearsals for Harvey by Mary Chase.  Set in the mid 1940’s, our director has commented to me that he wants the “bullet boob” look to better show off the vintage clothing we are using as costume for the female characters in the show.

That sent me to the Internet to discover how to get a 1940’s silhouette using 2010’s undergarments.  I found several blog posts and websites that discuss the physics of taking something round and making it bullet shaped.

Adventures in recreating the 1940’s bust silhouette informed me that the bust line silhouette of the 1940s was not as “severe” as the bullet look of the 1950s.  She (the blogger)  discovered the common feature of 1940s bras is a horizontal seam runs from left to right cutting the bra in half from top to bottom.  You can see that seam on the illustration here.  Apparently the seam does the trick.  Problem is that we (21st century girls) don’t wear these kinds of bras.  We wear bras with no seams, basically I think because we wear mostly knits and visible undergarment seams of any kind is a fashion no-no these days.

However, they still  make these horizontally seamed bras (for the vintage dressers and the grandmas).  You have to look around.  The blog post from “Adventures in recreating the 1940’s bust silhouette” speaks of several manufacturers, but I have focused (considering our small town) on what we can get (and try on) here in town.  The Bali Flower bra and/or the Playtex 18 hour Original Comfort Strap bra seem like likely contenders.

Did I mention that I am one of the cast of Harvey?  I am off to shop.

My Introduction to Myself (and what I want to do with this blog)

I absolutely never thought I would blog. Ever. However, I have taken over a big volunteer job with my local theater. The job is organizing and cleaning out the costume shop.

I should say immediately that I am NOT a costumer. I am a librarian. I pride myself that I am good at organization, good at recordkeeping, and good at assessing the worth of an item compared to the space it occupies. When it comes to costume organization, I am clueless.

We have been collecting a lot of years. Our theatre got started in 1977 and bits and pieces of things date from about that time. For a while we had a professional costumer, a sorceress who could create the most amazing things out of repurposed garage sale finds and a bit of clearance fabric. She is not with us anymore (can anyone say burnout?) That doesn’t stop us from adding stuff, taking donated clothing, and generally making a mess.

I have done costumes for different shows, but that means I have pulled stuff from the racks. I can sew, but I haven’t made anything since 7th grade home economics. The shift I made for that class was awful. But I digress.

I took on the job of organizing the costume shop because it was a mess. Too many show costumers had finished out a show by just rolling the costume rack back into the shop and leaving. Donations began to pile up, the fabrics were a mess from people pilfering through them to find fabric for curtains or whatever. The shoes were not organized by color, size or sex (in other words, not organized at all).

I am starting this blog for myself to record the bits and pieces of information that I have been able to glean from a ton of net searching about costume organization. It also seemed like a good idea to document my journey so that others that stumble over this blog might benefit from my confusion. Lastly, if this blog does reach other organizers and they want to chime in, I hope they do. Many heads are certainly better than one.

The picture with this post is my first experience with painting shoes for a costume. We are doing The Marvelous Wonderettes. The 4 characters of the show wear 1958-styled prom dresses in sherbet colors of blue, green, pink, and orange. We decided that we wanted the shoes to match their dresses. We have a bunch of dyable satin pumps, but the dancing actresses rebelled at that and requested strap shoes. So we fell back on character shoes. Black ones – we didn’t have taupe.

Reading up on the ‘net, I discovered that there is such a thing as leather paint. There is a great entry at instructables. But, it used acetone and a paint (Angelus Leather Paint) that I cannot get here in my small city. Instead I turned to some great stuff on painting leather with acrylic paint. Check out the instructions at “DIY Colorblock Bag A.K.A. How to Paint Leather with Acrylic Paint” This required only isoprobyl alcohol and acrylic paints (picked up at the local Hobby Lobby). Our scenic guy mixed the colors for my team. We wiped the shoes clean with the alcohol, then painted a coat of white acrylic to act as a base coat, then covered with two coats of our mixed color.

The actresses have been dancing in them for a week. There are scuffs and a few nicks, but the leather is still plyable and the paint is not cracked. We will clean and touch them up before opening. They look fabulous on stage – like Sweetarts candy. Bristle brushes work better than sponges brushes, by the way. (Boy, did I get off topic 🙂