Technical Theatre

Round-Up: Common Costume Concerns

Common costume concerns
Written by Kerry Hishon

Costumes, whether fabulously extravagant, simple and functional, ragged and threadbare, or anything in between, are lots of fun. Costumes help to tell the story of the show visually, and really help students to fully embrace their character. Costumes are also frequently a cause for concern. You have to deal with finding the perfect item for each student and taking care of each item so it doesn’t get dirty or damaged, or disappear. Here are some common costume concerns with suggested solutions.

1. What happens if a costume gets ripped or is damaged during a show?
  • Create an emergency sewing kit and have it available backstage in an easy-to-find spot. Include items such as:
    • Safety pins (lots and lots of safety pins)
    • Needles and various colours of thread (at the very minimum: white, black, navy, and brown)
    • Scissors (small, sharp, and pointy – round-tip scissors aren’t particularly useful when working with costumes)
    • Seam ripper
    • Clear nail polish (for stopping a run in a pair of stockings)
    • Temporary hem tape
    • Various sizes, shapes, and colours of buttons
    • In a pinch, gaff tape can temporarily solve many costume issues!
  • You may want to have a backup item for any costume pieces that are particularly fragile or delicate.
  • Always have a couple of extras when it comes to large groups of accessories, such as hats, belts, gloves, or kerchiefs. Someone will always lose one at some point.
  • Remember: Always stay calm during an emergency!
2. The backstage dressing area stinks!
  • Have a frank conversation with your students about the importance of personal hygiene. Showering and deodorant are absolute musts. Avoid heavy perfumes and body sprays though, as many students are sensitive to the chemicals in scents.
  • Assign and schedule costume team members to launder and/or air out sweaty costumes throughout the performance run.
  • Ensure that students are hanging up their costumes neatly after every performance – clothes that are balled up on the floor not only get dirty and wrinkled but retain their stink.
  • Spread out the hung-up costumes throughout the dressing area so the costumes are able to air out while not in use. Don’t pack all the items together tightly on a costume rack.
  • Place half a dryer sheet in each shoe to reduce odors.
  • Bring in some large household fans and run them overnight after all the students leave. If weather and security permit, leave some windows cracked open as well.
3. A student hates their costume.
  • Have the student try on the costume so you can see them in it. If you like the costume, let the student know how great you think they look. Sometimes students need reassurance that they look good.
  • Have your student explain to you why they hate the costume. Do they have a genuine concern about it (perhaps it doesn’t fit properly or it itches) or do they just not like the item itself?
  • If they have a genuine concern, see if you can find an alternative item or a solution to the problem. For example, if the item is too tight, can someone let out the seams or add a panel of fabric? If the item is itchy, can the costume be laundered or could a base item (such as a tank top or slip) be worn underneath?
  • If a student doesn’t like their costume item, explain why the item is appropriate for their character. Remind the student that their character may live in a different time period or have different likes/dislikes than the student does. The student must separate their own personality from that of the character they are playing.
  • Give the student the opportunity to suggest what they think their character would wear and why. Have them create a sketch or bring in items that they think might work. Be open-minded – if the item does work, why not let them wear it?
  • Some students are weirded out by the idea of wearing clothing that someone else has already worn. If possible, let the student take the costume item home and wash it. That sometimes helps ease their mind.
  • When all else fails – tough love. Sometimes, as performers, we have to wear a costume we don’t like, and we just have to deal with it!
4. Other costume concerns and solutions:
Click here for a free costume care classroom exercise & exit slip

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.

About the author

Kerry Hishon

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.