Rules For a Happy Costume Manager

Recently, my director and I sat down to write up some rules for our young thespians.  They are often so caught up in the excitement of the performance that they forget about caring for the props and costumes.  Here are the rules that we have drafted (but not yet put into play):

Costume Rules

As we start the new theater season, we will have new rules for the handling of costumes.

  • All actors must have bin that can hold their costumes, clothing, make-up, etc. This needs to have your name on it.  It needs to be easily accessible and organized so that you can get what you need when you need it.  We recommend hard plastic bins with lids.  You may also consider adding smaller bins or bags to keep it organized: on for makeup, hair accessories, street clothes, etc.  If you do not have a bin, you may borrow one from the costume manager; there will be a $5 rental fee charged to your account.
  • Costumes will be checked out and checked in. Too many pieces go missing after productions-they are often just thrown on the floor.  See Miss Tori to check out and check in the costumes.  Your costume will not be considered checked in unless all the pieces are there.
  • If you need help pinning your costume to fit better, please do this prior to 30 minutes before curtain. Find an adult to help you if you need assistance.
  • If you are not wearing it, keep it in the bin. You may have multiple costumes assigned to you at the beginning of the show.  Keep those you are not currently using, along with your street clothes, in your bin.  This will prevent it from getting lost or someone else accidentally grabbing the wrong shirt/pants/dress.  Many costumes look similar and only differ in size.  If all the black pirate pants are on the floor or table, how are you to know which one is yours?  You will waste precious time looking for your costume piece and may not find it in time.  Please also keep your personal clothing in the bin so you can easily find the clothes after the show.
  • All actors must have makeup, hair combs/brushes, bobby pins and elastic bands if needed for long hair, baby wipes or makeup remover, safety pins and appropriate ‘character’ shoes. Actors also need a large button-up shirt to put over their costumes between or before shows.  If your character requires false eyelashes, you must provide your own false eyelashes.  Please bring large and medium safety pins to pin your costume when needed.  It is also good to have safety pins in case of emergency: a bow falls off, a seam tears, the zipper breaks.
  • If wearing a wig and you have long hair, it must be in a low bun, milkmaid braids, ‘Heidi’ braids or Swedish braids. You must also have a bald cap.
  • All actors must wear covering clothing that will not been seen under costumes. Generally, for girls this is a leotard with either tights or shorts.  For boys, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt or tank top is preferred.  If the articles of clothing are not skin tone, pay attention to what can be worn under the costume.  If you have a lightweight white costume, do not wear a black shirt or dark purple shorts.  Your clothing should either be skin tone, white or black depending on what will work with your costume.  You need to wear clothing that will allow for quick changes during productions.  Shoes must be appropriate for the costume; for most, character shoes work.
  • You may need to purchase items for your character’s costume. Usually these are small items such as socks or gloves.  You will be notified well in advanced.  These items need to be purchased before the dress rehearsals.
  • Pay attention to hygiene. Even if you do not normally wear deodorant, wear it before all dress rehearsals and performances.  Brush your teeth-you will be meeting with your audience after wards.
  • Do not put your costume on any earlier than two hours before the show. If there are multiple shows that day and you are wearing the same costumes, take them off between the shows and put them in your bin.  Between shows, we usually eat or snack and you do not want to mess up the costume.  If you must have a snack or drink (other than water), cover the costume with the large button-up shirt.  You must provide the large button-up shirt; keep it in your bin.
  • Food is never allowed on stage, back stage or in the green room. Only water is allowed and it must be in a container that prevents spills, not an open cup.  Red or purple drinks are strongly discouraged during dress rehearsals or shows due to their amazing ability to stain anything on contact.  Just leave them at home.  Foods that are sticky are also discouraged.  This includes candy, honey, caramel, oranges, etc.
  • Be courteous. If someone can’t find something, needs help with their hair, needs a zipper pulled, help out.  If you need help, don’t panic.  There are usually about 40 kids and at least 10 adults who can help.
  • If there is a problem with your costume, ask Miss Tori for help. Do not wait until 5 minutes before you need to go on the stage to discover there is a problem.  You should be wearing your costume no later than 30 minutes before curtain.  That leaves plenty of time to fix any emergencies.
  • Go to the bathroom before getting into your costume. Even if you think you don’t have to go-you do.  Just trust me on this one.

Finally….these costumes consist of many hours of planning, designing, and sewing.  Many of them are handmade, sewn in by volunteers during free time after working a “regular” job.  Please take care of them.



Supplies in Unusual Places

I admit it…most of our supplies are not acquired in the traditional methods.  Usually, when people think of costumes or clothing, they think of fabric.  Which leads them to the fabric store.  I only go to the fabric store if I need specialty fabric, like glitter satin for fairies or fur for a wolf.  If I need plain old black fabric for peasant pants or red fabric for pirates, I head to any close second hand store.  I visit Goodwill or Savers at least twice a month to purchase patterns, lace and trim and fabric.

Keep in mind, this fabric is cleverly disguised.  Sometimes it is a sheet.  Sometimes a set of drapes.  Sometimes it is a bedspread.  But it is fabric and significantly less than what you would find at a fabric store (unless you happen to have a 50% off coupon).

There are disadvantages and bonuses to using sheets and drapes as fabric.  Let’s cover the bonuses first:

  • Price
  • Extra wide fabric
  • Matching or coordinates
  • Linings
  • Specialty fabrics

Let’s cover price.  For sheets, I pay anywhere between $3.99 and $9.99.  The lower price is usually a twin size sheet, the upper range is a king size set with pillow cases.  A twin size flat sheet is about 66″ x 96″.  I try to buy only flat sheets in the twin size unless the sheet is black, brown, white, navy or red.  Those are colors I try to grab no matter what the size of fabric because they are so versatile.  I can use them to make everything from peasant pants to a Victorian skirt.  A king size, which for a single sheet is usually about $7.99 and only $9.99 for the set, is 108″ x 102″.

That brings us to extra wide fabric.  At the fabric store, there are usually two options: 45″ or 60″.  Yes, some decorator fabrics are wider…have you seen their prices?  Extra wide fabric results in more fabric per yard.  For about the cost of a cheap poly/cotton 45″ wide yard of fabric, I can get 1 5/6 yard of 66″ wide fabric.  Usually in 100% cotton or a decent poly/cotton mix.  Personally, I try to stay with natural fibers as they tend to be easier to care for and cooler to wear.

That’s just the fabric in a single twin sheet.  If I find a set of sheets, a duvet cover or a comforter, then there’s a bonus feature: coordinating fabric.  This means I not only get the original length of fabric, but also a matching coordinating piece. Sometimes there is a bonus: trim or braiding. This is great for creating pants or skirts that match the tops.  When creating a Victorian outfit, I can use one side of the duvet cover for the skirt and the other side for the jacket.  I also have matching fabric for creating trims or contrasting cuffs and collars.

IMAG0216 (1)

Gingham duvet cover

The second layer can also provide a ‘built-in’ lining.  I found a curtain that had a 100% cotton lining.  So, when I cut out the jacket, I also cut out the lining of the jacket.  I paid a single price for both fabrics, which at the fabric store would be two individual cuts.

The outside of the jacket happened to be silk-because that’s what the curtain was made from.  One hundred per cent silk on the outside; one hundred per cent cotton on the lining.  Jackpot!  It’s not often I can afford silk, but I purchased two Ikea curtains, 57″ x 98″ that were a lovely gold silk lined with white cotton.  Silk is not the only pricey fabric I have found.  I have a lovely rose embroidered sheer curtain with a green satin lining that would normally be out of my price range.  It’s just waiting for a costume.

embroidered drape

Rose embroidered sheer curtain

So what are the disadvantages?  Mostly this method of acquiring fabric requires three things: planning, patience, and prep work.  I  ask my director for the plays we are going to do for the next two years.  Well, I try.  Plans change, directors delay…you know the drill.  But when I can get a schedule at least a year out, it allows me to plan.  For instance, I have about half of the fabric required for Mary Poppins and we are at least a year away from production.

That leads into the patience part.  Gathering the fabric for Mary Poppins took at least six months.  That’s six months of going to Goodwill/Savers at least once a month.  And that’s only half of the fabric.  I hope to secure the rest over the next six months.

That leads to prep work. Very rarely will I find a length of fabric that is perfect as is.  It usually needs washing.  If it is a drape or a duvet cover, seams need to be ripped out.  Ironing helps the fabric lie flat during cutting, so I do a lot of ironing.

Orphan Train costume

Silk jacket, cotton blouse, cotton skirt over hoops

But in the end it pays off. It can decrease the required funds for a production by at least half, if not more.  One Victorian dress that I made for “Orphan Train” was only $25 to make.  I found the jacket and shirt pattern online.  The shirt was cut from a white sheet.  The jacket was the gold silk I mentioned early with the built in cotton lining. The skirt was a striped queen size sheet.  We already had the hoop skirt.  Add a $3 dollar pin and a pair of gloves: you have a costume.

So, start planning your shopping trips and visit your local secondhand stores.

Some more examples of tablecloths, curtains, and sheets…

Orphan Train costume

Orphan Train costumes made from curtains and a tablecloth

Orphan Train costumes

Male costume: Purchased shirt, pants made from a linen drape.

Female costume: Pattern up-sized from a 3T used pattern purchased at Savers, along with a green plaid tablecloth and solid green curtain.




Peter Pan costume made from tablecloth and sheet



Peter Pan: The top was created from a linen tablecloth.  The pants were made from a green cotton sheet.  The belt and the leaves were also found at a secondhand store.