July 8, 2011

Thin Ice Theater's Costume Collection

This is long.  Make a cup of tea, and sit back and relax for a while.

A few years ago, Thin Ice Theater inherited a humongous set of costumes from another community/youth theater.  The word "humongous" is not used lightly.  It is stored in three houses in over 50 large storage bins and several closets.  It includes not only the clothing, but a huge box of trims and another of feathers, quite a few prop items, and a crate of period patterns.  We are forever grateful to the woman who built the collection over 25 years of theater work, and to her husband, who searched for someone to take it all and love it for her after she passed away.  We do love it.

When we were invited to come see if we wanted the costumes, a few of us went, thinking we'd pick a few interesting things.  I wish someone had taken a picture of our faces when we walked into the basement there, and saw the extent and the quality of the Stuff.  And then, we found out there was just as much in the garage, too!

We got everyone possible to caravan back up there with vans and cars, and trucked the whole kit and kaboodle down to a rented storage compartment.  Then, we spent many, many hours sorting and inventorying everything - like days and days and days worth of opening birthday presents.  And then, I entered the info into a data base.

We have since added quite a few things, as each play has its own needs.  But the collection is always a marvelous base of pieces to use as is, restructure, and re-embellish.  Generally, well over half of what we use in any play comes from the Lake Forest Collection, as we like to call it (Lake Forest being the suburb where our wonderful donor lived).

How do we manage all these costume pieces?  See a bit about our storage and inventory set-up here.

Here are some costumes built entirely or almost entirely with items from the Lake Forest Collection:

Diary of Anne Frank - A lovely yellow gingham wrap-around dress, that needed cleaning, repair, and major alteration.  The Collection has a nearly unending number of ladies' hats.

Diary of Anne Frank - This started out as a hospital smock, was shortened, buttons were added, and it ended up as Mr. Dussel's dentist smock.

Charlotte's Web - This is one of four 1960s maternity blouses.  We added the band at the bottom and a narrow belt, plus a flowery hat, and this 6-year-old became a lady wearing her best outfit to the county fair.

Charlotte's Web - Mob cap plus ears, gauze tunic and harem pants, and the pinafore from a pinafore/dress set became the lamb at Zuckerman's farm.

Charlotte's Web - All we needed to add to create Mrs. Zuckerman's outfit was the belt.  The dress was altered by raising the waist with a large tuck, plus other cinching in and adjusting.  We do our alterations without cutting as much as possible, so we can re-alter for the next actor.

Charlotte's Web - The pants are actually knickers, but the actor here is 7, so they became baggy pants for Uncle, the huge pig.

The Man Who Came to Dinner - Here's Beverly, very suave (my absolutely favorite character in the play).  The cape is velvet, satin-lined.

The Man Who Came to Dinner - Black velvet dress and hat.  We added green trim and accessories to liven it up for Mrs. Dexter.

The Man Who Came to Dinner - White piqué blouse, wine velvet jacket, and black velvet pencil skirt, for the daughter, June Stanley.  And even better, the black and red shoes actually fit her - how cool is that!

The Man Who Came to Dinner - Here's Mrs. Stanley in a lovely brocade satin dress.

The Man Who Came to Dinner - The Stanley's maid, Sarah.  There were several maid dresses in the boxes.  Several had green sequin trim, originally used in the Emerald City of Oz.  They were too short for a proper 1940s maid though.  So we used two dresses, cut the bottom from one skirt and added it to the other.  White lace was added to hide the seam, and also replaced the sequins.

The Man Who Came to Dinner - The Collection has many men's suits, coats, fedoras, ties, and shirts.  Here is Sheridan Whiteside.

As You Like It - Our "As You Like It" was costumed in 1950s styles.  Here is Touchstone, looking like the clown he is, in a 1950s sort of way.

As You Like It - Here is Audrey, circle skirt and little white blouse.  The saddle shoes are Annie's.

As You Like It - Rosalind's lacy wedding dress.

As You Like It - Celia's act 1 dress, in her father's mansion.  This is a lovely, two-piece outfit, jacket over a sleeveless dress.  Pretty much everything takes a bit or a lot of altering.  But as I remember, this dress fit "like it was made for her".

Much Ado About Nothing - The Collection has a set of red-lined, black capes, that we figure were originally used in "Guys and Dolls" for the Salvation Army characters.  (We have Salvation Army bonnets, too.  That's the big clue.)  We used them for the soldiers, and were more easily able to dress them all alike.  We had a few tunics, and made a few more, plus the sashes.  The sash fabric was a bedspread bought resale.

Much Ado About Nothing - We even have a few monk's robes.  Here is Friar Francis.  This was huge.  About a mile of extra fabric had to be chunked out of the sides and underarms.  This is one time we happily cut away the extra fabric.  Most of our actors are young and small, plus there are still two huge robes left.

Much Ado About Nothing - Here is Leonato.  The robe was probably purchased at a used costume sale at either the Lyric Opera or the Goodman Theater.  The sash looks like it came from a window treatment.  The beret is velvet.  We added the trim.  And put it over a chemise.

Much Ado About Nothing - Here is Margaret in a white chemise under a maroon dress, with a fancy belt.

Much Ado About Nothing - For Dogberry and his crew, we combined tunics (some of which had to be shortened), belts, capelets with attached huge hoods, and stocking caps that we have dubbed "smurf hats".  This is Verges.

Our Town - Here is George.  We turned the collar inside to leave just the band showing.  The Collection includes slacks like these, newsboy caps, and suspenders.

Our Town - Emily's wedding dress needed cleaning and alteration.  There are a couple of veils in the Collection, but we used this one that belongs to one of us, because it was so pretty.

Our Town - Mrs. Soames, dressed to attend Emily and George's wedding.  The cape actually belongs to another outfit.  The dress is not at all the right style for the era, but the cape disguises the bodice, and we added the bands at the bottom to make a calf-length dress reach the floor.

Our Town - Sam Craig, looking very dapper.

Our Town - One of the dead, who welcomes Emily to the cemetery.  This lady lived in colonial times, one of the early settlers at Grover's Corners.

Servant of Two Masters - Here's Pantalone.  The vest just needed a new lacing cord.  The knickers are the ones you saw earlier in this post, on Uncle the pig in "Charlotte's Web".

Servant of Two Masters - Clarice.  We chose this dress for her because it was a hodge-podge of decorations, striped band at the hem, purple fringe, and all.  We added the satin flowers at the front hem, and put it over hoops.  The dress is marked "Goodman Theater" inside.

Servant of Two Masters - Here is Beatrice, disguised as Federigo.  We had to shorten the green vest a lot, and adjust the knickers.  The gold sash has glued on multi-colored jewels on the ends, but we tied it so those didn't show.  Love the huge hat.

Taming of the Shrew - Here are two of Petruchio's servants.

Taming of the Shrew - Here is Biondello.  The shoulders of the tunic had to be made much narrower.  The hat is a very heavy felt.  After this photo was taken, we cut the brim back a bit so it didn't shade his face so much.

Taming of the Shrew - Here are Lucentio and his servant Tranio.  We added a skirt and shoulder rolls to a shirt to make Lucentio's tunic, and replaced the white fabric and ribbon V front because the fabric was stained and disintegrating.  The cape needed nearly constant repair; the fabric, a raspberry velvet, is very old and fragile.  Tranio's tunic is leather.  The hat is really a woman's hat with an elastic ski ear warmer added to the base.  We used it previously, without the ear warmer, as Nurse Preen's hat in "The Man Who Came to Dinner".  I made the wineskin with fake leather left over from recovering my dining room chairs.

Taming of the Shrew - Gremio, Hortensio, the merchant, and several other characters wore outfits purchased at Lyric Opera sales.  They really made the play look fantastic.  They required much mending and new elastic for all the legs.  Of course.  The opera wouldn't have been selling them if they were still in fine shape.  Mina did most of that work.

For all these guys, we used the plainest shoes we had, and added clip-on froo-froos to hide the modern-looking laces and simultaneously add a little flair.  And we put them all in tights.  You can imagine how pleased they were with that!

We stitched a grey wig to Gremio's beret.

Hortensio's hat was a winter hat donated by Eileen.  We added the jewel.  We did not add this hair.  It is attached to the actor.

The merchant's cape had an unappealing, plain elastic neck.  We covered it with another of the hooded capelets (like the one worn by Verges, seen above).  We used a Pilgrim style hat, took off the little silver buckle and added a red band.

Taming of the Shrew - Here is Bianca in her wedding outfit.  The dress started out as a sleeveless prom dress with lace ruffles and a huge bow at the back.  I took off the bow, spun the skirt around, which necessitated re-setting the side zipper, added an overskirt made from old, sheer café curtains, and added pouf sleeves made with ribbon over elastic.  The cathedral hat was built by Annie from a pattern.

That's the end of the history "lesson".  New plays will be happening in the fall.

All the costumes from all the plays can be seen at http://www.annquilts.com/costumes.html and at http://thinicetheater.com/past-shows

If you like, you can entertain yourself by tracking some of the costume pieces from show to show.  It's a mix and match kind of thing.  The tailor in Shrew wears that big blue hat.  Truffaldino in Servant wears Tranio's leather tunic.  Gremio in Shrew wears one of the Salvation Army capes.  The maid in Hands Across the Sea wears the same maid outfit.  Celia wears Mrs. Zuckerman's plaid dress when she is fleeing to the forest in As You Like It.  And so on.  And on.


  1. Really enjoyed pouring over this post and oohing and aahing over the delightful costumes. How about adding a link to Thin Ice Theater's website in case folks are interested in the productions?

  2. http://thinicetheater.com/