Blog: Wardrobe Secrets

[992 words | 5 minute read]

By Lily Peers-Dent | Development Team

Theatr Clwyd is Wales’ largest producing theatre, with all of our making departments in house. One such department is Wardrobe who make costumes for all our shows including the fantastical and over-the-top dresses worn by the dame in our Rock n’ Roll Pantos. With an exciting opportunity for you to get your hands on some of these costumes coming up (click the link here to take a look at what’s on offer!) we thought we could share some insider secrets about the steps that go into making our amazing costumes. Keep reading until the end for Wardrobe’s biggest secret!

Step one: Designing

The first step to making any costume is to know what the vision is. The designer for the show (who designs both set and costumes) will draw what they want the costume to look like and pass it on to our wardrobe team who can start planning on how to bring it to life. They need to buy fabric, buttons and maybe a sequin or two – and our Wardrobe team will always first try to source from previous costumes to recycle and reuse where possible. During this stage they also get the measurements of the actor who will be wearing the costume so it can be factored into the planning.

Designs by Adrian Gee for Sleeping Beauty (2023)

Step two: Planning

It is the job of the Cutters to figure out how the costume will actually go together. How can they take flat fabric and transform it into something an actor can wear? The answer is to create a pattern which when all sewn together creates the garment. But this is a lot harder than it sounds and each piece must be measured carefully to make sure that it all comes together correctly.

Alison Hartnell, Cutter, assembling a dress for Sleeping Beauty (2023)

Step three: Making

The next job is for the Wardrobe Technicians who sew all the pieces together! This sometimes takes a long time as costumes can have lots of pieces, just like a jigsaw. Fabrics all require different techniques, and some are harder to work with than others for example stretchy fabric moves and changes as it is sewn so needs a steady hand. Then it’s time for the first fitting in which practicalities are discussed regarding what the actor will do on stage while wearing the costume. How can the actor do a somersault in this without ripping it? Can the actor fit a saucepan in the back pocket? Where can the actor put their microphone in between their power ballads? These questions, and many more, are what Wardrobe then have to puzzle over.

Step four: Altering

Sometimes at this stage the costume can then be finished but most of the time lots of little things need to be altered. Occasionally, the costume needs to be completely taken apart and put back together! This then requires more fittings with the actor and so the process repeats. The costumes that tend to have the most alterations are our dame dresses because they are often so complicated, intricate, and over-the-top. They can be hard to wear and move about in especially if our dame is flying across the stage on a scooter or swinging a saxophone around.

Step five: Wearing

Finally, the costume is ready to be worn on stage, but this isn’t the end of the story. During the show Dressers have to be ready to mend any tears or fastenings that fail. Safety pins or swift sewing skills must be used to repair in the moment because, you know what they say, the show must go on! However, the next day will be spent removing the makeshift repair job to carefully and precisely restore the costume to its original state. Then it’s fingers crossed it doesn’t rip the next night – but if it does, it’s definitely in the right place!

Once the show is over, the costumes will go into storage and saved until they can be used again OR they are auctioned off to our lovely audiences which is exactly what is happening with our BIG WARDROBE CLEAR-OUT! This is your chance to own one of the amazing, hand-made costumes which have been worn in Theatr Clwyd past productions. Follow this link to see what costumes are up for grabs.

Sleeping Beauty (2023)

Credit: Andrew AB

And finally…

Wardrobe’s Biggest Secret

Sweat! (And Vodka! Which is used as a sort of non-chemical Febreze that doesn’t leave any residue!) This is a major factor when creating a costume that is going to be worn every night for the run of a show by a hardworking actor who, especially in Panto, is often sweating buckets. Due to our costumes being handmade, they are often too delicate to be thrown in a washing machine over and over again. So how do we keep them smelling and looking good? Actors will wear extra layers underneath their costume to absorb all their sweat and protect the costumes. Granted this does make them hotter and sweat more but at least the costumes remain looking fab for our audiences. These items are the ones which are then washed leaving the main costume in almost perfect condition. Another trick that Wardrobe use is putting removable dress shields into the armpits.

The Wardrobe team work so hard to make sure the actors starring in our world-class theatre look good (or bad in some cases) and we are so proud of the costumes that grace our stages. Our major capital redevelopment will help improve the facilities for our Wardrobe team as well as our other making departments. This includes a scenic construction workshop, a brand new space which will significantly impact our making teams and skilled craftspeople which will be open to all via the public viewing gallery. If you would like to learn more about the build you can read our previous blog post and if you would like to support the project you can click here.