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45 hours in the Costume Shop

Thirty-four, thirty-two, thirty-two, twenty-eight, fifty-No. This cannot be true. I run the numbers through my head, pulling the garment from the rack to resize it later.

“I’m almost done with the pants!” I call my supervisor.


At least ten pairs of pants fall to the side, spilling into a pool of tweed and cotton fabrics. The pants lose their respective hangers, the labels falling from their sides. The tags that I was in charge of organizing. Dust rises in my face.

“I laugh.”

My first day at the costume shop was frustrating. A required course for all Theater Arts minors, Theater Production is a class in which students are tasked with working in a specific division of the Mainstage production process behind the scenes. These divisions include Costume Shop, Prop Shop, Run Crew, Scenic Design, etc. Each student is required to work 45 hours throughout the semester in addition to inaugurating two Mainstage productions.

As a fashion lover, I asked to work in the costume shop. Having no sewing experience, but a strong drawing background, I was intrigued to start in the shop. On the first day, I was tasked with finding clothes for specific actors in the clothing room. When I was greeted by a huge room full of various clothes made from a variety of fabrics and materials, I was overwhelmed.

Our costume shop is located in the basement of the historic building The Cathedral of Learning. The cathedral is a maze of classrooms and eerie secret passageways, including the costume shop. When I entered the costume shop, I was greeted by a design and brainstorming room, a laundry room, and ample storage space for theatrical performances. Changing rooms are additionally attached to the vast space if you choose the right door.

This semester, I was tasked with organizing the stock. Brightly colored clothes hang from floor to ceiling in various materials. Tweed, satin, cotton, lace, anything you could imagine. Clear bins labeled with accessories, hats, and underwear line the walls. The room is moldy and damp. It’s a bit dark and there are thin rows to create a real forest of fabrics.

Before this course, I had never known how to sew. I’ve always had an interest in costume design, but never learned how to put clothes together. So far I’ve learned how to use a sewing machine, how to measure, how to create an overlock stitch, and the complex process of bringing your ideas to life. I also had the privilege of meeting design students who work year round creating dresses and developing designs for student performers.

As a performer, you often overlook the hard work that goes into making costumes. There are literal hours spent on the smallest details, and they make the biggest difference. The creative space itself is a marvel, housing a story of spectacle in each individual garment. As I walked through the space, I recognized a piece I was wearing for a show in my freshman year, giving me a vague feeling of deja vu. Each piece has been used to tell a story at one time or another.

The hours I spent in the shop were frustrating, but enlightening. My superiors have given me nothing but patience when I pride myself on learning a new stitch and clear answers when I ask them a billion questions about the puzzle of stock organization.

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about this aspect of theater that is often overlooked. I think theater production should be mandatory for anyone interested in the arts, especially performers.

The costume shop allowed me to develop incredibly useful skills and increased my appreciation for student designers whose work often goes under-recognized. I have never known such patient and kind individuals. Browsing through stock, bleeding from being wrong, and nearly breaking a sewing machine, they were there for me with a patient hand and much-needed advice.

The student designers and costume teachers who work hours and hours to create the intricate pieces worn on stage are truly humble creators who bring art to the theatrical world.