Costumes play an integral role in the success of a production. That said, costume teams often spend a lot of time and money to make sure they are perfect. However, not all productions have a lot of money to spare, and costumes aren’t the only things eating up the budget.
With this in mind, we’ve come up with a few strategies that can help theater production teams save money on costumes, but without compromising the quality of the play as a whole.
1. Ask actors to use their own clothes
Many theater actors already have basic clothes that can be used for costumes, so it only makes sense to communicate their costume needs with them. Hold a meeting and ask the cast if they have the pieces you need for their costumes. Unless the play entails very intricate pieces, your actors will likely have them in their closets.
Aside from saving money, having actors use their own clothes can save time since these clothes already fit them and thus will need little to no alterations.
2. Look for bargains
Thrift stores can be goldmines for costume designers as they can house unique pieces at very low prices. You can also opt for online stores that sell used clothing to find affordable pieces. Alternatively, you can shop at affordable online retailers, even though they use high-end, professional photo retouching services to ensure their photos are perfect, most reputable shops will provide you with items that look exactly the same in photos and in real life.
If you’ve looked everywhere but still can’t find what you need, you can choose to rent entire costumes or individual costume pieces from other theaters or costume shops. In this way, you won’t have to spend as much money as actually buying the costume. And if the production is only going to use it a few times, it makes much more sense to rent.
Moreover, if you are pressed for time and can’t spend hours browsing thrift shops and online stores, renting at a specialty shop is the best way to go.
4. Ask for donations
Your cast and crew may have extra pieces of fabric, sewing materials, patterns, or entire costume pieces that they would like to donate to the costume team–and the only way to find out is to ask! They may also be willing to donate their time in creating costumes. Even if there are only a few people working on the costumes, there may be other talented tailors on the staff that are happy to help out.
5. Shop after Halloween
If the production is going to run after Halloween, another good way to save money on costumes is to buy them after October 31st when stores sell them at a fraction of their original prices. Even if the play is not going to start until a few months after the fall, it’s a wise move to start shopping right after Halloween is over as these items will likely be packed up again shortly after the spooky season.
6. Make utmost preparations
Costume teams that are strapped for cash often have no room for error. This means that you probably won’t get to experiment much or afford to make mistakes. Hence, it is always a good idea to do extensive research about the costumes you’re making. If you are making period costumes, for example, check out historical exhibitions to see how they should look in real life. Moreover, be sure to measure your actors accurately to ensure that their costumes fit perfectly and you don’t have to waste resources by altering them.
It may also be a good idea to practice on cheap or used fabric. Although this strategy may not give you a good idea of how the final product will look, at least you can get to experiment with various patterns and sewing techniques before using actual material.
7. Form good relationships with your network
Building a good network within the theater community is one of the best ways to save money on costumes, among many other advantages. You can use your network to find the pieces you’re looking for, especially for very specific ones. Other theater troupes may be willing to let you rent their costumes or borrow them for free. In return, you can also offer your own troupe’s costumes to form a mutually beneficial relationship.
Costumes can be pretty expensive, especially if they are elaborate. Nevertheless, there are plenty of ways you can work with a limited budget and even save money for your production team, starting with the ones mentioned above.