Costuming a show set in a certain period can be a challenge. Far distant periods are easy, you know you need to build most everything. And lately the pattern companies have responded to the fact that there are many re-enactors, Renaissance fairs, and adults who like to go to costume events. So, they have produced a LOT of really great patterns, including many with exquisite details, such as Civil War costumes.
The director of Midsummer Night's Dream has decided to set the show in the '50's-60's. "That's the 1950's, not 1750's! (to quote the artistic director Sam Hack when he spoke of this upcoming production). This time period suggests so many iconic images from TV and Hollywood, and we are going to try to recreate that look!
So, finding stuff that fits that period, that has the right cut, fabric selection, "reads" as true to the period is the challenge. I used my husband's high school year book to help me in this study. He graduated in the late '50's from an all-male school where everyone was cool!
The men wore: khaki pants (I remember most had a little fake back belt on them); narrow ties, narrow lapels; pleated fronts; cuffs, and BIG HAIR! Product was king back then, not the nice moussy stuff they use now, but BRILLCREAM (" A little dab will do-ya!") A greasy messy goo, that could be restyled during the day, and "Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb" was a song of the day, because you always needed your comb in your back pocket to restyle if the wind blew your pompador out of shape! Combs and mirrors, a must for guys in the '50's. I hope the props lady knows that she needs to provide a bunch of combs for these guys!
The women wore: poodle skirts! No, not everyone wore one of those! White blouses, a small scarf tied at the neck (when dating, this came in handy to cover the neck hickeys!); twin set sweaters; saddle oxfords; fake collars on sweaters (here's where my high school yearbook comes in handy, because that is what we were commanded to wear for our senior pictures); June Cleaver dresses; pearls!
We can fake the women's wear, because much ready-made stuff can be found that looks like the 50's, or it can be easily built. The men pose a different problem.
During my first thrift store forage for costume pieces, I found a perfect fitting jacket for one of my leading men, good color, found matching pants, it fit him well. It featured narrow lapels, 2 buttons, things that were found in that period of jackets. But there was something not quite right about it, and Scott, the director, figured it out--it had shoulder pads that were too massive. The cool guys of the 50's were more natural in the shoulder area.
So back to the drawing boards. Something compelled me to check my favorite (or equally favorite) thrift store in my neighborhood. There, hanging on the end of the rack, like it was put there by some higher authority, hung the perfect jacket. It's sleasy looking "lounge lizard" fabric drew me to it immediately. The cut was perfect, narrow lapels, ONE BUTTON (even better than 2 button!) It looked like it would fit.
Men's clothing is often not marked with size. If you do find a size label, it is usually buried in the inside pocket, many times washed out so badly you can't read it. So, while I was fishing around looking for the size tag, I spotted something. It was a label stating that this jacket was hand tailored for Mr. Morris on May 11, 1959! No wonder it looked period! It was made in that period! The gods of costuming certainly smiled on me yesterday! Next issue was, would it fit him? As I worked my way down the rack, I found another one, made for this same gentleman, same date, a little different cut. Not quite as perfect as the first one, but for $3.99, I took it also!
Took it to the theatre last night, and the gods continued to smile, because it fit my leading man perfectly, read like a 1950's TV show, and made the director smile (something that is becoming increasingly difficult for him to muster up lately as panic sets in!) I knelt and did a little "thank you" prayer for this one victory! I know now that my God is on my side for this costume venture--He had to guide me to that place and that time to find this perfect jacket. Not just generic gods or fates were invovled in this one, but the one true God, who is looking down and smiling on all of us! He's not just there for the big stuff, but He helps with the little stuff also!
Thank you, God!
On to the next costuming challenge, finding a royal blue, sleazy jacket or suit for the King of the Fairies, can I get that lucky to find something like that in ready made? We'll see, updates tomorrow!