Aisles and aisles of clothing, walls and walls of fabric, closets and crates of odds and ends. This is DePaul’s hidden treasure – the Costume Shop.
Inside the Theatre School on the Lincoln Park campus, the Costume Shop, a place that is almost a secret to most students, is an excellent find.
Walking into the Costume Shop you will find many students, student workers and faculty at work mastering and practicing their craft of sewing and making clothes for the school’s theater productions.
Everything that is in the Costume Shop has either been thrifted, made or bought and remade by the people who have spent time there. The collection of clothing has built up over the years and has become an excellent closet and source for clothing from all decades.
“We don’t build as little as we can because we don’t like to do it, we enjoy the work,” said Costume Shop Manager Myron Elliott.
At the beginning of a production, the Costume Shop team lays out all of the sketches and separates them into piles: things they have in costume storage or things that they can rent. The team will then decide what they need to make. They start a process of pulling materials for the costumes and the creating begins.
“We buy what we can and we make what we can’t because if we make what we can buy, we are kind of spinning our wheels,” said Elliott.
They like to “beg, borrow and steal what they can so that leaves them the time and resources to make more of the showier costumes,” said Elliott.
From start to finish, the seamsters and seamstresses only get about four to six weeks to put together all of the costumes for a production. Workers in the shop will put together a “fake version” of an outfit as a test fit with cheaper fabric and, after the first fitting, will jump right into making the final product.
Coming into the Costume Shop, students and student workers are assigned one production for the whole quarter.
Student worker and Costume Shop employee Elise Petrucci is also a costume tech student. Costume tech students are stitchers, first hands or draper cutters.
“Typically if you are a draper/cutter you will have one or two major projects on a production,” said Petrucci. “I am currently making an 18th century men’s suit for our upcoming production ‘The Rivals.’”
As a Costume Shop employee, Petrucci manages the costume storage area where they organize and maintain all costume stock. “We also pull costumes for the Theatre School’s studio productions, which are performed in the school’s studio spaces,” said Petrucci.
Costume storage is the giant multi-aisled closet where all the made, bought, borrowed or thrifted clothing is kept. Everything is organized and has its own designated place.
“People always know where to find something and everything seems to work pretty well,” said Elliott.
Men’s clothing is stocked by size and women’s clothing is organized by period. Many gray boxes line the front of aisles. This is where pieces are kept for reference. They may be donation or vintage pieces that cannot be worn but are often looked at.
When the Theatre School moves to the new building in 2013, all of the items will be transported on rolling racks and kept as orderly as possible. The new costume storage area will be much bigger and will be reorganized to keep things together and make them easier to find.
The new Costume Shop will be much larger and will “allow for teachers and students to coexist happily,” said Elliott.
“Costume karma” is also something that Elliott believes leads to happy and well-functioning theater schools.
“If someone else did the show last month that you’re doing this month and they have exactly what you want sitting in their stock, they will usually rent or loan it to you,” said Elliott. “It’s all about being resourceful.”
If the shop is not going to make a particular piece, networking and keeping in touch with people from old schools and jobs helps because you can ask around to find sources for certain costumes.
“Many schools make good business in renting out their stock, especially the ones with good reputations because you know they won’t send something not up to par,” said Elliott.
Unfortunately for DePaul students, you cannot just walk into the shop like any other store. The clothing gets raked through yearly and a small sale happens, but on a normal day the antique and hand-crafted items are not for sale.
“I’m sure the students would love if they could buy things, but quite frankly it would deplete us of our best stuff,” said Elliott.
While the Costume Shop seems like it is lots of fun and games, the opportunity for growth and learning is huge.
“We have this awesome opportunity to put on a show that we get to create from just a script and we build it together with the Costume Shop and they help us create that vision by making our garments,” said costume design student Holly Haupeot.
“It is great collaborating with other designers and a great place to learn sewing techniques,” she said.
With the way that the Costume Shop operates, many of the students get to really experience what it is like to design and create clothing for a big production.
“I can bring students into more of a real life application and give more of an industry perspective,” said Elliott. “They really get to put their hand in there and do stuff, which makes for a very professional level of training.”
As a student worker, Pertucci gets to work with and create costumes. “Being a student in the shop is great because I come in to work and when I leave, I’ve physically created something that I can be proud of.”
DePaul’s best-kept secret will continue to build their closet as they build productions and teach students the theater way of life.
“You come in everyday and chip away at a project and within a few weeks it appears on stage and becomes a part of something so much bigger,” said Pertucci. “In the end, I think what we create within the shop and the rest of the Theatre School departments is pretty special.”