More Than Clothes | The Prompter
The Yale School of Drama/Yale Repertory Theatre costume shop has been hard at work during the fall semester maintaining its immense collection of costumes that has been purchased, donated, or constructed over the course of decades for Yale Rep and School of Drama productions.
“It’s important that the costumes are clean and well maintained,” says Elizabeth Bolster, Lead Wardrobe Supervisor.
As a part of its upkeep, the collection is being reorganized and moved to a new storage facility down the street from the Rep. The move has given the team the chance to reexamine the rare and vintage pieces that have been collected over the years.
The oldest piece in the collection is a women’s coat from 1815. Other notable vintage pieces include furs from the 1840s and day dresses from the 1920s. “Those [vintage] pieces are too fragile to go on stage,” explains Patricia Van Horn, a Senior First Hand in the costume shop, “they are just used for research.”
“There are also a number of items in antique stock of historical note,” shares Clarissa Wylie Youngberg, a Senior Draper. The historic collection includes the kilt, jacket, and accessories that former New York City Mayor John Lindsay (YC ’44, JD ’48) wore to the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
A more recent addition to the historical collection are the complete set of costumes worn by School of Drama alumna Sigourney Weaver (’74) in her 1997 film Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Deborah Bloch, a Senior First Hand, recounted how she restored the intricate lace sleeves on one of Weaver’s dresses based on images she studied from the film. “I call it costume forensics,” she said.
The Yale Rep costume stock also includes a vast collection of accessories, including eyeglasses, pocket watches, and all types of jewelry. The team recently completed cataloging and photographing every accessory in the collection. While this work may seem tedious, “everything we do will make the [costume] designers’ job easier,” Costume Shop Manager Christine Szczepanski explains.
Another collection that the team has tamed is the costume shop’s massive stock of buttons. Using more than 900 custom-designed, laser-printed boxes, Szczepanski and her team have managed to sort every button by color. “You’d think sorting buttons would be boring, but we’ve had a great time,” says Szczepanski.
Using the time that would otherwise have been devoted to production this fall for work like this has been invaluable. “We never get to these kinds of projects in a normal year,” explains Mary Zihal, a Senior Draper, “but now, we are able to do what we’ve always wanted to do.”
Completing these projects now will serve the costume team well once production resumes, allowing the team to focus on getting a play “off the page and onto the stage…however that needs to be done,” says Costume Project Coordinator Linda Kelley-Dodd.
But above all, the team says that going through the costume stock has been a nostalgic experience. “Some pieces remind you of the famous people [we’ve worked with], or people we were fond of,” says Bloch.
After all, as she so nicely put it, “they’re more than just clothes. For us, they are memories.”