Dressing It Up

Alice JoyceImage via Wikipedia

A customer recently told me that they would love to perform a 1920s murder mystery but that they just couldn’t afford to hire period costumes. Thankfully they found another of our plays that fitted their cast but it got me thinking.

Our plays are written to be low cost productions and profitable events. Sets can be kept to a minimum with black curtains as a backdrop and we do our best to ensure that we write in props that are easily and cheaply available.

When it comes to costumes, an era can usually be hinted at by the use of certain shapes and details. For the 1960s, it could be mini skirts, Mary Quant bobs or geometric prints. A 1920s look could feature low waisted dresses and cloche hats.There are many vintage websites and publications that can give you pointers to the shapes and styles of different decades.

Fashions come around again and again. If we aren’t revisiting the 1970s, then Victoriana is making an appearance. Ask your actors to search through their wardrobes for items of clothing that could be used. What they should be looking for are clothes that are either (a) sufficiently classic that they don’t lend themselves to a specific era, or (b) just the right shape for a 1920s flapper girl or a second world war bank manager. Obviously vintage items would be ideal but we’re not all that lucky.

Alternatively, if your group has an existing wardrobe of costumes from past productions, there may be items there that you can use. Most am dram groups have a whole host of pantomime costumes, for instance, which usually include the basic white blouse and coloured A-line skirt worn by chorus members. Is there anything that could be altered to suit?

Finally, if you really have to spend some money, then charity shops can be a haven for vintage look clothing or even just items that can be altered.

It really doesn’t have to cost a fortune to dress your cast for a murder mystery. Don’t be held back by having the exact look when a gesture to the period you’re playing will serve just as well.

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