A deep dive into Shorewood’s secret costume vault

by Darby O'Neill, Assistant Art Director

“Wait, we have a costume room?”

 

It’s a statement I’ve heard many times in response to mentioning its existence in passing. That’s right, soak it in, give yourself the time to process the knowledge of what’s been kept from you. Now that you, dear reader, are aware of its presence, allow me to take you on a journey of the costume room; its beginnings, its contents, and exactly what it takes to put on a show here at Shorewood.  

 

 

The colorful tie wall organized by volunteers in 2020.

The costume room, dubbed by theater kids as the ‘Costume Vault,’ has been in use ever since Shorewood’s remodel in 2013, although the building in which it is located has been standing since 1975. Shorewood and Shorecrest have a reciprocal policy, meaning the departments can borrow clothing from the other completely free of charge. The vault’s contents are organized by both era and type of clothing- including aisles of suits, dresses, and buckets full of shoes, wigs, and other accessories. Volunteers last year helped tidy up and even put together a wall of ties.

 

 

Shoreline Deputy City Clerk Allison Taylor found her way into costuming through a high school show her husband was directing roughly 25 years ago. Learning on the job, Taylor has been working as Shorewood’s costumer for the last seven years. She had already been acquainted with the former drama director, Zach Gill, when he asked her for help in 2016. “I think [Gill] thought he was just having students do costuming, so we did a little bit of rescuing for that show last minute,” Taylor explained. “The first big show I did with him was Grease, and I just kept coming back for more!”

 

A box of glistening garments from “Grease.”

Throughout the vault’s presence in Shorewood’s history, it has seen a myriad of random donations come in and out of its doors, prompting the task of deciding what to keep and turn away. Because matching pieces present many benefits in productions with large ensembles, the vault is home to many identical sets- such as Japanese opera garments, shelves upon shelves of petticoats, and a collection of odd pink and purple capes, which Taylor mused would make great if Shorewood were to do a show like “Seussical.” Also among these sets were the plethora of messenger bags used for the 2019 production of Newsies- which have since been rented out twice and have already paid themselves off.

 

This dress and note were left in front of Shorewood as a donation. The note reads: “This dress was worn by Kendra Jones to her Senior Prom at George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado in June 1961. The dress was purchased through Seventeen Magazine. I was a modern dancer who performed in talent shows and on national television in the 1950’s. I loved the stage. May this dress bring a spark to your performance, Kendra Ruth.”

 

When executing a show, Taylor’s work is split between the very different skill sets of costume designing and costume building.

 

“Most of my work is alterations of pieces that already exist, or shopping for new stuff and then embellishing it,” said Taylor. “The hard part is, it’s so compressed. When I know what the show is, I can start pulling stuff, but I don’t know who the actors are going to be,” Taylor noted. “To costume a regular play, I’d say takes around 80 to 100 hours. And for a musical it’s around 200, not including the laundry time,” she said, explaining that she realistically spends more time on the shows than even the actors.

 

Shorewood typically casts up to 60 students in their annual musical, roughly double of what most public high schools typically shoot for. With this extra challenge, Taylor is determined to make every actor feel important under her supervision. “Everybody who is an actor is to be costumed appropriately,” she stated.

 

Another huge issue when costuming a show was brought up- referred to as ‘the stink factor.’ “You can skip cleaning a lot when it comes to a play, but when there’s dancing…” Taylor trailed off. She then dissected the quick and easy spray made up of rubbing alcohol and water when there’s no time to fully launder a garment. “The average show consists of 14 to 17 loads of laundry, and I iron anything that needs ironing,” said Taylor. A while back, technical complications arose with the school’s laundry machine located in the athletic wing; already the most inconvenient path possible to carry heaps of clothes.

 

A rack full of Elle Woods’ Harvard-ready wardrobe.

Last March, days before Shorewood shut down due to COVID-19, the drama team was set to run its first dress rehearsal of “Legally Blonde.” Racks of costumes currently lie untouched, ready to go, and frozen in time. Among these included cheerleading outfits, graduation gowns, and even the retired Shorewood band uniforms. “Everybody’s always so shocked we have them,” Taylor added. 

 

 

An array of to-do lists for “Legally Blonde”’s costume team.

Among the many divisions of the Tech Crew for a production are students responsible for costuming. For “Legally Blonde,” costumers’ work and planning was cut off short. “We all had our to-do lists; size charts and information about each actor,” Taylor said. “They were our tracking mechanism of what the actors wear and when they wear it.”

 

 

Looking towards the future, the fate of the “Legally Blonde” costume stash has yet to be decided. Rumors of donating the clothes, auctioning them to the cast, and holding onto them for future use are still on the table. Moving forward, Taylor mentioned that she’s sorting out the best plan to sort, clean, and get the vault back in order for Shorewood Drama’s nearing return. 

 

Interested in finding ways to help out? Contact Allison Taylor at shorewoodcostumes@gmail.com to learn more.