I'm an adult who never outgrew the dress-up box. But where does cutting-edge fashion come from, if not playful experiments? Hoping an actual costume closet would yield wackier finds than my thrift-store runs, I headed up the hill.
At 12:02, the interior of Royall Tyler's thrust-stage theater already resembled a festive zoo. Dozens of folks flipped through clothes suspended backstage from four temporarily lowered 40-foot bars. In front, rolling racks held winter coats, military dress-jackets, period outfits, and show-specific attire from Alice in Wonderland and Romeo and Juliet. (For $300 and $400, respectively, a thrifty costume director could fully outfit one of those plays.)
Kids darted between tables holding faux Greek helmets and armor, alien heads, colonial wigs and a huge pile of hats. Jamba's Junktiques proprietor Phinn Sonin passed bearing 50 pounds of fabric, a wild gleam in his eye. An ecstatic-looking 5-year-old girl tried on a blue-winged fairy outfit. Two twentysomething dudes explained their Renaissance-cloak and rabbit-ear getups: "This is just for fun."
Most items ranged from $5 to $10, but clothes with lots of fabric, complicated construction or a vintage pedigree ran $20 to $30. Smaller props were cheaper: $1 could buy you a king's crown, or a pair of socks painted as pig's feet.
UVM costume-shop supervisor Alan Mosser, sporting an elaborate headdress composed of four Stars-and-Stripes pinwheels, confirmed that 20 years had passed since the drama department's last purge: "We were crowded for space." Over those decades, the department's in-house costume studio - run by professors and staff, and powered by student seamsters - produced many of the items now up for grabs.
Tags on some of the clothing showed that personal touch. Zigzag-stitch cursive adorned a mustard-colored dress-and-jacket combo: "Handmade especially for you by Mac." A gray tweed coat with black leather trim urged, "Remember Kira Atwood."
I failed to unearth any relics of the UVM production of As You Like It that I saw at age 14 - my first live Shakespeare. But two hours later, I trudged home with my haul: a 1950s-style tailored navy wool sleeveless dress and an Italian skirt suit made of red pinstriped silk. Total expense? Ten bucks. Not bad for a lesson in how clothes make, and re-make, memories.
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