"The lion, the witch and the theater department's wardrobe"

A peek inside the Drama Department's time capsule of clothes


A warrior steps into the spotlight, preparing for battle in his heavy leather chest piece. The hat he wears is comical: a big pom-pom sits on top, and the primary colors juxtapose the plain chestnut armor. A sequined robe drapes his shoulders and glittering wings adorn his back, giving the warrior an appearance of magic and mystery.

He is set to go into battle, but not on a field. This warrior is about to hit the stage, outfitted with a costume from UB’s drama department’s extensive costume closet.

Hundreds of pressed white shirts line the farthest aisle from the door. Dresses in every color and design can be found scattered throughout the racks, varying in size, length and style for every occasion. From baseball caps to top hats, the endless supply of headgear is displayed on the back wall, labeled for clarity.

None of the clothes in this warehouse are for sale or rent. All of them are part of the theater department costume shop, where costumes from all shows performed at the school are stored.

The theater department has a wardrobe the size of a warehouse. Anything from Trojan warrior gear to Shakespearian garb to a sequined dress can be found amongst the racks of clothing. Hats, purses and various other accessories are neatly tucked away in labeled drawers and cabinets.

“The costumes are our lab equipment. The wardrobe is our laboratory,” said Donna Massimo, the costume shop manager. “Nothing there is inexpensive even the clothes that look like rags are made of silk.”

The department holds onto every article of clothing from every show, so if a different show needs that sort of costume again, the department doesn’t have to re-purchase the same costumes.

Community members and organizations outside of the department frequently ask to use the clothing for their own purposes.

“I dodge calls every week,” Massimo said. “They don’t understand that these costumes aren’t for rent; we aren’t a rental organization. All costumes only belong to the theater department.”

Even though the wardrobe is reserved for the theater department, the dance department will use select items to create their costumes as well.

Costumes are often stripped down to less heavy and overbearing outfits to function in dance performances. Sadie McNamara, a junior dance major, had a costume made up of a princess skirt and a sports bra.

“It was definitely an interesting combination, one I didn’t expect to wear,” McNamara said. “I haven’t even seen the extent of the wardrobe, but [the costume designers] do a good job of utilizing what they have.”

Clothes are organized by both period and color. Size does not matter as much to the department because all costumes can either be taken in or let out. There is an entire aisle dedicated to men’s dress shirts, and another solely for Shakespearian outfits. Massimo works diligently to keep everything organized and ensure there is easy student access.

The clothing is often reused in new ways by combing pieces from different shows or time periods to create something new.

"I like how they mix and match different things to create new costumes out of the clothes they already have,” said Jarren Fahey, a junior theater major. “For my next show, I have to dress as a school girl with a headpiece designed to look like an iPad. It’s an unusual costume, but it’s perfect for the show.”

The department strives to keep its clothing in the best condition possible. It is often faced with putting shows on with a small budget, according to Massimo. She said buying more costumes – rather than reimagining what they have – would cut into the overall budget and prevent the department from putting on the best show it could.

The theater department wardrobe holds more than merely clothing and accessories, but a sense of history amongst the costumes that have been worn by UB actors in the past.

email: arts@ubspectrum.com