Time Machine Triage*: Trojan Women Costumes (1997)

“You’ve been working in a costume department, haven’t you? Good! Then you can design and make the costumes for the school play!”

My Beloved High School Drama Teacher

Me as Andromache. You wouldn't believe how much time and mousse went into making my hair into those little snake-like twists (1997).

Me as Andromache. You wouldn’t believe how much time and mousse went into making my hair into those little snake-like twists (1997). **

When I write here about “my first skirt” and “my first top,” I am being slightly disingenuous. I’m talking about my “firsts” as an independent sewist, returning to a skill about which I was taught the basics, under close supervision, as a teen. I was first introduced to sewing when I volunteered at a local professional theatre. As a dresser for musicals, I was mostly responsible for getting actors out of one costume and into their next as fast as humanly possible.

However, accidents do happen backstage, and I was taught the basics of how to sew. Later, when I was hired to assist occasionally in the costume shop proper, I was given a more thorough introduction to how to use their sewing machines and industrial serger. I made little pillows, and–with a lot of assistance from the costume shop manager–I made a dress (which I will show in another post).

Those little lessons gave me two things:

  1. Confidence that I could sew someday, if I actually wanted to.
  2. An unexpected assignment at my high school.

After all, we were doing Euripides’ Trojan Women as our fall play, and we needed rag-tag costumes for the imprisoned chorus and their deposed royalty. So, my drama teach recruited me to design and make them.

After all, I knew how to sew, right?

Cue seventeen-year-old panic. How was I going to do that? Don’t worry, I was reassured, they don’t have to be fancy. These women have just lost a war, after all.

Great.

At the costume shop, I got advice: the easiest way for me to make seven semi-Greek costumes was to get lengths of fabric, sew them into robes like a giant T, and then put in the neck-holes. Those could be augmented with contrasting fabrics and trimmings to make them more form fitting and to finish the edges. That should be good enough for a show that would run for one weekend.

I still remember taking all of the girls to Jo-Ann in our hometown with instructions for them to find one basic fabric in a neutral color and a second fabric, if the wished, in another color that they felt expressed their character (those would become wraps and ties). Only royalty was allowed to use gold or silver detailing. I think everyone had fun, though many wished they could pick out prettier or fancier fabrics than “losers of the Trojan War” could be expected to own.

Then there were the late nights in the costume shop, measuring and sewing and hemming, adding trims to the necklines to hide the raw edges where I’d cut in the shape requested by the actress. I don’t know how many hours I spent on these in addition to schoolwork and rehearsal.

Somehow, I got the tunic-t-shirt-dresses done, and the photo of them on the costume shop dress dummies represents my idea of how each actress might or should wear them. They had other ideas, and of course the outfits were bags with holes cut in them, but considering the situation and the fact that I had to make these on my own, alone and unsupervised, in the costume shop’s after hours, I was pretty darned proud.

The chorus costumes on dress forms. (1997)

The chorus costumes on dress forms. (1997)

I was prouder of my hairdo, though.

* Ok, so I meant for my “time machine” posts to always happen on Tuesdays, but I’m so bummed about my top that I’m going to go ahead and delve into the past for a moment I was happy with (surviving) a massive project.

** Curse you, disposable cameras of the 1990s. So many of my photos from those days look just terrible and grainy because of imperfect lighting conditions. I’m lucky to have any photo at all of my first dress, and these two pictures aren’t much better.