Shop-Talk from a Ballet Costume Shop

Gentle Reader, here’s a little convo I had with my friend Sandy the other day.
Sandy works as a draper in the costume shop of a professional ballet company, and her job is pretty different from the kind of stuff I do as a cutter/fitter in an industry costume shop, so I asked her a whole bunch of questions about her job. If you’ve got more questions maybe we can convince Sandy to swing by and elucidate some more.
I’m in the italics
Sandy’s in the not-italics.
Oh and just to keep things confusing, her job title, Draper, and my job title, Cutter/Fitter, essentially refer to the same kind of work, just in Totally Different Worlds! Because no good reason!!!

Hey Sandy, do you guys Just do ballet costumes? And are they Just for the one specific ballet company? Or do you do stuff for theater or opera as well? ‘Cause, like, at my job we mostly do movies, but not for any particular studio, and we’ll do tv or theater or ice shows or whatever when the movie work is slow.
Primarily we build costumes for our company, although we occasionally do projects for other companies. I’ve made things for [a bunch of other cool ballet companies which shall remain nameless] while working at [this place].

Do you build tutus? From scratch? Or do you order the base from some other place and decorate it and make the bodice in house?
We do make tutus when the need arises, and we can make them from scratch, although sometimes we have had them partially made elsewhere, and sometimes we’ve added new nets or new top plates to old tutus from our own warehouse. We typically make the bodices. Also many of our ballets are decades old. For example, with the Nutcracker, we rebuild or replace a few pieces every year, but we also do quite a bit of alterations and repairs to the existing pieces.

Do you do men’s costumes too? Or just the ladies? Classical? Modern?
We do men’s and women’s costumes, both classical and modern. Most of the classical story ballets – Giselle, Romeo&Juliet, Sleeping Beauty, etc – are either pulled from our warehouse or rented from another company. We build and alter pieces as needed to fit a dancer of a different size or to replace a costume that’s too worn to wear. We often get to build the new works from scratch, usually with renderings from a guest designer.

When you work on a ballet, do you know what it’s about? I mean ’cause usually with movies I have no idea what the story is, I just have a sketch. There’s never any time to read a script, and sometimes they’re actually Top Secret.
We tend to know the story of the ballet, or at least the concept.

And the people who work in the costume shop, how did they get there? Did they come from dance? Are they interested in dance? Is it like how in theater school most of the design students originally wanted to be actors?
How people wound up working here… our drapers all have degrees in theater. I think with the current group, we actually all have MFAs in costume design.
Gentle Reader, I’m just gonna interrupt here, that’s Master of Fine Arts. Master! That’s some serious education going into those costumes. Ok Sandy, carry on
Some of our stitchers have degrees in theater or fashion. Some found their way to the shop via the local dressers’ union, and some have been sewing for 50 years and I’m not exactly sure how they got here! Our craft/dye ladies all do freelance work as well.

Anybody take dance for fun?
I don’t think any of us take dance lessons, but one stitcher dances Burlesque en pointe. She has a fashion degree but a dance background.

Do you like ballet? Do you go see the shows?
We each get 2 free tickets per show. Usually I do attend, but sometimes I give them away. I personally tend to prefer our mixed rep performances with a few short ballets in different styles to the long story ballets.

How about the dancers, are they friendly in fittings?
Most of the dancers are great to work with, and I actually really enjoy fittings with them. They are not shy about telling us if they love or hate the costume. Sometimes they are excited, and sometimes I hear, “This isn’t my best color,” but either way they’re good sports, for the most part.

How does it work, do principals get custom-made costumes and corps get stock? Principals and Corps both get custom and stock pieces. It depends on the show and the budget, and it depends on their size. If we have a Corps woman 5″ taller than the stock costume, we will build a new one, but the Principal lady may wear the same dress she (or someone else) wore 5 years ago.

Have you worked on anything you’ve loved?
I have made a few things I really loved… and a few I did not love. ;)
Nuff said!

About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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3 Responses to Shop-Talk from a Ballet Costume Shop

  1. Jenna says:

    Very interesting interview! I’d love to read an encore if one is ever conducted.
    I’m wondering how exactly “burlesque en pointe” works…

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