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The Thrifty Thespian: Scoring Show-Stopping Costumes on a Budget!


Hey there, fellow theater buffs and bargain hunters! Today, we're diving into the exhilarating realm of costume hunting on a budget. I have been teaching theatre and musical theatre for 20 years and one question I often get asked is how do I get the costumes for our shows. One thing you should know about me is that I am known to be efficient with my money, okay that is a polite way to say I am CHEAP. That's fine it makes me get creative when I am putitng on our shows.

So whether you're gearing up for a community theater production, a school play, or just planning an epic costume party, we've got you covered!


1. Facebook Freebie Sites:

Ah, Facebook, the land of endless scrolling and... free stuff? That's right! Facebook groups dedicated to freebies, swaps, and giveaways are treasure troves for the resourceful costume seeker. Join local groups or those specifically focused on costumes and theatrical gear. You'd be amazed at the gems people are willing to part with for the simple price of picking them up. From vintage dresses to quirky accessories, there's no telling what you might find! A lot of the groups I am part of there are days when you can make a wish or request (you might as well ask as you never know what people may have).

Be ready to sort through things and see beyond what is there. One of my best finds was a dress that was donated as I can only say what must have been a bar dress in the early 90's. It was black and with fish net arms. At first glance you would think who could use this, but at the time we were doing a production of James and the Giant Peach so that black frock soon became the base to the dress for Miss Spider.



2. Donation Stores:

Thrift stores and donation centers are like wonderlands for the budget-conscious costume designer. With a bit of patience and a keen eye, you can unearth a plethora of costume pieces waiting to be transformed into theatrical masterpieces. Pro tip: Visit larger stores in affluent areas for a higher chance of stumbling upon quality items at bargain prices. Plus, your purchases support a good cause!

*If you can hit up these stores right after Halloween you may get a bargain on some of their "costume" pieces.

Once again be ready to sort through and look for your diamond in the rough. I also like to check in to see if the thrift store has a sale day, because why not save more if you can.

I suggest checking the lesser known thrift stores as some of the bigger ones the prices have gone WAY up. (like everything else)



3. Dollar Store Delights:

Don't underestimate the power of the dollar store! While you may not find haute couture at these bargain emporiums, you'll discover a wealth of affordable basics and accessories perfect for building out your costume collection. From hats and wigs to makeup and props, the dollar store has everything you need to bring your characters to life without breaking the bank. My husband still laughs when I say I need to go to a "good" dollarstore as I know there is a difference!




4. Creative Crafting:

I find the best costumes are the ones you make yourself. Channel your inner DIY guru and get crafty with fabric scraps, cardboard, and whatever else you can get your hands on. YouTube tutorials and online resources abound for homemade costume inspiration, so don't be afraid to let your creativity run wild. Who knows? You might just invent the next iconic character ensemble! Evey time we start a show I create a pinterest board for inspiration. I also love seeing what the kids come up with when we brainstorm together. It can be a fun character exercise drawing up what you think your character should wear.


5. Costume Swaps and Rentals:

Finally, don't overlook the power of community connections. Reach out to fellow theater enthusiasts, schools, and local theater groups to inquire about costume swaps or rentals. Sharing resources not only saves money but also fosters a sense of camaraderie within the theatrical community. Plus, you never know when someone might have the perfect costume sitting in their attic just waiting to be borrowed. I have even been known to post on FB groups to borrow a costume here or there. I often ask my performers and families as well. You never know what they have hanging around. I once again for anything with feathers for our production of HONK and one mom came in with a mother goose costume she wore for Halloween that quickly became our swan costume.


6. Less is More

I have always believed that for kids theatre I want the kids to shine so the costumes should just be suggestive. If someone is playing an animal I don't want them in a full hot onesie on all fours. I want them to suggest they are a lion, tiger or bear... oh my. When I work with a cast I ask everyone to have a base layer (depending on the show, but usually dark plain clothes), this is helpful for quick changes and useful to add more on top.


7.Bigger may be better

I mentioned before hitting up stores right after Halloween, this year I found 12 costumes that were supposed Rainbow Unicorn for a ladies night out but we took them in and made them into our cute dresses for the town of Duloc so we had matching dresses for that many performers for less than $20 (That was a Treasure Hunt find). I once had a last minute Tin man costume that started as a pair of pants of an adult lady that needed to be turned into a pair of pants for a tiny 8 year old girl, when items are bigger you can make them smaller.





8. Classic pieces vs Specialty pieces

Since I have been producing my own kids shows for over ten years I have quite a collection of costumes many of which are re-used but here are few classics that I suggest you find and hold onto:

a) Fur vests - these are great for many different animals costumes and rich people

b) Colourful or sparkly vests - can be added to a costume to give it a flair and new boost

c) Scarfs - can add a little light to a costume and be used in different ways

4) Suit jackets - Come in handy for a variety of characters

5) Hats - Fun hats can be used over and over again to change characters


For specialty pieces there is usually at least one or two each show that I will splure on and may never use again but it's totallyh worth it for example Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Seussical. I have often thought of trying to sell costumes after the show but who has time for that.




So there you have it, folks – a whirlwind tour of budget-friendly costume hunting for your next theatrical endeavor. With a little ingenuity and a whole lot of creativity, you can assemble an unforgettable ensemble without draining your bank account. Now go forth and dazzle the stage with your thrifty theatrical flair!


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