Eight Steps for Renting Theatre Costumes

So you are producing a play or a musical and need costumes. You're interested in renting costumes, but aren't sure where to turn. Here's a few guidelines to get you started and keep you pointed in the right direction.

1) Do your research. Using Google, Ask, Yahoo, or any other favorite search engine, search for costume rental companies and sales companies. In this search, you are not looking for specific costumes. You should be looking for resources. As you search, keep a list of the different businesses that you come across. List their location. The further away the warehouse, the more expensive shipping will be. Check out the company's rules and policies for rental. Make sure that the return policies seem fair and that they allow you enough time after closing of your show to clean, package, and ship your rentals back to the company. But again, take notes. Do NOT rent yet. Look at pieces that you might be interested in and jot down the prices and the names of styles that you find. Many theatrical rental companies offer full shows. Find out if you can rent individual pieces for a show or if you have to rent the show as a unit.

2) Decide on your budget. Make sure that you have a clear understanding of how much you and your organization can spend on costume rental. Use your research to help guide you in setting maximum prices for the pieces that you need. If your organization has a large enough budget, consider hiring a costumer to organize and facilitate the costuming process.

A collection of costumes from Once Upon a Matress
A collection of costumes from Once Upon a Matress

3) Begin your search locally. If you live in an urban area, check with your local professional and community theatres to see if they offer costume rental. If they do, set up an appointment with them to view their stock. Make sure that you take a list of measurements with you so that you will be able to fit your actors into the costumes that you rent. Most of the time, you will have to put down a deposit in order to take any clothing out of the facility. Make sure that you have a credit card available for such occasions.

4) Rent online. If you can't find what you need locally, then you will need to rent online. Use the business list that you found in step one (research) to search for and reserve the rest of your costume needs. Be sure to read each business's rental guidelines so that there aren't any surprises. Many companies are very strict about their return dates and about the condition in which you must return the costumes.

"A moo cow. A true cow. A new cow named Caroline. Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo." --Gypsy
"A moo cow. A true cow. A new cow named Caroline. Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo." --Gypsy

5) Keep detailed records. Make sure that you track each individual costume piece. Keep your shipping invoices in a secure place. Use a program like Excel or Access to keep a database of each piece, which company you rented it from, the cost of the piece, and the return due date. If you don't keep this list, you will find yourself scrambling when the show closes to put the pieces of a crazy puzzle back together so that they can be returned.

6) Maintain costume integrity. If you need to make alterations to the costume to fit an actor, make sure that these alterations do no permanently alter the costume. Also, NEVER alter the cosmetic appearance of a costume that you have rented unless you have explicit permission from the rental company. During the show, be vigilant about maintaining costume repairs. Keep patching materials on hand as well as a simple sewing kit with safety pins, hand-sewing needles, and a variety of threads, buttons, snaps, and other closures. Keeping the costumes in good repair is key to avoiding any replacement fees when you return your costumes. At the close of show, make sure that you return any altered costumes to their original state, letting out tacks or darts to return them to their original size.

Classic costumes from The Wizard of Oz
Classic costumes from The Wizard of Oz

7) Launder costumes before returning. Use a dry cleaning service. They take good care of your clothing and will help you avoid any costly mistakes in the cleaning process. If you must, wash and dry the clothing on your own, but be sure that you apply any pre-treatment stain remover to appropriate areas and double check the tags of the clothing to make sure that dry cleaning isn't required.

8) Return costumes in a timely manner. If you are shipping costumes back via UPS, USPS, or Federal Express, make sure that you get a tracking number so that you can keep up with your shipment. Once your shipment has been delivered, call and verify that all pieces were received. Request an e-mail verification or an electronic invoice so that you have proof of return. If you are returning costumes locally, make sure that you have the rental agent sign your invoice, again so that you have proof of return.

In addition to helping you maintain your budget and helping your show look good, these guidelines will help you maintain an excellent relationship with your rental businesses, and we all know that good relationships are the foundation for good discounts and premiere customer service. Happy costume hunting!

Comments 1 comment

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AEvans 8 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

Wow!!! So much detail I hope to write a play one day as I freelance now but do not have a clue on playwrighting. Woonderful Hub!!

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