There’s no doubt that sewing is a key part of costuming a show. A beginner seamster or seamstress can get by with just a bit of sewing. (We’ve got some tips here.) But you may not have the time or ability to learn how to sew ahead of your production. These five no-sew options and alternatives will help you costume a show with minimal sewing.

Step 1: Look into your archive

Instead of creating something new, try something old! Dig into any wardrobe or costume stash that your program has to find pieces that could be adapted for your show. Look for items that will need the least amount of work and fit in with your overall costume design. For these, and the other steps we’ll discuss, you can use no-sew tools like iron-on hem tape or stick-on velcro to make alterations as necessary.

Repurposing old costumes is obviously most successful when your program has done a show before. But pieces from a show with a similar setting might do. Leather jackets from Grease would be a natural fit in a later production of All Shook Up, or suits from The Great Gatsby in Guys and Dolls.

You can also think ahead to future shows by making or acquiring simple pieces that can easily be adapted to other shows. My wife, for example, once created simple circle skirts in several colors for Jacob’s wives in a community theatre production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Those same skirts—worn just a bit differently—were then used by Gaston’s “Silly Girls” in a production of Beauty and the Beast the next summer.

Step 2: Bring pieces from home

You may be able to ask actors to tap into their own closets. This will obviously depend on your costume plan, but the cast might already have (or be able to purchase for minimal cost) certain pieces that make sense for your show. Many people already own well-fitting staples like pants, dress shirts, and high heels. Using these instead of making or purchasing costumes will save everyone time and money, and put your actors more at ease.

Step 3: Ask other programs for help

One great thing about the theatre community is that it’s collaborative. Contact other local programs to see if anyone has done the same show as you recently, and would be willing to loan you some costumes. You might even do a costume exchange.

Bonus tip: Also ask about easy-to-move set pieces and props that the other program might already have.

Step 4: Go thrift-shopping

If your program, actors, and theatre contacts don’t have what you need, turn to your local thrift store. There among the racks of secondhand clothing might be just the pieces you need to costume your show—common pieces like jeans and plain-colored dresses, or offbeat items like leather jackets, vests and sweatshirts. You are also more likely to find pieces from the actual time period of the show, like a matching skirt and jacket from the 1940s for a production of 42nd Street.

However, know that this will likely be the most time-consuming option. There’s no guarantee the shop will have what you need (and certainly no guarantee that the piece will be the right size for your actor). Plan on making several stops to get everything you need, and accept that you still might need to make some alterations.

Step 5: Rent costumes

When all else fails, seek out costume shops in your area that offer rentals. Costume availability and cost will vary by location, and you’ll probably need to request items well ahead of your show. Make sure you understand the shop’s terms and conditions. Some will allow you to make simple alterations to pieces, but you’ll likely need to reverse them before returning.

If you can, focus on costume shops that cater specifically to theatre companies, and avoid novelty shops, Halloween stores, and sites like Amazon. Though convenient and cheap, costumes from these sources will look cheap under stage lights, especially if they’re intermingled with other, handmade costumes.  ♦

Andrew Koch is a writer and editor from Cincinnati. An inexperienced seamster, his costuming philosophy has always been to sew as little as possible.

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