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Costume Changes at the TDF Costume Collection

Date: Jan 11, 2019


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Whether you want to rent, buy or just gawk at costumes, here are ways the Collection can help you


You probably know that TDF supports audiences by offering discount tickets and a variety of accessibility programs. But did you realize that part of our mission is to support artists, too? One of the biggest ways we do that is through our TDF Costume Collection, which celebrates its 45th year of operation in 2019. Located in a spacious warehouse on the historic Kaufman Astoria Film Studios campus, the Collection offers more than 85,000 costumes (plus accessories) for rent to both commercial (Broadway! Saturday Night Live! The movies!) and nonprofit clients.

In honor of its milestone anniversary, the Collection has rolled out a number of significant improvements to its policies, including a brand-new in-house design option. But even if you don't run a theatre, the Collection has ways to wow you. We spoke with Stephen Cabral, the Director of the Collection and a veteran staffer of 25 years, about five things every style maven should know about the TDF Costume Collection -- including how to snag an invite to its biannual bag sales.

"Part of our mission now is to say, 'Yes!'" explains Cabral about the recent changes, which include loosening or eliminating many longtime rules. "Not that the Collection was ever about saying no. But I think we were being very, very careful, whereas now we're being a little more open." This new outlook has inspired a lot of yeses that benefit both clients and those just Costume Collection curious.


1. Yes, you can visit the Collection even if you're not planning on renting a costume. Although formal tours aren't offered at this time, anyone can visit the Collection when it's open. "There's nothing to arrange," Cabral says. "We have you sign in and you're able to walk around, browse, even take pictures." Regular hours are weekdays 9am to 5:30pm, but calling first is a must in case there are changes to the schedule.

2. Yes, you can get on the invite list for the Collection's coveted bag sales. Make your haute-costume-couture dreams come true at one of the Collection's bag sales. Usually held biannually in spring and fall, these events are quite the hot ticket. Getting on the invite list is easy: "There is no blood test involved, you just have to sign up to be on our email mail list to get invited," says Cabral. But actually getting into a sale is hard. "Our list is big, so when you receive the invite you need to respond right away as we book up fast. We usually do a morning session and an afternoon one, and we have a cancellation list." If you do manage to snag a spot, treasures await -- some in need of a little TLC. "We sell things that we cannot use, or don't have room for, or for whatever reason have never been rented," Cabral says. "Also costumes that once were amazing but, over time because of wear and tear and dry-cleaning, are no longer worth charging people to rent. People will buy these things and put a little time and effort into repair or adding trim, and they'll send us pictures of what they've done and I can't believe how great they look." Bags come in two sizes, small and large, and you can buy and fill as many as you can carry. Not only do these sales make people happy, they also have a positive environmental impact. "The number of pounds we have not thrown into the landfill is incredible," Cabral says.

3. Yes, the staff at the Collection can now design your show for you.* One of the most significant changes for costume rental clients is the launch of Our Design services. Previously, clients had to come in and pull their own items, or send in sketches and reference so staff could pull costumes on their behalf. But if your school or community theatre doesn't have the know-how to do that, the talented designers at the Collection can probably outfit your show. "For years, we've received many phone calls from people who ask if we have costumes for -- and this is the most sought-after title -- The Importance of Being Earnest or other classics," Cabral says. After having to say, "No," countless times, he decided it was time to say, "Yes." Last summer, his staff identified approximately 100 popular shows* that the Collection can easily design without client assistance. And Cabral says even if the production you're doing isn't on the list, it's worth emailing to see if the Collection can design it. "Costume packages were really the bread and butter of most rental companies for years, you just called and said what show you were doing. But the Collection has never functioned that way, and it's one of the things that has made us very popular with people who want to design a show on their own. But we fully acknowledge that there is a large group of folks out there who don't have that ability, especially outside of New York City. The list of shows we can do includes titles people are always calling us for: The Miracle Worker, A Streetcar Named Desire, Arsenic and Old Lace, Grease, She Loves Me, a lot of Shakespeare. You just have to be willing to go with our traditional interpretation of these shows." In other words, if you want to set A Midsummer Night's Dream in the zombie apocalypse, you'll have to design it yourself.


4. Yes, the Collection is now gender-fluid! While all costumes are still categorized as for men or women, clients can mix and match half-costumes (they're divided at the waist) and accessories for both genders. "This has been a big change for us," Cabral says. "But we're always trying to stay current. I think for many years we were setting very strict rules about how people were using the costumes once they left the Collection. Now if you're getting a complete costume you get 10 accessories and we don't care what 'gender' they are, as long as one person wears them on stage at one time because that's how our prices work." So if your vision for the Emcee in Cabaret includes a flapper dress, a top hat and combat boots, go for it.

5. Yes, you can get a glimpse of the Collection's awesomeness, even if you're not able to visit in person. While the Collection is not yet digitized (it's being worked on!), you can still bask in its gorgeousness virtually. The staff frequently posts pics on Facebook that inspire envy and witty conversation. If you like the page you'll be in sparkling company: Tony-nominated drag legend Charles Busch is a frequent and funny commenter!


Raven Snook is the Editor of TDF Stages. Follow her at @RavenSnook. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Top images: Stephen Cabral at the TDF Costume Collection. Photos courtesy of the TDF Costume Collection Rental Program.

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