People of the Cloth

People of the Cloth

A photo essay. To view all 20 images at their highest quality, check out the email version.

Bins with labels like “Fusible Mending Patches,” “Sewing Patterns: Women’s 1950s,” “Zipper-Related Items,” “Odd Thread” and deceptively simple “Tape” line shelves near the front windows. Metallic helmets of hoplites or legionaries peek out from a high shelf at the opposite end of the room. Somewhere in the middle, pinned between a loudspeaker and a fire alarm, a cardboard sign tells you where you are, but with a character befitting a place of such drama and imagination: “Welcome to the costume shop YOUR DOOOM!”

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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

It’s the costume shop at Long Wharf Theatre, to be more precise, and, in contrast with its many visual pops, the long, thin space’s auditory palette seems muted on the morning of my visit. A soundscape does emerge: the hums and whirs of light machinery, the unhurried tones of pleasant conversation, the calls of seagulls drifting in through an open hatch to the roof. Yet some of the work is quiet indeed: draper Avery Jennings sewing with needle and thread, design assistant Hannah Chalman steaming a feathered hat into shape. Eyes are glued to what hands are doing, because the work is intricate and previews are approaching. As if to underscore the point, the sounds of stage work soon bubble up through the theater’s passive intercom, connecting the people in this room to the preparations happening in the main performance space. There, starting November 27, the wardrobe the shop’s been working on will play its part in Kate Hamill’s version of Pride and Prejudice, billed as “an ingenious and saucy” screwball riff on Jane Austen’s beloved novel.

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The Horszowski Trio at the Yale School of Music

Costume shop manager Caitlin Dalton, who moved here from Chicago not long ago, doesn’t seem worried, even though there’s more to worry about than usual. “This is probably the most builds I’ve ever done on a show,” she says, laughing at the realization. By “builds,” she means garments constructed from the ground up, as opposed to items rented or acquired following their use in another production elsewhere. For Pride and Prejudice, which, per the vision of lead designer Izumi Inaba and director Jess McLeod, requires period fashion with a twist or three, the costume shop has produced about a dozen builds on its own. Several other pieces—including a ruffled yellow ballgown and a luminous ecru tailcoat—were constructed for the show by outside specialists, but even those items are touched up and adjusted by the costume shop as needed. (The day of my visit, stitchers Delari Johnston and Elise Bender seem to have plenty of that to do.)

So even though the play itself isn’t getting a world premiere, the costumes are. “We really had to choose to build all of this stuff because we were committed to this design,” Dalton says. “It doesn’t exist out in the world. So that was initially a daunting task. But now that we’re on this side of it, it’s like, ‘Wow, look at how capable we all are’”—cardboard sign be damned.

The Costume Shop at Long Wharf Theatre
222 Sargent Dr, New Haven (map)
Upcoming production: Pride and Prejudice (11/27 thru 12/22)

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. Images 2 and 20 feature Avery Jennings and Caitlin Dalton. Image 4 features Delari Johnston. Image 6 features Elise Bender. Image 12 features Hanna Chalman.

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