When you were a kid, your mum had a dress up box and you loved it. Sure, you’d rather some of the photos weren’t still in circulation but you always relished the dressing up bit and soon you became an actor. An actor with your very own collection of props and costumes. The costume box became a costume cupboard and soon, if left unvetted, it will become a costume room!

In the morning yesterday, over a coffee I was reading a self help book about organisation. ‘Throw out anything you think you might need at some time in the future and keep only the things you need right now’ the book implored. I liked what I was reading. I started to imagine how much space would become available in my spare room if I followed the theory.

But what would I cull? My collection of curly wigs? Maybe… But I was kind of hoping to play Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie one day. I haven’t worn my Freddie Mercury costume for a while… How likely is it I’ll need it again? Actually… probably pretty likely now that I think about it.

You see it’s not an easy thing for actors to cull their costume cupboards. My friend Peter knows his is out of control but he can’t stop. He even keeps a selection of copper 1 and 2 cent pieces. Has he used them recently? No, but if he’s cast as an early 80’s milk bar owner he feels comforted knowing he’s prepared (also he claims ‘if the world economy collapses, I’ll still be solvent’). Owen has a lifejacket. It’s not essential but he might one day star in the stage adaptation of Jaws and be thankful he held onto it. What about Issie’s hideous white jacket with fur trim. I mean, she wouldn’t be caught dead in it but if she ever needs to play a role as rich, white trash, well good luck finding one as perfect as that. Jacqui hopes to give the Little Mermaid costume she wore in an old dance performance another run one day. That day hasn’t come yet but she’s pretty sure it will and when it does she’ll be ready – and this is the problem for actors, there’s no telling when some of the most obscure props and costumes might just come in handy.


Jeff in “the robe” – Hideously Stylish


In a recent production I was in, I needed to inhabit the role of a megalomaniac cult leader. Straight away, I knew I was halfway there thanks to the old costume cupboard. ‘Save yourself the time. I already have the perfect outfit at home’ I told the costume designer and returned at the next rehearsal with a stunning, brightly coloured robe which my Brother in law’s South African parents had bought several christmas’ ago. I’d never had occasion to wear it in all that time (mainly because it looked like something Paul Keating would have worn at an Indonesian summit in the 90s) but the moment had arrived.*

*as it turned out it wasn’t the moment – apparently the robe was a ceremonial garment used to perform circumcisions but how could I have known that?! (Certainly casts my South African relatives in a completely different light)…

Anyway, the point is, these treasures take up a lot of room at home and while they do have inherent value to actors they can be a source of frustration for partners of actors. Issie’s husband and father recently staged a Costume Cupboard intervention. Actually, it was more like a sting. With a baby on the way and a costume cupboard slowly absorbing the spare room the two men decided to indiscriminately confiscate a large number of her prized props and costumes and place them out on the nature strip in the dead of night right before hard rubbish collection day.

She will start again. That’s just part of being an actor. We can’t help it. We can’t go to a 3d movie without looking at the glasses and thinking ‘mmm… these could come in handy’. We’ll never walk out of a $2 shop empty handed and we’ll never walk past an op shop because the curation of our costume cupboard is never far from our minds.

What are the most random, hideous or treasured items in your Costume Cupboard? Leave a comment or share a photo below…