How to Succeed in Overkill

All right, before I go into my project, here is a disclaimer. At my school, there is theater- which is the acting aspect of the arts, and tech theater- which is the set making, costume, props, lighting, etc. aspect of the arts. And if it isn’t obvious, I am in tech-theater because of costuming. At the beginning of junior year I was blessed with being given the title of being head of costuming (it being my dream since freshmen year). With that, I dealt with the costume room and decided on what actor/actress got which costume for their role in the play. It’s a tough job, I’m not even going to lie, but I didn’t care because I like a challenge.
Every year we have a total of three productions; one in the fall, winter, and spring. In the spring, we did the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. If you are not aware of what that is, it is a big Broadway production of a man who was a window washer and worked his way up to CEO by reading a manual on how to do it. This production took place in New York City in the 1960s when men were still the moneymakers of the family but women could work but only as secretaries. The cast of this musical was at least 40+ people, that’s 40+ suits for men and women. But I wasn’t worried about that aspect of the musical, there is a certain scene in the play where all the girl characters wear the same dress for a music number. The plan originally was to order the twenty dresses for the girls, but two weeks prior to the production, we had a mishap and needed them made- as in sewn. And who was this responsibility of making twenty dresses for different forms of girls in two weeks given to? Me. 

If it wasn’t a last resort, I wouldn’t have taken the opportunity. But I thought I could do it- and I did. But, no lie, I wanted to quit so many times. I wanted to rip the dresses to shreds more times then I could count. I would sit at my sewing machine thinking “What the hell have you done” so much I’m surprised I haven’t quit sewing in all. But I had a support system. I had a good amount of people telling me I could do it, and I did. So this post is dedicated to my mother who was loving enough to let me cry my anger of these twenty dresses, and hard enough to tell me that I couldn’t half-fast it, that I needed to make these dresses professionally.

The pattern I used for this 1960, formal occasion, dress was NewLook S0375.

As much as I wanted to make Dress A, I didn’t have the time nor patience to make twenty of that particular dress so I settled for Dress C. There were only four pieces to this; Bodice Front, Bodice Back, Skirt Front, and Skirt Back. There were four darts in the bodice, two for the breast and two at the bottom that would connect to the skirt. And on the skirt were pleats that were in the front and back.

When I made the prototype, I had made it in red satin, this being what the director asked for.

IMG_1588 (1)

It only took about an hour and a half to make. With satin fabric, it wouldn’t cost so much but to get enough for twenty girls of different sizes wasn’t happening. So I changed the fabric to cotton, and then the color to black. That was easy to find because I am a huge fan of cotton (you can press the hell of it and it not get messy unlike satin)

After getting the measurements of the girls in the production, I had came to the conclusion that I could make all the dresses a size fourteen and be able to take it to fit their frame. But as time winded down and there was only two days before the opening night, I had been watching the numbers and saw four girls who could no fit a size fourteen. The measurements I was given on those four girls were wrong and I could tell instantly by just watching them practice that they weren’t going to fit.

Enter anxiety attack stage right. 

My motivation then was dropping severely. Even with my tech-theater family, I didn’t feel like I could do it. I had to alter two dresses and then create two others in bigger sizes. For the two I had to create by eye since I had cut out a size fourteen, I did the darts in the bodice and only put the pleats on the front of the skirt instead of the front and back.

The pattern called for a zipper but since this was a five minute music number, and only two out of the twenty girls needed to do a quick change back into their work attire, I put in Velcro strips as a zipper. It was a quick and easy way to get in and out of the dress so it wouldn’t be time consuming for the actresses or me. For the two girls who wore it longer, I put in a 22″ zipper.

All in all, this experience is one I’ll never forget. It was challenging, it was mindblowing, it was crazy. Is it something I would easily go back and change? Honestly? No. Regardless of the fact that I had so many breakdowns, I continued with it because that’s what I want to do. It is something I had to experience before I officially decided what it is I want to do after college. It opened my eyes to what costume designers have to do everyday, what I had to do as high school student is nothing to what they do. It let me know what it is I want to do and I’m thankful for that each day.

I have made a lot of things since then and I am excited to show you guys. Thank you for your patience and the love, I will be back again with another project. 

I love and appreciate you guys. Until next time.



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