Long Wharf Theatre’s costume shop can find or build any kind of clothing one wants. You want specific kinds of multi-colored socks, they can track them down. If you want different kinds of animal hats – no cats or bears – they’ll get them. Those pesky period costumes – our shop can build them in a snap. So, it isn’t very often when they can be flummoxed by a piece of clothing.
Herin Kaputkin, costume design assistant, didn’t expect that a simple pair of popular winter boots would throw them. She was looking for Sorel boots for the character of Melody, played by Christy Escobar, in Long Wharf Theatre’s upcoming production of Bad Jews. The winter boots, ubiquitous amongst some young women, go for about $200 a pair. “I thought it would be totally easy,” she said of designer Paul Carey’s request.
Turns out it wasn’t. Thanks to a problem with the manufacturing of the popular boots, featured in last year’s Vogue magazine, there was a national shortage of the footwear. Kaputkin traveled to Trumbull, Hartford, and all over greater New Haven before she came across a single pair at the Trailblazer in downtown New Haven. The owner refused to sell them to her, given the scarcity. The store had gotten their last distribution in the fall and didn’t have enough for the season. “They haven’t made any recently,” Herin said. “This is the first time we couldn’t find something so obvious.”
So, like in any good theatre, understudies were found. Herin found boots much like the hard to find Sorels, but in a much more affordable price range. North Face boots and Pajar will now be the kind of shoes Melody wears in the play.
The process of gathering costumes for a contemporary play is a shoppers’ dream. After meeting with designers, the costume department goes through the theatre’s substantial clothing stock, looking for possible options. They then go online, checking the overall market, getting a sense of what things are going to cost. Then, they go out, making the rounds of everything from malls to tiny specialty shops looking for the proper clothing. Kaputkin said they generally purchase three or four options for every piece of clothing seen on stage. Everything else gets returned. “All of the local store managers aren’t too happy when they see us,” she laughed.
While many pieces of clothing are simply functional, the best costumes tell their own tales. The boots speak to Melody’s preppy background. Kaputkin recalled the t-shirts worn by Micah Stock’s character – each t-shirt should give the impression of a place the character has been. In short, the clothes are one more way of filling out a life. “That’s true costume shopping,” Herin said. “Finding the random thing that represents a whole story.”
— Steve Scarpa