COSTUME HIRE COMPANIES
Working in a costume hire company is another career path choice for many in the industry. One of the pros for working in one is that it provides more social working hours and stability than freelancing. Photographers, Stylists, Designers, Supervisors and researchers all rely on hire companies to provide costumes for their needs.
Many know the leading London based hire companies that have a name as recognisable as the designers that use them. However there are many other gems dotted all over the world. These companies can be run as charities, hiring to schools and local groups; part of a theatre; a stand-alone store or an online company hiring costumes for the entire cast in a musical or even a mix of these.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE DAY
With a design brief, clients/productions book an appointment several months/weeks in advance to start to create a physical mood board of styles, textures and colours using the stock. The Hire Company manager or Costumier will provide assistance with stock location, design choices and pull together accessories and undergarments. They will act as assistant designer/supervisor and may usually be left to organise crowd costumes too. This is usually part of the service but some companies charge an hourly assistance fee. Clients usually start pulling from stock if they’re armed with actors’ measurements and their production date is closer.
Alternatively a Hire Company can work with a director and producer as the designer/supervisor for the production pulling together the whole show and even providing on location/in theatre staff. This is something the wardrobe team will need to negotiate with the production company and come to an agreement with hire, staffing and working on location charges.
DEPOSITS are always to be left. Some places still accept cheques but many now don’t bother. Think of a deposit as similar to leaving one when hiring a car… It’s to hold until collection then cover damage whilst the costumes are out (you need to insure them too for theft, loss or damage) and provides a buffer in case you return them late. Should a fine exceed the amount of deposit left, they will invoice you for the remainder. Just like a car hire, the deposit doesn’t represent the true value of an item, more a percentage of it. The team will then start writing up the booking, noting each item with codes and a description of what it is and the condition. This can be emailed to you or held onto to add changes until the designer and team are happy when it’ll be invoiced and then ready to pack and await collection/delivery.
Once a deposit is left, costumes are held expressly for the client and cannot be hired out to anyone else.
FITTINGS AND ALTERATIONS
Fittings can happen onsite with the aid of the Costumier and the workroom team. Alternatively, with some companies, costumes can be taken away for fittings. Any alterations are made in house by the Hire Company team and costumes are stored on site.
With adequate notice most costume hire companies with a workroom will make costumes for your production, they will provide the fabric and notions but will keep the costumes afterwards, the cost of the make will usually reflect this. The alternative is to provide fabric and pay for full workroom fees and keep the costumes after the production. The company will also retrim or make additional accessories and millinery items.
READY TO GO
INVOICES will be requested by most companies; it provides better financial security for both company and hire house. Alternatively, BACS, cash and card is acceptable. No hire company will allow the costumes out of their sight without full payment being cleared upon collection or at least an invoice in process (at their discretion if you have a long established relationship already).
T+CS CONTRACT will be given to you from the hire company. Read it. Then read it again…You may be asked to launder items, or not launder items, or pay for laundry in addition to hire charges! There may be a clause on wearing costumes outside in wet weather or a clause stipulating last minute changes to orders incur a fine. Cover yourself and your team by making sure you know those Terms and Conditions!
DON’T ASK FOR DISCOUNTS! Know your budget and hire accordingly. Asking for a discount makes the hire house uncomfortable and makes you look unprofessional and cheap especially when asking a small company or a charity based one. You’ll normally get a few freebies chucked in anyway. If costumes are returned that you decided to not use, don’t ask for a refund on it! The costumiers have spent time steaming, preparing and booking it for your production whilst no one else was able to hire it from them.
Items will be steamed, labelled and bagged up ready to go by the hire house. Hats will be stuffed with tissue paper and individually bagged and boxed up or hung with the costume and other accessories if a small production. Shoes should always be separated. Try to save all the packaging to reuse when returning. For a large production Crowd Costumes will always be packed separately from the Principal Cast. Check everything when you’re collecting, make sure any stains or anomalies are noted on the booking forms and check items are there again when you arrive at base.
When your production has wrapped, pack everything carefully and try to organise as the hire house booked out and packed. Tick them off your booking form as you go along, noting any damage caused or missing items. Check pockets for jewellery, tissues, mic tapes etc, unroll shirt sleeves, take down hems if you took them up and unknot ties and cravats- don’t stuff them into pockets, hang these around the neck of the shirts or pop them in a bag if necessary. If you’re using plastic garment covers don’t knot the ends- make a loose loop so bags can be reused and save time on tearing hundreds of bags to get to the costumes. Most importantly NEVER put anything else in a bag with a pair of shoes.
Call or book a return appointment, never just show up! You’ll be given a rail or trolley to pop your returns on unless the couriers are handling this all.
A refund of deposit is due only when all items are returned according to the booking forms and there are no late fees, alterations/damages fees to pay. This can be done whilst you are there or at a later date (which is preferred). If the items are being checked off whilst you are in the building and you want your deposit asap, avoid being ‘helpful’ and let the team check everything without feeling pressured by your presence or impatience. Sit down and make yourself busy and answer questions if asked.
EMBARGO is the holding of costumes returned from a production. This is usually something a company pays for in order to make sure no other company has access to the costumes (especially made ones) until the release of a film or show. Just imagine spending months designing original costumes, having them beautifully made with rare fabrics and then it going on a Theatre tour whilst the film is being edited and waiting to be released in the cinema?! That’s what Embargo protects. Usually, if costumes have been made for a production a costume house will Embargo free of charge.
And that should be it, send an email or card afterwards thanking the team along with any photographs they may want to use (with credit and permission of the photographer) and feel smug about being resourceful and sustainable by using a hire company!
Head of Wardrobe
Hampshire Wardrobe, part of Hampshire Cultural Trust