May 12, 2023
Arts & Culture

A stitch in time

Special pieces of stage history belonging to the State Theatre Company of South Australia could be yours this month, with the wardrobe department throwing open their racks and offering hundreds of costumes for sale in a very special – and rare – event.

Head of wardrobe at the State Theatre Company of South Australia, Kellie Jones, has been hard at work sifting and sorting items that will be offered for sale this month.

Single Asian Female (photograph Matt Byrne).

Step into the old Wigg & Son factory tucked away in a side street in Thebarton and you’ll be surprised. Now the rehearsal space for the State Theatre Company of South Australia, look in one direction and you’ll see sequins and lace. In another it’s leather and ribbons. A 180-degree spin and there in front of you is tulle and satin, denim and chiffon in all the colours of the rainbow; the fabrics of the costumes that have graced the actors of the company’s plays over the years.

In a rare event, they’re also being offered for sale.

Over the past couple of months, head of wardrobe, Kellie Jones has been carefully sifting through the racks and racks of garments, selecting the pieces that the company can bear to part with.

One very special item is this cosplay dress, which actor Kristen O’Dwyer held up for just 30 seconds in the production of Single Asian Female (photograph Matt Byrne).

As she weaves her way through the maze of racks, Kellie points out a few favourites and some special pieces.

There’s an entire rack laden with military costuming, before a sea of white wedding dresses, some vintage 1960s-style suits and then some very special spandex full-length sparkly bodysuits that look almost futuristic.

It’s all for sale, as State Theatre looks to sell off one third of its costumes, with the aim of not only freeing up a bit more space across their large costume warehouse, but also hoping to raise more than $10,000 for the purchase of a new suite of dressmaking mannequins.

It’s only the second time in company history that a costume sale has been held and Kellie says she expects lovers of second-hand clothing to rush through the doors come sale-day, but there will also be those people who will find some fun dress-up costumes.

“This is great if you’re doing the Zombie Walk or the Medieval Festival,” Kellie says as she holds up a floor-length wedding gown in old Renaissance style complete with lace-up bodice.

Most of the company’s furs will be put up for sale – particularly the real ones.

“Obviously you want to give them a new life and you don’t want to waste the animal, but the issue is, because we don’t have the conditions they should be stored in, they do attract insects, which affect the rest of the costumes and over time they malt,” Kellie says.

As she gazes across the enormous storage facility, lined with racks and racks of costumes many of which she has stitched over her 15 years with the company, Kellie admits she has found it easier than some might expect to part ways with many of the costumes, despite them being lovingly and meticulously designed; painstakingly beautiful.

What’s important is the purchase of new dressmaking mannequins, which proceeds of the sale will finance.

“The mannequins we use, we’ve had for more than 40 years,” she says. “They’re all built for stick insects from the 1960s and women and men are so much bigger these days. Every time we design for a new show, we have to pad them up.”

So how does one walk into the dazzlingly expansive wardrobe department and set about culling for sale?

“I’m not sentimental at all,” Kellie says. “Of course, I appreciate beautiful work and sometimes it’s been a really tough call, but these costumes will be going out there and getting a new life.”

Costumes from Dance Nation will be available to purchase.

As head of wardrobe, it’s been Kellie’s job to sift through the racks and pick out the pieces fated for sale. Once she’s done that, the rest of the costume department goes through her picks to ensure she’s not being too ruthless.

What will hit the sale racks are shoes, hats and handbags: the full costume gamut.

Prices are expected to vary from around five dollars for a bag of fabric, up to around $100 for some of the more special pieces, including the intricate, layered gothic costume held up (not even actually worn) by Kristen O’Dwyer in Single Asian Female, which took to the stage late in 2022.

Helen Dallimore as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow. (Photographs Chris Herzfeld).

Kellie sewed this costume by hand, taking more than 80 hours to complete it, despite it only being on stage for 30 seconds.

Not to be outdone, the props department will also be doing a clear-out, with furniture pieces and various props being offered to new homes.

Kellie will be there at the sale – it’s all hands on deck – so you might be able to catch her for a quick chat about your purchase.

State Theatre Company South Australia’s wardrobe sale is on at Wigg & Son, 79 Port Road, Thebarton, on Saturday, May 27 and Sunday, May 28 from 10am to 4pm.


This article first appeared in the May 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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