PNB's Costume Shop has been in operation since 1975, but it wasn't until the 1980s that it began to function as more than a wardrobe department. While previously having produced costumes for smaller works, in 1989, the Costume Shop created the costumes for its first big production, Firebird. By that time the shop's abilities had grown to the point where the staff had the capability of producing all the costumes needed for a major work. Since 1987, nearly every costume that PNB's dancers worn has been built in PNB's Costume Shop. Located on the second floor of the Phelps Center, overlooking the Gallery Studio where the Company rehearses, this 2,500 square foot space is the focus of the intense activity of Costume Shop Manager Larae Hascall and her staff.
Costumes begin with a design, or a sketch, which is called a rendering. This is either sent to the shop via a designer or made in-house. Next, the draper, through discussion with the designer, develops a pattern for the costume. After that comes the muslin stage during which dancers try on the costumes and the Costume Shop staff make design changes. The process continues with a series of fittings until the staff has fully developed the costume the designer intended. Decisions regarding fabric, color, and dyeing are all made within this process.
While the process itself is straightforward, during every stage the Costume Shop staff must keep in mind that ballet costumes must be able to stand up to the stress of extraordinary movement and countless launderings, while often being built to appear light and airy. It is also imperative that the costumes not restrict the dancers' movement in any way. Along with this, the costumes must also be rigged, often ingeniously, to allow for easy alterations and for the dancer's quick entry and exit from them.
The length of time needed to make the costumes for a show varies widely, depending on the number of costumes, and the degree of intricacy of each piece. If the Costume Shop has a short period of time in which to produce a large work, they will bring in extra help. If a production is small, they are able to produce everything they need on their own.