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A Costume’s Journey


The Abbey Theatre is one of the only theatres in Ireland with a full time costume department. For over one hundred years we have been making beautifully crafted original costumes.

Every costume that appears on the Abbey stage has been processed. The first stage in this process is the design.

Catherine Fay* is the costume designer for the Abbey Theatre’s latest commission Roddy Doyle’s new version of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector. Catherine took initial inspiration from the prints of Russian artist Vavara Stepanova. Although none of her prints made it to the stage, there is a liberal use of contrasting and abstract prints for these fun and eclectic designs.

The journey for a costume from design to the stage is complex. From the design, a paper mock up of the costume is produced, this is then brought a stage further to what is known as a ‘toile’, a copy of the design made in a lighter and cheaper fabric, in this case curtain-lining.

After the ‘toile’ is finalized the costume department has a series of fittings with the actors. Then the production of the costume begins and they are sourced from stock, bought, or tailor-made from scratch.

Before a costume takes to the stage they may have to be aged correctly through a process called ‘breaking down’ but they all need to comply with health and safety regulations. So all shoes and boots treading the boards are rubber soled.

The Government Inspector has a large cast of 19 characters wearing multiple costumes for over 60 performances. Throughout this run the costumes need constant care and attention and as you can imagine the laundry is never finished.

When the production has finished our costumes go into storage, but this is not the end of their journey. The Costume Department now runs a highly efficient hire facility that allows access to our large stock of costumes for other theatres, amateur dramatics, opera, advertising, television, video, films or photographic shoots. If you would like to hire original costumes contact our Costume Hire Facility by email at costume.hire@abbeytheatre.ie

*Catherine is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design, Dublin and her work with the Abbey Theatre includes Macbeth, The Playboy of the Western World, Saved, Doubt, Doldrum Bay and Henry IV Part I (for which she received an Irish Times/ESB Theatre Award nomination.)

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