Let me start by explaining something for the out of towner.
A costume closet is a quintessential part of every New Orleans costume lover’s household. This is because most costume lovers are hoarders. Maybe not on the level of needing reality TV intervention, but we like to hang onto our costumes because “you never know.” The longer you live here, the more costumes you amass. Then they become sentimental, and no matter what, you can’t get rid of them. I still have the pair of gold lamé boy shorts that infamously led to the start of a certain TOE-tastic local parade group fifteen years ago. They are worn out and were never that cute to begin with, but in my drawer they sit because they are part of my costume collection, my memories in this city.
Having a well stocked costume closet is a necessity in Nola. You save money by reusing your costumes. It is nice to have a go to stash of costumes for that last minute party or parade. It always helps to have something on hand for the out of towner who shows up with nothing at all or worse, a Tie Dye shirt and bought-at-the-airport mask.
Costume lovers tend to like to make things as well, which means we end up collecting all kinds of sparkly, odd, potentially useful supplies.
The trick to maintaining these hoarding tendencies without letting it take over your house is organization.
I know what you are thinking.
But here is the thing. If you have a lot of costumes and supplies getting organized can save you time and money.
Ever buy a supply you already own?
Before you buy a supply do you know what you have on hand that you could use instead of spending money?
Ever torn apart your entire costume closet searching for that one ________?
It takes some effort, but getting organized is rewarding. The spring and summer are the perfect time to reconnect with the memories hiding in those bins and drawers. Plus, the mere act of cleaning up your costume and/or supply closet is guaranteed to get you thinking about your next costumes.
So where do you start?
For this latest blog I help one of my favorite people and dearest friends, Niki Fisk, aka Niki Frisky of the local aerialist group The Mystic Ponies, by giving her a costume closet make over.
After Mardi Gras she was slammed with work and had no time to deal with the post reveling mayhem of her costume closet. We hatched a plan to master the mess, make her life easier, and give you a peek at her costume digs.
Niki’s house is low on closet space so her costume “closet” is actually a small, oddly configured room that also serves as her husband’s closet and a general out of the way storage area. Niki’s costumes have overtaken the room and grown increasingly disorganized. You know how it goes when you are exhausted and can barely get a costume off much less put it neatly back into its place. So you throw it into a bin, or half hang it up, or leave it in that pile you never get around to picking up. Next thing you know you have costume closet chaos. The horror!
I asked Niki what she wanted from her costume closet makeover and she said that she wanted it to be easier to find things. When I saw inside her bins I understood what she meant.
Niki also wanted her costumes and supplies to take up less space in the room so that her husband could get his closet back. She needed to get rid of some things, but needed help figuring out what to save and what to give away. Niki wanted to feel good about what she was parting with, and she liked that through The New Orleans Costume Center she could find people who would appreciate and reuse her costuming cast offs. (Yes, we buy and take consignments of handmade costumes & supplies!)
Follow along as I transform Niki’s costume closet. Find out what you need and how to whip your closet into shape with the list and steps below.
The supplies you will need will depend on what kind of costumes, crafting supplies, and storage materials you have. Read through the steps below to see if the supplies on this list will work for you. Be creative and try to find items around your house, thrift stores, and in the garbage. You would be surprised how useful your trash can be. Cleaned food containers and plastic packaging are perfect for storage.
Storage containers. I recommend clear plastic storage bins and containers because they make it easy to see what is inside. If you are on a budget don’t worry about buying a ton of containers. You can use opaque containers and label them. You can use things like old suitcases, baskets, hat boxes, and trunks. Keep an eye out for stuff like this at thrift stores and always pay attention to your trash (and the trash of others). You can use cardboard boxes, but because they can attract bugs and fall apart over time, they are not ideal.
To buy new plastic bins shop around for the best bargains. Dollar stores are a good source and you if you are savvy with coupons and sales, you can get fancy storage bins at JoAnn's and Michaels for much cheaper than the regular price.
A variety of hangers, the selection of which depends on your individual needs. Flocked suit hangers and flocked tiered hangers are essential for most people. Pant and skirt hangers or hangers with clips are also very useful. More on hangers later.
Multiple sizes of Ziplock bags. 2 gallon, gallon, quart, sandwich, and snack sizes. The plastic bags that you remove from stuff you buy can also work. It doesn’t matter if the bag can stay closed on its own because you can always use tape, clips, or staples. You want to only use clear or mostly clear bags.
Pearl Head Sewing Pins
Scrap Paper, thicker card stock style paper works best. A cereal box is perfect.
Ribbon or string
Scotch and/or Masking Tape
Sharpie, for labeling
Supplies for the Overachiever
Label Maker. You know you have always wanted a reason to buy one. Label makers are nice because they provide a nice, uniform look. If this is important to you then it may be worth it to invest in one. You can also make labels on your computer or by hand with a marker and tape.
Styrofoam heads. If you own headpieces or hats that do not keep their shape on their own, you should store them on heads. Styrofoam heads are the cheapest option. Around Nola you can buy them at local beauty supply stores like Queen's Beauty Supply on Claiborne Ave, or use the Michaels App to get coupons, which can reduce the price of their heads by as much as 60%. Styrofoam and plastic heads can be found online too at Amazon and other store supply websites.
Wig Stands. If you have wigs that were expensive, styled, or decorated treat them right by storing them on wig stands. Wig stands are inexpensive and they keep your wigs from getting knotted and mangled. Be sure to get taller stands for any long wigs.
Steps to Getting Organized
Step One: Block Time.
Depending on how large and disorganized your costume closet is, this can be a quick afternoon project or it can require several days. Only you can determine how much time you will need. Planning is key. You want to make sure that you block yourself enough time to finish. Otherwise, you will end up creating more of a mess. Be prepared when you start. Don’t stop until you are done. Niki’s costume closet make over took me about 20 hours total not including any shopping I did.
Step Two: Get Over Your Hang Ups.
Start by making sure that everything is hung up properly. Costumes on the floor? Hang them up. Costumes still in the bathroom from Mardi Gras? Go get them and hang them up. Remove all of your crappy wire hangers. Your costumes deserve better!!
Figure out what type of hanger a garment needs and go get some. The right hanger keeps a garment from falling off and helps to maintain the structure of pieces. Flocked hangers are great for slippery fabrics and tops with straps and wide necks. Wooden hangers give nice support to a garment. Hangers with clips can hold skirts and decorated bras. Tiered flocked hangers are great for pants, scarves, and even tights.
Avoid cramming your costumes on the hanging rod. Relocate some or find costumes that can be folded. I moved all of Niki’s less commonly used and older costumes to a closet in another room that had more space.
The point is to get the hanging stuff looking neat and nice. It is an easy way to get some instant gratification.
Step Three: Sort the Wreckage.
Overflowing drawers and bins crammed with god knows what can be daunting.
You just have to dive in. Odds are you will discover things you forgot you even owned, so it is kind of like shopping. Costumes can hold a ton of memories and revisiting those as you are sorting helps make the time fly.
Sorting is also something that does not require full sobriety. So turn on some tunes and pour yourself a drink and enjoy the walk down memory lane while you sort yourself silly.
How to sort: The sorting process is simple. All you need is ample space for all your piles and patience.
Go through everything one item at a time. To decide whether to keep something you can go all Marie Kondo and ask yourself if an item still “sparks joy” for you, but with costumes that is kind of hard. Most costumes spark joy. You have to figure out your own criteria.
I made Niki consider the space something was taking up, whether she would really ever wear it or use it again, and if it was too sentimental to give away.
Sentimental stuff she would never wear, but wanted to keep, got boxed up to live elsewhere. We piled up some things for friends. A few things went to GoodWill. The rest of the better-for-someone-else stuff came to The New Orleans Costume Center.
The stuff that Niki wanted to keep went into piles too: ribbon, fringe, fabric, wigs, gloves, leg warmers, socks, eyewear, headbands, booty shorts, belts, body suits, leotards, foam, sequins, florals, feathers, headpieces, hats, leggings, skirts, waist cinchers, “gig wear,” decorated bras, appliqués, other trims, glitter, glue, and small decorative crafting items.
It was a huge freaking mess. Niki was worried she had made a mistake I could tell.
Then I sorted the large piles into more piles. I sorted sequins by color, tights by color and style, fringe by color, and fabric by color, fabric type, and size.
How you decide to sort your fabric, trims, and notions will depend on what you have. You can be super specific by grouping only items that are exactly the same together or just group similar items together. You can always combine piles as you go along and see what you have.
For fabric I offer these tips: Separate your small scraps into piles. Separate your remnants (pieces of fabric that are less than a yard). Separate your larger pieces of fabric. I’ll explain what to do with these piles in the next step.
Step Four: Picking Up the Pieces
Once you have your piles it is time to use those clear plastic bags. Ziplocks (or similar bags) are great because they allow you to see what you have, they can save you space, and they keep things separated within a larger storage container.
Bag as much as you can. If you want to be over the top you can measure and write the amount of each item on the plastic bag so you instantly know if you will have enough for a project.
Fabric tips: Bag the small scraps of fabric. If you have larger pieces of the same fabric, put them with the matching bag of scraps. Put all other bags of scraps in a storage container. Label it. Start making a habit of bagging your scraps when you clean up after a project.
Take your remnants and cut off any weird shaped straggly ends of the fabric. You don’t have to cut the edge straight, and you want to keep as much of the fabric intact as possible, but you also want to make it easier to fold (see collage picture below). Bag the scraps you cut off. Lay fabric out and fold odd shaped ends in to create a rectangle. Roll ends in towards one another to create a nice, compact roll. Tie the roll up with ribbon or string. Keep scraps and larger pieces together so you always know how much of a fabric you have, or keep all scraps together in one bin. It is up to you.
Fold and roll your larger (over 1 yd) pieces of fabric. Tie with a ribbon or string. Bonus points if you use your card stock to label the roll with the amount of fabric you have. Pin label to ribbon.
Fold glittery fabric that sheds wrong side out so you contain the sparkle and tape a tiny swatch on a tag so you remember what the right side of the fabric looks like.
Once you are done bagging. Place all bagged items of similar things in one storage container and label. Bins with dividers make keeping things separated even easier.
Tidy up the loose ends of things on spools by taping or pinning the ends.
Loose ribbon can be folded and pinned, bagged or not bagged, and stored together.
Label the outside of your storage containers like crazy. Be specific. You will amuse yourself and thank yourself later when you don’t have to pull down a bin to remember what is inside.
Appliqué storage tip: Use a scrapbook with clear plastic pocketed pages. Slide your appliqués into the pockets. Tape the opening so it doesn’t slide out and voila! You have your own appliqués album. This is particularly fun if you grew up with a sticker book obsession.
Feather storage tip: Use old glass food jars and make feather bouquets to display in your closet. Keep loose feathers bagged.
Bag any accessories that go with ensemble costumes and use binder clips to attach the bag to the costumes’ hangers. This ensures that you never have to go digging for that accessory again.
Tight storage tip: Hang them! I hung Niki’s huge tight collection on flocked multi tiered pants hangers. The flocking holds the tights in place. The tiers save space and allow for the tights to be organized by color and style. Thin tights and fishnets can be tied around the hanger so they do not fall off.
Tiered hangers work for many accessories, pants, skirts, fabric, ties, leggings, scarves, belts, and anything that you can drape over a hanger. It is worth buying a few. Tiered hangers with clips are perfect for a collection of decorated bras.
Fold any garments that aren’t hung and try to store like items together. I found two clear plastic drawers on the side of the road and made these Niki’s leotard and booty short drawers.
Hat boxes are great for things like socks, leg warmers, eyewear, gloves, and other loose accessories.
Put wigs on wig stands. You can also bag them or use a hair net to keep them from clinging to one another. Put headpieces and hats on styrofoam heads. If you can’t fit all your headpieces in your costume closet display them around your house. Enjoy your costumes!
So once you have everything sorted, hung up, folded, bagged, tagged, set up, and stored it is time to kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
The Big Reveal.
It was finally time to show Niki her new costume closet. Drumroll…
The big reveal was exciting, but Niki’s baby was crying and I had to get my kids from school, so our joyous moment was cut short.
The real confirmation of Niki’s joy came to me the next day in this text. “I came home last night and was spinning around in the costume room like I was in the Sound of Music. IT IS AMAZING.”
That’s the thing about getting organized. It takes work and dedication, but the pay off is huge.
I was happy to have helped Niki, and sad that I didn’t make her an outfit from her curtains. Next time.