Throughout most of the 19th century, designing and constructing costumes for a specific production was seldom done. An actor was expected to furnish his or her own theatrical wardrobe, and the ability to do so was a major factor in one's employ-ability. On the road, actors spent much of their discretionary time plying the needle to keep their wardrobes in good repair. In those days, when most people owned only the clothes they wore every day, investment in a stage wardrobe was a major expense, especially for Shakespearean actors. Indeed, when Walker Whiteside lost his entire wardrobe in a theatre fire in 1901, he could not afford to replace it, and thus he changed the course of his career from Shakespearean acting to character roles in contemporary plays. Frank Chanfrau recalled (Kansas City Journal, 4 October 1891) that in his early days at the Chatham Street Theatre in New York, he was cast as the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet to Charlotte Cushman's Romeo. The apothecary role required a pair of black tights. However, on a utility man's 65-cents-a-week salary, Chanfrau could not afford to buy them. He sought out the stage manager and asked for help, but was told to find himself some tights or another actor would be hired as utility. In despair Chanfrau combed through the theatre's wardrobe in search of anything that might serve the purpose. In a pile of moth-eaten royal robes, he found a rusty black domino. For the performance, he thrust his legs through the sleeves of the domino and wound the rest of the garment around his body. He succeeded in making his entrance without having been seen by the stage manager, but the audience roared with laughter at his appearance. This caused Chanfrau to forget his lines, so he rushed out of his shop, leaving Romeo to get his own poison. He expected to be discharged, but Miss Cushman learned the circumstances, interceded for him, and presented him with a pair of black tights, which he wore to success the following night. William S. Hart in his memoir My Life East and West tells a similarly pathetic and hilarious story of costuming himself in Lawrence Barrett's touring production of Julius Caesar.
   The problems persisted beyond the turn of the century, as attested in Gladys Hurlbut's entertainingly informative memoir (1950, 14550): "When the director said to me, 'You're poor for the first two acts,' that was great good news, for the 'Rags to Riches' plays took less wardrobe. Clothes were a terrific problem to stock actresses. . . . A leading woman averaged four changes a week and often more. The higher salary we got, the better we were expected to dress. I always spent most of my wages on clothes." Indeed, Hurlbut worked out a plan with several other leading women, whereby each would stay with a stock company in a given city long enough to use their wardrobes, which could be stretched over three or four months. Then they would give notice and exchange jobs.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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  • wardrobe — late 14c., room where wearing apparel is kept, earlier a private chamber (c.1300), from O.N.Fr. warderobe, variant of O.Fr. garderobe place where garments are kept, from warder to keep, guard (see WARD (Cf. ward) (v.)) + robe garment (see ROBE… …   Etymology dictionary

  • wardrobe — [wôr′drōb΄] n. [ME warderobe < NormFr, for OFr garderobe < garder (see GUARD) + robe, ROBE] 1. a closet or movable cabinet, usually relatively tall and provided with hangers, etc., for holding clothes 2. a room where clothes are kept; esp …   English World dictionary

  • wardrobe — [n] clothes or furniture for storing clothes apparel, attire, buffet, bureau, chest, chiffonier, closet, clothing, commode, costumes, cupboard, drapes*, dresser, dry goods, duds*, ensembles, garments, locker, outfits, rags*, suits, threads*,… …   New thesaurus

  • wardrobe — ► NOUN 1) a large, tall cupboard in which clothes may be hung or stored. 2) a person s entire collection of clothes. 3) the costume department or costumes of a theatre or film company. 4) a department of a royal or noble household in charge of… …   English terms dictionary

  • wardrobe — noun 1 for storing clothes ⇨ See also ↑closet ADJECTIVE ▪ built in, fitted (both BrE) ▪ double (BrE) ▪ walk in (BrE) VERB + WARDROBE …   Collocations dictionary

  • Wardrobe — A wardrobe (sometimes called an armoire ) is a standing closet used for storing clothes. The earliest wardrobe was a chest, and it was not until some degree of luxury was attained in regal palaces and the castles of powerful nobles that separate… …   Wikipedia

  • wardrobe — /wawr drohb/, n., v., wardrobed, wardrobing. n. 1. a stock of clothes or costumes, as of a person or of a theatrical company. 2. a piece of furniture for holding clothes, now usually a tall, upright case fitted with hooks, shelves, etc. 3. a room …   Universalium

  • wardrobe */ — UK [ˈwɔː(r)drəʊb] / US [ˈwɔrdˌroʊb] noun Word forms wardrobe : singular wardrobe plural wardrobes 1) [countable] a large piece of furniture like a large cupboard where you can hang your clothes Ted was putting his clean clothes away in the… …   English dictionary

  • wardrobe — [[t]wɔ͟ː(r)droʊb[/t]] wardrobes 1) N COUNT A wardrobe is a tall cupboard or cabinet in which you can hang your clothes. 2) N COUNT: oft poss N Someone s wardrobe is the total collection of clothes that they have. Her wardrobe consists primarily… …   English dictionary

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