18 October 2022

Looking for a 'clothes' encounter of the theatrical kind? Go no further than Canberra REP

| Sally Hopman
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Woman in fur coat

Canberra REP wardrobe mistress Jeanette Brown tries on a fur for size – one of the thousands of garments going up for sale at REP Retro from October 20-22. Photos: Sally Hopman.

Is your smoking jacket looking a bit burnt-out? Have one too many petticoats flattened your hoop skirt? Have you convinced yourself you will never, ever be able to match that button?

Have no fear, the Canberra Repertory (REP) Society is here – along with just-about-almost every item of clothing, footwear, haberdashery and jewellery you’ve always wanted but never been able to find – at its annual Stage Door Sale. You’ll even be able to buy suitcases to carry home your retro treasures with you.

Not held for a couple of years because of the COVID-19 lockdown, Canberra REP will host its Stage Door Sale from 20 to 22 October, with all excess items from its vast wardrobe up for sale.

Boxes of breeches

Fancy or plain, more breeches than you’d find even in a Jane Austen novel will be up for sale by Canberra REP.

And for Canberra REP wardrobe mistress Jeanette Brown and her team, they’re talking tens of thousands of items. Everything used in REP’s performances, either specifically created for the productions by Jeanette and the wardrobe team, or purchased especially. Some items, Jeanette says, don’t bear the closest of scrutiny, being made to last a limited rather than a long time, but all are with great provenance. You, too, will be able to own a glittery cocktail frock/pillbox hat/military topcoat as worn by your favourite actor in a REP show.

The thousands of items will go on sale because the REP has simply run out of room to house them.

“It’s hard to know what there will no longer be use for but we have to clear a lot of it so there’s room for costumes for new productions,” Jeanette said.

READ ALSO For Canberra REP, life’s still a stage, 90 years on

She said REP volunteers had been spending the past few weeks sorting, hanging and boxing wardrobe items, trying to find space to store them prior to sale.

“We’ve got them everywhere,” she said. “We keep getting new costumes with every play we do and then we get donations from people. So every bit of space we have is used up.”

And she’s right. Rack after rack fill the space, with like items hung together neatly. From one side there are metres of suit jackets, hung adjacent to military costumes near racks of sparkly frocks. There are vintage furs, all hung together with boxes of catalogued haberdashery. Boxed up shoes line the floor, all perfectly colour-matched.

Apart from costumes from the shows, there are hats, bags, buttons, bow ties and beads and a large selection of breeches, long johns and “distressed singlets”. If you’re after synthetic hair switches – including plaits, coils and ones with no hair at all – you’ll find them at the sale, along with beards and chest “hair”.

But wait, there’s more: milliners’ flowers, costume jewellery, nighties, the fanciest of frocks and most dapper of suits – and even a wedding dress.

Woman in racks of clothes

Jeanette Brown peeks through some of the racks of clothes from the Canberra REP wardrobe which go up for sale later this month.

“We often get a lot of the uni students coming in when we have the sale. They put wonderful collections of clothing together for outfits. We also get people who might just be looking for a specific thing … collectors, and people who just want to have a look.”

The wardrobe team has taken out items for the sale they think won’t be needed by the company, hanging them up wherever there’s space. The sale itself will be held on centre stage of the REP theatre.

As a not-for-profit organisation, all money raised from the REP Retro sale will go back to the theatre company so it can continue to offer entertainment to its Capital region audience, in this, its 90th year of operation.

The sale will be at the REP’s premises next to the Australian National University School of Art, with entry via the stage door. It will be open from 11 am to 3 pm daily from October 20 to 22.

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