8 Tools I Use to Perform Wardrobe Experiments on the Actors I Dress

Working as a costume designer is like being a mad scientist, testing an endless series of bizarro hypotheses.
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Alison Freer
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Working as a costume designer is like being a mad scientist, testing an endless series of bizarro hypotheses.

I've written somewhat extensively here about all the various useful wardrobe tools I use in my day job as a costume designer to keep my actor's looks together. (Wait, you didn't think those fools woke up like that, did you?! There's actually an army of people with trailers full of gizmos and gadgets behind the scenes of you favorite TV show, making sure every detail is perfect.)

My mobile office, also known as the wardrobe trailer. (It's really just a traveling sardine can.)

My mobile office, also known as the wardrobe trailer. (It's really just a traveling sardine can.)

It's amazing what you can talk actors into trying when you yourself "act" like you really believe in what you're selling. I've tricked hundreds of actors into letting me test out my wardrobe hacks and strange tools on them and their clothes — and in the process, I've learned what works and what doesn't. So get a pen and take notes, because class is in session. 

LEATHER PAINT FOR DIY DINGBATS

Using brand names, logos, or art on garments in the confines of a TV shows can be a tricky business — as certain networks don't allow any sort of logos to be visible, some art is copyrighted and licensed, and kids' TV shows in particular can't have anything that could be construed as "marketing to children" within the confines of programming as per the Children's Television Act and the FCC.

Since it's darn near impossible to find something without logos these days (particularly sneakers and gym shoes), I've had to become a master cover-up artist. While my early attempts involved using spray paint (wardrobe experiment FAIL!), I've since graduated to the best money can buy: Angelus acrylic leather paint.

A couple coats of paint and a few hours of drying time can turn any raggedy old pair of shoes into a beautiful, Guernica-esque masterpiece. 

A GARMENT BAG THAT BREATHES LIKE A HUMAN

You might think that an airtight vinyl garment bag is the best way to store and protect a special garment (like your wedding dress), but it's actually one of the worst — as it can allow any trapped moisture to fester, causing mold and mildew to form. Instead, grab a garment bag with a canvas or woven back, which allows air to circulate freely in and around your garment inside its storage vehicle in order to avoid the creeping crud.

Wondering how I know this? Well, that would be due to storing a few one-of-a-kind dresses that an actress wanted to take home at our season wrap in 100 percent clear vinyl garment bags — and opening them up to severe mold at the end of our year-long run, of course. She was most pleased with me, don't you know?! 

"DON'T BE DISGUSTING" ARMPIT STAIN REMOVER

One of the main wardrobe problems I'm asked to solve (by both readers AND actors) is yellowed armpit stains. While the truth is that the very best solution is to never let them take up residence in the first place (using these clever stick-in armpit guards that I am evangelical about), some hope does exist after the fact in the form of this miracle product called Raise

I've used it with pretty great success on armpit stains that are less than three months old and that haven't been washed and dried too terribly much — because even just a little time in the dryer is what guarantees you've got those armpit stains for life. 

BADDA BING, BADDA BANG JEWEL ORGANIZER

If you're tired of sifting through an overstuffed, under-organized jewelry box every single morning, just do what wardrobe girls do — hang it all up! When you can see what you've got (and it's cleverly corralled in neat little pockets), you're 700 times MORE likely to wear it — and 500 times LESS likely to misplace a lousy earring back. 

This version has a crazy heavy-duty hanger that won't bend or break, thereby sparing you the drama of the whole thing crashing down in the wardrobe trailer, spilling a character's jewelry collection all over the floor. 

TOP SECRET MOISTURE-ABSORBING DEVICE

Wardrobe offices are only rarely in glamorous locales. Yes, you could luck out and find yourself in Lucille Ball's private bungalow on the Paramount Studios lot once in your career — but more often than not, both you and your actor's clothes will be stashed away in the moist, moldy bowels of a soundstage. And as you may already know, moisture is the mortal enemy of clothing.

You can fight moisture and odor in your own tiny wardrobe space the same way I do in my actor's giant closets — with these clever hanging moisture-absorbing bags. They absolutely, positively, 100 percent work.

CAN YOU...CAMEL NOT?

There's just no way you won't have six dozen follow-up questions once I tell you this next story, and I'm really, truly sorry in advance that I cannot answer them. 

I bought this "anti-camel toe" device (which really should be called a crotch bra) on a whim for the simple reason that I've never met a wardrobe gadget I didn't want to own — no matter how stupid. I legitimately hoard costume supplies in the hopes that one day, somehow, the opportunity will present itself to use it. There's a special kind of smugness that comes when you happen to be the one who has the solution to a costume department drama deep in your magical bag of tricks. 

I actually ended up using this anti-camel toe device on a man, and while you might be thinking that a man can't get a camel toe, let me assure you that you'd be quite wrong. I'll only say that this specific scenario involved a custom-made white wetsuit, and on that day, everyone learned why men's wetsuits are almost ALWAYS black — a forgiving color that hides a multitude of sins. 

When our producer would not stop screaming at me about the situation onstage, I just texted him this photo of surf god Kelly Slater and considered my case closed.

LAUNDRY SOAP THAT'S AS BLACK AS YOUR SOUL

You can keep your precious blacks dark as night forever with this specialty laundry soap, made specifically for ultra-dark fabrics. I don't actually do my actor's laundry myself, but I've made sure our laundry service always has a jug of this stuff on hand, because it truly extends the life of a character's all-black wardrobe.

LAZY BONES CLOTHING DEODORIZER

Shooting a show live in front of a studio audience is an exciting way of life — but it can also lead to nervous sweats under hot stage lights. What I'm trying to say here (and I'm truly sorry to have to say it) is that some of your favorite actors probably really stink to high heaven.

To freshen up smelly costume changes between scenes, I slip these activated carbon deodorizing devices over any hanger — stopping smells right in their tracks. They are especially brilliant for leather coats and other items that are tedious and costly to dry clean. If you don't believe me, just check out these happy Amazon.com reviewers.

Got a clothing-related drama you can't find a solution to? Try me in the comments. There are literally THOUSANDS of ingenious solutions to life’s little wardrobe malfunctions — and I've experimented with almost every single one of them.

Alison Freer is the author of 'How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing'.