The Footlight Players has gotten rid of more costumes than most theater troupes will ever acquire.
“Mind you, I had to throw out 180 bags of damaged clothes from the women’s section alone,” said former facilities manager Jerome Monroe, who two years ago overhauled the community theater’s two-story costume closet, exhuming balled-up crinolines from boxes filed away decades ago and hanging up hundreds of forgotten marching-band suits.
Monroe purged ruthlessly. But even the pared down collection numbers about 6,000 items, according to Footlight’s crew.
“I think we have more than Warner Brothers,” technical director George Perrotta said. “I’ve been to their studios. But we’ve been hoarding this stuff.”
Still, it’s not the quantity of fur-cuffed robes or varsity jackets that’s lately drawn Hollywood’s attention.
So far as anyone associated with the theater knows, Footlight has been accepting cast-off clothes from its downtown Charleston neighbors since it moved into its current Queen Street home in 1934. It’s an arrangement that may well have resulted in Footlight sheltering unique or valuable pieces from the history of American fashion. At least, that’s the theory driving a visit from the History Channel reality show American Pickers.
According to Perrotta, representatives of the popular antique-hunting show are planning to poke through Footlight’s collection early next year.
Perrotta hopes the television producers don’t have any particular finds in mind, since the collection still isn’t catalogued in any kind of formal way. “You have a better chance of winning the Monopoly game” than locating a specific item, he said.
Costumes are also mixed in with a wealth of props, ranging from countless umbrellas to crocheted throw pillows to fake dynamite. “It’s just weird stuff you might have known when you were a kid,” Monroe said.
In fact, Monroe said, visitors tend to gravitate toward costumes that date from when they were toddlers, since wandering the costume aisles is powerfully reminiscent of exploring a mother’s wardrobe as a child: The sparkly dresses and swing skirts register as fancy, but there’s no way of knowing why they were first purchased or where they were worn.
Similarly, there’s no obvious explanation for the 15 unopened sets of 96-cent beige Kmart pantyhose in Footlight’s possession.
“It’s easier to bring things here than Habitat (for Humanity),” Perrotta speculates. “They’re getting fussy at Habitat.”