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The dresser is part of the wardrobe department of a theatre who tends to be the unsung hero and deals with actors in some of the most intimate moments within a production. You usually find a dresser in a theatre for both drama and dance but you can find them on film and television sets. You also find them in fashion shows and other places where actors and models are in need of help getting their costumes or fashions off and on. They are a fairly recognisable bunch wearing the techie uniform of black and a string of safety pins attached to their shirt, with a tendency to straighten your clothing if you get too close.

A dresser will begin their day in the wardrobe department ironing and pressing clothes and checking if all the costumes needed by the actor are where they should be. Most dressers will have a running sheet listing the costume changes, the scene, the time frame for the change, the side of stage for quick changes and the garments involved. Some productions will only need one dresser for the entire cast; more elaborate productions a dresser for each principle. Many tiny productions, actors have to wing quick changes on their own.

The dresser would then spend time in dressing rooms helping with difficult costumes, period pieces such as Elizabethan or a novelty costume. An actor and dresser can develop close relationships due to the fact that the dresser can see them in their most intimate moments: undressed, suffering from stage fright or dealing with personal issues.

The dresser will the double check their pre set costumes just before the show goes on. This setting up is vitally important if there are quick changes. A quick change is when there is a requirement for an actor to change from one costume into another in a short space of time. When I was training for dressing the shortest complete change was 15 seconds. Whoa! That is crazy talk, you say? It is not impossible to change a grown person from one costume to another costume excluding underwear in almost complete silence, it just takes some tricks of the trade so to speak.

The Space

The quick change generally occurs in the wings, sometimes behind a screen for modesty's sake. This means that silence is generally required for changes due to the close proximity of the audience. It is also not unusual for it to occur on stage behind a flat or even in front of the audience such as during The Phantom of the Opera when Christine is changed for the Hannibal scene.

The Setup

The setup is all-important, the placement of garments, chair and table to make things easier to reach and in the right order in the shortest space of time. Here are some basic guide lines:

  • Skirts placed on the floor with the shoes inside so you can just step into it. If there is a hooped petticoat such as a farthingale or bustle it is possible to place the overskirt over the petticoat and step into the two at once. The placement of shoes in the skirt means you can step into the skirt and shoes at the same time.
  • When dealing with a shirt or blouse do not unbutton them all the way as it is quicker to bring them over the head (providing they are not wearing a wig!).
  • A jacket draped on the back of a chair allows you to present it as if you are about to put it on when picking it up from the chair.
  • Things like scarves, cravats, ties and socks are easily accessible if carried on the shoulder.
  • Small accessories are best placed on a table within easy reach, necklaces and earrings unclasped, gloves facing the direction they will be picked up from and hats out of the way as they are always the last item to go on.
  • Speaking of hats, the bane of a dresser's life is the wig, there can be a number of changes for an actor in some productions, but in others it can be the same wig throughout the show. This causes more hassles at times as they are prone to come off at the worst possible times and fall to the floor which is not good for the wig. In larger productions this is not an issue as there is a poor wretch assigned to the management of wigs. As a dresser if the wig came off I generally put it back on and hoped for the best, maybe with a bit of smoothing or fluffing if required.
  • When removing clothes don't bother with trying to fold them neatly as they come off unless they are not very sturdy, you can deal with them after the change.

The Final Check

Once you have dressed your actor it is important to check they are ready to go out into the spotlight all fastenings are secure and their make-up not smudged etc. They should look as presentable as if they had taken all day to get ready or as if they have been in a bar brawl, whichever they case may be.

Dressing Kit

Dressing kits contain all one needs to deal with emergencies in the wings. The contents varies from dresser to dresser. This is what mine contains:

  • Safety pins, the cure for all evils; missing buttons, dropped hems etc.
  • Needles already threaded with dark thread and light thread.
  • Band-Aids for blisters
  • Small scissors, for snipping those pesky dangling threads.
  • Gaffer tape, the fix all in theatre.
  • Rescue tape, a double sided tape that can be stuck to skin.
  • A small torch with blue filter to reduce the chances the audience seeing the light.
  • A book to read in the long boring bits between frenzied activity.
  • Running sheet of the production.

Things to remember:

  • Always have a dressing kit.
  • Remember quiet in the wings is the key.
  • If the actor trusts you it goes better.
  • Practice of quick changes make perfect.
  • And last of all Don’t Panic!

Dressing is an important role and helps a production run smoothly, it is a role that consists of short bursts of complete mayhem and flying clothes and long bouts of sitting in dark wings watching the same scene for the umpteenth time. It is a great bonding experience and the relationship between dresser and actor can be very close. Some high profile actors, dancers and singers insist on bring their own personal dresser. More than a person who knows how to put clothes in the right order, a dresser is the reason that writers and directors can have a completely believable season change in a scene change and blackout.

In motorcycle parlance, a dresser is the complete opposite of a chopper.

Whereas a chopper is a spartan, stripped down to the essentials version of a motorcycle, a dresser goes the other way. The chopper guy put a seat on his bike that was barely a seat pan, an inch of foam, and a leather cover.

The dresser guy bought an oversized couch-like one, with more conchos and fringed trim than the wardrobe collection at a Bon Jovi concert. Instead of removing things like crash bars and hard bags, the dresser adds to it. Crash bars are the perfect place to hang lower fairings, which gives you a glove box and more storage down by your legs.

Body trim? Yes please. MOAR.

Accents? Absolutely. Chrome inserts for the dash? Indeed. Huge batwing fairing with a giant windshield? Of course, it makes sure your hands aren't affected by wind chill, even though you do have the wires coming out of your handlebars allowing you to attach your heated gloves. Flags? The US flag, and a POW flag, perhaps.

Cigarette lighter? Yes! Or a USB power connection, CB radio (back in the 1970s), hard bags, tour pack, tour pack luggage rack, maybe even a trailer hitch with a small trailer. And of course, at the end of the gigantic antenna that you have on the back for your radios and CB, a fake raccoon tail. Intercom system for you and your passenger so you can talk while riding. Armrests for the passenger, backrest for the driver.

Headlights? One's nowhere near enough, let's light up the front and back like a Japanese long-distance 18 wheeler. God forbid you get a short in the wire, your wiring diagram might as well look like the internal schematics for the i7 processor.

There's nothing more offensive to the chopper pilot than a "land barge" of this sort, but again, it's your bike, run it the way you want. The chopper guy might find it easier to get to his engine in case of a breakdown, but the dresser guy is far less likely to be swearing in the midst of a blast of near-frozen rain, as well as probably having things like a tent and sleeping bags, and clean clothes packed away as opposed to the chopper guy only being able to carry a spartan bedroll and the barest of tool kits.

But then again, there's always been tension in the motorcycling world between the richer guys who basically think of motorcycling as two wheel RVing, and the guys who came back from the war and liked to drink and fight and preferred the bare essentials and nothing more.

The ne plus ultra of the touring bike world was the Honda Goldwing, referred to as the "lead-wing" because of the sheer weight and immensity of the fairings, body panels, options, luxuries, and so forth. Harley Davidson makes the "Ultra Classic" touring model, often referred to as the "Geezer Glide" because it's usually older riders, sick of the demands on the body of the chopper deciding finally to ride with some amount of comfort and storage.

But hey, the bulk of riders are at least doing the "bagger" route, adding hard bags and some kind of front fairing these days. There's always been a pendulum swinging back and forth between the over-adorned, and the Spartan, and right now we're looking at the former more than the latter.

The ones really winning out on this here though is the dealers, who are ecstatic at the sound of cash registers ringing up extra bits and pieces left and right.

To go the other way, see chopper.

Dress"er (?), n.

1.

One who dresses; one who put in order or makes ready for use; one who on clothes or ornaments.

2. (Mining)

A kind of pick for shaping large coal.

3.

An assistant in a hospital, whose office it is to dress wounds, sores, etc.

4. [F. dressoir. See Dress, v. t.]

(a)

A table or bench on which meat and other things are dressed, or prepared for use.

(b)

A cupboard or set of shelves to receive dishes and cooking utensils.

The pewter plates on the dresser
Caught and reflected the flame, as shields of armies the sunshine.
Longfellow.

 

© Webster 1913


Dress"er, n. [F. dressoir. See Dress, v. t.]

A piece of chamber furniture consisting of a chest of drawers, or bureau, with a mirror. [U. S.]

 

© Webster 1913

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