A cocoon coat from the TDF Costume Collection

I had the amazing good fortune yesterday to receive a semi-private tour of the TDF Costume Collection guided by its director, the extraordinary Stephen Cabral.

Costume Collection Director Stephen Cabral with a boot from the preview production of Hamilton–before they invested in handmade boots for the cast!

On Monday I’d met with my business/spiritual team, and the advice I received after telling them how hard it was for me to get back on track after my silent retreat was, “Take the rest of the week off and fill yourself up with positive experiences and lots of color.” I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean, but trusted the advice.

I’d already reserved Tuesday for celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday, so Thursday worked for this field trip with my good friend Holly Cohen, a member of the TDF Board of Trustees, who had offered the invitation even before knowing how timely it was.

She and I had lunch with Stephen before the tour where he filled us in on the history of the Collection and who it’s meant to serve. This is NOT a Halloween warehouse! It offers costume rentals at affordable prices to not-for-profit organizations and groups nationwide. If your high school is putting on Grease, here’s where you’d want to come for a selection of poodle skirts.

The collection houses over 80,000 costumes ranging in time period from Egyptian/Greco-Roman to the 1970’s – 80’s. In 2016-2017, it provided over 10,000 costumes for over 1000 productions in 34 states. I’d put money on it that Stephen Cabral could name every one of those rentals! His capacity for detail and story held us in his thrall.

The main collection is in an enormous lower level space (please don’t refer to it as the…basement), and there’s a smaller gem down the hall for more elaborate and exotic rentals, including an entire rack of Bob Mackie gowns. He let us touch them and hold them to experience not only the handwork involved, but also to feel how heavy all those beads and sequins are. We’re talking 20-40 pounds. Many of the donations–nothing there has been paid for–come from the Metropolitan Opera House. We were fascinated to see how the costume designer had allowed the back of one woman’s gown to fit a size 8 to size 16 simply by the addition of a panel of hooks widening the expanse from behind.

Our last stop was the Library where we were most privileged to see a few of the 36 trunks–and I’m talking cases the size of my bathroom, not valises–Stephen and an associate had hand-selected from Bob Mackie’s personal collection. Mr. Mackie had generously made the TDF Costume Collection his beneficiary if they would be responsible for the selection and shipping of goods.

Stephen showed us this yellow Bob Mackie ‘number’ designed for the comedian Totie Fields. (Note the room-sized trunks to his right.) There was a story behind each garment. We could have listened to him recount the history of each garment. Remember the Carol Burnett/Scarlet O’Hara curtain costume? I didn’t know that much of Burnett’s wardrobe was designed by Bob Mackie including the gown made from the green curtains on the walls of Tara, complete with curtain rod. The Costume Collection didn’t get that one, but we saw others that were equally or more impressive.

Costumes from Broadway production of Something Rotten – Color quotient fulfilled!

The Library is a very special place with the most recent donations and the most unique including the newly acquired wardrobe from Something Rotten. When I saw these costumes hanging on the side of some cardboard containers, I thought, Here’s all the color I could possibly want!

For Holly, the biggest thrill was seeing the original costumes from Rent, her favorite show, which Stephen dramatically removed from a closed box. At first, the outfits for that show were store-bought, but eventually, when it became a runaway hit, they were re-designed in the image of the originals.

I learned so much of the history of theatre and saw so many amazing pieces of clothing that I practically floated out of the Astoria warehouse with visions of sugarplums–well, Little Mermaid costumes, for sure–still in my head.

Stephen Cabral is my hero! He is so passionate about what he does, is an encyclopedia of information and has a heart huge enough to share it with two stagestruck NY’ers on an afternoon in the boroughs.


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