Time for another post in my costume design series! Today I’ll show you how I used the rest of the refrigerator box I used for Cogsworth, and some fantastic curtain fabric to create the “biggest” costume of the show. Madame de le Grande Bouche, also known as Madame Garderobe (aka: the wardrobe lady).
I was originally a bit intimidated by the idea of creating a walking wardrobe. But by the time I got to this costume I had made so many others successfully that it was no longer very daunting. Once I had my inspiration photos and fabric, I was ready to go.
Inspiration, Concept, and Materials
Obviously, I had no plans to try and recreate the wardrobe from the 2017 movie. Aside from the fact that it was computer generated and not played by a human at all, it was also, well, just a little weird-looking in my opinion. (My younger brother declared it “creepy”).
Anyway, I scrolled through lots of online pictures of stage versions, and decided I needed a giant cardboard box cut into a wardrobe shape and either painted or covered with fabric. I found a set of huge, heavy, textured blue curtains at a nearby thrift store. (It was the same store where I hit the jackpot and found the tulle for Babette, the blue fabric for Belle’s peasant costume, Cogsworth‘s lovely fringe, the Bimbette’s shimmery vest and skirt fabric, and the gold chiffon curtains for Belle’s ball gown – post coming soon!). They were so large that I had plenty to cover the wardrobe, create a matching dress for the actress to wear underneath, and also make vests for the prince and the beast actors! It was quite a lot of fabric.
Besides the blue curtains ($10) and refrigerator box ($0), I also used some wide lace I already had on hand ($0), as well as some narrower stuff I got at a giant upholstery warehouse sale ($3). The eyelet lace from the edge of a thrifted bed-skirt went around the bottom of the wardrobe ($4 I think?), and I also found some second-hand, real metal hardware to use on the cabinets and drawers. (abt $6) To complete the look, we gave her a big colonial style wig that had been purchased for another show, and a pair of thrift store shoes ($2).
Total for the costume materials: $25
As with all the castle staff, Madame needed a costume that could transform quickly from a “household object” to a human version. The simplest way to do this was to make her human outfit blend with her “Wardrobe”, which she could simply wear over top.
First, I made the human costume. I had to order a new pattern for it, since I had nothing in the actress’s size. However, I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted in the size I needed, so I ended up ordering something that was close (picture at left) and then altering it to get the look I had in my head. (Which, come to think of it, is what I do with almost every pattern I get. Haha. They are never quite right.) This one had the general shape/design I was looking for, and was simple enough to easily change/embellish as needed.
One of the first things I changed was to make it a one piece instead of a two-piece dress. I did this by first constructing the separate pieces and then simply pinning the skirt to the waist of the bodice and stitching it securely with a machine zigzag stitch. I also raised/altered the neckline, which was extremely low (so low that I’m not even sharing a picture of of the front of the pattern in this post, for the sake of any of my readers who might prefer not to see something quite that revealing. You’re welcome).
The original sleeves were also all wrong. Much too straight and simple for Madame, who is supposed to have an “over-the-top” clothing style to match her personality. I created a much more flouncy version, taking my inspiration from the lovely sleeve on the cover of this book by one of my favorite authors, Jocelyn Green.
For the wardrobe part, I first made a small cardboard prototype to make sure what worked in my head actually worked in 3D. Once I was satisfied it would, I used the refrigerator box for the main frame, and then smaller pieces of card-board from other boxes to create the “doors” and “drawers”. (In some costumes the wardrobe doors actually open, but I did not have the time to figure out how to make that work. Would have been an interesting challenge if I’d had more time though.)
I’m really glad there was enough fabric to make the dress and then cover the wardrobe to match. Paint would have worked of course, but there’s no way it would have matched as perfectly, or looked as textured and interesting on stage. It probably would have just looked like…painted cardboard. Anyway. Once everything was cut out, I covered the main box and then each drawer and cupboard door separately before gluing all the pieces together. (LOTS of hot glue went into the project!). I ended up doing this part in the middle of the night, because I was on a deadline and almost had to pull an all-night to make it. I gave up and went to bed when I started getting nerve pain in my arm. That was interesting. It felt fine after a couple of hours of sleep though. Which was all I had time for. Ha.
Similar to Cogsworth’s costume, I made wide fabric shoulder straps to hold up the box, and attached them with lots of glue and brass paper fasteners. I also added a very wide piece of eyelet lace (from a thrifted bed-skirt) to the bottom of the wardrobe to hide the bottom of the actress’s dress but still give her space to walk more easily. The real metal handles that I found at another thrift store were SO perfect, and really brought authenticity to the wardrobe piece. I used actual screws and nuts to attach them to the heavy cardboard, and reinforced them with, you guessed it, more hot glue!
I unfortunately do not have as many pictures of the complete wardrobe as I would like. But I do have lots of good ones of the dress at least:
As you can see in this close-up of the waistline, I just used a zigzag stitch to attach the finished edge of the bodice to the skirt. Not something I dream of doing to a piece of actual clothing, or a period-accurate costume. But for a stage costume, it worked well, was quick and sturdy, and couldn’t even be seen from the audience.
These next photos show how the back lacing worked. There was a separate panel inside, with eyelets to run the laces through in the middle. This allowed the dress to change sizes a bit, kind of like “corset back” dress. Both the edges of the bodice and the panel itself were stiffened with boning. (Well, technically plastic zip ties, which is my favorite thing to use for boning because they are cheap and easy to cut shorter.) In the third picture you can see how I slide them into channels between layers of fabric. All of that design was more or less original to the pattern. very ingenious.
In the middle picture you can also see the somewhat odd looking darts I had to take in the neckline when we discovered it was too wide for the actress. Thankfully they were much less noticeable on stage. And did you notice there are no actual eyelets for the ribbon to run through in the main bodice? It was a sturdy, loosely woven fabric, and since the ribbon was so narrow and I was in a time crunch, I actually just used a large, sturdy needle to lace the ribbon straight through the fabric. I knew the stitch line and boning would stand up to the pressure, so there was no danger of tearing through.
I embellished the neckline by running a gathering stitch down the center of some flat, ribbon-like lace and pulling it tight to create a ruched effect, then pinning and stitching it in place.
Here are some close-ups of the sleeve detail. I cut the bottom of the ruffle at an angle so that it would be longer behind her elbow than in front (a classic look from the time period) and used the serger to finish both edges, and then ran a gathering stitch about an inch below the top edge. You can see the two different ways of making a ruffle in this picture. The lace was stitched on with “right sides together” then allowed to drop down, covering and hiding the edges were it joined the sleeve. The blue ruffle, on the other hand, was laid on flat, allowing it’s top edge to be seen and essentially creating another, smaller ruffle at the top.
This is the best picture I have of the actress actually wearing the wardrobe. Aren’t those fantastic handles for the drawers and cabinet? The costume worked extremely well. The actress was able to pull her arms inside and rest her head against the the dip in the top of the cabinet doors, hiding everything but her wig. In her first scene, she stood like that in the shadows at the side of the set until Belle bumped into her, and the effect was really great. She just looked like a furniture prop until suddenly she came alive!
When it was time to be “human again”, she simply had to slip the wardrobe over her head (with some help of course), her second costume was already there underneath!
Over all I was very pleased with how this costume turned out. If I’d had more time I would have embellished the dress more I think. But I never do seem to have enough time to do everything I want to do to a costume. Somewhere along the way I eventually have to strike a bargain with practicality and pick something that is actually achievable with the allotted resources. Haha. Maybe someday I’ll do costumes for Broadway and have enough money/time to be as extravagant as a want. No harm in dreaming…