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Unsung Stars of The Stage: Broadway Costume Makers

A spotlight on the revered Parsons-Meares costume shop
Threads #197, June/July 2018
Sally Ann Parsons, owner of the Parsons-Meares costume shop.

When audiences watch a performance, they may not realize the endless behind-the-scenes work before and after every successful production. Costume makers, like those at New York’s highly regarded Parsons-Meares LTD, are among the artisans who help create and maintain a production’s unique look.

Known for attention to detail and innovation, Parsons-Meares has been the go-to costumer for many productions since the 1980s. The costume shop made its first Broadway impression with Sophisticated Ladies, and built a reputation with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Parsons-Meares artisans have made costumes for 17 productions that earned Tony Awards for Best Costume Design.

An example of beading on a costume.

An example of beading on a costume created at the shop for The Lion King, designed by Julie Taymor.

Detailed Records of past productions

An enormous body of knowledge emerges from the workrooms of Parsons-Meares. It is documented in the archives of the New York Public Library in “costume bibles.” These records, accessible to the public, cover 1980 to 2001. The bibles include photocopies of sketches, color photos, patterns, construction notes, measurements, fitting and sourcing notes, and textile swatches for 19 theater, opera, and ballet productions, according to a collection summary from the library. Many of the costume bibles are for Broadway productions, including the award-winning shows Cats, Grease, Sophisticated Ladies, Starlight Express, and The Will Rogers Follies. Dance productions are also represented, especially for the Joffrey Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet. For more information, go to Archives.NYPL.org/the/23220.

The skilled hand of painter Mary Macy applies a design to fabric pinned tautly to a worksurface.
Woman working on a grasslands skirt for The Lion King.
Hand finisher Magdalena Sarmiento works on a grasslands skirt for The Lion King.
Woman sewing a gown for Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella.
Operator Nelsa Rodriguez sews a voluminous gown for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, designed by William Ivey Long.

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