Wardrobe Items Every Actress Should Own

While we generally think of a film or play having a wardrobe department or costumer to supply us with what we wear on stage or in front of the camera, having a diverse wardrobe can help actresses book more work. There are several reasons for this. The first, is that while it is rarely appropriate for one to go to an audition in costume, it is often appropriate for an actress to wear wardrobe “sugestive” of the role she is auditioning for – being ready and able to costume yourself in this way is important. Having a diverse wardrobe can also help an actress book background gigs, which, while not exciting, can help an actress make ends meet without having to take a job that diminshes her ability to audition or work. Finally, some wardrobe items are complex either to fit or wear, and it may often be easier to cast an actress who, for example, owns and knows how to wear a sari, than to have a wardrobe person have to spend time dressing someone unfamiliar with the garment.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for clothes every actress should consider having in her closet. Remembender, many of these items do not have to be a big investment – thrift shops, discount stores and the like are all good things.

  1. Every actress should consider whether there is an ethnic costume that might be appropriate to her background. Most often I see calls for traditional African garb, or traditional garb from Asian nations (Japan, China, Korea, India), but other national costumes do come up from time to time. Make sure whatever garb you own is relevant to your look. You don’t have to be Indian to wear a sari, but as an actress, it will usually only be useful to you if you can convincingly play Indian (although, I once wore one on Law & Order as a cult member, so who knows).
  2. All actresses should consider having nurse whites (easy to find and cheap at uniform stores). I’ve seen many audition calls asking for the actresses to attend in the garb in question. Make sure you have white shoes to go with it.
  3. Similarly, and actress may also want to have a set of surgical scrubs.
  4. Every actress should own several business suits. At least one should be black, and at least one should involve a skirt. A second suit in a dark neutral (blue, grey, dark green, brown) is good, as is a pastel, summer-weight suit as well.
  5. Every actress should own several cocktail dresses (that is dressy, but knee length). One should absolutely be black. Jewel tones (but not bright red) would be ideal for a second dress in this style.
  6. Every actress should also own an evening gown (I have several, few of which I paid more than $10 for). If you haven’t figured it out by now, again, one should absolutely be black. Jewel tones or pastels are ideal of secondary gowns.
  7. If you have the right look, and are comfortable with the idea of playing a prostitute, stripper, drug addict, etc., make sure you own at least one outfit that conveys this image. Short, tight and sexy is your friend.
  8. If you do a lot of historpical pieces and/or think there’s a lot of work for you playing a goth or dominatrix, having your own corset is not a bad idea. Corsets, however, are expensive, and I wouldn’t suggest you run out and buy one right away. But if you ever have the opportunity to luck into one cheaply, or you find you keep getting cast in roles that require you to wear them, you might want to consider geting your own – certainly, it’s more comfortable (says the girl who wore one and little else on an episode of Third Watch).
  9. Every actress should also own two winter coats – one casual such as a parka style, and one more dressy – i.e., wool. Black, and dark neutrals are best. Recently I worked background on a film that asked me to bring three winter coats! Suggestion: if you have the room, don’t through out old clothes, you’ll never know when you need it.
  10. Every actress should have the appropriate attire to go with her special skills. If you ride horses, have proper riding attire for the style of riding you do. If you dance, have a range of camera-appropriate dance clothes and shoes. If you have professional cooking experience, have chef’s attire.
  11. An actress should also consider religious garb. Again, I wouldn’t put this high on the priority list, but I do know a girl who got a paying gig because she had a nun outfit (that she made herself!)
  12. An actress should try to have some designer clothes. This is what sample sales are for. Don’t spend lots of money on this, but do pick it up on the cheap. It comes in handy when they are looking for “upscale” extras.
  13. Consider getting law-enforcement attire. Those with police and fire uniforms work a lot. Be aware, however, that in the post-9/11 world these items are harder to obtain (many who you see working with them are those who are or have actually been police or fire-fighters) and that SAG has changed their guidance on this issue. Research this issue carefully and talk to your union before deciding to do this.
  14. An actress should have outfits appropriate to each season ready to go. No one wants to be ransacking their closet at the last moment in a desperate attempt to decide what says “fall casual” best.
  15. Sometimes historical costumes can come in handy. I own Regency-era and Renaissance-era clothes, and both have helped me in getting paid work over the years. Again, this is something not necessary, but useful if you have the interest.
  16. Finally, never ever forget accessories. If you wear glasses, have more than one set of frames. Make sure you have appropriate jewlery to go with your suits and gowns. Own a briefcase of business looks, and a backpack for casual looks. Do you get called in to audition for medical roles a lot? Own a stethescope.

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