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creation story: Sue Griffin Costume Director

How she designed the costumes: By shopping. "I've probably put 1,000 miles on my car shopping for this show," Griffin says, detailing scores of trips to area department stores, resale shops, the Williamsburg outlets and Potomac Mills to find just the right wardrobes for each of the play's three characters. Conservative tailored suits and separates bearing labels such as Kaspar, Valerie Stevens, Evan Picone, Jones New York and Donna Karan (a find from the Nordstrom Rack outlet) fill the show's wardrobe racks.

Usually, Griffin spends all of her time at the sewing machine, creating from scratch costumes that have been designed by her or another designer. Just because she was able to purchase everything for this show — with a budget of $3,000 — doesn't mean it was easy. It takes a lot of sleuthing — and fashion knowledge — to put together a total of about 18 different outfits that are appropriate to the time period, the individual characters' personalities, the director's desires and that look good on the actors. "I spend as much time returning things as I do buying them," Griffin says.

How she became interested in costume design: "When I was in about second grade my family took a trip to Williamsburg," she recalls. "I saw those ladies walking around in long skirts and I was fascinated. From that time on, I was interested in historic clothing."

Griffin learned how to sew at about that same age and would go to the library and check out books on historical costumes, some of which she still refers to today. Clothing, especially historical clothing, fascinated her. "Part of it was the fact you could sit down at a sewing machine and make those things," she says.

Although she sewed costumes for high school and college theater productions, Griffin wasn't really aware that you could do it professionally. After college, while working as a buyer for Miller & Rhoads in Norfolk, she got involved in community theater, then began working with the now defunct Norfolk Theater Center.

She has been at TheatreVirginia for 21 years as costume director, where she runs the company's costume shop. Usually, she works with outside designers, helping to construct the costumes to make their vision a reality. But at least once a year, she has the opportunity to design a show herself.

Where she found her inspiration: "As soon as we mentioned corporate wear of the 1980s I thought of the 'Dress for Success' book," says Griffin, referring to the 1978 tome on women's corporate wear by John Molloy. The book contains advice such as, "No outfit, no matter how conservative and businesslike, announces the wearer as a competent professional as well as the jacket." Griffin also researched Vogue magazine of the period for a high-fashion look.

"As I have been shopping for these girls, their clothing personalities have emerged," she says. "It is part the design, and part [the characters]. I think about what each character would wear, and what will look good on the actor. …

"I am buying a miniwardrobe for them. Before I purchase anything I think, 'would this be in [the character's] closet?'"

Why costumes are important in theater: "They add to the visual impact of what the audience is looking at," Griffin says. Some shows, such as TVa's "The Mikado," are all about the costuming. In some shows, Griffin says, the costumes should be so subtle as to not be noticed.

With "The Company of Women," Griffin believes the costumes are extremely important. "I would hope they would be noticed," she says. "I think they are trying to emphasize the success of these characters. They are not everyday characters. They are people who are extremely successful and they are successful in different ways. … I am trying to find clothes that bespeak success and money but that are not loud and ostentatious. Elegance is always described as something that is subtle. I think that's what we're going for."

— Jessica Ronky Haddad

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