Yes, they are. It works both ways. If you do very well for
your clients then they have this massive grapevine going
round all the societies so they will recommend you left,
right and centre. Equally, if you don't live up to what
you say you will do then, quite rightly, they will spread
the word round to other societies not to use you
basically. So you've got to keep on your toes with them
and make sure that you do your best.
That's answered my question about the feedback you are
getting - obviously positive feedback generally?
And is it equally catering for these theatrical groups but
also the general public as well?
Yes, we have two sides to the business. The main one is
the theatre side and we've just done The Hairy Bikers, for
example. They are doing - in their coming series, a thing
about Pavlovas and obviously the meringue Pavlova is based
on Anna Pavlova and her ballet costume. So The BBC in
Birmingham rang us up to see if we could provide them with
a white ballet costume for one of the Hairy Bikers. Which
we did and it's just come back into stock, so I'm looking
forward to seeing that on television. And we did
Coronation Street last year - they had a pantomime in the
Rover's Return at Christmas and we costumed that. The
theatre side is mainly amateur stuff - there are huge,
huge numbers of amateur societies all over the country and
very good societies as well, so we do that and we do some professional
work as well. But then we do have a fancy dress shop up
here in Barnoldswick which is separate from our theatrical
warehouse. And that is very busy all the time with fancy
dress and make-up and things like that.
You said it was very seasonal before...
Yes, now it's all year round.
How did that transpire?
Well, you get a lot of murder mystery parties these days.
Yes. And festivals?
I was just at Bestival and I don't know whether this was official
but they said they were going to appear in The Guinness
Book Of Records as the biggest fancy dress event because
over 50,000 people had dressed up.
We do lot of that sort of thing and we did some work for
Goodwood this year - their Vintage Revival. Gamers we're
always busy with.
Is the forties very popular?
Yes, extremely popular. Our lady who works here
specialising in that area is a very active member and does
forties dancing and attends the forties weekends.
You've got that Haworth weekend, of course.
Yes, Pickering and a number of others. We do have some
original forties stuff like a battledress and I think some
people would be surprised at how small some of this stuff
is. It just makes you realise - these young lads who went
in and lied about their age, how small they were.
And also how big we are these days. (Both laugh)
Let's not go there.
I know it's a challenge for anyone doing costumes. I was
talking to a gentleman this morning who runs a Historical
Events company and this includes chain mail and he says
yes we have changed size in that time and it all depends
on our diet. But, ironically, now we've got access to better
quality food a lot of people are eating bad food.
They are and I think it's right across the board. Because
we do a lot of schools and colleges and you're always
going to get small schoolchildren but even some of the
schoolchildren nowadays are really, really big. It's quite
scary. With my other hat on which has nothing to do with
this I run a slimming world group.
Because in this last year I've managed to shed six stone.
My word. Well done!
So I'm nice and slim now. You learn as you go on - Marks
and Spencer are now providing an outsize school uniform
online and I think the biggest size they do for girls is
something like a 46" bust. For a school uniform
It's like Peggy Mount or Hattie Jacques size.
The only good thing now is that people used to call me
fatty at school but these days they wouldn't call me fatty
because I'm just average sized. (Laughs) But well done you
for losing all that weight. That's a great achievement.
Did you get loads of people doing double takes and not
Yes, and there are quite a few people who haven't seen me
before at the slimming group and I show them a before and
after photograph and they say "Sorry, this isn't
you." And I say "Yes it is. That was me last
Why do you
think Retro and Nostalgia in all its forms is so enduring
I think there's something missing these days. I can
remember going to a forties do - I'm not particularly into
the forties, but I went to display some costumes at a do at
Rolls Royce here in Barnoldswick a couple of years ago. It was a sunny afternoon and they'd arranged a fly-past of one of the old Lancasters.
And it came over several
times, dipping its wings, and the whole place was silent
and the atmosphere was absolutely fantastic. We're in
a very throwaway society these days and I look at the
clothing - I go to Primark and I go to Matalan and I know
that stuff lasts as it lasts and then you throw it out.
But, I mean, I have some beautiful original 1960s dresses
hanging on my rails that are just to die for. And it's fairly
straightforward stuff, not designer stuff, it's brands
like Jean Allen and Susan Small aimed at the middle range
of people that couldn't afford the designer stuff but
wanted nice cocktail dresses or whatever. It's an art form
they are just beautiful and still in absolutely fantastic condition
and I know a lot of people actually buy them and hang them
on the wall as works of art. And the community that was
around then. My own daughter is around fifteen and she
spends her entire evening on Facebook, not communicating
with anybody other than over The Internet.
Yes, trying to satiate that human need for the community
thing which doesn't exist properly anymore.
That's right. So, when you go to these forties and sixties
do's it recreates the sort of feeling that was around at
the time. And with the clothing, people haven't seen that
sort of clothing before. The reaction I get when people
see some of our sixties stuff that we have - my own
daughter thinks it's wonderful and she's quite artistic.
Does she wear it?
She hasn't quite got to that stage but she probably
You have to have a bit of guts to go out in it.
I think so. I know a lot of college students do. A lot of
this stuff is very small as well so it doesn't fit a lot
of people these days. Unfortunately, it's hanging on our
rails and people can't admire it as much as I would like.
But I think it's a case of people... particularly with a
lot of things on television now, when there's Heartbeat
and George Gently and Foyle's War and that sort of thing
on ... modern
people are watching these and looking back and saying
"I wish it was still like that."
Retro is a big part of my life although it doesn't mean I
don't look forward or enjoy the now, but my girlfriend
will go out of the room and come back in a bit later and
the TV will have gone from a modern programme to a history
channel or an old film and she always says "The telly's
broken again, the colour has gone." The British seem
to be obsessed with the forties and it seems to be on TV
all of the time - documentaries, movies and retrospectives.
Even the news is always commemorating some wartime anniversary.
I'm sure if you lived trough it that it was a time of
extreme hardship and you wouldn't want to go back to it.
But it's nice to play at it for a while and then come back
to modern life.
Yes, you're right, it's like having the grandkids round
for a couple of hours but not wanting to have them all of
Just the feel of some of these costumes. I pick up one of
these sixties costumes and it's beaded, it's heavy and it
has a tactile quality that you just can't feel anymore.
And the history behind it - I wish it could tell me where
and eras are the favourites for your clients?
Number one is the forties, then sixties and seventies are
always very popular and then nudging into the eighties now.
They've started to come in now, but that tends to be
film and TV series rather than actual outfits because,
again, by the eighties we were getting into this throw-away
Does that mean you're having to make acquisitions all of
the time and slowly roll forward in time with your stock?
Yes. People turn up on our doorstep and say "I was
clearing out mum's wardrobe" because she's sadly died
and "We found this and they don't want it at the
charity shop these days - is it any good for you?" And
we get the most fantastic stuff given to us, which is
beautiful and if I can use it... We do the costumes for the
musical Sweet Charity, which is, of course, set in the
sixties and if I can use original stuff then I will do,
size permitting. And it's nice to see the costumes out and
about. We acquired, early on, the old Black and White Minstrel
That's a name from the past.
Yes, isn't it just? I remember my parents watching The Black and White
Minstrels Show and, in fact, when we were on holiday in
Scarborough we did go and see them at The Floral Hall and
it was a fantastic night of entertainment. But we fell
over an advert for some costumes and went along to see and
it and it turned out to be the guy who was the stage
manager for The Black and White Minstrels. He'd ended up
with a lot of their costumes. So we have a lot of their
costumes, some of which I have sold on to a collector. And
some of which I thought was quite nice - we had a call
from a collector who'd managed to track us down as having
some of these Black and White Minstrel things. He was mounting
a sort of reunion tour with Margaret Savage and one or two
others who were originally part of The Black and White Minstrels.
So we let him have some costumes. And in a way they had
gone full circle. Back to the people who had originally
worn them. And I think they're still on tour as we speak.
They tour up and down the country and do a tribute.
Are they allowed to black up still?
No, they're not. We have this with Showboat too which used to
be a very popular musical show but, because it has a black
chorus, nobody does it anymore because unless you can find
an entire chorus of black people these days then you can't
do it. Which is a bit sad really because that show, and
The Black and White Minstrels, were making colour into a
fun thing but you've got to be politically correct these days. And
we've lost things that were good.
Digger: What impact
has The Internet had on your business?
It's had a lot of impact. We've always costumed up and
down the country, that's never been a problem with all our
connections with the theatres, but certainly on the fancy
dress side we now have an interactive website and we just
started with an e-fulfillment package with our supplier on
fancy dress. That means that anybody can come onto our
website and they have access to over 6,000 costumes and
accessories to buy. They go on there, they purchase what
they like and it's with them within two working days. It's
actually sent by our supplier which means we don't have
the expense of having massive stocks here.
We sound out to America and all over the world. Once we've
got Halloween and Christmas/New Year out of the way, which
are obviously our busiest times, we'll be able to assess
that a bit more.
So what about the future?
I don't really know. More of the same, I suppose. We're
moving on quite nicely with the shows, the amateur market
I think will continue. The only problem now is that
whereas they were doing two shows a year they're sadly
only able to do one in this climate, because of costs and
the fact that they can't charge the prices that
professionals charge. So they are very aware of budgets.
I've been to several professional shows in the last couple
of months and they weren't more than half full.
Yes, but they keep going, which is good. And hopefully our
Internet business will build up and we get professional
work from the BBC and ITV so hopefully that will keep
coming in. And I shall keep collecting - mind you, we are
thinking of maybe selling some of our retro stuff off
simply because it needs a good home. It's a shame for it
to be sitting on our rails here when someone could be appreciating
it. I have a fantastic fifties Harvey Nicks dress with the
original labels and it's just beautiful and it's sitting
here on a rail - it's sad to see it. I really do want to
shift this stuff on.
I'll see if I can get some people interested Margaret. I
have one or two ideas. Many thanks for taking the time to
tell us about your costume hire business. I know you're
Thanks David. That's lovely.