Can you please tell us about your background and the
background to The Haslemere Wardrobe John?
Haslemere Wardrobe was started as a theatrical costume hire
service more than 40 years ago by my mother-in-law. She had
been on the stage herself and found that many costumes were
dirty and unpleasant to wear. So she resolved always to offer
clean costumes – a tradition we continue to this day.
virtually withdrawn from the theatrical market now, although
we do still dress people for music videos and advertising
photoshoots. Our mainstream business today is general vintage
costume hire and vintage clothing sales.
Kate, has been the driving force on the costume side of the
business since we took it over about eight years ago, when her
mother retired. I focus on business development, marketing,
systems and general management.
past year we have undertaken a massive review of our stock –
which reached some 50,000 outfits at its peak – and have
streamlined and re-catalogued our hire range to support our
highly efficient online costume hire service,
of our inventory provides the backbone of our vintage clothing
retail business, which is online at
also operates from our shop at 19 St Christopher’s Road,
What is it for you that makes these costumes so special?
John: Our range covers more than
2,000 years of clothing history and there is a high level of
authenticity. Most of our 20th century costumes were once worn
by real people in everyday situations: what stories might some
of these outfits tell – World War 2 uniforms, for example?
replica costumes of earlier times are all skillfully made –
either from contemporary patterns or from extensive research
to ensure great accuracy in terms of style, fabric, colour,
accessories and so on.
Who are your
customers, where are they coming from and what sort of
feedback and comments are you getting from clients?
John: These days our hire customers
probably represent a good cross-section of the UK public.
Dressing up for themed events, parties and other special
occasions is a nationwide favourite. Business has remained
good throughout the economic difficulties of the past four
years, so it seems we are able to help people escape for a
while from the realities of life!
mentioned above, we also get requests from time to time from
the video and advertising sectors – most recently some of our
World War 2 US Army uniforms featured in a local music video.
the feedback we get commends our clean, well-presented
costumes that are delivered on time. But many people also
express amazement at the quality and authenticity of our
costumes – for example, a 1940s RAF uniform might genuinely
have been worn by a Battle of Britain hero.
Please tell us more about the various genres, decades and
styles you have to offer.
John: Our hire costumes range from
Ancient Greek and Roman times, through the middle ages to
Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian times – and every
decade of the 20th century (except the 1990s, but that will be
coming soon!). We have men’s, women’s and children’s outfits
for many of the eras.
range is, naturally, biased towards the 20th century, but this
is proving to be an extremely popular offering.
Events like Twinwood and Goodwood Revival prove that forties
and fifties clothes and styles are hugely popular. Is this a
trend that you have picked up on?
John: Most definitely! World War 2
and the years that followed have had an immense impact on the
society we know today. Many people want to experience some of
the ‘feel’ of that period – and what better way to start than
by dressing as their parents (or grandparents) would have done
at the time?
And why is
Retro and Vintage generally in all its forms so popular with
so many people these days?
John: Costume hire and vintage
clothing sales benefit enormously from TV shows like Downton
Abbey and other period pieces reflecting 19th and 20th century
sales side, in particular, there is also something of a
reaction to our ‘throwaway’ society. Modern clothing is
generally not made to last, but people still value quality
garments that they can wear over and over again. While quality
is still available today, it is prohibitively expensive –
vintage clothing allows people to acquire quality at
affordable prices, and often in styles that are enduring.
How hard are these costumes to maintain and keep in good
John: The hire business is not just
about having a huge range hanging on rails, it’s about getting
outfits into the marketplace to earn their places in our
catalogue for many years. At the same time, we have to invest
heavily in costume inspection and maintenance to ensure that
each costume continues to work for us by making our customers
returned outfit is carefully checked and any defects, such as
missing buttons, tears or stains are dealt with immediately.
Items are then laundered (in house) or sent out for
dry-cleaning. With some costumes booked to go out again almost
immediately, there’s a lot of pressure on this part of our
If someone is thinking of hiring or buying costumes from you,
what advice would you give to them by way of being prepared?
John: Knowing their sizes and having
a good basic idea of what they want are always a great help.
Costumes on our website are arranged to provide an easy visual
catalogue, so online customers should not have any great
welcome browsing customers to our vintage clothing shop, but
earlier this year we switched in-person hire customers to
appointments only. When people book appointments, we find out
their main needs and then when they arrive we show them a
variety of appropriate costumes to choose from. This saves
time for them and for us.
Can you tell us more about the vintage clothing side of your
John: Since we identified the
business potential in vintage clothing sales, we have appeared
at Goodwood Revival and numerous other ‘vintage’ events and
markets, using them not only as opportunities to sell but also
as chances to meet a wider range of potential customers.
There’s enormous potential in this sector – the vintage
clothing business won’t wear out for a long time!
What do you most enjoy about running The Haslemere Wardrobe?
John: As with most businesses, there
are risks, worries and sometimes tough decisions to be made,
so it’s not all plain sailing. But beyond the day-to-day
concerns of running a business, we have the enormous
satisfaction of helping customers to have costumed fun. They
want to look the part, we fulfill their need, they are happy –
and so are we.
Where do you see the future for The Haslemere Wardrobe John?
John: With our two online operations
now fully functional we have completed the transition from
local family business to nationwide service company. Our
immediate aims are to achieve substantial growth in both
costume hire and vintage sales: the infrastructure is in
place, now we are stepping up our marketing activity. Once the
business is ticking over at satisfactorily higher levels we
may well seek the challenge of further growth opportunities –
we already have some interesting ideas, but it’s far too early
to talk about them.
Haslemere Wardrobe -
The UK's Best Costume Provider
Costumes, Medieval Costumes, Tudor Costumes, Musketeers
and Cavaliers Costume, Georgian Costumes, Pirates
Costumes, Regency Costumes, Victorian Costumes, Wildwest
Costumes, Edwardian Costumes, 1920's Costumes, 1930's
Costumes, 1940'S Costumes, 1950's Costumes, 1960's
Costumes, 1970's Costumes, 1980's Costumes, Best of
British Costume, Countries Costumes, Children's Costumes,
Literature Characters, Stage & Screen Costumes, Goodwood
Revival Costumes, Occupations Costumes, Christmas Costumes
Hiring the perfect
costume for any event or party from The Haslemere Wardrobe has
never been easier! Use our easy online hire service to choose
a fantastic costume from the comfort of your desktop.
One of the UK's foremost experts on vintage clothing has given
leading costume hire company The Haslemere Wardrobe a
Victorian boost on national TV – and hailed it for its
specialist knowledge and vast range of outfits.
Bookmark the site as your number one source of information
about vintage clothing hire (and sales) ... plus useful daily
historical notes to stimulate your ideas for themed events and
how to look the part.
Costume Hire Shop 01428 642202 Option 1
Costume Hire on-line 01428 642202 Option 2
Costume Hire Stage & Screen 01428 642202 Option 3