For Christmas, the costume’s the thing

If you go

Shows: “A Christmas Carol” performances are at the RAAC Community Theatre, 310 Gay St., Washington, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 10-11, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12.
Tickets: Tickets are $15, $5 for ages 15 and younger. RAAC’s Christmas productions typically play to full houses. Early reservation is suggested to guarantee a place. Call 540-675-3193 or email

Here is the challenge facing Susan Hornbostel, costumer for this December’s RAAC Community Theatre production of “A Christmas Carol”: Convince the audience and the actors that they have stepped into mid-19th-century London. And do this on a budget of next to nothing in a little over a month.

“Because 19th-century clothing was quite elaborate, we can’t possibly make the costumes from scratch,” Hornbostel says. “As a result, I spend a lot of time visiting the [Washington] fire hall thrift shop and also Flatwood ‘mall’ looking for clothing that might be modified to provide a convincing facsimile.”

“Converting a modern suit to the Victorian equivalent, with its narrow lapels and nipped in waist, is not too difficult,” Hornbostel says. The more serious challenge for the costumer is finding the full skirts typical of the period in appropriate fabrics for winter and for the ball setting that is one of the important scenes in the play. The hoop skirts popular at the time are impractical for the confined space of the RAAC Theatre stage, but Hornbostel hopes to create a similar effect with crinolines, provided she can locate them.

In terms of clothing for the scenes set out of doors, Hornbostel expects to rely on capes and small hats for the women. Hornbostel is hoping that on the top shelf of one or more closets in the county are a few tops hats that can be borrowed to lend authenticity to the prosperous male characters in the play.

One of the best ways to convey the spirit of the period, says Hornbostel, is through accessories. Victorian women favored fancifully decorated little hats, scarves, shawls, lace, ribbons, interesting jewelry and other furbelows. “Finding creative and convincing ways to incorporate these details is part of the fun,” she says.

Costumer Susan Hornbostel, right, helps Erin Switzer try out a costume for her part in this year's RAAC Community Theatre Christmas show. Photo by Marcia Kirkpatrick.

Costumes and actors

Hornbostel wants to get the actors into costume as soon as possible, well before the official dress rehearsal. “The actor needs to be able to appear completely at home in the costume, and the costume itself helps the actor to feel at home in the role.”

This is the third RAAC production that Hornbostel has costumed. “I was trained as a printmaker and a landscape designer,” she says. “I am interested in the way things look, so within the theater, I am drawn to sets and to costumes.”

Hornbostel confesses that her sewing skills are minimal. “I hope some members of the community with those skills will come forward to help with a few of the costume needs that absolutely require sewing.”

How you can help

Hornbostel is hoping the community will be able to support her efforts in several ways:

Volunteering to sew one or more small projects that can be completed at home or donating or loaning:

o top hats;
o lace, ribbons, small hats, furbelows;
o full skirts suitable for a Victorian winter or ball outfit;
o crinolines, or
o any other items of clothing or accessories suitable for Victorian costumes.

Contact Susan Hornbostel if you can help with any of these needs at 540- 987-9620 or Hornbostel guarantees that all loaned articles will be handled with care and returned promptly.