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Wendy Crumpler

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Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

An article in the New York Times today seems to have finally settled a debate in our house—whether clothes are important to how we feel and behave. If you see my son Max, you’ll know on which side of the question he stands; the same is true of my husband Barry. It may not be immediately obvious what my feelings are on the matter (I’m a middle-aged self-employed Mom—I love my fuzzy sweatpants) but the truth is I’ve known for a long time what you wear can make a great difference in your feelings and performance.

Certainly, there were hints of this in high school when a Villager skirt and sweater with Pappagallo ballet flats could make me feel I ruled the world. However, the most striking instance to this day of the magic an outfit can create was the summer of 1977.

I was doing an outdoor drama, Wings of the Morning, in St. Mary’s County, Maryland and for our Second Stage production, director Andy Weisnet chose Jean Anouil’s The Lark. I had hoped to land the lead role, Joan of Arc, but as these things go I was cast as Joan’s Mother. This was a small role yet I was onstage the whole time as was the rest of the cast. We performed by candlelight in a restoration of Maryland’s  first statehouse in sweltering humidity on our day off. When not “onstage” cast members sat motionless on benches in tableau awaiting cues to stand and perform. I committed to doing the play though I was less than thrilled with my part, that is, until I put on the costume.

Designed by Andrea Sachs out of bits and pieces left over from the costuming of the main show, my dress was plain and coarse, a sort of burlap and rag creation. I put on my heavy peasant dress with wimple each night and slipped into another era. I became another person; I moved differently, spoke differently, felt I was Joan’s mother. The effect was so profound even my colleagues treated me as if I were someone they had only just met. There was a reverence in that costume and a stoicism accompanied it. I sat immobile each night of the play enduring heat, dripping sweat and flies just as Joan’s mother had endured what happened to her daughter.

I’ve had outfits since then that made me feel wonderful or powerful or pretty but those feelings pale by comparison to being transported through time into a new identity via the power of clothing.

3 thoughts on “Clothes Make the (Wo)Man”

  1. Hello:
    I’m sure that no one remembers me from “Wings” in 1977, however, I came in to help Margo Russell with costumes until the show opened. It was a great time and I have wondered what happened to all the wonderful people I met that summer. I am also curious to know if the show continued to be produced after 1977.

    I found my program a few months ago and have been going through it and remembering fun times. I would love to hear back from anyone who worked on the show.

    1. Hi, Denise,
      I don’t remember you specifically but I remember that room full of people sewing. It was a good group that summer and I learned a lot. I’ve crossed paths with a few of the people from Wings over the years (not much in the past 20 as I moved to the Pacific NW and then to Canada). I believe Wings ran for a few more years but don’t quote me on that.

  2. Hello:
    I was 14 years old and was on set watching a friend of mine who was in the production. I was only by chance, asked to fill in for a small role as an Indian. That was my best summer ever. I fell in love with a girl named Barbara Owens, I think that was her name who worked in costumes. By the end of the production, I had 6 different parts and died each time.

    If you have a program, I would love to get a copy. I’m sure you know that Denzel Washington was in that production.

    I remember one of the last shows that summer of 1977, they filmed the show. Do you know if there is a copy of that film anywhere.

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