Sandy on Playing a Part in Something Bigger (By Danny Harris)


Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

“I first came to D.C. in 1991. I really just fell in love with the city. Before D.C., I was working in a costume shop in Philadelphia. When I came here, I worked at Backstage when it was still in Dupont Circle. Eventually, we moved to a bigger space in Southeast and then I bought the store from the original owner. Before us, there really wasn’t a supply house in the District of Columbia for either theater books or dance wear. We are also one of the few places where you can do custom costume orders. You can come in with a sketch and we will build it.

“Theater and art are things that I have always loved. I also did a bit of acting, but I stopped because I got too nervous at auditions. My love for costume design really picked up in college where I was able to combine my love of sewing with learning about the historical components of how things were made and the materials that were used at different times in history.

“In D.C., I have gone in directions I never thought I would go into with costume design, like working with lobby groups. These groups usually do not want the kings, queens, and renaissance style costumes I thought I would do when I first got into this business. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked us to make a broccoli costume. An environmental lobby group had us build smoke stack and tree stump costumes. Another group had me make large hamburgers and huge pill capsules stuffed with styrofoam pellets, as they were picketing places that used meats with antibiotics. Now, a couple of those restaurants say they will not use meats that have antibiotics anymore. I am proud of things like that. I feel like I played a part in something bigger.

“With costumes, I think that when people wear them, their personality can change. But I also feel that a lot of times, their personality has been there the whole time and they just don’t let it loose. In this business, I learn a lot about people and their behaviors. I can usually tell how long a couple has been together when they come in. A lot of newer couples want matching costumes where even the fabric has to be the same. Whereas couples that have been together for years are okay for one to go as Elvis and the other to go as a clown. They don’t have to match because they are more secure in their relationship. It is fun to figure people out through working in this business. There is definitely a psychology behind costumes.”

Backstage is located at 545 8th Street Southeast.

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