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RECYCLED MOVIE COSTUMES BLOG POSTS

The First Recycled Costume I Ever Found

Katie S.10/02/2023

Photo © Showtime

People routinely stumble upon this website and then email me that they “had no idea that movie costumes were recycled!” or that theyaccidentally spent five hours going through every page…”  or that “this is the dumbest idea for a website I’ve ever seen.” People are not only shocked that costumes and props are reused – they’re surprised that they’ve basically stumbled upon a database documenting hundreds of those reuses. 

But the question I am emailed the most is “How did this site start? What was the first costume you found?” 

I’ll be honest. I made this blog almost for the sole purpose of just sending the link to this entry to people who ask me this question. Think how much time I’ll save! But if you’re here because you’ve asked the question and I’ve sent you this link, then I suppose I do actually have to tell you the story, huh?

It started when I was about sixteen years old (never mind how long ago that was) and caught the last half of Anne of the Thousand Days playing on Turner Classic Movies. I admit right now that this story is already odd – a sixteen year old watching Turner Classic Movies? I wish I could say it wasn’t true. I wish I could say I was watching MTV, or at an awesome party when I was sixteen, but no. I was already an odd duck. And it wasn’t going to get better.

But I digress. I saw Anne of the Thousand Days on Turner Classic Movies and I was enthralled. I was excited by the story and dazzled by the costumes. Once the movie was over I went to the local movie rental place to try to find a VHS copy of the movie. That terrible sentence may give you a slight hint at when this was. Movie rentals in a physical location? VHS? Dear God!

Anyway, they didn’t have a copy.  So, every Sunday I would grab the TV guide that came with the newspaper (this is getting worse!) and looked over TCM’s schedule. It took a couple of months, but eventually Anne of the Thousand Days showed up, and when it aired again, I was ready with my blank VHS tape to record that movie and see the first half! Dedication!

Photo © Universal Pictures / Hal Wallis Productions

It was a great movie. It still is. Margaret Furse’s costumes are so awesome that they’re still being used today. Geneviève Bujold’s Anne Boleyn is the ultimate portrayal, and I’m willing to duel anyone who says otherwise. And I can. Because I fenced in high school, just in case you weren’t already suffering from second hand embarrassment for me.

This movie officially began my obsession not only with history, but also with costumes. Yeah. Both obsessions started at the same time. I put a framed and matted poster of the movie in my bathroom. It wasn’t pretty. I mean, the poster was pretty, but the obsession was ugly. I got my hands on as many history books and costume dramas as I possibly could, which really wasn’t as many as you would think, because Amazon algorithms didn’t exist. The only thing that could tell me “If you liked this, you might also like this” at the time was the Dewey Decimal System. 

A couple of years later when I went away to University, I found that my college library was better able to fill my costume drama cravings, both with more books on history than I could hope to consume, as well as a decent collection of costume dramas on VHS. They had Elizabeth R, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Pride and Prejudice on six – six! – VHS tapes! And yes, they even had Anne of the Thousand Days! I didn’t need that one though, because I’d brought my taped and hand labeled VHS copy with me to college. You know, as you do. I did, however, find a copy of the original play by Maxwell Anderson along with The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool by Margaret George, both of which I read while perched high atop a library shelf, my head almost touching the ceiling. Odd duck, I said.

One night while looking through the library stacks in search of a new read, my hand landed on a book by Janet Arnold. Those in the costume community know that this is where an awed hush of reverence would fall upon the hypothetical crowd. This is probably when things spiraled out of control. I stayed on the floor of the library all night and devoured Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion. After that, when I’d get invited out to parties on Sunday night my excuse wasn’t “It’s a school night!”, but instead  “I have to watch Masterpiece Theatre.

The world upon entering college and the world upon leaving it was a vastly different place. When I had arrived, society made due with dial up, and VHS tapes, but by my last year, the internet no longer required a second phone line, I could acquire books and movies much easier with Amazon, DVDs had replaced the VHS, IMDb’s message boards offered great insight into movie recommendations I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and costume websites began to pop up here and there due to the internet expanding exponentially. So when the news came that Showtime was going to produce a television series about King Henry VIII and his six wives, I was on board. When they announced Jonathan Rhys Myers had been cast to play Henry VIII, I was…perplexed.  This was the fellow who had played George Osborne in Mira Nair’s fabulous, but flawed adaptation of Vanity Fair, right? And he was decidedly not…Henry VIII-ish.

It couldn’t be true, of course. Absolutely absurd! Instead of studying for midterms, I searched the internet and found the first promotional photo for the show, featuring Myers surrounded by five women, their heads cut from the frame. If the team behind the show had been smarter in their art direction and symbolism, they would have put in six women, but what do I know? Anyway, said total lack of thought would pretty much go on to explain that entire series.

Photo © Showtime

But wait – what was this? The woman on the far left of the frame was wearing a familiar pink dress. Where had I seen it? It looked remarkably like the pink dress that Anne Marie Duff wore in The Virgin Queen – a production which, after seeing it on Masterpiece Theatre, had found me immediately purchasing it on DVD, as well as paying an obscene $50 to import the soundtrack from overseas because it wasn’t available in the United States.

That soundtrack rocked – and still does.

I grabbed the DVD and immediately turned it on, fast forwarding to the scene I needed and pressed the pause button. I looked at the TV screen. I looked at my computer screen. I looked back at the paused TV screen again, gray and black lines of static running through Anne Marie Duff’s face.  Nonetheless, it was unmistakable, it was the same gown.

Photo Photo © BBC

I’m not entirely sure what happened, but after that day, I saw reused costumes everywhere.  A dress from The Patriot showed up in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. My new found obsession with Doctor Who led me to find a costume that had first been spotted in Aristocrats. Childhood Halloween favorite Hocus Pocus featured a gown from the magnificently costumed Dangerous Liaisons. Reused costumes were everywhere. 

I started printing out photos of these reused costumes and collecting them in a three ring binder. When I tried to show it to friends at school they were polite, but…confused. 

Because I wasn’t finding people around me to be nearly as enthusiastic about this strange, random niche as I was, I went online to find out if there were other people out there that found reused costumes too. And thank God, the internet did not disappoint.

A quick search led me to The Costumer’s Guide to Movie Costumes an excellent website that collects wonderful information and photos on various costume dramas. At the time, the site had a section for reused movie costumes. I was intrigued, enthralled! I wasn’t the only one who had found a costume more than once! I submitted the costumes I had found and poured through the finds others had submitted with glee.

Over time my collection of reused costumes became so large that a couple of friends suggested I create an entire website devoted to them.  But since The Costumer’s Guide was documenting them, I was hesitant to do so. 

But one day when I logged onto The Costumer’s Guide, I was sad to see they would no longer be able to document reused costumes. Because the site focused on multiple facets of movie costumes, dedicating such a huge percentage of time strictly recycled costumes wasn’t working.  I saw my moment and emailed the moderator and asked if she would be okay with me spinning off her section of recycled movie costumes into a site all of its own. I was thrilled when she said yes!

And so this site was born. And the submissions rolled in, and they continue to roll in on a daily basis. When The Tudors came out, the avalanche of content was overwhelming, with almost every costume in that show originating from somewhere else. I could turn my nose up at the show, but I couldn’t deny that its costuming was the start of my obsession. And for that I must be reluctantly…grateful? Ew.

There is now so much content that I don’t even know what to do with all of it. But I try to chip away at it daily and improve the site with each week that passes. The original pink dress went on to be used many times more in various television shows, and I am sure it will show up again in the future.

Photos © Telfrance / St. Martin’s Press / ITV

All these years later I still feel a little surge of joy when someone finds a recycled costume that I never in a million years would have spotted. Seeing submissions in my inbox is a delight. I love that there are others who see these things just like I do. I’ve grown to know many of my contributors over the years, and am consistently blown away with their finds, knowledge and insight. This website would not be what it is today without them, and I am forever grateful.

It may be a slightly different hobby than say, bird watching or stamp collecting. But I’ll keep it.

About The AUthor

Katie is the creator of Recycled Movie Costumes, where she’s constantly haunted by the ghosts of costumes past. One day, she had an epiphany: if she had to suffer through these recycled costumes, then so should everyone else! And thus, Recycled Movie Costumes was born.

Contrary to popular belief, Katie does not have a photographic memory, nor does she work in the costume industry. She’s just a girl whose life has slowly spiraled out of control after watching too many costume dramas on Masterpiece Theatre.

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