Last week we discussed finding costumes and pieces at thrift shops (follow link to article) to fill out a costume design. There was so much info I had to break the article into two pieces. This one focuses mainly on "free" things that you can find; in actors' closets, theatre stock, or donations!
Depending on the size of your theatre there may be costume stock to rummage through. This is always a better option to spend some time searching through before running off to buy something new. You never know, you may have that bright pink blazer you rendered right there in stock from a past production.
Stock can range anywhere from a few storage boxes to a warehouse filled to the brim with racks of clothing. No matter what the condition of the stock, make sure you search through it. Like in a thrift shop, you may be able to rework something into the design you've envisioned.
If you are costuming for a small theatre that does not have a costume stock, actors' closets are a possible source. Before you ask your actors to bring in items (jeans, button ups, etc.) for a show, make sure they know they will not get them back until the end of the production run. But as a consolation prize, their clothes will be washed regularly! (Even if you have a small theatre, make sure the costume pieces that CAN be washed ARE washed at least once a weekend. No smelly actors!)
An actor's closet is a good resource for modern shows or for basic classic pieces (assuming they own them). It is a bit of a grab bag though, so do not assume you'll get what you want.
Another closet resource is your own. As a costumer I have saved up a few pieces here and there that I have made or were given to me by shops I've worked for. (NEVER take a costume from a shop unless they explicitly hand it to you and say "Take this and keep it". Otherwise you are stealing.) These pieces have come in handy for a few productions with mini budgets.
Many established theatres have patrons who are all to happy to donate their old clothes that are just "too good" for a charity store. Sometimes they are right and they bring in beautiful vintage or high end pieces that you know you will use in a show. Other times, they'll bring in a few things you'd rather they'd just taken to those charity stores. Either way these patrons are kind enough to help out the costuming cause and for that we as costumers are forever grateful.
These donations, even if you don't need them can be stored carefully to start or add to you theatre's costume stock for future productions.