If you are working in a college or professional theater, there may be staff in charge of caring for your costumes. If so, it is your responsibility to treat your costume with care: pull up your trousers when you sit so you don’t stress the crotch seam; don’t let your dress’ train sweep the dirt off the floor; don’t eat in costume unless you have a robe or towel covering your front and your lap.
Your other responsibility in this situation is to alert the staff in a timely fashion to any problems with your costumes: tears in the fabric, buttons that are coming lose, seams that are straining. The sooner they know about it, the sooner they can be fixed.
If, however, you are doing a show where there is no one assigned to take care of costumes, then guess what? Anything to do with your costumes, including the above, is also your job.
Maybe not the repair work. Maybe. But the daily cleaning and caring for your costume is.
What should you be doing?
When the make-up stains on your shirt collar start to become evident to those in the first row, you need to wash it. When your costume starts to stink, either wash it or spray it with vodka (the cheapest and best way to freshen costumes, believe it or not. Just don’t use Absolut.)
And please – iron it. In between shows. If you’re doing three or four performances a week, by the time you get to the last one, your pants look like you’ve spent all day in the car. If your character is arriving at the girl’s house for a first date, rumpled is usually not the look you’re going for.
If your costume is a slip or a satin dress that’s been stored in a box in the theater, please iron it before the first show! I did a show once with a young woman who had a simple satin wedding dress as one of her costumes. It was her first show at this theater, so I assumed that she thought someone would be ironing it for her, and didn’t have time to do it herself on opening night after she got to the theater. I expected, however, that she’d either ask about who was taking care of the costumes or iron it herself before the next performance.
Wrong assumption. After a few nights, I took to ironing it myself before she got to the theater. (I couldn’t figure out how to gently suggest that she do it, and so left it to the director to mention, which he didn’t. But I found the wrinkly dress a bit embarrassing on stage and so did it myself.)
And while we’re on the subject – if you use anything (costume or props) that has been collecting dust for years on some back shelf – please clean it. The dust on a patent leather purse, the dirt on the flowers on your hat, and the dull scuffs on your shoes can all be seen from the audience. Leave them in that condition ONLY if it is appropriate to your character, please!