Many low-and no-budget
directors shy away from
period or fantasy films for
a variety of good reasons,
including tough locations,
tricky acting and expensive costumes and
props. Historic clothing has to look just
right. A silly, cheap-looking accessory can
ruin a scene; I know from experience. In
one of my films I put a dorky rubber hat
on a character, thinking it would look like
cloth. We now roll our eyes and refer to that
character only as “Condom Man.”

Think about the independent films you’ve
seen in recent years. How many of the
characters wore anything but off-the-shelf
modern clothing? Why not take the leap?
Period costumes offer an opportunity to
boost production value—especially if you’re
shooting on video or with limited locations.
Maybe it’s my background in theater, but
I love colorful characters and colorful
costumes. Film noir be damned!

David LaGraffe,
Rhonda Carlson and
Dale Phillips dress
for the Old West in
“Liberty TV.”

For a recent episode of my show, “Liberty
News TV” (, we
needed to costume an elaborate cowboy
spoof. But Maine is hardly the place to go
scavenging for chaps, cowboy hats and sixshooters—
or so we thought. As we began the
costume scrounge, however, we discovered
that all you have to do is ask. In the end, we
managed to outfit a dozen cowboys and two
19th-century women for just about $200,
complete with guns, spurs, hats, chaps,
ponchos and even a sombrero.

The Old West: Piece by Piece

Most period costuming can be accomplished
by accessorizing modern clothing—typically
by either adding or removing some detail of
the costume. Here’s how we rounded up our
western wardrobe:

The Cut-Rate Costume Universe

When looking for affordable costumes and props, remember to start close to home and sweep outward

1. Homemade. Often, you can create period looks
with items stowed away in your attic. For cowboy
kerchiefs, for example, we cut pieces of scrap fabric
into squares and tied them in a knot.

2. Thrift stores. Unless you’re the spoiled, Lexusdriving
spawn of some Hollywood mogul, you
know that Goodwill and The Salvation Army are
prime sources for costumes. Think in pieces—
don’t look for complete outfits.

3. Friends and family. Chances are your friends
won’t have much useful gear, but ask anyway—
they might know someone who does.

4. Friends of friends. Friends love friends who
stockpile guns. We got our complete Western
arsenal—two Colt.45s, a Winchester rifle, fancy
holsters and chaps—from a guy referred to us by
a friend.

5. Community theater. Never underestimate the
ingenuity of your community theater costume
shop. They know how to fake historic costumes.
For $200 (we set our own price), a local theater
allowed us to borrow 70 percent of everything
we needed for our shoot, including shirts, hairpieces,
tables, chairs, hats and a couple of pairs
of boots.

6, 7, and 8. Pay to play. Once you reach this
point, you should really be looking only for
details. Local shops typically rent full, decent
looking costumes for about $40 a day. Keep in
mind, however, that every moviemaker in town
has access to these duds. For quality wigs, lastminute
costumes for extras and hard-to-find
items, you may have to roam the Internet. Here’s
a short list of some good vendors who rent and/
or sell historic costumes and accessories.

Aurora History Boutique

(Enter “MovieMaker “ in the comments
at checkout to save five percent off
your subtotal)

The Costumer’s Manifesto

Authentic Wardrobe

Civil War Lady

Costume Holiday House

The Costumer