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.If the costume fits, hire it!

Bearbrass member Linda Rowe had an unusual career – designing, making and hiring fancy-dress and theatrical costumes for the Amazing Transformations Costume Hire company in Glen Iris (now in Ashburton). Although she retired three years ago, she still does voluntary work for the Ready Set charity helping homeless and disadvantaged people get well-dressed for job interviews.
“They come to us nervous but their morale really lifts when they realise they are getting both interview clothes and warm casual clothes free to keep,” Linda says. 
Linda studied fashion and production at Emily McPherson College and went into dress pattern-making. “I was making costumes for my mother-in-law Gwen's
costume shop, Fiddle-Faddle in Sydney while at home with my two children. I preferred making costumes to fashion and approached Amazing Transformations for a job. The shop had been going for only two years. Dee Rickards and her mother Dorothy had started it after Dee’s father John wanted his garage free of costumes. The theatrical family had been collecting costumes through their amateur and professional musical work for many years. They made a go of it as a business. I was hired on the spot to make costumes and work in the shop hiring to customers. I stayed with them for 30 years. In those days you couldn’t even buy a Superman costume, it was all hand-made. And there was lots of work altering our costumes to fit a new user.
“We fitted out kids for their parties and dressed kids for their school plays. Then the owner Dee got a job working for Steve Vizard and Fast Forward on Channel 7 as costume manager. Whatever he was spoofing, like Flintstones or Brady Bunch, he’d order costumes on Monday for use on Thursday’s show, and it was our job to get them made fast by the seat of our pants. 
“The business just kept growing. In the 1980s and 90s costume hire became big business with the craze for ‘How to Host A Murder’ parties at your own home.
“High schools also ramped up their theatre shows, picking up whatever had been a big deal on Broadway or Melbourne two or three years earlier, like Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast or Hairspray. Schools would spend anywhere from a few hundred to $10,000 to fit out their play. They even did Shakespeare – Tudor costumes were the toughest job.”  
Among the big corporate customers was Coles head office. For their sales and management conferences, they’d lighten things up by dressing up someone as a tube of salami or a cheddar cheese or a Christmas Grinch. 
Linda loved chatting to customers in their happy mood, planning a big day. After retiring in 2017 she took up watercolor and pen-and-ink lessons. This culminated in an art trip last year drawing in France’s beautiful chateau-rich Loire Valley for a fortnight. Her formula for contentment? “Keeping trying new things!”#
Footnote: We asked Linda about the most popular dress-up costumes. Her verdict: 
Abba, Bananas in Pyjamas, and Superheroes.