Retail Intervention: Omar Leos


Omar Leos
Omar Leos

Name: Omar Leos

Title: Theatre Educator

Thoughts on thrifting:
  I started thrift store shopping in college where I always found one-of-a-kind, unique items. I especially shopped for shoes, clothing & artwork for my apartment. Thrift store finds became part of my style. After college, I became a secondary  theatre teacher. I shied  away from selecting period plays to perform  because I could not afford to rent or have costumes made for my student actors. This was very limiting.

Leos at Boysville Thrift Store
Leos at Boysville Thrift Store

My entire 
perceptive changed when I came across Costuming Made Easy: How to Make Theatrical Costumes from Cast-Off Clothing by Barb Rogers at a Texas Educational Theatre Association (TETA) conference. I looked at the book, thought it could be relatively easy & I decided to try some of the techniques out. The first play I created my own costumes for was Lapis Blue Blood Red by Cathy Caplan that takes place during the Italian Renaissance period. Ever since then, I truly believe you don’t have to spend a lot of money or buy anything new for costuming a play. It was empowering & exciting: I combined my love of thrifting with theatre education. Now, I present at theatre conventions & workshops on how to create period costumes from thrift store finds.


How do you thrift like a theatre educator?

Any type of formal, prom or wedding dress can be manipulated to suit your costume need. You can dye dresses and add on the upholstry fabric/bedskirt/etc. to fit the time period for your play.
All types of formal, informal, prom or wedding dress can be manipulated to suit your costume need. You can dye dresses a& add on the upholstery fabric,bedskirt, etc. to fit the time period for your play.
Curtains, upholstery fabric, bed skirts & table cloths can be used for Renaissance, Medieval & Restoration-period costumes. I look for these items first because I can cut & sew pieces to existing clothing items. I always research the type of clothing for every show I’m doing & create a costume “bible.” I find pictures of costumes I’m looking for. Remember: when you go thrift store shopping, you won’t always find the exact costume you’re looking for. I have to constantly remind myself of this. Always be flexible, creative & open to interpretation!
This is an Old Navy summer dress I found at a thrift store. Because I added a lace curtain collar around the neckline & I instantly created a 1930/40’s-style dress. Disclamer: I do not know how to sew. My sewing skills are very minimal. I hand sew & use a glue gun quite a bit.
Always select women’s suits for male period costumes. Why? Women’s pants & jackets are more fitted than men’s. Men’s clothing between the years 1600-1900 generally had higher waists, weren’t baggy & were more tailored to the body. Women’s suits help with this silhouette. It’s another shortcut I use that saves time & money.
I always grab petticoats when I see them at thrift stores because they are cheap (over $100 retail/new)! You can use them for any period piece to make dresses fuller. In West Side Story at Edison High School, we shortened thrift store dresses, added petticoats underneath & presto– we had mambo dresses!
Here’s a picture from our performance Lapis Blue Blood Red by Cathy Caplan. The girl’s costume in the foreground has multiple components. The dark brown sleeveless top is the from a prom dress I dyed. Her skirt is floor-length & velvet. I added a bed skirt and upholstery fabric to the front of the skirt. The white long-sleeved blouse was used as a pirate shirt in another play.
Here’s another costume from the same play. The pants found at a thrift store are women’s Gap khakis that I cropped. The red jacket comes from a women’s skirt suit–I took off the sleeves. Underneath this coat is another black women’s suit jacket that I slit down the sides & then added green table cloth for trim. The ruffled collar is curtain trim we fastened around his neck (it’s a separate piece from the shirt). A leather belt was added on top of the costume (it’s hard to see in this picture) to make the costume more fitted to the actor’s waist.
RETAIL INTERVENTION logo designed by Chris Castillo. Photos courtesy Chris Castillo & Omar Leos.
The thrift store we browsed for this outing was the Boysville Thrift Store. Address: 307 W. Olmos Dr. - San Antonio, 78212
Boysville Thrift Store: 307 W. Olmos Dr. – San Antonio, 78212