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So Much Better With Imagination

Why A High School Drama Teacher Buys DIY Costumes From Goodwill

For most people — even Halloween fanatics — finding a costume is a once-a-year concern. But for Renee Craig, costuming is practically a way of life. 

Renee is the theater director at Upperman High School in Baxter, Tenn., and each year she and her co-workers assemble hundreds of costumes for theatrical productions involving dozens of students. As is the case for art programs at many schools, their budget is made up almost entirely of fundraising proceeds. 

“When people donate, I need to stretch that dollar as much as I can,” she said. “And I can do that much better at Goodwill than at an online store or big box retailers.”

In 2018, Renee spent about $1,500 at Goodwill on costumes, props and set pieces, shopping at her local store in Cookeville a minimum of two-three days per week. Recent stage productions outfitted primarily from Goodwill included “Oklahoma” and “West Side Story.” 

Next up: “Footloose,” with a cast of 42 eighth- through 12th-grade students, each needing three changes of 1980s-era apparel. Renee said she expects to purchase everything she needs for the production at Goodwill, because  — in addition to helping her stay on budget — she can count on Goodwill to have a vast variety of fabrics, colors, sizes and styles from many eras.

For “Footloose,” she will need 1980s rural looks: dozens of pairs of jeans and pants, flannel shirts and lots and lots of western boots. She said at Goodwill, she can save $80-$90 on boots, compared to what she would expect to spend at a shoe store. 

Renee said the reasons she shops at Goodwill are the same ones that should motivate any Halloween costume-seeker to visit the nonprofit organization’s stores. 

“Costumes are so much better when you use your imagination,” she said. “Not that I have a problem with store-bought costumes, but when you create a costume from a place like Goodwill, you put more of your personality into it, and it’s limitless what you can do and what you can be.”

On the day she was interviewed for this story, Renee happened to be wearing a costume she assembled at Goodwill for a schoolwide dress-up day — part of homecoming week. The day’s theme was “Country vs. Rap,” and Renee was wearing a “country” flannel shirt and boots and a “rap” bandana. The following day — “Vine/Meme Day” — she planned to wear a green T-shirt (with a Kermit-style collar she added), jeans, a headband adorned with big froggy eyes and a sign that says, “None of my business.” Her total cost for both costumes: Under $20.

Renee says to save even more money, she always shops for Goodwill’s 50 percent off color-of-the-week tag and other sales. But she was surprised to learn that Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee offers a daily 10 percent off discount for teachers and students who present their school ID at the register.

Price, selection and imagination are not Renee’s only motivations for supporting Goodwill, however. Another is Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment.

“I personally like Goodwill because I have a heart for people with disabilities,” she said, noting that she has a master’s degree in special education. “Theater was really my second calling. By shopping there, I am helping an organization that helps people with disabilities, and I serve both my callings that way.”

Goodwill is also a family tradition. Renee’s mother, a writer, took Renee and her siblings to Goodwill each week when they were children and would let each choose three books to take home. Renee said it helped to instill in her a lifelong love of reading and learning.

“I took all three of my kids, who are now educators, to Goodwill when they were growing up. They all still like to go with me,” she says. “I firmly believe in Goodwill. I love it.”

Renee offered some tips for Halloween costume-hunters:

1. Do your research first. The Internet is a great place to find inspiration for a do-it-yourself costume that will be uniquely you. You can also find a lookbook of costume ideas and other Halloween resources on Goodwill’s website.

2. Make a list of the items you need before going shopping. This will keep you focused on your costume (there’s a lot to see at Goodwill!) and prevent you from forgetting a crucial item. 

3. Be sure to check all departments of the store. For instance, Renee said she often finds costume pieces for women in the men’s department, and she has even found useful items in the children’s section. 

4. Set aside plenty of time to shop so you can find the right pieces for your costume and be your most creative!

5. Use your imagination and keep an open mind. Everyday clothing and accessories can often be altered, resized or repurposed to create something entirely new. 

6. Be sure to shop Goodwill’s sales, such as the first Saturday of the month when all merchandise is 50 percent off, to save even more money! 

7. Don’t forget the props! There are plenty of items in Goodwill’s homegoods section that can be adapted to take your costume to the next level. 

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