Sexy on a Shoestring

Low-cost lingerie steals the show in the Keegan Theatre’s ‘Cabaret’


Two weeks ago the workroom of the Keegan Theatre, Shadia Hafiz was digging around in a pile of old women’s underwear. No, the 29-year-old costume designer doesn’t have a weird fetish for ladies’ drawers: She’s responsible for — rather scantily — outfitting the cast of “Cabaret.”

Based on two novellas by British writer Christopher Isherwood, the musical adaptation follows a hedonistic bunch of burlesque dancers in Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. Characters parade around onstage in Gestapo uniforms, period dress and vintage lingerie. Lots and lots of vintage lingerie — think satin garter belts, lacy bustiers, silk waist-cinchers and conical cupped, Marilyn-esque bras.

Keegan Theatre is a professional nonprofit theater and, as such, operates on a budget as skimpy as leading lady Sally Bowles’ nighty.

“We have to keep the costs low,” says Jeff Klein, who handles media relations for the theater. “Because we don’t get any federal or government funds, we depend a lot on private donations.” That, and the ingenuity of company members such as Hafiz.

“I would love to have the budget John Dunn [a costume designer for “Boardwalk Empire”] has,” Hafiz says. “But we don’t have that kind of money. I’ve tried to keep everything under $300, though like a bride, I’ve probably gone over my budget.”

Hafiz and her assistant, Brittany Harris, ended up spending a not-so-grand total of roughly $600 for the entire 28-person cast, which breaks down to a little more than $21 each. Hafiz’s secret? Borrowing items from fellow theaters, relying on actors to supply their own wardrobe basics such as black heels, and timing thrifting trips to coincide with customer appreciation days so she can score discounts.

Hafiz also relied on a method she terms Frankensteining. “We wanted a lot of bloomers, and the vintage versions are very expensive. Instead we went to Goodwill and bought a bunch of slips, cut them up, sewed them back together as shorts and added lace around the bottoms,” Hafiz says. “We made eight pairs for $20.” The demure results are more flirty than monstrous.

Hafiz’s scrappy ways go hand in hand with how she envisioned the dames in the Kit Kat Klub would dress. “This wasn’t a fancy gentleman’s club, and these girls were not debutantes,” she says. “They did not have a costumer. They made everything themselves, so I wanted things to be authentic, gritty and grimy.” Of course, when second-hand undergarments are concerned, things could be too grimy. So Hafiz sought clean, gently worn skivvies that breathe and — considering all the dance numbers — move well on stage.

Like the play’s characters, Hafiz made do with what she had. Yet on undergarments, she believes more is more. “Lingerie today is very skimpy, and the less you have on the better,” she says. “But this was a time where it was more left to your imagination. There’s something very sexy about that.”

Behind The Looks
Shadia Hafiz outfitted the cast of “Cabaret” in second-hand finds from Value Village and Goodwill, along with corsets from Dor-Ne Corset Shoppe (8126 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-589-5151) adorned with lace from Vien Dong Fabrics (6218 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church; 703-237-8449).

The Keegan Theatre at Church Street, 1742 Church St. NW; through March 2, $35-$40; 703-892-0202. (Dupont Circle)
Holley Simmons is the dining editor of The Washington Post Express. When she’s not reporting on local restaurants and tastemakers, you can find her sewing a dress from a 1950s pattern or planting a windowsill herb garden. Contact her at holley.simmons@wpost.com.
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