How I became a dressmaker and costume designer

Ronnie Elizabeth Parr owns alterations and dressmakers Sew Busy of Southsea and bespoke clothing label Parisa - Persian for ‘little angel’, as her father is Persian. She is also the wardrobe mistress for The Kings Theatre in Southsea.

Dressmaker Ronnie Elizabeth Parr

I have been dressmaking for 35 years and set up my own shop in Southsea.

Southsea is such a multicultural and diverse town with a good music scene and a huge tourism footfall. There is a wide range of new people moving constantly to the town due to it being in the naval and university city of Portsmouth. It seemed the ideal place as the shop is on a busy corner in the more affluent end of the town among the independent businesses.

I did not go to university but am completely self-taught, picking things up along the way with help from guides including a lady who worked for Chanel and another who was Mary Quant’s pattern cutter. I ended up teaching at a fashion college for three years and completed my certificate of education.

Working in the theatre

I was approached by The Kings Theatre to fill in the wardrobe mistress position and am in love with the theatre. It’s hard work but worth every second.

I oversee all costumes from fitting to repairing, making and costume changes side-stage, some of which must be completed in seconds!

The panto Dame, Jack, was my main concern as he can have up to 600 costume changes in one season.

My inspiration

My favourite designer is Madeline Vionnet. She was a French fashion designer who studied in England. Her first fashion house was in 1912.

She was called the queen of the bias cut and knew how to flatter the female form. She worked her way up from her underprivileged background and reached the very top. I love the way she used the Greek statues and the way the fabric fell in drapes to inspire her work as, at the same time, women were throwing away their corsets and all the rigidity of being a woman and embracing the new loose style.

If you want to be a dressmaker…

Start by teaching yourself, there are some great tutorials online to see if you like it. College is a good stepping stone to university if you want to work for another company as some require a degree, even some teaching establishments.

Contact theatres first as I was lucky when they approached me. Maybe even offer to help the existing mistress?

You never stop learning in this job, there is always a new technique or new tool.

Read more: Fashion careers

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