Sewing machines whir away as Pandora radio plays in the background. Fabric is spread across most of the tables, and mannequins are scattered across the room.
Welcome to Lehigh’s costume shop.
For a university once known solely for its engineering program, the costume shop is an unlikely space at Lehigh.
The costume shop is not the typical Lehigh classroom. Located in the bottom floor of Zoellner Arts Center, the costume shop is a design lab where students learn costume and fashion design principles through hands-on assignments and tangible projects.
Theater professor Erica Hoelscher started the costume shop when she came to Lehigh in 1995. At the time, Zoellner Arts Center was a hole in the ground, and she had to find all the materials to run the shop by herself.
Pam Richey, the coordinator of the costume shop, joined Hoelscher in 2002 after finishing her master’s degree in fine arts at the University of Montana.
Since the shop started in 1995, it has become a special place for many Lehigh students.
Chalo Pope, ’20, came to Lehigh from Newark, New Jersey, with aspirations of majoring in engineering. However, just a year into Pope’s Lehigh education, things didn’t feel right.
“I flirted with the idea of journalism and marketing, but I always had a passion for clothing,” Pope said. “I just had no idea that Lehigh had a way into fashion. I thought that I had to do it in a master’s program.”
Pope enrolled in a design course last fall where he learned about the costume shop.
“I don’t think I would still be [at Lehigh]if I didn’t have the chance to do this,” Pope said. “It made life as a Lehigh student a lot easier. I became a lot happier.”
As Pope finishes his first full semester working in the shop, he said he sees the growth that he has made so far. He said he is hopeful for the rest of his Lehigh experience knowing that he has the opportunity to work in the costume shop.
“I like that I’m finally in a place where I want to learn,” Pope said. “I feel like a lot of times we take classes that don’t necessarily go with what we want to do, but this class in particular is perfect because I want to be a fashion designer.”
Pope isn’t the only student who seems to have found his place at Lehigh thanks to the costume shop.
Arianna Pineiro, ’20, is a biochemistry major and theater minor. For Pineiro, the costume shop provides a welcoming addition to her STEM education.
Pineiro said Richey and Hoelscher allow her to take ownership of her work.
“They tell you what to do, but it’s really more you going in there and doing it,” Pineiro said. “They’re not constantly looking over your shoulder. It really is empowering to be able to make something. I love it here.”
Pineiro said she loves that she can create as a part of her work in the costume shop. She said the creative process involved with costume design is one of her favorite parts about the work.
“I really do believe all the stuff we do here is art,” Pineiro said. “It’s really cool, and there is a lot of love put into it.”
Richey said she hopes that her students walk away from their experience in the shop with knowledge that will last a lifetime.
She said she wants her students to understand that everything we see in clothing is intentionally designed and interconnected. Everything from how a button is sewn on to how a seam is pressed are all part of the intention of a design.
While the costume shop may be unknown to many students, the work that they are doing cannot be overstated.
“I refer to us as Lehigh’s best kept secret,” Richey said. “We’re here, we are accommodating, and we try to support any and all students and their interests.”