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Wardrobe supervisor Natalie Titchener: ‘If you have babies it’s like your career is over’

Natalie Titchener

Natalie Titchener had her very first job as a dresser at the Mill at Sonning and now 25 years later she is running its costume department. Titchener tells Giverny Masso about her fascinating career, which has included working for the National Theatre, Disney and the Royal Opera House…

How did you get into theatre?

I started working at the Mill aged 16 and I’ve been there on and off ever since. I was at a local school and a job came up dressing. I got the theatre bug from that and never did anything else. I never earned much money, but I’m really happy. After A levels, I did a BTec in fashion and then a costume design degree. After that, I went travelling and came back to the Mill for a few years, before moving to London and doing freelance work.

What does the job of dresser involve?

The wardrobe manager’s chief support is the dresser, who is also a friend for the actors. You deal with all the quick changes, so you have to be fast on your feet. It’s a people job; actors are actually extremely vulnerable and when they get scared on first nights. It’s up to the dressers to support them. It’s really important to have a confident dresser. You have to have balls of steel. And you have to be like a swan, even if it’s all going wrong.

What work did you do in London?

I was applying for all the main theatres and I ended up working for Disney as a wardrobe mistress on cruise liners. It was an amazing experience, but I wanted to be in London, so after about nine months I got a job as a dresser at the National Theatre, where I worked my way up to supervisor and did some buying work. I got so fit running around everywhere and always wore trainers on my feet. After a few years, I ended up at the Royal Opera House, working as a wardrobe mistress and then assistant supervising.

Why did you move on from the Opera House?

I was at the Opera House for nine years. I ended up leaving because of the cost of childcare after I had a baby. Lots of people who work in wardrobe don’t have children – if you have babies it’s like your career is over. If you look at people high up in my industry, they often don’t have families and it seems like a choice has to be made, but men don’t seem to have that problem. When I left, I felt like I’d lost everything I’d worked for. I ended up getting a job at a pre-school for a bit, which I was grateful for but also dying a bit inside, as I had the theatre bug. I then got a job at Eton College running the wardrobe for the boys, before this job came up at the Mill.

What is it like working at the Mill?

The Mill is incredible, it’s really flexible and Sally [Hughes, managing director] totally gets it about being a parent, so it’s a weight off my shoulders. We do everything on site, so I design the costumes with the director and then make them. Being on site means we have a much closer connection with the play and the actors.

CV: Natalie Titchener

Training: BTec in fashion and jewellery making at Maidenhead Art College (1994-96); BA in costume design at Wimbledon College of Art (1996-99)
First professional role: Dresser at the Mill at Sonning (1993)
Agent: None

The Unexpected Guest runs at the Mill at Sonning until July 28

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