After thirteen years supplying fancy dress and theatrical costumes, Glad Rags owner Jan Klakus is closing her Semley shop. She joined ThisIsAlfred.com’s Keri Jones to share her memorable moments, stories of popular costumes and the outfit nobody wanted.
Jan had never considered owning a fancy dress business. She was reading the local weekly when the idea popped into her head. “I was doing craft fairs and I was sitting in the Town Hall one day when my friend Pam came in. We were looking at the Blackmore Vale Magazine and there was an advert for a fancy dress shop for sale in Semley. I hadn’t ever been there. She said, ‘Oh I’d love to do that’. I said we could do it between us. A week later, we’d bought the business!” said Jan.
Jan worked with Pam Goodall for eleven years until Pam’s retirement two years ago. The women’s complementary skills helped the business thrive. “Pam and I were a good balance because she’s a fantastic needlewoman and loves historical costumes. She’s knowledgeable about history. I’ve got a little bit of knowledge and needlework, but I’ve also got a business background. I did business studies at college.”
Now the doors of the Glad Rags shop on Semley’s Station Road will shut permanently on 5th October. “The lease is coming to an end on the shop and it’s going to be demolished. It is in a pretty bad state and it needs to go. I can’t face the idea of moving everything to another shop. Secondly, the takings have gone and thirdly, I want more spare time,” said Jan. “I hoped that I would be able to employ somebody to manage the shop and just swan in and out, as and when but, unfortunately, it’s not economically viable.”
There have been two sides to Glad Rags – party hire and performance costumes. “I worked very closely with Shaftesbury Arts Centre and at TAG (Tisbury Arts Group). And there are lots of village pantomimes and things going on,” said Jan.
It’s unusual having this type of business based in a rural area where there are fewer potential fancy dress hirers. “That side of it has gone down over the years. Thirteen years ago, it was quite big, but I’m afraid it’s inevitable. The internet has affected it. It’s a two-edged sword. People will go and buy tat on there, rather than coming and seeing something nice with us. But it also means that people find us because they Google ‘fancy dress’ and we’re the only ones in the area to come up,” said Jan.
Dressing-up to see in the New Year is on the wane. “Halloween has taken over from the New Year,” said Jan. Over the years, Glad Rags has provided outfits that follow the fancy dress fads, from Harry Potter and Ozzy Osbourne wigs to Minions. “We try to do more unusual things and leave the superheroes to the internet,” said Jan, who instantly responded when I asked which costume is her bestseller. “Definitely pirates,” she said, attributing that to the success of Johnny Depp’s movies.
Jan reckons her locally-made outfits are superior to most rented online. “It will be a lot better quality. We make things so that we can wash them,” said Jan, who added that most items have come back without stains and spills on the fabric. “Things have come back in pieces, though, because they’ve pulled it. We’ve had to sort out some rather interesting repairs, though we charge for it,” she said.
Glad Rags supplies historical clothes for Shaftesbury’s recently-reintroduced Byzant procession and Jan is proud of her reputation as an historical costume supplier. Authenticity matters, especially when the clothes are hired by performers. “We try and guide people into the right sort of era because people come in and say, ‘I want the Tudor costume’. If it’s on stage, there’s going to be an expert in the audience who will say, ‘That’s not right’.”
Part of that attention to detail comes from ensuring period colours are in-keeping. “We make the colours duller because dyes were natural in those days, rather than the chemicals we use now.”
Glad Rags signature medieval costume range was developed after the women attended an annual event. “Gold Hill Fair was going on but there was absolutely nothing on Gold Hill. We decided, in our naivety, to organise a medieval event for that weekend on Gold Hill. We did it for a couple of years. We built up to about 100 costumes,” said Jan.
It was supplying Tudor period clothing that gave Jan her greatest sense of professional pride. “Tisbury has produced a couple of plays in the summer at Ansty, in the big barn. One was, ‘A Winter’s Tale’. I produced the costumes for that. I think I’m proud of that.”
Although Glad Rags has made hundreds of pieces, Jan has her favourite. “The best costume we have is one my partner Pam made. It’s a Queen Elizabeth I costume, which she did for ‘Queenie’ in a production of Blackadder. It’s beautiful, made of a curtain and lots of jewels.”
And the worst? If Jan is making that judgment based on hiring statistics, it has to be a 1990s TV tie-in costume only hired on one occasion. “Mr Blobby,” she laughed. “It never went out again. So now Mr Blobby’s head is sitting on the back of my chair in the shop.” But it’s too late if you wanted to hire that throwback outfit. “We’ve used the body for something else. I think it became a pumpkin or something ridiculous.”
Jan intends to carry on trading with a slimmed-down selection following her store closing sale. “I am going to be storing the best stock in a couple of containers, which I’ve had insulated so that they should be dry. I will carry on doing the amateur dramatics.”
And you’ll be able to see Jan’s outfits in action in productions this autumn. “I’m doing the costumes for Junior TAG in Tisbury. They’re doing pantomime at the beginning of November. I’m frantically packing up my costumes to put in containers and producing costumes for them,” she said.
Much of the Glad Rags collection is now available to buy. “I have sold a lot already. I had a big party weekend, a couple of weeks ago, which started the ball rolling and I have a lot of stock down in the shop at very cheap prices,” she said.
Jan says her website will remain the same, GladRagsDorset.co.uk.