Visit Molly Limpet’s 30,000-strong costume emporium at its new Sheffield site

I’m in dress-up heaven.

By Nik Farah
Saturday, 3rd October 2020, 2:45 pm

Stepping through the door of Molly Limpet’s Theatrical Emporium is like stepping into Disneyland’s costume department.

It’s a genuine feast for the eyes; rails of colourful attire in every theme – complete with hats, shoes, and accessories – stretch out in every direction.

Ever wanted to channel old Hollywood glamour? Don the uniform of your favourite superhero? Maybe strut your stuff dressed like a cast member of Mamma Mia? This is the place, my friend.

Scott McKenzie and Nick Hedley in the new Molly Limpet's Sheffield emporium

“Welcome to Pantomime Avenue,” says Scott McKenzie, indicating a corridor of over 1,000 novelty dresses that would leave Christopher Biggins drooling.

He points the other way: “Down there is Shrek Swamp, where we keep all the costumes for Shrek the Musical, and over there is Arendelle, where we store all our ice and snow-themed costumes."

We round another corner, past the stunning costume sets for Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Spamalot - to Showgirl Corner.

I have to resist the urge to pull a beaded feather headdress on my head and polish off my high kicks.

Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield

“That’s the usual reaction,” laughs Scott, catching my wide-eyed gaze.

"When friends come to visit, they all want to try things on.

"This is a terrific building at night, with the skylight above, and we’ve held some great staff celebrations here over the years.

"You can imagine, by the end of the night, everyone’s wearing something silly.”

Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield

The giant warehouse where Molly Limpet’s 30,000 costumes reside, just off Abbeydale Road, was once the coachhouse for an enormous Victorian property.

Today, it is home to one of the biggest costume collections in Europe.

"We really do have everything,” says the emporium’s manager, Nick Hedley.

“We supply for musical theatre - panto is our speciality - small family parties, and big corporate events - including medieval banquets and masquerade balls at Chatsworth House and Wentworth Woodhouse.

Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield specialises in panto-wear

“We’ve supplied costumes for the Brit Awards, and the Albert Hall, as well as celebrity parties.

"Sometimes you don’t even realise what it is you’ve been working on until you see the costumes on TV or in a magazine.”

Eagle-eyed Strictly Come Dancing fans may recognise the flamboyant costumes produced, with just two days notice, for Joe Sugg and Dianne Buswell's Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat dance, while the firm’s costumes have also appeared in numerous TV adverts and in films including Get Santa, starring Jim Broadbent.

Nick adds: “We’ve dressed Kata Mara, Charlie Cox, Linda Lusardi, Gareth Gates, Ray Quinn, and, of course, panto legend Christopher Biggins.”

As we climb the stairs to the top of the warehouse, we’re rewarded with an incredible birds-eye view of the wonderland below: 50ft triple rails run parallel on both sides; period wedding dresses at one end, and deluxe Santa suits at the other.

Nick continues: “Everything item of clothing, hat, or bow tie is washed in a washing machine after every hire.

Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield

"For so many people, fancy dress means cheap stuff imported in packets, or old rotting clothes that smell like the last party they went to.

"Here, everything is good quality, clean, and fresh – and our warehouse smells wonderful!”

As Molly Limpet’s celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, director Scott reveals it seems just like yesterday he founded the company out of a small shopfront in Woodseats.

"I had 175 costumes,” recalls Scott, who has been involved in musical theatre all his life, and has appeared as Dame in pantos across the north.

"From there, the collection grew organically, as we purchased costumes of shows at the end of their run, and began to manufacture our own.

"We now have people all over the world that make for us; many of our showgirl and sequinned outfits are hand-stitched in the Far East, and our feathers are imported from all over the world."

Over the years, you've no doubt seen the company’s handiwork showcased in Manor Operatic Society’s famous pantos at Sheffield City Hall – believed to be the biggest amateur pantomimes in the UK – whose stars it has dressed for 14 years

"Last Christmas, our costumes featured in pantos in every part of the UK,” says Scott.

“We sent costumes to the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Shetland Islands, southern and northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and every part of England.”

And in this, its 20th anniversary year, Scott and Nick decided to take the plunge and expand their warehouse base into Molly Limpet’s main site, combining its retail, storage and manufacturing businesses all under one enormous roof.

Scott adds: “It’s so much better having everything in one place, and our new emporium is just waiting for people to come and start digging through - we’re excited to show it off.”

And while Molly Limpet’s hasn’t escaped the shadow of Covid-19, nor the impact of the national lockdown earlier this year, they’re feeling positive about the future.

Scott confirms: “Lockdown impacted us massively, as we had shows that were in dress rehearsal that were suddenly forced to pack up shop.

"It was a tremendously difficult time for everyone in the theatre, particularly those community theatre casts that had been rehearsing for six or seven months by that point.

"Luckily we’ve managed to reschedule everything - every show we were supplying for - which means, as it stands, we have a crazy busy 2021 ahead of us.

"We’re just bridging the gap until then.”

Nick adds: “Obviously things like the new ‘rule of six’ hit us hard too, as it cancelled a lot of parties, but we just have to plough on and do the best we can.

"in the meantime, we’re sorting, and manufacturing, and waiting until the curtain can rise once again.”

Scott McKenzie and Nick Hedley in the new Molly Limpet's Sheffield emporium
Scott McKenzie as a panto dame
Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield
Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield
Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield
Scott McKenzie in the new Molly Limpet's Sheffield emporium
Patterns on the wall in the workshop at Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield
Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield
Nick Hedley in the new Molly Limpet's Sheffield emporium
Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield