It is next to impossible to visit Dollywood and not notice the well-themed costumes that hosts wear. Almost everywhere you look, you are met with different styles and patterns as you traverse the park. Not only is each uniform unique in its own right, but each is specific to the area where the host is working. In fact, if you counted, you would see there are 143 different types of uniforms across the properties. That is not a typo—143!
So, how is every host outfitted with the costume necessary for their job position? Well, I took a behind-the-scenes tour with Dollywood’s Wardrobe Manager, Angie Davis, to find out how she and her team dress everyone who works for Dollywood, Dollywood’s Splash Country, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa and Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins.
The Wardrobe Team
You might be surprised to learn that only eight people work in the wardrobe department at Dollywood. While they all have the official title of seamstress, what they do each day varies. Angie informed me that all eight employees are trained on every position in the wardrobe department so that rotations can happen when needed. A few of the seamstresses have been sewing for more than 50 years! During my visit, I observed a typical morning for this team as they fit, cut, completed alterations and gathered uniforms for distribution. Last year alone, they distributed 12,000 uniforms and made more than 8,600 alterations. (Remember, this is a team of eight!)
As I mentioned earlier, there are 143 different types of uniforms. A creative design group comes up with the looks of each costume, and then, it is up to Angie and her team to execute and secure the pieces necessary to complete the look. Angie has created a look book/cheat sheet of each piece that every specific uniform is required to have.
Hosts are even provided with accessories to make their jobs easier and more comfortable with the changing seasons. During the cold months, the wardrobe warehouse provides hosts with hats, gloves and jackets. Hosts are also given raincoats and cooling towels to protect themselves from the ever-changing Tennessee weather elements. These seasonal accessories complement Dollywood’s festivals throughout the year.
The Process for New Hire Hosts
When someone is hired as a new host at Dollywood, they are assigned a specific work location. Once they have that assignment, the Wardrobe Department receives a sheet with the newly hired host’s name and area. The new host arrives at the wardrobe warehouse where they are fitted and measured for the uniforms they will need. Angie said that they fit for comfort and not for size meaning that sometimes the uniform size may be something totally different than what the host is used to wearing, but they simply go based on fit and comfort.
If the uniform is too big or too long, the wardrobe team will alter the costume while the host is at orientation and will have altered uniforms available for pickup after the host completes orientation. The fitting and altering takes place in less than an hour! Angie says she calls her machine “the cow” because of the sound it makes as it moves. It’s able to make 3,000 stitches a minute!
On average, Dollywood’s wardrobe staff sees about 140 hosts a day—that’s a lot of alterations. There are times when an entire new uniform needs to be made. If that’s the case, the seamstresses will work at the cutting table to cut and create brand new uniforms on the spot. Each full-time host is given five uniforms while part time hosts are given three uniforms. Everyone leaves their visit to the wardrobe warehouse with the uniforms that they need to begin their jobs.
The Process for Returning Hosts
When a host returns to work at Dollywood another year, they keep their uniforms from the previous year (as long as they are staying in the same position). Typically, the wardrobe warehouse organizes it so that they schedule everyone from a certain department all at the same time. For example, every returning host who works on the parking team will all be at the warehouse at the same time so that the wardrobe staff can take care of an entire group versus hosts from all different areas swarming in at one time.
If a host needs a new set of uniforms (this can be for any reason such as weight loss/gain, stains/holes from previous season, etc.), they are able to return to the wardrobe warehouse and get what they need. On my visit, two different returning hosts came in needing smaller uniforms and that is when the alterations crew came onto the scene. Needless to say, the wardrobe staff makes it very simple to obtain new uniforms or to make any needed alterations at the drop of a hat.
Hosts are responsible for providing their own footwear and can wear any closed-toe shoes they desire as long as they are solid brown or solid black. The wardrobe warehouse is also where hosts obtain their iconic name tags—I saw the name tag machine in action during my visit.
A host can visit the wardrobe warehouse at any time to exchange something due to sizing and/or comfort. Some uniforms have several options: a roller coaster host uniform, for example, might have the option to choose pants, shorts or overalls based on what that host prefers.
One of the highlights from my visit was learning about how the wardrobe warehouse gives back to the community and repurposes uniforms or fabrics that are not needed anymore. Angie told me that they had a surplus of skirts at one point and instead of just discarding them, they cut pieces of the skirt off to create small dresses to send with missionaries on a trip to Haiti. Angie also shared about how her team used excess fabric to create hundreds of masks during 2020 to send to places like East Tennessee Children’s Hospital during the mask shortage. Another example Angie remembered was when her team took velvet curtains that were no longer needed and sewed them into blankets with an embroidered butterfly and donated them to cancer patients to use during their chemo treatments. The compassion and care that exists in the wardrobe warehouse cannot be rivaled, and it gave me chills to hear about how they repurposed unneeded fabric to meet needs.
The next time you are at Dollywood, pay special attention to how many different uniforms you can spot during your visit. Can you spot all 143 variations?