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Costume Design

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Melanie Mortimore

on 7 August 2015

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Transcript of Costume Design

Clothing changes the way we inhabit our bodies and consequently alters the way others perceive us. – Mira Felner, Think Theatre
What do costumes do for an actor?
The main job of costume design in a production is to provide physical and emotional support to every actor through the clothing he or she will wear to enhance characterization. - Judith Bowden
The Goals of Costume Design
“To assist in bringing the director’s vision and actor’s personal sentiments into harmony…” with the physical needs of the production and actors, the story and character development, and aesthetic choices pertaining to style, mood, genre, etc. Choices should reinforce the physical and psychological aspects of character; environmental, social, and cultural aspects of the world the character exists within; and the arc of the character and story in general.

Understanding Costume
What are the goals of Costume Design?
How Do Collaboration, discussion and research evolve into a costume design?
What are the principles of costume design?
What are the visual elements of costume design?
What are the costume designer’s materials?

What do costumes reveal to the audience?
Psychological makeup of character
Mood, mental stability/state of mind, depth of character, moral/ethical positions,
confidence level, etc.
Physical classifications of character
including: Class, age, health, wealth, educational
status, position in family, position in society, career position, etc.
Time and place of action
: Season, country, rural/suburban/oceanside/etc., class
distinction of neighborhood, place of action; time of day, month, year or time period, amount of time passing; peaceful or violent environment, etc.
Social and cultural aspects of the play and context of situation
Religious and political influences
; trends; nuances; fads; societal acceptance of
certain mores, or cultural differences within the same environment but involving different character’s understanding of culture
Tell personal stories of specific moments or events in a character’s life
: Lipstick on a
collar, torn shirt, broken watch, holes in jeans, expensive purse, sultry dress, wrinkled clothing, etc.
Demonstrate relationships between and among characters
: Family structure (father/
son), class structure (maid/employer), lovers, enemies, uniforms (including military and status within a unit), etc.
Personal style of the character
: Individual choices of clothing, makeup, hair,
accessory wearing that fall within the acceptable modes of dress by a particular character within the appropriate context of the character and world
Aesthetic style of the production
: Fantasy, realistic, exaggerated, futuristic, historical,
whimsical, sophisticated, broken down, etc.

Physical Needs of a Production
Things that need to rip on stage, dancing, tumbling, partnering, chase scenes,
hem lengths,etc.
Script/dialogue related needs
Blood, style, particular garments, pockets, etc.
Quick changes:
Between scenes to show time or situation change, or between character portrayal
Magic/trick/spectacle related elements
transformations, squirting flowers, blood packs, levitation, will there be open flame on stage?
To accommodate set/environment
Is lace on a hem safe? Is skirt width at issue? Are stairs going to become an issue with hem length? is width of garment going to interfere with work on a furniture piece? is flooring safe for bare feet or certain heel widths?

Discussion and Collaboration
How do collaboration, discussion and research evolve into a costume design?

Read script for story
Read script for character and script details, emotional impact, arc
of character, period details, production needs, etc.
Character, social, environmental analysis
Create a character/scene breakdown and then link this with an actor as character scene breakdown
Discuss with Director/Choreographer their thoughts on the concept,
context and needs of the piece:
-What style/concept is the director interested in presenting?
-What type of footwear/silhouette might be necessary?
-Will mic pacs be used in the produciton?
Discuss character approach with director and/or actors

Items or information which was created
during the time period being researched

Actual items
Films with costumes contemporary to the time being filmed
Diaries, Magazines, Receipts, Inventories, Newspaper ads or
articles, Fashion Plate or prints from the period
Research information is based on all of the prior information above associated with script, character, and director/choreographer

Primary Research:
Secondary Research:
This includes information collected outside the time or situation to which is being referred

History/Costume history books with
reproduction sketches/renderings and textual interpretation
Reproduced period costumes used in films or
on stage
Costume renderings
Reproduction/Reenactment items
Unsubstantiated Images off of the internet

Visual Communication
Research Images
Collage/Pinterest/Google Drive

Rough Sketches
Visual approach of entire production team
Lighting, set and sound: Is it cohesive?
Are we all telling the same story? From the same perspective or viewpoint?

Types of Research
The rough sketch is usually an initial idea
drawn out fairly quickly to intimate to the director what look a designer is going for in a particular moment for a character.
These may serve as the final sketches in
some cases, or the basis for a finalized
and more complete design later.
Individual vs. Group Sketches
Might be dependent upon role of characters as primary or ensemble members

Color Palette

Determining the color palette for the show, the scene, the group as a whole within that scene, and the individual character within a given moment


For color, texture, pattern and scale
For fabric fiber, weave, weight and hang
Pre-existing garments to pull, alter or purchase

Final Renderings

-Usually rendered in color
-Style of rendering might reflect style of production
-Medium used for presentation could be watercolor, marker,
pencil, gouache, acrylic, oil, charcoal, pastels, collage, computer generated, etc.

Working Drawings

-Specifics of a given costume, more like a construction blueprint, often including back views, research, and suggested measurements of trim and hem widths

Communication through Renderings
-Should reflect appropriate character and story at a given moment
-Should represent clear arc of character and story over the course of the play
-Should represent clear information to production team, actor, and shop personnel
as to: character, moment in play, genre/style, silhouette, color, texture, and
certain technical details concerned with line and proportion

Includes elements such as the following:
-Character/Scene breakdown (initial)
-Actor as character/Scene breakdown
-Costume Plot/Costume tracking sheet per character per scene
-Organizational plot telling/showing where items are coming from:
purchased, pulled, rented, etc.
-Working Drawings and notes on specifics of design
-Responses to Rehearsal reports and Production meeting notes
-Responses/notes based on rehearsal visits and performer needs
-Fitting availability and requests
-Clear and specific shopping information
-Clear communication in fittings and with alteration notes
-Clear understanding and tracking of monetary budget
-Clear communication regarding additions and strikes of costume pieces
of Design

The Designer’s


Body proportion in relation to period
Body proportion in relation to the
theatrical space, other characters, character nuances or representative qualities
Proportion of texture, print or design
lines in relation to scale of body, space, etc.


Where do I want to direct the eye of the audience, or another character in keeping with the story


Repetition of themes or motifs or color palettes

Unity or Harmony

Cohesive feeling of mood and style for a consistency of character, story, and production aesthetic


The silhouette, or overall shape, of a garment


Weave, fiber, or applied texture
Affect of lighting and spatial
relationships will influence extent of texture needed
Contrast in textures creates visual
Emotional associations with
texture should be considered

Unity of line, color, form and space that
can read as texture
Can be used to create motifs and
unifying elements
May indicate character personality
May indicate production aesthetic,
research influences, genre, period, etc.
May help balance scale and proportion
May indicate political or social movement


Provokes visceral responses about
character, mood, moment, emotion, etc.
Meanings change across culture and within
social or political movements
How colors are used can create movement,
contrast, associations, factions, etc.
Scale of pattern may create a different color
palette in different scale of space
Must be taken into consideration with set and


Textural for aging, altering health,
cleanliness, etc.


Texture, length, color, style
Proportional framing
Wigs for period or quick changes
Period considerations



Beading, applique, jewels/jewelry, piping, zippers, studs, rhinestones, grommets, topstitching, quilting, embroidery, buttons, ribbons, patches, etc.


Canes, fans, jewelry, shoes, hosiery, hats, feathers, purses, fobs, baldrics/holsters, scarves, belts, suspenders, medals,
ties/cravats, glasses, cufflinks,
rosaries, wimples, etc.

Designing is not about drawing; you do not have to be a great artist to be a great designer. You can be a great artist and a bad decision maker…a bad character and script analyst…a bad organizer and planner…a poor multi-tasker…and therefore a poor designer.

Designing is about making choices; appropriate choices for many and varied paersonalities, characters, circumstances, time periods, styles, artistic aesthetic, etc..

Designing is also not about building costumes for a show.

You can rent or purchase all the pieces for a show and still be the designer…why…because, unless you are renting a complete show designed by one other designer…then you are having to make collaborative choices to ensure the piece looks cohesive…

If you are building, renting, and/or pulling from different sources for one show…you are the designer.

(if you are using a complete show from someone else, you should always list the original designer as costume designer, and list yourself as costume coordinator; likewise, you should always acknowledge any contributing sources in the program; its like plagiarism…don’t take credit for someone else’s work.)

Collaborative Team for a Theatrical Production includes:

the playwright
all designers
craft artisans and production staff
running crew and support staff
administrative components
Visual Elements
of Costume Design

What colors, textures and weight or drape does
the garment need
What is available: location, time of year, yardage, etc.
What can I afford
What can be altered or dyed
What safety precautions apply if fire on-stage
What tricks or special effects affect choice
Durability of fabric for scene/play

Style /Genre contrast
Inspirational Research
From Page to Stage
Once a design leaves the designer's hands, the final result is up to the many skilled artisans that take up the
task of actually crafting and constructing the garments and accessories for use in the production.
Period Correct
Historical Realism
Fantasy and
Movement Based Performance
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