A costume designer
designs (and sometimes makes) costumes for a film, stage, or television
production. Costume design is always collaborative work, because a designer
needs to work with the director and other members of the production team.
Depending on the size of the production, a costume designer may work with
hairstylists, makeup artists, and wig masters to give a character the desired
A costume designer
needs to know a great deal about color scheme; how to sketch, design, and sew
costumes; textiles; historical clothing; and the film or theater industry that
she works in. Knowledge of computer programs like photoshop and graphic design
abilities are becoming increasingly important as well. It is not an easy job,
but it can be a very rewarding one.
A costumer is a
person who makes the costumes. In smaller productions, the costume designer is
sometimes a costumer as well: not only does she design the looks, but she makes
them, too. A costumer works as a seamstress and/or pattern maker, but depending
on the specific costume, other skills may be needed, such as knitting, welding,
chainmail weaving, etc.
Once a costume
designer has finished her sketches, she may give them to the costumers to make,
rent costumes that fit her design ideas from other theater companies or costume
houses, or purchase clothing from thrift shops, high end stores, etc.--so long
as the price fits the budget of the production.
Actors will need to
be measured to ensure that the costumes are made or purchased in the right size.
Common measurements taken to determine correct sizes are: chest, waist, hip,
inner leg, neck, and shoulder-to-wrist. Later, costume designers conduct
fittings with actors to ensure the costumes fit and the actor can properly move.
A costume designer
first has to read the script, and then consider a lot of things about the
production and characters when first sketching her ideas. Here is a list of some
considerations a costume designer makes:
Is this story set in a historical or
futurist time period? If so, will I make the costumes historically accurate to
that period, or reframe the story by costuming characters in contemporary
clothing or clothing from another era? Examples:
Shakespeareís plays are often revamped to fit a modern setting, like in Baz
Luhrmanís 1996 film adaptation of Romeo
and Juliet. In 1995 Richard
III (played by Sir Ian McKellan)
was staged in the style of a fascist England setting with costumes influenced
by 1930s and 1940s military clothing.
What location is this story set in? How
do people dress in that part of the world, during that time? Costumes
for the The King and I,
which takes place in Thailand in the 1860s, would look very different from a
play set in Thailand today.
How will I represent my characterís
socio-economic class? Are
all the characters from relatively the same station in life, like in How
To Succeed in a Business Without Really Trying? Or is the play a large and
sweeping epic about social issues, like Les
How will the costumes reflect the
characterís personality? Mussetta
in the opera La Boheme is
a flirtatious, extravagant character, and her costumes often are brighter,
richer, more detailed, and more revealing than the poor seamstress Mimiís
What season is the story set in? In what
scenes are the characters indoors or outdoors? How
will this effect their costumes for those particular scenes?
What is my budget, and how much time do I
have to make every costume before the play/filming begins? How much detail and
care is realistic? A
costumer for a local theaterís production of Hello
Dolly! may make chorus cast
members simple high-waisted broom skirts and have them wear oxford shirts with
billowy sleeves, while a costumer for a major film company might put thirty
hours of labor or more into a finely detailed costume for a lead character.
How much and what kind of movement will
the actor perform? A
character playing Peter Pan, who will be flying around the stage by use of
wires, will need a costume that allows for more mobility. The designer might
choose a costume made from stretch fabric.
What props, sets, and light design
schemes will be used for this production? Will my costumes compliment those
Victorian, flowery costume aesthetic might not make sense in a modern,
minimalist set with few props.