Costume Designer’s Duty

Early stagecraft master Robert Edmond Jones (1...

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A costume designer has a big job on his or her plate. Not only does this person need to choose the right clothing and accessories, but the job’s success is also dependent on how realistic the professional can make the costume look. For the right people, this is a fun, interesting job that challenges them regularly.

Understanding the Costume Designer

For those who plan to dress up in a costume, and love every minute of doing so, consider a career path in this field. However, the challenge here is pulling off a realistic look and allowing the subject to no longer look like he or she is wearing a mask. Rather, the person should bring the clothing and accessories to life. What does this professional do?

  • The job of a costume designer often includes the development of the look of the character. Some will work closely with directors and writers to make sure that all have the same vision of whom this person should look like before moving on.
  • The design, development and creation of the costumes is the most hands-on work this professional does. Fittings are the last step, but in between, he or she needs to create the look from the ground up.
  • In addition, having the right accessories can be critical. Other details of his or her job include ensuring the ease of changing into and out of the clothing, ensuring it moves with the actor and ensuring it is durable.

For those who are considering this career path, enjoy playing dress up. However, you need also to enjoy the fabrication and idea development that goes along with it.

What Do Costumer Designers Do?

Costume design for Gianetta - The Gondoliers

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Have you ever been interested in costume designing? Here is an overall description of what they do.

Obviously, a costume designer chooses costumes for characters, whether for a movie, TV show, or play. They will either design the costume and have it made or will find clothes that are already made. It depends on the type of show that’s the designer is costuming. If it’s a fantasy, then more than likely, the designer will have costumes created according to his or her designs. If it’s contemporary, then the clothes will likely be chosen from stores.

When deciding on a costume for a character, there are a lot of things that go into choosing that outfit. The designer must consider the character. What would he like? If she pick if she went into a department store? Would his mom or wife pick out clothes for him, or would he pick clothes for himself? If it’s a historical piece, then a lot of research must go into understanding what clothes were popular at the time and what kinds of fabrics were used to make clothes.

If it’s a fantastical film, then the designer is basically taking whatever direction is given to him or her and creating fashions based on that. More than likely, these clothes will be of the designer’s creation, almost like creating a whole fashion line. The designer still must consider the character in deciding what he or she would wear.

The best designers are able to create authentic costumes that fit the characters and the production.

Costume Designers: More Than Just Costumes

Costume design for Gianetta - The Gondoliers

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When you think about costume designing, like most people you probably have a vision in your head of turn of the century dresses for women and the lavish costumes you see on stage and in the theater. Although this is true, there is also a more mainstream side to costume designing.

The clothes that you see characters wearing on TV and in the movies have to be chosen and put together by someone who knows fashion, and they are considered costumes. When a movie is produced the writer, director, and producer all have a vision of what the scene is supposed to look like and this includes what all the characters in the scene are wearing.

In order to put costumes or clothes together for characters you need to have an eye for fashion, and you need to be able to put the whole package together. In order to do this you may need to draw sketches to show producers what you have in mind. You also need to be able to find the clothes for the characters to wear. This could mean hitting the streets and shopping for just the right outfit.

After the clothes are chosen, a costume designer will also work with the set designers to make sure everything works together, and they will also work with the fitters and the actors to make sure everything fits properly and looks right once it is all put together.

So although costume designing can mean coming up with out of the ordinary and period clothing, it can also be a more mainstream job for a person who has a background in fashion and an eye for detail.

The Three Types of Costume Designers and What they Do

Costume Desgin for the movie The Duchess

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Have you ever wondered why a character in a movie, show, or play looks the way they do? Who chooses their clothes, hairstyles, makeup, and accessories? These details are often determined by one of three types of costume designers, who create the looks of characters in movies, plays, theaters, and dance productions.

The freelance designer is typically hired on for certain productions. Freelance designers can travel from area to area or from company to company often. Since freelance designers are independent they can design for multiple companies or production theaters if they wish.

Residential designers are those who are hired on for an extended amount of time as well as for an extended series of productions.  Companies hire residential designers for periods typically ranging from a few months to a matter of years depending on the need for their services. These designers are often limited in the amount of freelance assignments they can do, and are kept on location readily available to work with the hiring companies’ costume studio as needed.

A third type of costume designer, the academic designer, is an individual that maintains a professorship at an educational facility, providing instruction to students who are aspiring to work in the costume design field. These designers are noted as being professionals with a high degree of experience and are often required to have a Masters of Fine Arts degree.

Whatever the type, costume designers have been entertaining audiences with style, looks, and excitement for years and will continue to do so for years to come.

Period Costumes in ‘Pride and Prejudice’

Designing costumes for period films can be very difficult. It takes a significant amount of research to get things “just right.” For films like Pride and Prejudice, which is set in the 1790s, few if any actual garments still exist. Costume designers must depend on existing sketches and paintings from the period, as well as the interpretations of previous costume designers. It can be a daunting task.

Costume designers also often rely heavily on prop or costuming shops to outfit the actors in the production they are working on. But these resources often have very little in the way of clothing and accessories meant to look as though they are from this time period. That means the costume designers have to have many outfits created from scratch. This was the case with the 1995 BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice.”

The designers who worked on the film have said many of the fabrics that would have been commonly used in this time period aren’t made anymore. For this particular film, the solution was to have modern fabrics printed to look like fabrics from the time period; and to have the clothing created from that.

In the 2005 “Pride and Prejudice” production, the costume designer has said she used the cut and colors of clothes to help tell the story in an interesting way. For example, the costume designer dressed Mr. Darcy to reflect the personality change he experiences. At first, his clothing is stiff and formal, much like his attitude to the people at the Meryton assembly. But by the end, when he and Elizabeth reach an understanding, he is dressed in much loser, more flowing clothes.

Accessory Trends and the Movies

There are several unique and interesting trends in accessories this year that are certain to make their way into many of the movies that are heading to production. Costume designers have to stay up-to-date on the latest trends so that they are ready to dress an actor in the latest style, should a script call for it.

This year, one hot accessory trend is the obi belt. This wraparound belt style is derived from the belts traditionally used with Japanese kimonos. The styles vary widely, from understated size and material to big and boldly colored.

Bangle bracelets are another hot accessory trend. One bangle is not enough – wearers are piling them on and mixing and matching colors and materials. Look for bangles made of plastic, metal, wood and a combination of materials. A bonus is that bangles are an inexpensive way to make a bold style statement – perfect for a costume designer who needs to dress an actor on a budget.

Purses are always a hot accessory item. For the past several years big purses were “in.” Now, small and medium sized purses seem to be gaining more popularity. This year, designers have added tassels of different sizes to many of their creations. The tassels add movement and interest to the bags, and would look great on screen.

Finally, watch for a changing trends in sunglasses. For years now big black sunglasses with dark lenses have been the standard. But now, as all things 1970s seem to be coming back in vogue, so too are the large tinted sunglasses of the era. Designers are now making these with a modern twist by using much brighter colors. These types of sunglasses are certain to appear in many movies and television shows soon.

What is a Costume Designer?

Costume designers have an important role in film and stage productions. They create the costumes the actors will wear in the production, which can greatly impact the success of a movie or play. If their designs are off, it can be incredibly difficult for the audience to become fully immersed in the production.

Costume designers will often work with the set designers and makeup artists to help create a cohesive look for a film or play. It goes without saying that a costume designer must have a thorough knowledge of fashion, including fabrics, patterns and more. There are many things a costume designer must consider when creating the costume for a character. The designer must stay true to the director’s vision, while considering the durability of the design and the fabric used to create it, the movements the actor must make while wearing the design and more.

The first thing a costume designer must do when beginning work on a new production is read the script to understand the piece, the characters and what they will be doing. Sometimes, a designer will create costumes from purchased pieces. Other times, especially for historical or fantastical productions, a designer will work from scratch by creating sketches and patterns, and having the costumes sewn. As in any field, budget is always an important consideration.

Costume designers can be freelancers, hired on by a theater or production company for a specific play or film; or they can be resident designers hired on to work on a number of productions for an extended period of time.

Varieties of Costume Design in the Movies

The variety of costumes created for movies is a varied as the types of movies themselves. From science fiction to historical romance and everything in between, costume designers play an important role in creating the overall feel and experience of a movie.

In the most recent Oscars, the film “True Grit” was nominated for Best Picture. But for those interested in the field of costume design, it was the actors’ wardrobe that was the highlight of the movie. Designer Mary Zophres did a wonderful job recreating clothing that would have been worn in the American west more than 100 years ago.

To create successful costumes for an historical film, a designer must study the fashions of the given time period. For “True Grit,” Zophres understood that the costumes had to reflect the simplistic durability of the fashions of the time – simple lines, warm fabrics and comfortable cuts were important then, and were therefore important to the development of the film.

For contrast, compare the costumes in “True Grit” to those in the most recent adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.” Here, fantastical designs rule the day. Costume designer Colleen Atwood bolstered the success of the film by dressing the stars, especially Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, in outrageous style fitting the fantasy film. One must believe that Atwood worked closely with the set designer for the costumes and sets to blend as beautifully as they did.

There is no limit to the creativity a costume designer can express in film throughout the course of his or her career.

Couples Costume Ideas

Fun and unique date ideas can be hard to come by, especially in a struggling economy where one or both partners may not have a lot of extra money to spend on an evening out. However, attending a costume party can be a great way to spend time with friends while experimenting with the creative side. Throwing a costume party doesn’t have to be limited to Halloween; instead hosts can think of unique ways to incorporate themes of current events into a party all year round.

When attending a themed costume party, it could be fun to dress up as famous politicians and their spouses around election time, or as an athlete and cheerleader if the party is centered around a specific sporting event. For a Halloween party, couples have plenty of options for costumes. They might choose a king and a queen, Hansel and Gretel, Tarzan and Jane, a fork and a spoon, a plug and a socket, Fred and Betty Flinstone, Lucy and Ricky, or salt and pepper shakers. Choosing a costume geared toward couples can help the partners feel more connected to one another, while having a fun and memorable time with friends.

Dating can be tough, especially for those who have trouble meeting new people at work or school. Many are now meeting their significant others through online dating, which can be a great way to break the ice and meet people who are looking for similar qualities in a partner. With so many websites designed to link local singles and communicate safely, the online dating world continues to grow, and members continue to meet others with whom they see potential for a long-term relationship. It is always fun to have someone to dress up with, and when someone finds the Cinderella to their Prince Charming, this is a great way to enjoy a costume party together.

How to Become a Costume Designer

Designing costumes for film and theater can be a fun, exciting and rewarding career. But while you do need to have a good set of innate creative and artistic ability, you will also need to hone those skills through a formal education program. Luckily, there are good fashion design schools with costume design programs all across the country.

When you look at costume design education programs, you will find 2-year Associate degree programs, and 4-year Bachelor’s degree programs. Either will give you a good foundation and teach you the basics, but you will of course learn much more in a 4-year program. Choose what fits your needs and your budget.

When you are in school, you will learn about all aspects of costume design, including the differences of designing for film versus theater, how to work with the director and set designer, and much more. To be successful in school and in your career, you will need to have a good working knowledge of history, enjoy research, and have a thorough understanding of fabrics, sewing and fashion trends.

While you are in the later stages of your schooling, you will also want to look for good internship opportunities. This real-world experience will help you develop your abilities as a costume designer and give you an edge over the competition. To find an internship, look into school film and theater productions, and into projects with community theaters or production houses.

The job outlook for costume designers is stable, but does ebb and flow with the fortunes of the entertainment industry. To best establish yourself for a successful career, get a good education and internship under your belt.