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.

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.

Costume Design for ‘The King’s Speech’

The motion picture of the year at the 2011 Academy Awards was the period film “The King’s Speech.” Besides winning in this category and many others, the film was also nominated for the wonderful costume design spearheaded by Jenny Beaven. Beaven is no stranger to Oscar nominations, having been nominated a total of nine times in her career.

The movie is set in England, on the eve of World War II. The designs for the film capture the essence of the time and the characters in a way few costumes succeed at doing. Beaven has revealed that she had only five weeks to ready the costumes before shooting began, and a very small budget to work with.

To plan, Beaven spent a lot of time researching the King, the Queen and the times they lived in. She studied photos and read biographies, learning about the couple’s favorite colors and styles while altering some of their preferences to better fit the modern audience’s tastes and expectations. It’s a challenge that any costume designer must face when designing for a historical film.

Beaven has said she does not prefer to sketch out costumes. Instead, she pulls each costume together a piece at a time, mixing and matching to achieve the desired result. In the films she works on, much of the costumes are created from found pieces that she finds at rummage shops and prop stores combined with a few pieces created new. Beaven is also known for involving the actors in their costume development by asking them to try on different costumes and accepting their input. The result is always a costume design masterpiece, as in ‘The King’s Speech.’

C​ostume, Hair and Makeup for Belly Dancers

Colette of Jamila Lotus in a blur of color

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Belly dancing is an ancient feminine activity originating in the Middle East. There are a number of different types of belly dance, including Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese, Tribal and American Cabaret. What all belly dancers have in common is the need to learn costuming, hair and makeup techniques prior to performing in public. While each genre of the dance has its own unique style, there are some basic rules to follow for great stage presence.

The most important thing to consider when creating a costume for belly dance is the security of the garment in maintaining the dancer’s modesty. Dance costumes must fit very tightly, with little or no stretch to the fabric. This will keep the costume from becoming loose or dislodged during a physically active dance. Accessories to the costume such as wrist, ankle and armbands can add decorative spice, but should fashioned in such a way that they cannot become caught on the costume. Hair styles for belly dancers typically include long, free locks, whether straight, wavy or curly. The hair may be held back off of the face with a decorative, matching headband, or secured into a tight bun at the back of the head and complemented with a number of yarn or fabric braids, flowers or extensions.

Stage makeup for dancers is usually quite exotic. It also must be able to endure a dancer’s perspiration and exertions over a few hours. Most dancers keep the foundation makeup quite light, and use a translucent powder to absorb oils and perspiration. The eyes are heavily lined with black kohl or liquid eyeliner, creating an Egyptian cat’s eye effect. Dancers may also use false eyelashes to further enhance their eyes. Smoky eye shadows complete the look.

What Costume Designers Do


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C​ostume design is becoming a fast growing industry, especially among recent American college graduates. The glamour and thrill of working in New York or Hollywood is especially enticing to young adults, many of whom have been interested in the industry for years. Costume designers typically have degrees in fashion design, art history, film or another related major. The field is quite competitive, and many beginning designers must intern for quite some time before they are hired for projects of their own.

Modern costume designers do much more than just research the clothing of a specific era or nationality. They will also create costumes that help forge and define the characters. They work with the sets and director in order to establish the details before beginning to select styles or fabrics. Costume design can be particularly creative when the project involves a fantasy or science fiction theme when there are no historical references for the actors’ clothing.

Those who are interested in entering the field of costume design should understand that much work and effort is required before the job gets interesting. Potential designers will spend hours assisting or apprenticing to established designers. They will also be called upon to prepare the research necessary when designing period clothing for plays or films. There are a number of considerations that may need to be dealt with, including what actions the actors will be taking while wearing the costumes, whether or not they will be outside in the weather and the types of lighting that the scenes will call for. All of these variables will help dictate what types of fabric are used for the costumes and whether or not duplicates of certain costumes should be available. For instance, if a scene calls for a costume to be ruined or destroyed, having to do several takes may call for multiple, but easy to secure costumes for the actors.