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.

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.

The Job of a Costume Designer

Parisian mime working for tips entertaining crowd.
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What is the job of a costume designer? Is it to simply dress the actor or actresses, and put some earrings and other accessories on them to complete the look?

Costume designers have the job of making sure that the actor, actress, entertainer or celebrity looks stunning, appealing and makes a lasting impression at the first glimpse. They have the knowledge of understanding the importance of incorporating appeal with color and style into their presentations. Their decisions on costume selections and presentations can do a lot to affect the industry overall.

The job of a costume designer does include the task of selecting colors, materials and accessories, but the overall job of their role is so much more involved.

1.) Depending on the role cast or the entertainer’s theme, they have to select their wardrobe that fits in with the theme. To do this, they may have to research the event to find out more information to help them decide on which way to go with the presentation. They may also have to do a bit of research to find out any history or pertinent material on what they’re trying to design a costume for. All of this makes a difference in how and what they decide to do as a result.

2.) Selecting the costumes depends also on the entertainer’s or the celebrity’s preference and style. The costume designer may have a great idea for a costume, but if it doesn’t fit the personality of the celebrity, it may not go over so well. This is often only important if the celebrity is a big name person. On other events, the costume designer gets to use their own creative judgment when it comes to using a particular design or theme.

The designer should always take these things into consideration when doing their jobs. They can help them make the right choices and help everybody shine.

The Difference Between a Stylist and a Designer

French costume designer Caroline Barral
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What’s the difference between a stylist and a designer? Don’t they both make people look good? Aren’t they both the same thing?

Although a stylist and a designer are in many ways similar, they are not both the same thing. They have job similarities that can lap over into each other, but overall, their jobs are vastly different in a large respect.

- Accessories

A costume designer looks for accessories that will enhance the creation that they’ve made. They may even design something specifically for the costume, just to ensure that it gives off the initial impression they want.

A stylist takes available accessories and uses them for the purposes they already have. They don’t create (necessarily), but they use available resources. They may offer their insights to the designer, but they primarily rely on their creative sparks and available resources.

- Clothing

A costume designer actually designs clothes for their clients. They take the personality of the character, entertainer, etc. and works with it to make something specifically for that individual.

A stylist takes clothing from different designers and creates a "look." Their creative abilities are in what they can do with the things they’re given. This is where their creative abilities count for a lot, and their choices can make the costume designer shine!
A person with multiple skills in both areas could certainly successfully do both jobs. On many television sets and entertainment sets, they may in fact lap over. However, in order for there to be a uniform consistency in the way each duty is performed, it’s best to have a designated stylist and a designated costume designer. This makes the overall presentation more stunning, more impressive and keeps each person’s creative work in the area that best suits them and the task they’re working with.