Costume Design: Development and Process of Design

Hi my name is Jeni Margos I am a sophomore costume design major at the University of Texas at Austin and Sara’s high school best friend. We started designing costumes in high school together and she is one of the reasons I am doing what I am doing today.
Costume design is one of the most involved processes in the technical theatre world. From costume renderings and concepts to the final pieces for the show, the costume designer is working with the director, other designers, and drapers to make the characters come alive.Costume Design

The Readings

The first step in the design process is to the read the script. This may seem like an obvious step but it is one of the most important. Getting a feel for the characters, understanding the plot, and knowing the specifics of the show are imperative to designing any aspect of a show. It will take multiple readings of a script to truly understand it enough to continue the design process.
The first read through is for the story. The only notes I take are for major plot points and first impressions of characters and plot. In the second and third read through I make any notes of specific dialogue or stage directions that might impact my designs as well as more in depth notes on characters.

Initial Development of Ideas

After you’ve read for impressions of the script, have some concepts in mind, and have some general research done, meetings with directors and designers start. The director will usually have a vision for the show. Whether this is a specific theme or a general direction for the show it is your job to work within these parameters and collaborate with the director and other designer; this is a major part of any design, costume design or otherwise.

Research

Once initial design meetings are out of the way, research begins. All shows require research but the kind of research depends on the show. Some shows require extensive research and knowledge of certain time periods. For example I was a designer of a student production of Spring Awakening which is set in the late 19th century, this required research of the 1890’s so that our designs gave a feeling of being in that time. We mostly pulled clothing from the US costume stock for that show so when we were pulling we would have pictures of clothing from the time period and try to find things that looked or gave the feeling of that time. With theatre there is creative license so accuracy isn’t the most important but a feeling of the time is especially with a period show.

Other shows that are set in a non-descript time periods or modern times require less specific research around the time period and more research around a concept. The musical Urinetown, which I worked on my spring semester, is set sometime in the future when all the water has run out; when I was designing for this show I researched color pallets and concepts for the show, like post-apocalyptic clothing, instead of time periods. The feeling of being in a different time and place are important in shows like these as well, but the way it is achieved is different.

Renderings

After research has been done costume renderings should be made. Renderings are drawing of the costumes that allow the costume designer to communicate their ideas to the design team and cast. They also influence your pulling, shopping, and design meetings with the drapers along with a costume plot; a costume plot describes each piece you would like in each scene and who is wearing it. The renderings are a way to convey your ideas but as you do shopping, pulling, and construction the costumes can change in design to be more practical and fit within time and budget. They also help chose a color pallet. Renderings are the best way to see costumes together and color combinations the way they will be on stage.

The Actors, Fittings, and Final Touches

As shopping, pulling, and construction take place so do fittings with actors. At every fitting the designer and draper, this is sometimes the same person depending on the show, are in the room to figure out how to adapt the costume to the character and actor. As it gets closer to the opening of the show and costumes get assembled a costume list is prepared with all the costumes each character has and when they change into those costumes. Once dress rehearsals are done and the tweaks needed are made, and there are always tweaks made during dress rehearsal. The actor’s portrayal of the characters and how the clothes interact on stage can influence these tweaks. After this the final costumes are set for opening night.

There is a lot to take into consideration when designing costumes for a show. Each costume has to tell the audience a little about the character wearing it and about the setting they are in. It is a difficult process to get to the final show pieces but when you see the show and all your hard work take form and tell the story of the characters it all pays off.

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When I started designing costumes with Sara in high school I thought it would just be another way to be creative but it turned into something I love. I have Sara and our wonderful tech teacher Ms. Raymond to thank for that.

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