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Costume design

Costume design is the design of the appearance of the characters in a theater or cinema performance. This usually involves designing or choosing clothing, footwear, hats and head dresses for the actors to wear, but it may also include designing masks, makeup or other unusual forms, such as the full body animal suits worn in the musical Cats (designed by John Napier, winner of the 1983 Tony Award for Best Costume Design).

The Costume designer is the person whose responsibility is to design costumes for a film or stage production. He or she is considered part of the "production team," alongside the director, scenic and lighting designers. The costume designer might also collaborate with a hair/wig master or a makeup designer, with the latter two operating on a subordinate level. In European theatre the role is somewhat different as the theater designer will design both costume and scenic elements.

Costume designers will typically seek to enhance a character's persona, within the framework of the director's vision, through the way that character is dressed. At the same time, the designer must ensure that the designs allow the actor to move in a manner consistent with the historical period and enables the actor to execute the director's blocking of the production without damage to the garments. Additional considerations include the durability and wash-ability of garments, particularly in extended runs. The designer must work in consultation with not only the director, but the set and lighting designers to ensure that the overall design of the production works together. The designer needs to possess strong artistic capabilities as well as a thorough knowledge of pattern development, draping, drafting, textiles and costume/fashion history.

Costume construction

The term costume can refer to wardrobe and dress in general, or to the distinctive style of dress of a particular people, class, or period. It can also refer to the artistic arrangement of accessories in a picture, statue, poem, or play, appropriate to the time, place, or other circumstances represented or described, or to a particular style of clothing worn to portray the wearer as a character or type of character other than their regular persona at a social event such as a masquerade, a fancy dress party or in an artistic theatrical performance.

Types of costumes

  • Theatrical costumes

One of the more prominent places people see costumes is in theater, film and TV. In combination with other aspects, theatrical costumes can serve to portray characters' age, gender role, profession, social class, personality, and even information about the historical period/era, geographic location and time of day, as well as the season or weather of the theatrical performance. Often stylized theatrical costumes can exaggerate some aspect of a character for example Harlequin and Pantaloon in the Commedia dell Arte. Without theatrical costumers, the audience would be left wondering who is related to whom, and which person is which.

  • National costume

National costume or regional costume expresses local (or exiled) identity and emphasizes a culture's unique attributes. It is often a source of national pride. Examples of such are a Scotsman in a kilt or a Japanese person in a kimono.

  • Holidays and festivals

The wearing of costumes has become an important part of such holidays and festivals as Mardi Gras and Halloween, and (to a lesser extent) people may also wear costumes in conjunction with other holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Mardi Gras costumes usually take the form of jesters and other fantasy characters, while Halloween costumes traditionally take the form of supernatural creatures such as ghosts, vampires, and angels. Christmas and Easter costumes typically portray mythical characters such as Santa Claus (by donning a Santa suit and beard) or the Easter Bunny by putting on an animal costume. Costumes may serve to portray various other characters during secular holidays, such as an Uncle Sam costume worn on the Independence day for example.

  • Children

Costumes also serve as an avenue for children to explore and roleplay. Children can dress up in various forms i.e. Wild Animals, Marine Creatures or Farm Animals.

  • Adolescents and Young Adults

Adolescents and youngsters often dress in costumes reflecting an ideology, a peer group, or simply the desire to have fun. (For example, there is a subculture in Japan centered around Lolita fashion.)

  • Mascots

Another very popular situation where costumes are employed are for sporting events, where people dressed as their team's representative mascot help the club or team rally round their team's cause. Animal costumes which are visually very similar to mascot costumes are also popular among the members of the furry fandom where they are referred to as fursuits.

Costume maintenance

The Wardrobe Supervisor is responsible for supervising all wardrobe related activities during the course of a theatrical run. The modern title "Wardrobe Supervisor" has evolved from the more traditional titles of "Wardrobe Mistress/Master" or "Mistress/Master of the Wardrobe". The wardrobe supervisor may be present at some production meetings and fittings, their primary responsibilities generally begin at the load-in stage of a production. At load-in physical custody and responsibility for the costumes shifts from the costume designer and shop staff to the wardrobe supervisor.

The Wardrobe Supervisor, who is also sometimes referred to as the Wardrobe Mistress or Wardrobe Master, supervises all Dressers working on a production. In consultation with the Production Manager, Stage Manager and sometimes the Director, the Wardrobe Supervisor helps to coordinate and assign dressers to specific performers and tasks. He or she helps determine where and how changes in costume are to be made. It is generally the Wardrobe Supervisor's call as to whether or not a quick change must be executed backstage or in the dressing room. All dressers report directly to the Wardrobe Supervisor, who acts as the primary liaison between the dressers, the costumer and stage management.

Wardrobe Supervisor

The Wardrobe Supervisor's primary responsibilities include:

  • The care and proper maintenance of all costumes, shoes, undergarments, hats and costume related personal props such as gloves, jewelry, parasols, fans and pocket books.
  • To ensure the proper labeling, hanging, storage and preset of all costume pieces.
  • To create and execute a proper cleaning schedule for all garments, ensuring that laundry and dry cleaning are done on a regular basis between performances. He or she also coordinates the regular changing of dress shields, the application of garment freshening sprays and providing clean undergarments to the performers.
  • To ensure that all costumes are properly pressed or steamed prior to each performance.
  • The Wardrobe Supervisor also regularly inventories and inspects all costumes and coordinates all costume repairs. The majority of minor costume repairs are done on site at the theater by either the Wardrobe Supervisor or in the cases of many regional theaters, the onsite wardrobe maintenance crew which is connected to the in house costume shop. Most repairs are considered "emergencies", however, and when ever possible they are done onsite at the theater before and sometimes during the actual performance. The Wardrobe Supervisor's space in the theater, with few exceptions, contains a sewing machine, glue gun, and all sewing supplies necessary for any type of emergency repair that could be required. Most
  • Wardrobe Supervisors are very qualified seamstresses in their own right. The general rule of thumb is that only in the case of very significant damage is a costume sent back to the shop for repair. The one exception to this rule are shoes.
  • Although most supervisor's maintain a regular schedule for polishing and re-spraying of shoes, for safety reasons, actual shoe repair work is always sent out.
  • At the end of a production run, it is the Wardrobe Supervisor who oversees all aspects of the costume strike. In the case of a costume rental, he or she is responsible for coordinating the restoration of all costumes to their original condition. This includes ripping out any hems or alterations which may have been done in the fitting proccess. It also includes the removal of any trim or ornamentation which may have been added to costumes. Sometimes this work is so extensive, that the costumes are returned to either the designer's shop or the theater's shop for proper laundering and restoration. Regardless, the Wardrobe Supervisor is responsible for providing a complete and accurate inventory ensuring that all pieces are returned.
  • A good Wardrobe Supervisor will ensure that the costumes look as fresh and new on the last performance as they did on opening night.

See also [ Folk costume ]

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