A costume designer works closely with the director to design and oftentimes create and/or source anything involved with an actor's appearance on stage. Everything from the type and colour of fabric the costumes are made out of to the type of undergarments and shoes an actor must wear - even the way their hair and makeup must be done - is researched and included in the design. This is all done while keeping in mind what actions the actor must perform while in costume and how quickly they may need to change between outfits.
The job of any designer is to aid the director in bringing their vision to life. As a costume designer, this is done through what the actors are wearing. Extensive research is often done to determine the appropriate clothing for whichever time period the play occurs in before any actual designing begins. The costume designer must also take into consideration the wealth and social status of each character as well as the overall mood of the play. It is equally as important to work with the other departments so that everything works well together.
Once designing begins, careful consideration is taken to ensure the look of the characters as a whole remains cohesive. Certain colours may be assigned to one specific character to make it easier for the audience to keep track despite multiple costume changes. Even a character that may appear only once in the background has to be considered in the designs so that nothing seems out of place unless it is intended to.
Designs are then created and approved by the director. Once approved, work begins on sourcing the materials and pieces required for each look. Fittings are done with every actor multiple times during this process to guarantee everything fits as it should with enough room to move the way required by the choreography. If an actor is required to do the splits, their costume must be able to accommodate that while still appearing to look true to the time period being portrayed. Anything that cannot be found already made must then be made from scratch. Depending on a show's budget, the costume designer may work alone or with a crew.
Excellent communication is required for any performance, be it between the various departments or from the designer to their crew. Being able to delegate and explain exactly what is required for each costume is important when there is a crew working with the costume designer. If communication is lacking, it can easily cause large and expensive errors to occur that can put a performance extremely off budget and possibly cause the company to lose money.
Once a show is running, the only concerns are now any costume changes and maintaining the costumes so they look the same on the final night as they did at the opening performance. Changes that the actor has ample time for do not need anything more than making sure the costume is together in the proper location.
Quick changes however, are changes that must be done just off stage as there is no time for the actor to go to the change room. These can be extremely short, requiring an actor to be changed and back on stage in a matter of seconds. Maintenance is simply washing and ironing the clothes and doing any repairs that are required.
- Samantha Perrin is a young costume designer, new to designing for theatre. She is a proud graduate of MacEwan University's Theatre Production program where she specialized in props, scenic painting and wardrobe. She continues to hone her skills by creating outfits for herself and friends while waiting for COVID restrictions to ease and theatres to reopen.