Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thrifty Costume Design Part III: Pulling the Costume Together

Now that the costumes are designed on paper, it's time to make them a reality. At the first rehearsal I presented my sketches and ideas to the cast and the Production Staff. I also took measurements of all the actors. That way I know what size clothing I need to find. So where do I find the clothes? Well, as I mentioned in my last Thrift Share Monday post, I do buy things at thrift stores. But even with thrift store prices, I still couldn't afford to buy everything in the show. In the upper levels of the entertainment world (Regional, Broadway, Film) there is enough money to draw your costume design and have the whole thing built from scratch by a Costume Shop or shopped by a team of assistants, or more often it's a mix of both. I don't have that luxury. But the luxury I do have is full access to Yale's extensive costume stock.

It's not free, I have to rent, but since I work for the Drama School in their costume department, I get a discount. (And I do have the luxury of a wonderful assistant!)

First thing I do is have another look at my sketch. Here is the sketch for the character of Mariana:

Next I make a list of what the items in the sketch are. In this case I am looking for:
  • a blouse
  • a corset/waist cincher
  • an underskirt
  • an overskirt
  • a pair of knee high boots
  • accessories: a belt, some sort of leather straps, a watch, a necklace.
For my first fitting with the actress I want to find the basic items on the list. I usually focus on the accessories last. Prevent nudity first, work out the details later. Armed with my trusty tape measure, I dig through stock and look for the items on the list. Stock is organized in a way similar to a thrift store.  Men's pants, ladies blouses, skirts, etc. and digging through a costume rack is like digging through a thrift store rack. After about an hour of hunting aided by my assistant, these are my options for my Mariana costume:

A blouse and a skirt. The skirt brand is Coventry (which I've never heard of) and it's kinda weird, but very cool. 

With those zippers, it's very Steampunk!

Next I find an overskirt to crate a bustle with. This is a costume piece which was built for a show many moons ago. This is the back view, notice the gathering about one third of the way up the skirt. That is a channel sewn into the fabric to gather the skirt over a bustle cage, it has an adjustable cord in the channel. 

This will come in handy while I drape and gather the skirt to create the effect I want.

After I add the skirt and get it draped the way I want, I add the corset I found. (It's also an item made for a previous show.) 

Then I played around with a pair of men's suspenders I found earlier in the day, when I was looking for a different costume. I kind of like the effect of carrying the suspenders over the back of the corset. See how nicely the bustle is draped? All thanks to the magic gathering cord!

I pulled these shoes from our special stock.  Why are they special? Because they were custom built by a shoemaker in Nova Scotia for a show two years ago. But they are so, so Steampunk! And they have been used a few times since they were first made as you can see by the scuffed toes.

All put together, it's a costume! 

And it looks similar to the sketch. It will still need some work, the most obvious thing being to add a length of fabric to the overskirt. But I feel like I have a good solid base to work from . Provided it fits! I'll find that out at my fitting with the actress on Wednesday. Then I'll decide what the next steps to complete the costume are going to be. Next week I'll show you the beginning one of the men's costumes and hopefully share the progress on the Mariana costume.


  1. Amazing how similar the real thing is starting to look to your sketch. This is such an interesting process to watch unfold. Great post!

  2. the costume looks fantastic and so do your beautiful costume sketches.

  3. I am loving the costume design blog posts, so interesting to see how you incorporate thrifting into your costume design, plus your sketches are exquisite. Can't wait to see Measure for Measure

  4. These posts are so interesting. Wish I could incorporate thrifting into my job (marketing) somehow :)

  5. Just getting caught up on these costume design posts. First I have to say that I love this series. Seeing your process is awesome. I loved watching one of your costume sketches come alive in this post AND it looks incredible. You're so talented!