Friday, March 22, 2013

Costume designer: job description

It has come to my attention that a description of the various jobs in the theatre wardrobe is in order.

I am referring to the large theatre setting and to some degree regional theatres in Canada. There is likely some difference in other countries, and some differences for film and television work.

So, lets start with the costume designer.

Contrary to what most people may think, the costume designer doesn't make the costumes.

The costume designer is most often chosen by the director of the particular show. Designers may be suggested by an artistic director or production manager, based on the designer's previous work or a designers affinity for a certain style of design that may be just the right thing for the show in mind.
As such, the designer has to be a conduit for the director's vision for the show.

People Skills. The deigner must have good interpersonal skills to work with many people; from the director, the actors, stage management, publicity, the wardrobe, to the fabric store employee.
Research.The designer must be able to read the script, making note of all the different characters and their possible costume changes and requirements in accordance with the directors vision, the plot, and the budget.
They also must research the era the play is to be set in, the clothing styles, the social etiquette, the historical goings on that may need to be reflected in their design.
Drawing. A designer needs to be able to convey the idea for each character in the show in a sketch. It is how they communicate all of the research and discussions that they have done up to this point. This sketch is what they will present to the director to illustrate how the characters will look and fit into the overall vision.They need to present colour drawings or swatch fabric samples to illustrate the colour palette.
The drawing is also what is given to the costume cutter or tailor so the design is interpreted into a pattern which can then be made up.
They have to make decisions not only on the main costume pieces but also the trimmings, undergarments, shoes, hats jewellery, eyeglasses, hairstyle, and makeup.
Sourcing. Designers need to be able to find fabrics for costumes to be built, purchase clothing online or in stores, or find rental costumes. In some cases, designers must also know a variety of costume makers who can work on their project, if there is not an in house team. If they are purchasing fabrics they need to have some feel for how fabric handles and what kinds of fabrics are suitable for different garments.They need to have a basic knowledge of yardage requirements for different garments.
Fittings. Designers need to be able to make decisions in fittings with the cutter in regards to style lines and proportions, or if using stock or bought pieces, be able to decide if they fit into their overall plan. They have to choose shoes, accessories, trimmings, jewellery etc.
They also need to be able to interact at the fitting with the actor and be able to convey the vision of their design and speak to any concerns the actor may have.
Rehearsals.  Designers often attend rehearsals so they can monitor any changes the director may be making or if the staging will require a change in their design. They will watch the dress rehearsals and give notes afterwards for any changes that need to be made.
Budgets. Designers usually have to keep track of the money they spend, both in materials and sometimes labour costs as well.
Organization and time management. Designing a show is a lot of work, and the more organized a designer is from the start, the less stress getting to the end result. There are always delays and setbacks, which cannot be anticipated so organization is the key to keep from getting bogged down or impeding the process.

Hmmm.....I am sure I have missed a few things so I may add them in as I think of them.
The next job description will be that of the Cutter.


  1. This is really useful! I'm trying to gain the skills within my small costume business to one day go into theater, thank you ever so much for this description.

    Ava, from Ava's Apparel

    1. Just this morning I ran across a similar post, that you may want to read.
      Have a look at Deirdre Clancy's blog. It is very enlightening!