As a costume designer, your key tasks will vary day-to-day. You will regularly be required to consult with actors, so together you can develop costumes which whisk viewers away on a fictional journey.
Any skilled actor will know their character inside out. They will expect you to know the character just as well as, so you can bring them to life on stage or screen. It is key, therefore, that you do plenty of research before meeting the actor. Let’s say you’re working on a historical production. Research your period costumes by looking up examples online, reading about the period and attending relevant exhibitions, so you can get a sense of where the actor will expect you to go with their costume.
Get to know them
An LA Times article argues that costume designers and actors need to trust one another, so they can build believable characters together. It’s really important to be very approachable when first meeting an actor, so you can build an easy rapport and develop this trust. If possible, take time away from the set to become better acquainted with actors, but this may be hard, because you’ll all be very busy.
Have an open mind
You and the actor are almost certainly going to have contrasting ideas on how the costume should appear and feel. When you’re working with the actor, remember that they’re the one who will be wearing this costume and they might have a good idea on why it should appear or feel a certain way. Come to sessions with an open mind, so together, you can the actor can develop authentic costumes.
While you should have an open mind, don’t acquiesce to an actor’s demands all the time. It may be the case that you have a better reason than they do for making a key costume design choice and if you really believe this, gently debate your case with the actor to press your point. Sometimes, actors will object to certain choices due to trivial concerns e.g. the colour clashes with their skin tone. You should firmly, but gently, dismiss these concerns, so you can focus on making the best piece possible.
Make fittings comfortable
During costume fittings, actors will be required to stand for long periods of time, making them distinctly uncomfortable. If you ignore their discomfort, only focusing on creating the perfect costume, the actor you’re dressing will become irritable, making them less willing to form a fruitful collaboration with you. Instead, stop every so often to ensure your actor is comfortable to maintain good will.
Build good will
Remember that word travels fast in the creative industry. If an actor, especially one with a high public profile, starts telling people that you’re a difficult costume designer to work with, you may find your future employment opportunities limited. Work on fostering good relationships with actors, so you can both develop authentic costumes and create the good will needed to succeed in this industry.
About Helen Beaumont
Helen Beaumont’s career started at Camberwell College of Art, where she studied the History of Art and Design, specialising in costume during her final year. After completing study, Helen became a costume buyer for theatre and opera. She has since become a professional costume designer, with a keen interest in period clothing. Throughout her career, Helen has created authentic costumes for prestigious companies such as the Universal Studios, Disney, BBC, Tiger Aspect and the Young Vic Theatre.