Authenticity is the key to creating effective period costumes. Your pieces need to truly resemble clothing from the era in question, allowing actors to transport viewers to another time and place. Therefore, it is essential that you conduct extensive research before crafting these items. Helen Beaumont reveals several sources of inspiration you can turn to when creating period costumes.
Read around the period
Before you do anything else, learn about the era your production is set within. With this strategy, you can get a sense of the realities of daily life for people living within this period. Use this knowledge to determine how their clothing should look and feel as well as which materials to use, depending on what would have been readily available. By reading historical books and articles online, you can create authentic period clothing, rather than just a poor imitation of what historical figures would have worn.
Hold production discussions
The personnel guiding your production e.g. directors and scriptwriter, will have some idea about what they want for their costumes. Hold discussions with these figures, so you can determine how to make pieces which are not only historically accurate, but which enhance production’s narrative. It is important to note that collaboration is one of the key tasks involved in being a costume designer, as you will need to work with everyone on the production to develop quality programming for viewers.
Look around online
You can use online tools such as Google images to search for comparable pieces to determine how your costumes should look. Also, follow historical fashion blogs and editorials, so you can learn about why people made specific fashion choices during various historical periods.
For instance, the BBC explains that bloomer suits became popular in the mid-19th Century due to the rising women’s rights movement, making it easier for women to carry out everyday tasks such as riding bicycles. Therefore if you were ever asked to create a bloomer suit for a production, by reading this editorial you would know which choices to make, in order to develop a contextually accurate piece.
Visit museums and exhibitions
There is no substitute for experience. It is key that you see real period pieces, before attempting to create your own. It is advisable to regularly visit museums and exhibitions which feature historical costumes, along with expert commentary, allowing you to widen your understanding of how to create these pieces. The recently-held ‘Dressed for Drama’ exhibition in Worcester Cathedral, for example, shed key light on costumes used in production set in the early 20th Century such as Downton Abbey.
Serious hard work
When it comes to conducting research for the purpose of creating authentic period costumes, there are no short cuts – it is vital that you put in the hard work. By pursuing this strategy, you will be able to develop a comprehensive understanding of how these pieces should look, why they were popular within the era in question and how they can drive the narrative of your production forward.
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.