If you want to break into costume designing, you should familiarise yourself with what this job entails, so you can succeed. Start with the basics of costume construction, so you can establish a foundation, upon which to expand your industry knowledge. Lending a helping hand, Helen Beaumont explains: why are materials and colour important in costume design?
In theatre, TV and film, everything from the lighting to the costumes are used to tell a story. The costume a character wear’s is utilised to illustrate their personality, socio-economic status, vocation and more to the audience, so your job as a costume designer is crucial to the success of the production.
As a costume designer, you should ultimately aim to create comfortable, flexible and durable pieces, which help the actor behind the outfit whisk viewers away to a fictional world. This is why the key tasks of costume designers are many and varied. You will be in charge of everything from drawing up costume sketches and managing the budget, to creating the costumes and making alterations.
In collaboration with the director, you will be required to choose the costume materials. The fabric you select could detract from the power of the production’s story if you’re not careful. Remember that material is a great indicator of socio-economic status. You would not dress a 19th Century working class character, for example, in silk, because they probably wouldn’t be able to afford silk clothing.
When researching period costumes, remember that some will be materials unsuitable. If the project is in the 17th Century, for instance, you wouldn’t dress your characters in polyester, as this was not invented until the 1940s. You should also remember that some materials are impractical in certain situations. Say you’re working on a musical, where the characters dance. You would need to opt for loose materials that breathe, instead of restrictive fabrics like leather, so the actor can move easily.
Colours are also important. Colours come with different meanings, so the shades you use for your costumes, can have a real impact on how the audience perceives the character in question. Take the latest Harry Potter movie, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The film’s principle antagonists, the New Salemers, were dressed in sober greys. Reflecting the austerity that characterises these anti-magic campaigners’ outlook on life, this choice helped reflect the group’s role in the film to audiences.
Colour can also be a big indicator of a character’s socio-economic status. Certain tones had different connotations in various societies throughout history. If you’re were working on a TV show centred around the Roman Emperor Nero, for example, you would dress him in purple, which was exclusively worn by Emperors in Ancient Rome. In fact, Nero made it punishable by death for anyone else to wear purple, so allowing other characters in this production to don the shade would be a huge faux pas.
You should also keep accuracy in mind when it comes to choosing colour for historical costumes. Synthetic dyes were not invented until the 19th Century, while those natural dyes which had to be imported from far-away, like Indian Indigo, were simply unaffordable for commoners before the onset of the industrial revolution. You should not use colours which reflect tones like Indian Indigo for clothes for working class medieval characters, for example, because this would not be true to life.
Attention to detail
You should always pay attention to detail when working as a costume designer. Issues like materials and colours may seem very small, but they really can help create a believable production for viewers. You would be advised to research these aspects of clothing before you begin creating costumes. This way, you’ll be able to create authentic outfits, which underline the narrative of the production.
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.