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What Are the Duties of a Costume Designer?

by Bob Kelly

Costumes are vital in any performance: they establish the period, and they reveal details about a character such as social status, gender or age. They also serve to strengthen the mood in a scene production. A costume or theater designer is in charge of developing the image of a character through his clothes and accessories, in television, film, opera and theater productions. She does this using existing stock, or purchasing and designing new clothes. Creativity, team spirit and good communication skills are essential qualities of a good costume designer.

Costume Plot

A costume designer reads the script during pre-production to become familiar with the historical era depicted in the production, the number of characters and their costume requirements. She develops the costume plots for each actor considering different colors, textures and silhouettes to represent an actor’s emotional journey. She researches the fashion trends to properly portray the era of the story and the production concept. An educational background in clothing design as well as drama is essential for understanding fabrics and colors, and guiding the designer in costume construction.

Costume Budget and Inventory

The theater designer maintains the costume budget of a production, and she must retains the financial records of all expenditures in relation to costumes. She organizes costume rentals and the purchase of new fabrics, makeup, accessories and other supplies. The designer selects suppliers for costumes and negotiates suitable prices. She takes the inventory of all the costumes and ensures that they are properly stored. She also receives donations for costumes, be they money or fabrics.

Wardrobe Supervision

Designing costumes requires the collaboration with the director, wardrobe assistants, head cutters, set and light designers, and actors to develop costumes that accurately depict the production concepts. The costume designer develops production schedules for the wardrobe staff to guide them in their set duties. She supervises the wardrobe staff to ensure that the designs for each actor and scene is suitable and available on time. She liaises with the director of production by showing him sketches and other visual references to ensure that they concur with his production vision.

Fittings and Follow-Ups

A costume designer arranges for fittings for all the actors to determine the need for alterations. She attends dress rehearsals to ensure that the actors are able to comfortably move in their outfits without damaging them, and that the outfits are properly suited for the scenes. She also explains any special features of costumes to actors. A theater designer arranges for the return of rentals after the completion of production. She also organizes for storage or disposal of remaining costumes.

Photo Credits

  • Leonard Mc Lane/Digital Vision/Getty Images