Costumes are a fabulous part of theatre — they help tell the story, they help actors get into character, and they immediately tell the audience something about what’s going on. But whether they’re extravagant or simple and functional, sometimes it can seem overwhelming to know where to start.
So we went straight to the source to get the inside scoop from those who’ve been there: drama teachers.
We asked: What is your best piece of costuming advice for a new director?
Build relationships with second-hand stores (the independent ones). Many will let you borrow items out of your budget in exchange for their name in the program. Some will ask for a deposit but I have borrowed furniture pieces (couches, chairs) that we didn’t have space to keep so would have donated back anyways. Sometimes they will ask for a refundable deposit. (Jessica)
Always check thrift stores first. It’s amazing what costumes can be made from thrift store finds. (Sue)
Get creative! Curtains make great cloaks, aprons, skirts, etc. and the fabric is cheap when you shop resale. (Kendra)
Thrift shops, people’s attics, yard sales, borrowing from other companies. Then return on time and in good condition. (Debbie)
Shop Halloween stores November 1st and 2nd. 50-75% off costumes, makeup, props, etc. (Jennifer)
Many of my best costumes, props, and sets came from local theater companies in town who often had storage rooms full of these things and let me “borrow” them if they were not using them at the time. I, of course, return them cleaned. A tremendous help! (Tina)
Think outside the box
If you’re in a school with houses, make costuming a competition between houses. All of a sudden all the teachers who can sew and glue and make things are there to help. Used recycled materials. Budget for a trophy. Works every time. (Amina)
I used to do sketch comedy, and I was told to “suggest” the costume. There was never time to do full costumes with no crew and fast changes. And use glow tape to find your shoes in the dark! (Marilynn)
Keep it simple! Children can make a great deal of costumes creatively at home or indeed in a workshop. It’s really good to include them in that process. Encourage them to think about their characters’ appearance and props. Simple materials and methods can be very beautiful. Drama lessons should promote an awareness of all of the elements of theatre. (Grace)
Keep it simple! Ask for help. And use your imagination to repurpose the resources (sets, costumes, props, whatever) you already have available. I’d also suggest: Choose a play or plays that allow for flexibility in casting. It’s hard to know how many kids will audition, etc. (Lisa)
Keep it simple! Don’t try to recreate Broadway. Choose pieces that lend themselves to simplicity in staging and costume design. Be open-minded — just because a piece traditionally has a big set and splashy costumes doesn’t mean it can’t lend itself to simplicity. Look to the themes of the play — can they be supported by a simple set and costumes? (Elizabeth)
Keep it simple, because it can very easily spiral out of control. For example, have the actors provide a basic black outfit. You provide hats, scarves, and neck ties to define the character. Also, always have another adult around if/when you’re taking measurements and/or doing fittings. (Josh)
Keep it simple. “Wear all white,” “jeans and plain white t-shirt,” “borrow from friends/family,” etc. are common phrases around me. If you do buy costumes, sell off the old ones to buy new. Don’t get attached. Besides, you don’t need them cluttering up your storeroom. (Heidy)
Get by with a little help from your friends
Borrowing is a thing! You don’t have to build or buy it all yourself. Shoot out emails to families, staff, your grandma, everyone. And make social media posts: “Here’s what we need.” People will come out of the woodwork to give or loan you things. I once got a 6’ tall paper mache horse. Just saying, ask and you’ll get sooo much for free! (Andi)
Ask for help! Don’t put too much on yourself! You’ll be surprised by how many people might be willing to help if you just ask. (Stephanie)
Facebook groups for sharing props, costumes, etc. among communities are great. Someone has done that show near you and might still have that item to lend. (KJM)
Plan your work & work your plan
Keep lists. WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING. Lists are your friend. Staying organized with your tech will make your show run 1000 times more smoothly. (Mary)
Plan early but be willing to make adjustments and changes in your vision too. (Mikki)
When you’re deciding what to store and what to do away with, think of it through this framework: Keep what you would not easily be able to replace. Good examples of this are vintage items like typewriters or old televisions or expensive items like wedding dresses and suits. (Miranda)
Need some more advice and direction?
We’ve got you covered!
- Round-up: Your Costume and Prop Challenges
- Round-up: Common Costume Concerns
- Costume Care: Do’s and Don’ts
- Basic Costume Items Every Drama Student Should Own
- Measuring Up: Costume Measurements
- Create a Costume Vision Board
- How Costumes Affect Your Character
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