What do you Need?
You need to know what ideas and concepts your director has regarding the costumes. Some directors have an eye for costume design and will have valuable and interesting ideas. However, be prepared to guide your director to accepting your choices as you are likely to be responsible for a budget that is not usually enough for everything that the director wants.
Read the play and make notes about what the script specifies and other factors like if it is raining outside. This may mean a character needs a coat or umbrella not mentioned in the script. Look at each character and think about the period, who they are and where they are. These will give you the main clues as to the style of dress appropriate. The period of the play will be the main factor in deciding what is needed. Then the type of person the character is, and lastly the location or locations they will be seen in. For example, the same character would doubtless wear something different when relaxing at home, compared to going out to a function.
Do not leave your costumes until the dress rehearsal. If your cast is going to wear a style of dress they are not used to (crinolines or bustles, perhaps) try and provide rehearsal costumes so that they get used to the way they need to move and walk. If your cast are required to dance make allowances for this when choosing their costumes.
You may well have to do some research, especially for period plays. You can find images on the Internet and in costume books. Historical reference books not specifically about costumes are likely to have illustrations including people in period dress.
If costumes need to reflect a specific period you may need to consider hiring them, especially if you need uniforms.
Make-do and Mend
You will have a budget to work with so you might have to make the decision whether to buy, make or hire all or some of your costumes. This decision will also be influenced by what sewing skills you and anyone helping you has and the number of costumes needed. If you are costuming a pantomime with a large chorus it might be worth seeing if another local school or amateur society has put on a similar production as them might allow you to borrow or hire their costumes.
Sometimes it is possible to alter modern clothes, for example remodelling the collar on a suit jacket. Rather than using a good suit, charity shops and jumble sales provide a good source of basic garments for re-making. You can also trim garments with reduced price remnants of material often found on market stalls.
Take your own measurements: you can not rely on people to take their own. The essentials for men are chest, waist and inside leg; for women, bust, waist, hips and outside leg, to the knee and ankle. Dress size can be good guide allowing for the well known exaggerations in sizing some makers employ. Other measurements you may need are collar sizes, sleeve lengths (measured from the shoulder to the wrist with the arm bent) and head circumferences, for hats.
copyright Leigh Graham 1997-2010.