Thursday, January 10, 2013

Making it Real

On stage and screen, actors transform into characters from another time and place. Take, for example, a show like Downton Abbey, or a movie like Les Miserables or the Hobbit, in which the fantasy seems so real - it makes you feel as though you've stepped into another place or time. How do they do that?

It's all in the details.
I am a costumer, so that is my focus, but the principle applies across the board. Colors, velvet vs. fabric ribbon, buttons made out of bone or covered buttons, fabric types, and the style of lace are just a few examples of things that can make a much bigger difference than you might think. There is no substitute for research. Use online resources, books, museums, and films that are known to be accurate representations of the time period. The more you know, the easier it will be to pick fabrics, trims, accessories, and even thrift store garments that fit the time period. I choose pictures- photos of people and museum pieces and fashion plates- for each character and use them throughout the process as reference points. Sometimes when a costume doesn't look quite right I go back to the pictures and analyze them bit by bit until I figure out what detail is missing, or what modern detail I have inadvertently included that I need to remove. I just completed Four Tickets to Christmas, set in 1905. Here are a few examples of what I do.

Underwear matters.
The S corset and related underthings all help to create the female silhouette of the time period. We built corsets (on a very tight budget, that is a blog of it's own), corset covers, bustle and bust pads to shape the ladies.

Authentic patterns are great when you can get them. I used authentic patterns from 59 Authentic Turn of the Century Patterns and The Edwardian Modiste for the boy's suit and the ladies dresses. I also used the cover of a theater goers magazine from 1905 as a model for the dark green dress and hat. The photo is from the show; the pictures below it provided guidance and inspiration. It wasn't enough to make the garments- trimming them appropriately changed them immensely- especially the boy's suit.

Use existing pieces whenever you can- especially for the men. Suits and coats are labor intensive. The drawing on the left from Men's Fashion Illustrations from the Turn of the Century portrays the dapper urban gentleman of December 1905 we were trying to create. I made the white vest, tall collar and tie, but everything else was put together from vintage parts.

Sometimes only a little thing is required to transform a garment. The jacket with the lace collar is from The Voice of Fashion. I drafted just the collar pattern and added it to a simple cape. I picked up a straw hat at a thrift store and covered it with fabric before embellishing it.

Look to museum pieces for colors. The actress really liked this museum piece, so I did my best to replicate it. We made the jacket, had the blouse, and I tweaked a skirt we already had.

This costume was made entirely from existing parts.

Last but not least, we used vintage choreography to go along with the costumes.

If you would like to see more photos, click here.

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