things i learned in costuming my first show

This was my first show as the lead costume person. It was the fall production at the school I teach at. I had worked in the costume shop at my college but costuming a 30 person show was quite the learning curve from being responsible for a handful of pieces.


  1. shopping is the last step. the first step is to assess what you already have to work with. That means going through the closet at the school as soon as possible. and that means overcoming the anxiety of having to ask someone to unlock the closet as soon as possible. And that preferably means more than 2 weeks before the show goes up.
    1. when you do go shopping, go with a List.
    2. Stick to the List.
      1. unless something really sticks out and would be so perfect for some specific thing.
    3. but otherwise stick to the List.
  2. ask for clarification when you have questions, and ask for guidance when you feel lost.
  3. start big projects early. and finish them early. There’s more to do the closer you get to the show. it grows exponentially.
  4. you can not make custom clothes for everyone. particularly if you insist on avoiding using patterns. Or just get more comfortable using patterns.
  5. Students care how their clothes fit them. they might not always say it but they care. I said this when I started but “clothing is both an important part of creating the world of the play, but also is something deeply personal. It is something that will affect how people see and perceive your body.” i agree with past me on that. 
  6. not everything has to be (and shouldn’t be) original or handmade. you need clothing that fits into the universe of the play, and with many plays taking place in a human/earth universe, good costumes are often just real clothing. wild.
  7. shared shoes need work. there needs to be a better system. the shoe buckets were my nemesis
  8. have a rack of things to be put away, a rack of general pulls, and then a rack of specific pulls with sections for people to try on. and have a done rack. so 4 racks ideally.
  9. have more organized costume closest. (and yes what could be done is i could stay after school in this off period between shows and organize it but i am trying to set boundaries and that is not my job. i need to figure out how to organize as we go or something)
  10. talk to the middle school play costumier so you don’t accidentally mess up each others stuff
  11. learned from the director: have a big vision. You will inevitably have to make cuts, but it is easier to edit.
  12. student assistants/costumiers/actors helping out are EVERYTHING.
  13. get to know as many students as possible. they have amazing ideas. and wardrobes of clothes that already fit them.
  14. you will always stay later than you think you will during tech week
  15. take pictures of finished outfits. people will forget what pieces went with who. (You are people).
  16. must have: hot glue, needle and thread, backup neutral base costume pieces, pencil, sharpie, scissors, dark socks, sticky notes, extra hangers, Safety Pins!!!!, running to-do list
  17. make a list of costume elements that are mentioned at all in the script. go to rehearsal/find out if costumes have stage directions (ex. someone’s jacket is stolen, so they need a jacket)
  18. set up regular meetings with the creative team, or make sure you have regular check-ins in some way
  19. you can make most things out of scrap/repurposed fabric. as long as you don’t need many, many of that thing that match (for example, 20 mermaid tails)
  20. i need to share my ideas. they are good ideas. even if they are too large sometimes. that does not mean they are not worth sharing (see 9)
  21. if the director doesn’t like your pick, its not a personal insult. it means that it didn’t match the universe he was envisioning. and thats okay.
  22. student assistants/costumier/actors helping out are EVERYTHING (repeated for emphasis)
  23. just because an idea wasn’t right for this show doesn’t mean its a bad idea (see 17).
  24. dilemmas about how to work with problematic source material are really hard. no real solution here other than talk it out with people until you land on a solution that everyone feels comfortable with. don’t ignore it. put it out in the open.
    1. this was made in reference to a group of people who were ~ implied ~ to be native to an island
  25. the students are so good and kind and talented and work so hard, and it is incredible to see the magic they create and their growth over the course of the show. the students will make this experience for you.
hot pick mermaid tail made from an old curtain, with glittery scales cascading from the top. The bottom is lines with dangling sparkles. The skirt is only visible from the waist down and the person wearing it sits atop a latter.
big ol’ mermaid tail that I am very proud of.

One thought on “things i learned in costuming my first show

  1. I think this is amazing advice and you obviously learned so much from this experience. I suspect this position is always stressful no matter how much experience you have, but I am very proud of you!!! This work takes energy, creativity and generosity! You are a gift 💝

    Like

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