STYLE & FIT in COSTUME DESIGN
The way a costume
fits the actor is just as essential to the impact of the costume design
as is the style of the design.
A professional costume maker
is a master artisan who uses a complex combination of artistic decisions
in relation to construction methodologies, textile media and fit and
then implements them to realize a costume designer's 2 dimensional sketch
into a flexible, moving 3 dimensional reality. Every costume maker is
as much an individual interpretative artist as is a violinist or an
Back in my student days,
I was constantly being told that, if I took my costume design to 3 different
costume shops in New York City to be constructed, that I would get 3
very different looking costumes. The point that this statement was trying
to make was singular and multiple at the same time.
The primarily point was that
the costume pattern maker (the "cutter/pattern maker" [live
performance] or the "cutter/fitter" [film/video]), who determines
the architectural structure of the garment and the choice of methods
of construction, has a wide range of variables in methodology available,
each of which could produce a garment that resembles the sketch.
Without direct guidance from
the costume designer as to specific methods to be used, each individual
"cutter" makes these choices based on their own artistic interpretation
of the costume sketch, much the same way a musician does when they play
a piece of music. These choices have a direct impact on the style and
fit of the finished costume.
- The difference of effect
between a "2 to 1" and a "3 to 1" ruffle.
- The difference structural
shape "gathering" and "cartridge pleating" .
- The difference of silhouette
between a bias and a square-cut sheath.
The secondary point is more
subtle because it deals with the area of "fit". It is almost
impossible to separate fit from style, but fit is a phenomenon that
is essential to a successful costume. It is, in many ways, the most
sophisticated and complex skill practiced by the master costume artisan.
Fit is created by the way the garment is cut and in choices made during
a "fitting" on the actor. A gifted "cutter" understands
the "characterization" the actor is creating in the specific
production and is able to enhance it through fit.
- A neckline sits higher
than normal on the neck in the back, lower than normal in the front.
The shoulder seam shifts slightly forward from the normal. The shoulder
width extended a bit wider than normal. The armhole curve sets in
a bit in the front and out a bit in the back. You get the appearance
of a stooped posture, even on an actor who naturally stands quite
Using traditional patternmaking
methods, these variables were arrived at through the combination of
working on a "French form" and time consuming fittings on
It is possible to arrive
at these same variables quite accurately, using flatpatterning, prior
to a fitting. It does require, however, that you are working with very
accurate measurements from the actor. I have been practicing this method
successfully for approximately 30 years. However, having Custom Pattern
Maker to use as a tool, has made my process much faster and easier to