“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
~ Mark Twain
One of the most fun things about working on a show is trying on your costume for the first time. You’ve rehearsed your blocking and practiced your lines and sung your songs, but once you step into your character’s clothes… it just makes everything seem a bit more real!
As an actor, your costume is so important. It tells the audience the story of your character. It adds to the mood of the piece. It contributes to the overall look of the show. As such, there are some important rules that you must respect when it comes to your costume.
1. Once your measurements are taken, you need to stay the same size.
There’s nothing worse for a costume designer than to spend hours sewing a costume, and then come back to rehearsal and discover that the costume doesn’t fit. If, for example, you are planning on losing a lot of weight or getting pregnant over the rehearsal period (believe me, it happens!) you need to let your costume designer know in advance so they are aware of that.
2. You need to let your costume designer know in advance if you do anything in the show that might require certain costume adjustments.
Including (but not limited to) physical feats such as high kicks, tumbling or stage combat or a quick-change (from costume to costume or even for changing into a different character). A good costume designer will have read the script in advance and anticipated these concerns, but it’s always good to remind them, especially if they’re working on a large number of costumes.
3. Inform your costume designer in advance if you cannot wear a certain fabric for whatever reason.
Some people cannot wear wool because they are allergic to it. I had a young actress in a show who could not wear any scarves or high-necked dresses because she had eczema on her neck and very sensitive skin. As well, I’ve known actors who will not wear leather or fur because they are vegetarian or vegan, and wearing animal products is immoral to them. A good costume designer will take these notes into account and work around them. But…
4. Once you are given your costume, you put it on and wear it, no matter what.
You cannot reject a costume because you think it’s ugly or stupid or you just don’t like it. The director and costume designer have a specific vision for the show, and your costume is one aspect of it. You also must wear the costume the way the costume designer tells you to. You might think it looks dumb to tie a sash around your shoulder and want to tie it around your waist. You can certainly ask the costume designer if you can change the look (and you better have a good reason to back up your request!) but be prepared to receive a “NO” as your answer! (You also don’t get to change the item once previews are over, either.)
5. Wear appropriate undergarments.
There is nothing worse than seeing huge panty lines, brightly coloured boxer shorts sticking out of pant tops, or a neon bra glaring out from underneath a white blouse. Stage lights emphasize these even more than you think. Ladies, invest in skin-coloured skivvies and bras; men, get some neutral coloured briefs or boxer-briefs and an undershirt that don’t bunch up under tighter-fitting clothing. And even if your costume IS underwear (think The Rocky Horror Show, for example) you still need to wear your own undergarments underneath! You don’t know who else has worn that costume before you!
In addition: wear appropriate deodorant and shower before coming to the show and putting on your costume! Nobody needs to smell your stank. However, you should avoid wearing perfume or cologne in your costume, as the chemicals can damage or stain the fabric.
6. Don’t eat while wearing your costume.
You don’t want to risk spilling anything or staining your costume, and facing the wrath of the costume designer. If you must eat, either remove your costume or cover it up with a large coat or smock. Same thing goes for smoking; don’t smoke in your costume. Not only should you not be going outside in your costume (totally breaks the illusion of your show!) you don’t want to risk burning your costume. As well, cigarette smoke is notorious for sticking to clothing. Your scene partner will not be impressed to be getting a big whiff of that during your scene together!
7. If something happens to your costume, tell the costume team immediately.
Things happen. Zippers break, hems fall, buttons come off. Tell your costume team right away (ideally during intermission or right after the show) so they’re able to fix it in time for the next show. Don’t wait until the last minute to say something; you are not likely to get much sympathy five minutes before the curtain rises! As well, keep your costume pieces together and always make sure everything is accounted for before you leave each day, from your ballgown right down to your sparkly shoes. You don’t want to come in before the show and wonder, “Where the heck are my pants?!”
Do you have any rules your company follows regarding costumes?
Have you ever had a costume nightmare? Share them in the comments!
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