What Is It Like To Be A Costume Designer?

December 11, 2014

A costume designer is the person who decides what the different people in the play will wear. Here is what Richard St Clair, the costume designer, >purchase thinks about being a costume designer and how he thought about the costumes for Beauty and the Beast:

I really believe this—a costume designer has to be one of the smartest people in the room.  You need to know about costume history, art history, world history, psychology, geography, music, pop culture, movies and MANY other things. Each new show gives you an opportunity to learn more things which is very exciting.

Because so much of the storytelling for Beauty and the Beast happens through shadows, I felt that the costumes should give a feeling of time and place (around the year 1800 in England), but be simple enough not to distract us from the shadows.

The costumes focus on three areas:  shape, color and texture.  With these three things the clothing tells the story of Beauty and the Beast.  There are four sets of costumes and each one looks different:

A sketch of Belle's Devon costume

A sketch of Belle’s Devon costume

  1.  LONDON—Belle and Cassandra’s father is a wealthy merchant and they wear expensive looking clothes, made out of very nice materials like silk and brocade. Everything is CHOSEN to look expensive because at this point of the story they are rich.
  2. DEVON—Belle and Cassandra are now poor because their father has lost all their money in the shipwreck. They have matching simple dresses of plain cotton with a rustic weave.  The father has a coat of brown linen with wooden buttons.  The colors are sad and country looking.
  3. THE CASTLE OF THE BEAST—Belle puts on a blue wool hooded cape to travel to the Beast’s castle.  When we are sad, we say that we are blue, and blue felt right for Belle for now. The Beast and the Housekeeper are in shades of black and grey.  They live literally in the shadows, and there is no color left in their unhappy lives. The Housekeeper has magical powers, but Whit, the director, liked the idea of keeping the secret until the ending, so her colors are simple and ordinary—grey with a white collar.

    A sketch of Belle’s red dress, inspired by the color of the roses she loves

  4. TRANSFORMATION—This play is all about transformation—turning one thing into another.  And not just the Beast, who turns into a Prince.  Belle transforms from a frightened girl into a confident young woman.  Cassandra transforms from a selfish sister into a young bride.  We have used very little color since the move to Devon in Act 1, so the director and I wanted the costumes for the end of the play to have a splash of vivid color to create a fairy tale ending. Suddenly the color palette for the show has changed from poor and sad to HAPPILY EVER AFTER!


Now it’s your turn to think like a costume designer!

Richard talks about how many of the people in the play transform from one thing into another. If you were the costume designer for Beauty and the Beast, what would your Beast look like? What clothes would he wear? Would he have a mask? What colors will you use? Now think about what your Prince looks like? Does he wear the same clothes as the Beast or something totally different? Draw the two characters next to each other like you see below.

A sketch of the Prince, after transformation

A sketch of the Prince, after transformation

A Costume Sketch of the Beast's costume

A Costume Sketch of the Beast’s costume

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