Wearing Your Best Story: 5 Tips From a Costume Designer

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Before I founded Bead & Reel, I spent my career working in Costume Design for film and television, using clothing to tell stories about a variety of characters. A costume can be anything that is worn (from modern day to elaborate fantasy) and is defined as the envisioning of clothing and the overall appearance of a character to make a visual statement. Costumes play a vital role in how we view others and ourselves.

There's a saying in the entertainment industry that the character is created in the fitting room, and I have witnessed this countless times. It's not usually the script or the actor that actually brings the character to life, but instead it's the moment someone puts on a fitted suit or a Victorian dress or an iconic hat and suddenly becomes someone else. An instant transformation happens, as voices, postures, and attitudes are adjusted to fit with the things the costume represents. Often, actors discover things about their character that they never knew based on the way their costume fits or moves or the way it makes them feel. 

Costume Design is a great art, but it's also something that all of us do ourselves every day. Whether intentionally or not, we all choose clothing that tells stories about ourselves, about who we are, what we do, and what matters to us. We can each be the Costume Designer of our own life, using our clothing to tell our greatest truths, our dearest hopes, and our most powerful stories.

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You've probably heard "dress for the job you want," but really, you should be dressing for the life you want. Ask yourself: who do you want to be? What do you want to do? In Costume Design, we take a character and choose a wardrobe to tell their story, but in real life, we can work backwards and choose a wardrobe to create a character. If you want to feel more powerful, a tailored pantsuit has a way of adding instant confidence. If you want more adventure in your life, make sure your shoes are comfortable enough to take you anywhere. Wearing beautiful clothes has a way of making you feel beautiful, or wearing bright colors has a way of adding vibrance. Whatever life you're trying to achieve, let your clothing help you get there. When you're dressed for the life you want, you may even feel inspired to take the steps to create it.


Our clothing is telling powerful stories whether we know it or not. Beyond just the instant messages it shares ("hipster," "soccer mom," "fashionista"), it can also tell subtle stories about who we are. By wearing fair trade you're saying that you support women. By wearing vegan you're saying that you love animals. By wearing organic textiles you're saying that you care about your body and the environment. These stories not be immediately obvious to outside observers, but they will shape your own impressions of yourself, and the stories you tell yourself are some of the most important stories of all.


During a costume fitting there may be dozens of options to choose from and the right option is always the one in which the actor comes alive. Something can look really pretty, or fit really well, but unless it brings out the heart of the character it's not the right piece. How it makes them feel is always more important than how it makes them look, and the same is true for you. When you put something on you should feel beautiful, empowered, and confident, and if it doesn't make you feel that way it's just not the right one for you. Find the shapes, colors, and fabrics that make you feel like your absolute best self and skip anything that makes you feel doubtful, uncomfortable, or insecure. Those aren't stories your character needs! 


In any major costume department there is a full time seamstress (called a Cutter Fitter), because fit matters!  Bodies come in a variety of unique shapes and sizes, and most things don't fit right off the rack. If you've ever wondered why everyone on TV looks so good, it's often simply because almost everything that makes it on camera has been hemmed, fitted, or adjusted for a perfect fit. Investing in tailoring and alterations for your favorite pieces will not only make them feel personalized, but it will also make you look like the star of your life that you are.


In any production, each item from each character's closet is carefully documented and tracked. Labels indicate how many times something has been worn and there are entire clothing racks for unused clothing, things that need to be altered, and items that need to be mindfully removed. Often photos are attached to the hangers to show how something should be worn, and every piece was chosen for a reason. While you may not have an entire team to help with this, even small steps towards these goals will benefit your wardrobe and your relationship with it. By keeping your closet organized, labeled, and paying individual attention to each item, it will help you truly value your wardrobe and the story it is telling.

Photos by Anne Therese