Friday, November 14, 2008

Costuming Resources

According to Sitemeter, a large percentage of folks who surf into the blog via search engines are coming in to get information on costuming...either Bible costumes or Dickens costumes. I've got some good info on Bible costumes on the link on the sidebar; I thought I'd put up some links that I've found useful in doing Dickens costuming.

When we originally did 'The Gospel According to Scrooge' in 2004, we thought we were being given costumes from a church that had done it back in the late '80's but did not intend to do it again. When our team went to get the costumes on Election day (Nov. 2, if I remember right), they were only able to locate about a third of their costumes...bonnets, men's costumes, and a few kid's costumes. With about 5 weeks to go, we had to costume all the ladies and most of the kids. It was intense.

We did manage to get everyone onstage in *something*...although I winced at a few of the items, overall it worked.

Anyway, I did a Google search on Dickens era costuming and the single most helpful website I found was the costume info page of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. That has wonderful information for individuals on making 'quick and cheap' Dickens-era costumes, usually beginning with thrift store finds. (ETA: for some reason, however, this site indicates that a hoop skirt 'was all the rage.' My later research indicated that hoops came along later in the Victorian period...the mid 1840's used many ruffled petticoats, but no hoops yet). We cut a deal with a local thrift store on a number of fancy dresses and went to work on them; a local church did not use their Dickens costumes that year and so we were able to rent some costumes and pouffy slips and we got by.

I will confess that we took for granted a certain amount of ignorance on the part of our audience. We costumed the whole show in 'old-fashioned'...despite my best efforts to be period correct, we just had to make do with what we had. Someday, I'd like to do the show correctly, so there is a visual difference between Scrooge's past and his present, but most people are content just to see something that looks different than what they see in daily life.

And sometimes folks just don't cooperate. Victorian hair is supposed to be pulled up tight and off the face; any curls are tight...but a number still went on stage with their hair soft and flowing over their shoulders. It looked pretty...but it was wrong. Sometimes, ya just gotta do the best you can and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.

But, if you've time, look at the commercial patterns: Butterick costumes, McCall's costumes and Simplicity costumes. Make a list of appropriate costumes and watch for sales at Jo-Ann's and Hancock's. I've been picking up costume patterns for a couple of years now at a dollar or two apiece; when/if we do a Dickens-themed production again, I'll be ready!

Even if you can't make the patterns from scratch, it'll help give you a mental picture of the look you're going for.

Finally, a couple of tips that I'm not sure I noted anywhere previously...

Whenever you do a costume for someone, make sure there is a pocket somewhere to hold a microphone transmitter. Even if the character who will wear the costume this year doesn't need year it could be a different story.

Boy's knickers can be made from a pair of dress pants, trimmed off with an elastic casing at the bottom. But...the finished length should be almost to the ankle. If they're finished off just below the knee, when the kid moves any at all they'll creep up and...not such a good look.

If I think of more tips, I'll add them later! Costuming a show like Scrooge is a huge challenge, but it is a lot of fun!

If you do it, post pictures and a link in the comments...I'd love to see how other folks costume a Dickens piece!


  1. I am so impressed that you are such an advanced sewer that you can do costumes. They must be beautiful. I would be frustrated, too, with people who refuse to wear their hair and/or clothes in period-appropriate style. But, as you said, sometimes you do the best you can and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.

  2. LOL! The costumes aren't necessarily 'advanced sewing' as much as they are 'gutsy sewing'.

    If it doesn't show from 10 feet away, it's not there...if you know what I mean! They certainly wouldn't satisfy my Jr. High Home Ec teacher or a 4-H judge...but, fortunately, they didn't have to ;)