ON HISTORICAL CUTTING FOR THEATER AND FILM

An imperative part of designing costume design is the research involved in how to construct the costumes. This area of expertise is usually handled by talented workrooms filled with cutters, drapers, and stitchers. Using the wealth of period knowledge out there: from books, to pictures, to museum exhibits, workrooms bring accurate life to designers vision to life using. The most complex techniques involve drafting period patterns from primary source manuals as dressmakers and tailors would have in the actual historical period.

Of course, this has not always been a feature of the process. Before the 1980s,  costumes were designed to reflect the current styles and trends to make historical periods more palatable for audiences.

Even though the period makeup is quite beautiful, it would look a little less than glamorous in a film with an all-star cast. The period correct makeup does make an appearance once in the movie, perhaps to show the formal tradition of versaille. Notice that it’s worn by the older characters, perhaps to emphasize that Marie is shakin’ things up! (Also after using lead based paint for a while, your skin gets to be kind of jaundiced and saggy… but that’s another story.)

A while back, I did research for Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill set in the 1880s. The things I learned about the 19th century were bodice construction, primarily.

How do you make a 1880s ensemble? Post 1885 to be precise. How does one begin the research?

Well, you start with a pattern which you can draft, drape or enlarge through slash and spread, depending on your time and skill. Clothing makers of the time used all three techniques:

Tailors usually draft. It’s their way. They get close by two-dimensional draft and then alter in the third dimension. we think the tailor drafts have value, even to someone who doesn’t understand how to draft them fully, because they show what they prize in the period silhouette and where they put it. For instance, the elongated waist in post 1885 bodices dips down up to two inches from the natural waist in front, probably to create a little shape on the body, despite the all enveloping cage on the backside. Sleeves are set in farther than most set in sleeves today, perhaps to provide adequate movement with such a tight fitting silhouette. Going through these drafts at least once would improve your draping and fitting quite a bit.

High-end dressmakers drape clothing. It’s the most natural way to get a custom fit. Draping and pinning the clothes to a form or directly to a body gets an exact fit. However, it takes a high amount of skill from the whole team, more fittings, and a great deal of knowledge about the silhouette. This can be gleaned from the tailor draft. (But if there was a period text about it, that would be interesting) Again, when looking at the back, is the fiddle-back a design line or a dart? Where does one pinch in when draping. Successfully draped 1880s dresses are very beautiful. Take a look at these Worth models:

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