lady anne costume

Discovering RSC Costumes: In Stitches

The RSC costume exhibit In Stitches is on display during the 2013/2014 season at Stratford-Upon-Avon.  In addition, during the showing of Richard II at the Barbican, some of the costumes in the exhibits were brought to London.  I can honestly say I had not given much thought to how much effort goes into theatre costumes until I saw this exhibit.

Here are some fascinating facts about RSC costumes:

  • The costumes use industrial-strength magnets or press stud fastenings instead of zippers so that actors can change outfits quickly.
  • The Running Wardrobe Team has to know a costume thoroughly so that quick changes can be made minutes.
  • The Dye Team goes through 80 kilos of dye in an average year.
  • The Dye Team is responsible for making costumes look worn and authentic before they appear on stage.
  • The Collection and Costume store stores more than 3000 outfits.
  • An RSC costume will be on stage for more than 100 performances and so are made to last the rigours of heavy wear.  They are also rented out for film and to other theatres.

The costume below was made for the character Kate in The Taming of the Shrew in 2003.  To look like she had fallen into a dirty puddle, paint was sponged onto the silk fabric, the cuffs were frayed and seams torn.  It clearly takes a lot of work to look like an elegant bedraggled mess!

This dress was made for the character Titiana in the 2008 revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This costume was made for the character Charles in the 2009 production of As You Like It.  The decorative braid was handmade.  Pinking shears were used to cut the leather and then stitched onto the doublet.  Finally, the holes were punched by hand — all 15,000+ of them!!

This outfit was made for the character Lady Anne in the 2011 production of Richard III.  The gold motif was made using fabric paint and stencils.  The stencils were specially made to follow the contours of the fabric.lady anne costume

This outfit was used for the prologue in Hamlet in its 2008 production.  The workmanship included applique, boning and corsetry.

The craftsmanship involved is incredible.  Design, tailoring, dying, printing, stencilling, leatherwork, beading, corsetry, millinery are only some of the skills required.  I’ll never look at a stage costume the same way again!

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