A Theory of Costume Design class

I was thinking this week how much I would enjoy teaching a class about how to design costumes. Not a building or construction sort of class, but one where the focus was on the theory of how to come up with costuming that supports the narrative of whatever medium it is part of.

I would talk about the various ways costumes tell a story– how to use the color, shape, textures, and cultural signifiers to convey information. I’d go over how many media costume design is relevant in, from theater, to film and television, to animation, to roleplaying, to static photography, to graphic novels. I would discuss how differing media all have different practical requirements, such as how things on stage must read from far away, how a motion picture camera tends to flatten out some details while highlighting others, and in animation a costume has to deal with the demands of a moving image. I would talk about everything you’d have to consider when choosing costumes, both in the greater story as well the nature of the particular character, including personality, milieu, time period, class, taste, and position in the world. I’d go into the principles of period costuming, not just the historical knowledge you have to have, but the process of adaptation, to the needs of the project as well as the effect you want it to have on the audience. I’d mention how costumes have to work not just in isolation but with the other costumes, not to mention the other aspects of production design, and how that interaction works.

I can imagine the projects I’d assign. Pick an example of costume design that already exists and explain how it supports the narrative. Choose a dramatic work and come up with a design scheme for it, explaining the reasoning behind your choices. Choose a period of history and analyze the elements that are most emblematic of it, that must be captured in order to convey the feel. Adapt a historical costume and explain what choices you made in the adaptation. Final project: actually design a costume, pulling together whatever elements you need to convey your ideas, and then write about your process of deciding on each element.

It would be fun, and I would be good at that. I wonder if a school would ever let me do it. I don’t have a degree in it, but I’ve studied it a LOT on my own, and I have a lot of practical experience. I should keep my eyes open for any chance to pitch it to someone, be it a university I’m working for, or an adult education program, or anything like that.

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