Stars in Their Underwear
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
I must say, as a costume designer for primarily contemporary films and television, I LOVE what goes on in the fitting room. It is where the actor and I find the character. Together.
By the time I meet the actor, I’ve already talked to the producer and found out what he/she wants (“don’t spend too much”), I’ve talked to the director about the concept, and I’ve talked to the production designer about the palette.
I’ve done the research, I’ve let it all brew together in my subconscious creative center. I’ve done the shopping, renting, sketching, and now the actor is coming in for a fitting.
I set up the room with the mirror, good lighting, lots of pins and tags, and the selection of clothing that at this point is just “wardrobe”. With the actor, it will become a costume.
After the initial introductions and small talk, there will be that awkward pause, as the actor realizes he or she must undress and stand before me, near-naked and at his/her most vulnerable. (Does my butt look big? Are my tits sagging? Did I wear clean underwear?) Some actors are totally comfortable “dropping trou” and getting ready to try on clothes. Others are more hesitant, as often it is the very first time they have met me. So at this point, I have to make a decision. Do I step out of the room? Do I busy myself filling out a tag or looking at my notes?
In most theatrical costume programs they teach you how to tell the difference between a farthingale and a redingote but not how to deal with stars in their underwear.
Often I just say “are you comfortable with me in the room?”. After years of experience, I can usually sense when I need to step out. I usually do so for really senior actors (even though often they are the most cavalier), for actors whose bodies might cause them to be self-conscious, and for certain ethnicities. I actually learned the hard way from an Indian actress who wouldn’t undress in front of me - she told me a woman of her culture would never disrobe in front of another woman. And I ALWAYS step out if it is a child, as I expect them to have their parent or guardian with them.
Then the fun begins. We try on clothes. I have already brought in the clothes that I think will help them find the character, but I can never tell until it actually goes on the body and the actor “inhabits” it. I try and limit the number of “opinions” in the room, discouraging comments from assistants, girlfriends, agents, etc, so that I can carefully guide the actor into the outfit that I think works perfectly. They need to trust me, and I, in turn, need to earn their trust. I never tell an actor they look good if they don’t. If something is really looking awful on them, I make it my fault saying “damn, take that off, what was I thinking bringing that in!” I also know not to say “OMG, you have such a hot body!”, even though occasionally I might be thinking it!
Eventually, I can tell from the most subtle of body language that the actor is starting to feel right in the clothing. Now it is beginning to become a costume. Now all is left is to do the alterations that make it perfectly adjusted for their body, photograph them in the wardrobe to send over for approval from the director or producer, make tags and notes for scene numbers and voila, we have a costume!