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The Costumer’s Manifesto

The Costumer’s Manifesto: (A statement of Purpose and Ethics for Costumers)

I. When I costume, I am not a fashion designer nor a clothing manufacturer, but a builder of character, concept, and physical movement.

II. I, above all, work with Actors: I help them build their character from without, even as they build it from within. I do not complain about the shape of their bodies. I create the shape we need, and/or build a visual representation of the character that suits the existing body. I am aware of their movement needs and I facilitate them.

III. I work under the guidance of Directors: I help them visually represent their conceptual ideas in physical form. I create clothes for the inhabitants of the world they envision.

IV. I am inspired by the words of Playwrights and Scriptwriters: I try to bring alive the script by transforming the words of the text into visual metaphors. Words, especially poetry in the text, need a visual equivalent that supports the mood of the script without distracting from it.

V. I collaborate with the other Designers, seeking to bring our collective vision together so it works in harmony. Costumes do not exist in a vacuum, but on a set, among properties and furniture, sound, and light, as part of a consistent visual representation of an invented world.

VI. Whether I am in the position of stitcher, cutter, dyer, crafts worker or designer, I remember that what I am doing is contributing to the greater whole of the production, and must be done with an aesthetic sense in keeping with the performance, not merely my own whims. Designers, therefore, need to communicate the shows design to all the other costumers involved in the process as clearly as possible, so that when design decisions are made at any level of the process, from buttons to butt padding, they reflect the needs of the show or film as a whole.

VII. I assist the Audience in understanding the story and characters. In performances where spectacle is required, I make the costumes astonish and entertain, but when the audience should be more aware of the other elements of the performance, I will try to make the costumes recede to the background, without personal vanity.

VIII. I study the history of fashion and dress, no matter what my position in a costume studio, so that I can better replicate the styles of clothing of the past when needed. However, I will remember to avoid mindlessly copying old fashion plates, but instead keep in mind the key elements of character and concept, and select or adapt those fashions to suit the individual production.

IX. I am aware that my work consists primarily of adapting and reinventing pre-existing styles to do a functional purpose: cover a body. I know then that what I build is not legally subject to copyright law, and I will not winge and whine if another designer is, in turn, inspired to reuse elements, even a majority of those elements, from one of my designs in their work. I will accept this as flattery if anyone does so.

X. Costuming is a fun profession, and I endeavor at all times to keep it that way by remembering the feelings of all my collaborators. At no time should actors feel their bodies are being criticized in a fitting, nor should a student, worker or volunteer be treated as slave labor, nor should a director or another designer be bullied into an unwanted design decision. A desire for excellence is good, but the desire should never be pursued to any degree that ignores labor law, common courtesy or civilized collaboration.

-Tara Maginnis, 8/18/2002


Stereographs as an Educational Resource in Costume History, Theatre Design and Technology, Spring 1987

Stereographs as an Educational Resource in Costume History, Theatre Design and Technology, Spring 1987, by Tara Maginnis

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“She Saves Who Sews for Victory”: Home Sewing on the American Home Front, Costume, Volume 26, Issue 1, 1992

“She Saves Who Sews for Victory”: Home Sewing on the American Home Front, Costume, Volume 26, Issue 1, 1992, by Tara Maginnis

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Clothes Make the Star: Making the Most of Actor Bodies: The Virtual Costumer, May 2012

Clothes Make the Star: Making the Most of Actor Bodies: The Virtual Costumer, May 2012, by Tara Maginnis

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The Importance of Being Artificial: Style as Substance in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, TD&T, Spring 2004, by Tara Maginnis

The Importance of Being Artificial: Style as Substance in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatre Design & Technology, Spring 2004, by Tara Maginnis

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The Omnigarment: Putting Design into the Hands of the Actor, Theatre Design and Technology, Spring 1994, by Tara Maginnis

The Omnigarment: Putting Design into the Hands of the Actor, Theatre Design and Technology, Spring 1994, by Tara Maginnismuchart1muchart2muchart3muchart4

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