May 6, 2019

Wardrobe Dept. Breakdown Pt. 1 | Wardrobe Overview & The Costume Designer

One of the most difficult parts about costuming a short film is probably that I'm usually the only person in the wardrobe department. It hasn't been until recently that I've actually started working with more than just myself when pulling together costumes. It's been great working with someone else, but its raised several questions about what the various rolls in the wardrobe department are.

Even with a small team of two there need to be clearly defined jobs, even though you're still splitting the jobs of a dozen people between two.

I've been researching the hierarchy of the Wardrobe Department and creating a master handbook, which I'd like to share through a series of blog posts.

Keep in mind, that my research is specific to film and may vary in theatre and from each production. Every team is going to be slightly different depending on the individuals, the type of project, and how full of a team there is.


The Costume Department is responsible for the design, fitting, hire, purchase, manufacture, continuity, and care of all costume items for films. The term 'costume' refers to the clothes that the actors wear, which vary from production to production, ranging from contemporary urban fashion to period ball gowns, and everything in between.

The Costume Department is also responsible for jewelry, footwear, corsetry, hosiery, millinery and sometimes wig work.

Wardrobe is integral in defining the overall 'look' of the film. It provides the audience with information about the period, culture and society the actors inhabit and, on a more subtle level, the underlying themes of the film itself.

Work in the Costume Department is divided between two 'wardrobes': the 'making wardrobe', which incorporates the design, acquisition and creation of costume during pre-production; and the 'running wardrobe', which takes care of the organization, maintenance and continuity of costumes during the film shoot.

The costume designer is the head of the department, and works closely with the Production Designer and Director to ensure that costumes blend into the overall production design. The Costume Designer oversees a team that usually includes a Costume Design Assistant, Costume Supervisor, Costume Assistants and Costume Dailies. On larger productions, the Costume Designer may employ a team of skilled technicians in a costume workshop, which could include cutters, makers, finishers, dyers and milliners. There may also be a Wardrobe Supervisor to oversee the running wardrobe.

Job responsibilities for personnel in the Costume Department vary enormously from production to production, depending on the requirements of the costume designer. As a result, the boundaries between job roles are blurred, particularly in the case of Costume Design Assistants, Costume Supervisors and Wardrobe Supervisors.

During the shoot costume personnel ensure that costumes are available when required, assist performers with dressing, oversee costume continuity, and maintain and service costumes when not in use. After the shoot costume personnel ensure that costumes are safely stored, packed and returned to the relevant sources, or sold.

Costume Designer

Costume Designers start working on films at the beginning of pre-production. They are in charge of designing, creating, acquiring and hiring all costumes for actors and extras. This must be done within strict budgets and tight schedules.

The Costume Designers work is integral to defining the overall look of the film, and their role requires a great deal of expertise. Their creative work ranges from designing original costumes, to overseeing the purchase and adaptation of ready made outfits. As heads of the costume department, Costume Designers are responsible for staffing, and for managing a team of skilled personnel. Costume Designers also supervise practical issues, such as departmental budgets and schedules, the organization of running wardrobes, and costume continuity.


During pre-production, Costume Designers break down scripts scene by scene, in order to work out how many characters are involved, and what costumes are required. They then begin the more task of developing costume plots for each character. These plots ensure that colors and styles do not mimic each other in the same scene, and highlight the characters' emotional journeys by varying the intensity and depth of colors.

Costume Designers must carry out research in to the costume styles, designs and construction methods which are appropriate for the productions' time period, using a number of resources. They may also discuss costume and character ideas with performers. They deliver initial ideas to directors about the overall costume vision, character plots and original costume designs, using sketches and fabric samples. They also discuss color palettes with the Director of Photography and the Production Designer to create a cohesive look.

Throughout the production process, Costume Designers ensure that accurate financial records are kept, and that weekly expenditure reports are produced. They prepare overall production schedules, as well as directing the day to day breakdowns of responsibilities. Costume Designers select and hire suppliers and costume makers, negotiating terms with them, and communicating design requirements. They make sure that fittings for actors and extras are arranged. They supervise fabric research and purchase, and ensure that garments are completed to deadlines.

Depending on the numbers of costumes to be created, and the scale of budgets, Costume Designers may decide to create a dedicated costume workshop. They should be on set whenever a new costume is worn for the first time, to make sure that performers are comfortable, to explain special features, and to oversee any alterations. Once filming is completed, Costume Designers are responsible for the return of hired outfits, and the sale or disposal of any remaining costumes.

Costume Designers must be highly organized, with good presentation skills and the confidence to manage and motivate their teams effectively. They should be able to work under pressure, to meet external and departmental deadlines, and must have stamina and be adaptable to changes. They need to be able to listen to the ideas and concerns of others, while at the same time trusting their own opinions and instincts. They work closely with actors in a physical sense, and must therefore be tactful and able to put people at their ease.

Costume Designers need good descriptive abilities, and they must be able to break down scripts in terms of costume plots, and have knowledge of story structure and character arcs. They must understand the research process, and know how to source information. They need creative flair, a strong sense of color and design and the ability to draw. They should be confident in their knowledge of period costume, jewelry, corsetry, hosiery, millinery, footwear, costume accessories, etc. They must be experts on fabric qualities, clothing cuts, fits and techniques, pattern making and sewing. Creatively, they should know how to dress to particular faces or physiques to create characters.

Overall Costume Designers need a wide ranging cultural knowledge base, not only in terms of fashion, but also art and literature, film, and textiles. Costume Designers should be familiar with the requirements of all relevant health and safety legislation and procedures.

Part 2 will cover the Costume Coordinator and Key Set Costumer.

May 3, 2019

All about Breakdown Plots and Costume Continuity

In my last post I talked a little about about the challenges that come with costuming a contemporary film, the biggest being keeping continuity. There's more to costuming a film of any size than just picking out clothes.  Since films are not shot in chronological story order it's easy to get confused, which is why you need to properly document everything.

The process of breaking down costumes and plotting them takes several steps, but today I'm going to be focusing on after you know what everyone is wearing and documenting it all, scene by scene. This is called a Breakdown Plot or Costume Plot.

Below is a screenshot of the form I created and use. Since this document is specifically for shooting, I won't fill it out until after I get a copy of the strip-board from the Assistant Director, and I will fill it out in the order that we will be shooting, creating a separate page for each shooting day.

Because this might be a little confusing without anything filled out, I've created a mock breakdown to help explain it all.

At the top is the production title, then below it is the characters name and at the other end of the same row is the actors name.

Now, onto the next row. "Scene" is pretty simple and self explanatory. The next is "Day", which is the story day. I'll indicate whether it's day or night next to it with D or N. That isn't as necessary, but it helps me keep everything straight in my mind.

The next column over is the "Scene Information". The top row will be the location heading, and below can also be a short description of what happens in the scene. Below all that, in bold, is the costume information.

This is where you want to put a simple description of what the character is wearing in that scene. If a character wears the same base throughout, you only need to put accessory details here. The base costume information will be noted in the Long Description.

When you are noting the accessories, be sure to write out the details. Below you'll notice when the jacket is worn I made a note whether the hood was up or down. The goal of these notes should be that anyone can come on and understand them and keep everything looking the same. This is especially important on larger projects when you may not be returning to shoot the rest of a scene for several days/weeks/months.

Next over is the "Long Description", which I already started to talk about. This is where you put all the details. List out every piece and describe it. You don't want to leave it at Red Blouse, because there may be two or three or more red blouses, so make sure you note the specifics (and also label you wardrobe pieces before getting to set).

Once my Breakdown Plots are done, they get printed and put into my Wardrobe Bible, which stays by my side on set. When I get to set I'll take a look to see what pieces need to be ready first, and get to work unpacking and prepping.

There are several different ways to document costumes before and during shooting, and breakdown plots are so important for staying organized.