Make Do And Mend: How A Costume Designer Creates & Cares For A Sustainable Wardrobe
Loved Clothing Lasts
Ah, college… a time when you are sure that you know exactly how your life will play out. The joke is especially on me because I received a very specific bachelor’s degree in a field which I no longer wish to pursue: Costume Design.
However, I’ve realized that no time was wasted and the lessons I learned during my four years at the California Institute of the Arts are applicable in more ways than one. Along with problem solving and critical thinking, possibly most importantly, my time within the Costume Department taught me how to be incredibly resourceful when it comes to clothing!
Here are five tips to creating and keeping a sustainable wardrobe from the mind of a costume designer.
Let’s make each piece last well beyond 30 wears!
The number one tip costume designers give? Tailor! Owning clothing that fits you correctly truly changes the game. Whether it’s hemming your jeans (which, at 5’1, I have to do all the time), tightening your straps or taking in the waist in of a dress, small adjustments can make all the difference.
Obviously, this can be a financial investment, but well worth it. The word ‘tailor’ tends to evoke an image of a man in the 1950’s getting fitted for a business suit but today, a tailor, or seamstress, is much more than that. Once you have your staples properly tailored they will look and feel better which can extend the life of your closet!
15 million tons of clothing and textile waste is thrown away every year in the US alone. Many times these items are tossed because of rips, tears, and loose seams. The truth is that there are some quick and easy ways to keep your wardrobe items in circulation.
Whether it’s a loose button, a hole in your sock, or rip in your t-shirt, a little hand sewing can go a long way. This can seem daunting for those who have never sewn before but trust me, it’s not only for the professionals. Learning one or two hand stitches can keep so many of your items from being thrown away and ultimately save you money! Check out these great guides for darning your socks, mending holes, and fixing buttons.
A crucial function of the role of costume designer is to manage all of the clothes being used in a project with proper care. A lot of items pulled for projects, especially from costume houses, are vintage and delicate, so maintaining them properly is essential. The first step is to spot clean when possible—if you drop guacamole on your white shirt (story from a friend…) but don’t want to wash the whole top, just spot clean! You can use Castile soap, a stain remover bar, or sometimes even lemons to get stains out quickly.
My absolute favorite costume designer tip is that white wine actually gets out red wine stains. You’re welcome! Another route you can go is utilizing vodka spray. Many items like denim, jackets, shoes, and gently used clothing can be freshened up with this spray without having to wash an item every time you wear it to dinner. There’s a great recipe for it here!
4. Temporary Adjustments
The costume design world and entertainment universe as a whole, functions on illusion. Whether it’s always having topstick on hand, making miracles happen with safety pins or using a pencil as a zipper glide, there’s magic occurring behind the scenes.
Topstick is a must and it’s always smart to have safety pins and bobby pins around—you never do know. Just remember that safety pins can be harsh on thin or light fabrics, so be careful. Costume designers for film and television are always armed with what is called a “set kit”, and it’s basically a large kit that consists of anything and everything you could possibly need on set. It’s like you’re the mother of the movie set, truly. I encourage you to make your own little kit that can be much smaller and fit in your purse, so you’re always prepared for a fashion fix!
Last, but not least, undergarments. This is the simplest, yet most effective tip there is. When you own and wear the right undergarments your clothing fits and therefore looks better. In all honesty, the costume design community is still a bit old fashioned when it comes to personal style, however, many tout these tips for the right fit: get your bra size measured properly, invest in some shapewear, and acquire some quality undershirts for those see-through pieces. Take it with a grain of salt if your personal style tends to be more avant-garde, but having the right size bra and underwear can change the way you feel in clothes more than you think.
Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and content creator with a focus in sustainable fashion. Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious living and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.