Archive for Costumes

Building “The DRESS” – HELLO, DOLLY! July 13 – August 6, 2017

Building “The Dress”
by Joanne Cunningham 
There are costumes, and then there are costumes. Some shows have iconic outfits that everyone automatically pictures when they think of a specific character. Ask someone to describe Mary Poppins, for example, and it’s almost a sure thing that they will mention her white dress with its red sash. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST? How can Belle wear anything other than her yellow ball gown? And for HELLO, DOLLY!…well, most people can probably describe the red dress that Carol Channing wears to perfection as she descends the stairs at the Harmonia Gardens.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to recreate a well-loved look (costume designs are not copyrighted, so they are fair game to reproduce), as a costume designer I prefer to try and add something new and refreshing to shows I design. The director, of course, has final say in what sort of look they want, but I greatly appreciate the opportunity to add some of my own creativity to a show.
Of course, building a dress that is meant to be a show-stopper is no easy task. There are many different styles to consider, especially while trying to remain true to the time period without devoting 95% of available time to working on a complicated vintage pattern. Ease of movement for the actor is important, as is her comfort on stage since she will be in that dress for an extended period of time. The dress has to hopefully elicit a few “wow” reactions and look especially good under stage lights. And, of course, budget restrictions must be taken into consideration. (This is one area where I’m pretty certain neither Hollywood nor Disney has many concerns!)
While many of the incredible dresses you will see on stage in our production of HELLO, DOLLY! are ones that Sunset owns or that we have rented, Dolly’s red dress is one that has come from my own imagination and hard work. Pictures don’t do it justice, but here are a few hints of how it has been progressing. I hope that when you come to see the show this summer, there will be a “wow” or two in the audience when Dolly makes her appearance!

Sherlock Holmes Costumes

The fun and challenge of Victorian dress construction – by Joanne Cunningham

This season I have the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before – design costumes for shows that take place at the end of the 19th century. I have never before attempted to construct Victorian-era dresses, and am learning so much as I tackle this new challenge. Come on along to a time when clothes were far more complicated than they are now!

Victorian fashion came from trends that were popular in England (think Queen Victoria) from the 1830s to the early 1900s. With the increasing use of sewing machines starting in the mid-1800s, it was easier to make elaborate, lavish dresses that featured an extravagant amount of lace and other trims.

The most important feature of dresses of this era was the hourglass silhouette that women desired. Skirts were large – the use of hoops, crinolines and bustles helped to make waists appear small in comparison. In time, as skirts got progressively smaller and tighter, bodices and sleeves got larger to help accentuate the hourglass figure. Much use was made of boning to hold the shape, and lace and other fancy trim to embellish dresses. New dyes in bright colors were being developed to replace the old vegetable and animal dyes that had been used in the past. The result was dresses that were lovely, extravagant and fantastic.

As I am starting to build some of these dresses for SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE FINAL ADVENTURE, I am learning that it takes miles of fabric to recreate the true Victorian style. The pleated ruffle at the bottom of one skirt took no less than 30 linear feet of fabric to make the finished 12′ long ruffle! The patterns are complicated and take some trial and error to understand, but as dresses begin to take shape I am excited by what I see.

sherlock-holmes-patternunnamed (3)

The lead actress in our show will have four different dresses, and I am eager to see how they all come together. I have some incredible volunteers who are helping me this time around, which is wonderful. (I can’t imagine having to build four Victorian dresses on my own in the limited time I have between when I first meet the actors for a show and our first dress rehearsal!)


Be sure to come to SHERLOCK HOLMES and see the sorts of costumes rarely seen on our stage…amazing dresses in the Victorian style!


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