Aug 2, 2016 - Oct 15, 2016

Art of Television Costume Design


The 10th Art of Television Costume Design celebrates outstanding TV costuming from 2015 and 2016 in a variety of genres, including Primetime Emmy ®Award nominees in Costume Design.  

There were only about 10,000 television sets in the United States in the mid-1940s. Ten years later, half of American households owned one! Why the huge increase? Rising post-World War II income levels coupled with technological advancements meant many people could afford a TV. But there was more to it than just the economy. Children watched programs after school; families and friends gathered in front of the set in the evening; everyone talked about the latest episode around the water cooler at work. What was the draw? Viewers connected to the characters on their screens. 

Favorite characters

Today, over 115 million homes in the US have a digital television (or stream TV shows on their computers). We still look forward to tuning in to see what our favorite characters are up to. “Lucy” from I Love Lucy, “Samantha” from Bewitched, “J.R Ewing” from Dallas, or “Don Draper” from Mad Men have iconic personalities expressed in part through their appearances.

And it’s costume designers and their teams who are responsible for creating character traits that complement the storyline, settings, eras, and emotional states of each loved or hated character. The Art of Television Costume Design celebrates outstanding TV costuming from 2015 and 2016 in a variety of genres, including Primetime Emmy ® Award nominees.

Costume designers are time travelers. Before dressing a period television series, they must immerse themselves in the historic era; they research vintage magazines and antique fashion plates and peruse old photographs.

But it’s not just about the clothing—they need to understand the proper social class and deportment of each character and ensure ensembles match the show’s historic scenic design.

A mix of custom-made clothing and accessories, deadstock (unsold vintage merchandise), and rented costumes are combined for historic shows. Sometimes, vintage patterns are used with contemporary fabrics to create clothing that is more durable than fragile originals.

Generally, stars are clad in specially-designed ensembles, often featuring antique elements of lace and embroidery. Background characters and extras make do with items from rental warehouses.

Stars’ costumes are usually added to rental stock after filming, so look for your favorite actresses’ costumes in the background scenes of next year’s shows!

Costuming contemporary characters seems easy—just go to a department store and buy some clothing! 

But it’s not that simple. Costume designers still need to establish a unique style for each role, including a specific color palette and silhouette.

Considerations should be made for settings and seasons: does the storyline take place in Los Angeles in the summertime or London in the winter?

Extreme fads quickly look dated in shows that have long production times. And then there’s the fitting process: complex alterations are often necessary on pre-purchased, ready-to-wear clothing to better fit actors.

Buying clothing and accessories in multiple sizes can make it easier to quickly dress extras for crowd scenes, but designers and their crews must stay organized, as even small productions can require thousands of garments. Some contemporary costumes are created from scratch to ensure absolute uniqueness of design.

If an expensive designer outfit is perfect for a character, but way out of budget, designers can utilize their patterning skills to re-create the look with less expensive fabrics and trimmings.

Regular men and women are transformed into other-worldly beings, monsters, and super heroes thanks to talented costume designers and their teams.

Because these ensembles are worn by characters inhabiting supernatural or futuristic settings, the designs need to be new and innovative. Budget and imagination are the only constraints to Fantasy costuming.

Body prosthetics, wigs, and makeup aid in creating imaginary appearances. Costume designers work with 3D printing, custom-molded PVC garments, and CGI (computer generated imagery) to create technologically advanced ensembles that transport us out of everyday life.

Many shows in this genre are derived from comic books or graphic novels—it’s important to reference original visuals so fans can immediately identify and connect with beloved characters.

And these shows often feature thrilling, action-packed scenes. Duplicate costumes must be made to accommodate the harnesses, braces, and wires used in complex stunts.

A comedic costume is effective if it makes people laugh!

These ensembles often feature oversized silhouettes, bright colors, and bold patterning or trim. Unexpected, over-the-top details become unspoken jokes.

Sometimes costumes have built-in trick components—they might fall apart, squirt water, or even expand on cue. Wacky accessories and overdone hair and makeup add whimsy.

Costumes can be wildly inappropriate as to time, occasion, or social group.They might fit in a comical way—too tight or too big. In short, they always help a character stand out, and “make a scene.”

Yet designers must be aware that these ensembles don’t overwhelm their actors—they still need to be able to act!

FIDM Museum and Library, Inc.
Credits: Story


Tonian Hohberg
Barbara Bundy
Annie Johnson
Vivien Lowy

Meghan Hansen
Salvador Perez
Celia Rogus
Mary Rose

ABC/ Marvel
Amazon Studios
Broken Record Productions
Carnival Films/ PBS
CW/ CBS Studios
Eye Productions, Inc.
Fire and Blood Productions
FTP Productions, LLC
Hartswood Films Ltd.
LPB Outlander Ltd./ Starz
Mansion House Productions
Mao PR
NBC Universal
Picrow Inc.
Second in Command Productions
Stalwart Films, LLC
Twentieth Century Fox
Warner Bros.

Lucy Carey
Christina Castro
Sabrina Estrada
Kevin Fernando
Daniela Hernandez
Linda Knoth
Julia Long
Joyce Lopez
Hema Panesar
Lori Santamaura
Kasia Stempniak

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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