A Costume Designer in the Library

Today’s guest post is courtesy of Jessica Ray, costume designer and instructor in the UND Department of Theatre Arts. Thanks, Jessica, for your insights into using the library in a unique and fascinating way!

American Fabric books open to sample fabric pieces
American Fabrics books include sample pieces of fabric

As a costume designer, one of the most important elements of my job is research. I spend weeks researching a production that I am working. This makes the library an incredibly valuable resource for my work. Not only for items that you would expect but for also the weird, old books that you come across and wonder who would ever look at. As you can probably guess, history research is a huge part of the research process for developing a costume design. Some examples of these can be books about the history of dress, shoes, accessories and hair or makeup. The less straight forward things I look for are the history of a culture, the aesthetics of beauty for that culture, and how they made the items that they wore. I look at a lot of art books, history books, fashion periodicals, tailoring books, and even books that have samples of fabrics (that we have buried deep in our library).

While these are all things that you might expect of my research, there can be things that might surprise you. For example, when working on a show that is placed in a setting that is made up, where do you start? Anything can inspire the creation of a costume. It can be a piece of music that captures the emotional feel of the show.  It could be an abstract piece of artwork.

I think that many students underestimate the value of our library. With inter-library loan, you can have access to any book you could possibly want or desire. I know what you’re thinking, why not just go on the internet? Sometimes you can have to dig deep into the library and find that dusty old book that hasn’t been looked at in years, by an obscure author to find a hidden treasure. There is so much on the web and yet there is also so much that is not. Finding these treasures for my research makes my design all the stronger and unique for these sources.