Tech Talk: Costumes
We all know the stereotype of Christian drama—bathrobes and sandals. We’re embarrassed by the stereotype’s accuracy, but budget and time constraints often make realistic biblical costuming feel like a luxury. Costume designer Jeni Fabian offers a few easy guidelines for affordable, authentic costumes.
Costumes are an important part of the overall storytelling of a drama: With the proper attire, peasants can be distinguished from royalty, soldiers from civilians. Costume research is not as hard to do as you may think. There is an entire section of the library devoted to costumes-through-the-ages books. To design a costume that reveals time and place, focus on silhouette, color and fabric.
If you looked at a person from your sketch or pageant in silhouette, would you be able to tell that the tunic-wearing character was from Rome or Greece or Egypt? Creating an accurate silhouette is the most important (and the cheapest) way to design a believable costume. Egyptians had long, slim lines, sleeveless and T-shaped garments. Romans and Greeks wore draped togas. Romans had a lot of excess fabric slung over their arms, whereas Greeks generally wore tunics pinned at the shoulder with brooches and then belted at the waist.
Egyptians wore a lot of white and gold. Romans and Greeks were more apt to use dye, but there was a difference between the colors worn by royalty and those worn by commoners. Pay special attention to what kind of fabric patterns existed and stay true to that—paisley would not have been seen on the streets of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth.
Terry cloth was not yet invented in biblical times, so don’t even think about it! Wool, cotton, silk and linen were the only fabrics used during this time. Egyptians used mostly linen; Greeks and Romans used very thin wool that looked similar to cotton. Audience members rarely get close enough to touch a costume; so choose materials that, from a distance, will pass for the more expensive version.
Most women can tell you that the wrong accessories can ruin an entire outfit. By accessorizing, you turn a character’s costume into an outfit a real person wore daily.
Roman and Greek women mostly wore earrings and some thin bracelets. Sandals were common, but be sure to look at your research to find different types of sandals. Egyptians are better known for chunkier gold jewelry: large bracelets worn on the upper or lower arms, headdresses and large earrings.
Think about your characters to create a full look: Would Mary Magdalene have worn jewelry? If so, what kind? What kind of accessories and colors distinguish Mary, Jesus’ mother, from her older cousin Elizabeth: Accessorizing is a low-budget way to bring reality to a costume.
In everyday life, we make assessments about people based on what they wear. Audiences carry this same perception, which is why costumes transmit powerful information very quickly. By doing a little research and adding a few accessories, you can create authentic and low-budget costumes that will easily bring an audience into the world of your drama.