The Business of Show Biz: Costume Fitting Etiquette for Actors
Friday, November 6, 2015
Posted by: Laura Brueckner
By Velina Brown
Q: Maybe the answer is obvious to others, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to interact with costume designers when I go in for a fitting. I don’t know when (or whether) I should voice my opinion about what they are fitting on me. I know they want to me to say I like it, but what if I don’t? Also, are there certain things that actors are expected to bring with them, or expected to do? The whole thing is often just awkward and embarrassing. Is there professional etiquette for costume fittings?
A: Well, according to my costume designer friends, Tatjana Genser and Keiko Shimosato-Carreiro, there are some things that they wish more actors knew that would make fittings go more smoothly and comfortably for everyone involved. (I’m thinking of the scene in Birdman when Ed Norton’s character shows up with no bun for the frank and beans.) According to Genser and Carreiro, that scenario isn’t as rare as one might hope—so you aren’t the only one who might benefit from some guidance.
Eleven Costume Fitting Do’s and Don’ts for Actors
1. Do arrive on time.
The costume shop needs every moment of the precious time that the director has granted them.
2. Do be clean.
Shimosato-Carreiro: Try not to arrive at a fitting sweaty and unbathed.
Genser: It gets costumes dirty right away—and it’s extremely unpleasant having to be in someone’s sweaty armpit.
3. Do wear underwear.
Shimosato-Carreiro: Women should always wear [underpants] and a bra, or bring a bra with them if they do not usually wear one. Men should always wear briefs and an undershirt.
Genser: I myself have encountered actors with a complete lack of underwear (and there’s just no way around that one—that fitting is going down in awkward flames), inappropriate underwear (picture a super tiny thong with pubic hair sticking out everywhere) and even dirty underwear. It doesn’t take much to avoid these, and it makes the experience a lot more comfortable.
4. Don’t wear overpowering perfumes or colognes.
5. Don’t lie about your sizes.
Genser: We often have to rely on actors providing their own measurements so we can order costume pieces before we get to meet and measure them for the first time. Don’t cheat. We’ll find out when we measure you anyway, and you may get stuck with a costume that doesn’t fit.
6. Do be honest.
Genser: Don’t say, “this is great” during the fitting, but then turn around and bitch to everybody who will listen. If you have a problem, state it appropriately. We want you to feel good about your costume, because it adds to the performance and therefore to the show. Any good costume designer is happy to collaborate within the boundaries of the design concept to make an actor happy. If you’re honest and respectful about that, and work with the designer, you’ll get the world. If you don’t, you’ll end up with the scratchy wool cape.
7. Do try the costume on before deciding it won’t work.
Shimosato-Carreiro: Let the designer and the stitchers see it on you. Then a conversation about the costume items or whole can begin.
8. Don’t say things like, “I wouldn’t wear this.”
Shimosato-Carreiro: The costumer is dressing the character, not you.
Genser: Feedback about things like, “I don’t feel my character would show this much skin” is appreciated, but arguing just because the actor as a person doesn’t like a piece is rude.
9. Don’t remove tags or alter a costume piece in any way without permission.
An item that might have been returned because it didn’t work cannot be taken back once it has been altered or the tags are missing.
10. Do talk to your designer.
Genser: Try to work things out with him/her. Only go to your SM (stage manager) or director if you feel you’ve exhausted your options with the designer. When an actor involves SMs or directors in a costume question, it makes them feel that there’s a big problem. I once had an actor in preview notes come to me (as SM) and [the director] all freaking out because her tights had a hole in them. In return, [the director] took down the designer about how dare she be so mean and not give the actress new tights. The hole had been made that afternoon, and the designer had never been told about it, so she got chewed out for no reason.
11. Do give your feedback in a timely manner.
Genser: Don’t wait until final preview to go to the director and say you don’t want to wear a piece, sending everybody in a tizzy trying to replace something at the last minute. If you have strong issues with something, voice them right away so they can be addressed in a timely manner, and not in a stressful scramble.
There you have it. And listen, you’re right. It is awkward having someone you may hardly know all up in your personal space, measuring you. But that’s what’s required for the job. Costume designers are fellow artists. They are not servants or personal shoppers. When you observe basic etiquette, the fittings will be less uncomfortable. When you develop a great working relationship with one of your most intimate collaborators, it can yield really exciting results. After all, don’t we all want to look amazing on stage? Keep calm and wear clean undies.
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.