Filmmaking / Directing : Historically Accurate Costuming - How Important is It to Your Vision? by Karen "Kay" Ross

Karen "Kay" Ross

Historically Accurate Costuming - How Important is It to Your Vision?

Hey, Stage 32 Filmmakers!

I came across this fascinating video where a historian breaks down the authenticity of period pieces - it's fun for those who have had to toil with it in the past (Medieval, Renaissance, Colonial, etc.). What period pieces have you worked on? How important was historical accuracy in your depiction? How did you address that accuracy in your costuming?

Share below, and I'll happily join in!

Doug Nelson


Craig Prickett

I think it's become more important than ever.If you think of "The Battle Of Britian" they all had 1960's haircuts I don't think you'd get away with that these days.

Rutger Oosterhoff

I do not know, "Vincent" was made by a French team/group of friends. I think the cloth were great. If they were a hundred percent accurate, I do not know. I think you do what you can. Only a big-budget allows you to get the precise cloth you want, I guess.

Shadow Dragu-Mihai

Well, when I am doing anything which is a period piece and it's supposed to be accurate, then of course it's vital to me. I do, however, do works which are, though historical in some ways, are more strictly artistic pieces, and in those projects historical accuracy comes second to effect.

Ismael Judá Moraes Reis Dias

Totally necessary. Especially in a Medieval setting (Where the historical errors are louder than ever in movies today).

Debbie Croysdale

I have a Vintage Noir project and actors came to designer for hand cut patterns for making hand sewn clothes. I got photographs for the patterns courtesy of reference library, historical accuracy needs be correct cos its going to be a long term Transmedia and later film, also don't want to look a fool in any pitch/boardroom. There is so much competition I would feel bad at meets if I got the basics wrong, time and effort need cost big bucks. Devil is detail but had problem with one of the hand made wigs, came as 1964 instead of 1946 (Trench Moment) so those shots I gave producers a blurred hairline. Things can go wrong on the day but that goes on everywhere,

Debbie Croysdale

Classic "Bluebird dress" and D Day Hair style, actresses own hair before wig changes.

Debbie Croysdale

The ruffles on this "Bolero" dress required some "darn" fancy needlework. Copied photo from Ava Gardner film @Karen your posts always fire me up, hope I'm not rambling. LOL.

Rosalind Winton

My screenplay takes place between 1905 and 1912, so if it were to be made into a film, I would certainly hope the costuming would be correct :)

Christiane Lange

Costuming is very important, and not only in historical pieces.

Karen "Kay" Ross

Debbie Croysdale Not at all! Love to see the passion! Also, I think we forget to just geek out over these details and it's those details that make us want to weave it into a story.

Rosalind Winton As would I! Where is it set? America or overseas?

Christiane Lange Agreed. I LOVE putting on garb (i.e. functional costumes), so I quite enjoy geeking out about well-thought-out pieces.

To each of you - What would you say are your top three "costumed" films or series? Off the top of my head, I'd have to say Gladiator, Outlander, and Agent Carter. I want all the Agent Carter outfits LOL!

Christiane Lange

Karen "Kay" Ross Top 3? Barry Lyndon, The Leopard, Ratched.

Nadjia Campel

my dream is to be a costume designer!

Michael John Peterson

I love this. As a summer stock director, I’ve had situations arise which made me grateful that cast members were in “something” which at least fit enough to not walk out of it, fall over it or be laughed at directly for wearing it!

Realizing that I’ve been in a few shows which were costumed .... oddly... a particular musical by the name of the “King and I” in summer stock back in 1985-ish had no budget. Between trying to make women, children and men look Siamese or 18th century British had me climbing through boxes of pirate costumes, which is mostly what we had, corsets, cut fabric, pantaloons and doublets, we might as well have been costuming a Halloween party. This was Bloomfield Indiana and the closest place to shop was 40 miles away. 10 days to block, rehearse and costume. I enjoyed the production but none of us were thinking we were getting academy awards for authenticity.

Debbie Croysdale

@Michael I really enjoyed your post, I was doing theatre rounds 95ish after graduating drama schools and there was always limited budget for costume unless it was an acting role in some big production. Luckily no one had to travel forty miles like you to shop and there were jumble sale and charity shop raids a plenty. I remember wearing a seventies shirt and skirt on the tube and some nerd told me I was dressing out of date (which I was supposed to be doing) and a massive row broke out between everyone in the carriage. People do take "dress" seriously and I prefer to hang out casually dressed. However I am a stickler for detail in my own work. I had exact copy hand sewn from a vintage Bette Davis photo of 1940's "The Twilight Dress" @Karen says it's ok I'm still rambling LOL some of us just can't stop the passion for fashion in our actors. I enjoy taking costume as far as I possibly can these days because I remember how frustrating it was in the past when I faced limitations on what was able to wear. Devil's in the detail! @All stay safe!

Michael John Peterson

Delightful to read your experience. Costuming We appreciate. My wife and I collect and are at a point of dispersing what we have left.

My guilty pleasure was using my Japanese skills to outfit performances of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado” with a Japanese club when I was teaching Japanese full time while vocal coaching in the side.

My wife kept asking me if I was sure I could cast, direct, coach, stage and produce a show with a company which canes from as far south as Blooomngton, Indiana cleat to North of Lafayette wher I taught. I didn’t months collecting costumes on eBay from Japan. My expenditure of love managed to come in about $4000 but it was worth it. The entire cast was so taken by it that after our two scheduled performances on October 9th and 10th at the Old Mars Theater in Kafayette, they m nagged me to .mount it again at Harrison High School. That was one of the two high schools at which I taught.Japanese while coaching voice students in Lafayette and at my home on Frankfort. I need to post the links from YouTube which show some small part of our our production. Well..... maybe more than a small part, but it was the most elaborate costuming and set design I ever attempted on my own with students and their parents, my wife as choreographer (who didn't believe I could do it until we had done it twice) one son, community actors, and dozens who helped with moving the set back to Lafayette after it had gone in storage in Frankfort, and where it now resides since 2010.

Mikado Links on Youtube 2009 and 2010

The Mikado - Slide Show from TSC Schools Japanese Club Production 2009

03 Our Great Mikado Virtuous Man

04 Poobah’s First Entrance

04a Young Man Despair

05a I've Got a Little List

07 Three Little Maids from School

08 So Please You Sir

18 The Criminal Cried

22 22 Tit Willow

The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring

Miya sama, a Most Humane Mikado

I am so Proud & To Sit in Solemn Silence Trio from the Mikado

With Joyous Shout - Finale

Mikado Ad

My youngest lead as one of the three sisters at state contest the following year

Jordan ISSMA State The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze

The second show we lost only the mikado, Jhan Harp, who was in a production at Purdue University and was therefore unavailable. He is now in California plying his trade in film and theater as Head of development at Seraph Films in Burbank.


Debbie Croysdale

@Michael LOVELY costumes, well worth the four thousand dollars and triumph over the earlier years of make do and mend. Mid nineties there was no online stores such as e Bay even and grappling for rare clothes much more of a hassle. Thanks for your theatrical clips you must be proud and great some of your students now in film industry. I love the hair/makeup too and your wife did a great job with choreography. Your clips made me realize how much I miss "live" theatre, did a lot of youth theatre and some tours but did not continue into later life. When I re trained later on decided to be other side of camera. I hope you can sell or re use the gear you have left in storage, shame its lying dormant.

Kit Wilson

Retro-'60s Airlines Hostess Pucci-uniforms! In two volumes, illustrating the outrageous costumes of Braniff Ailines that stunned the flying public during the "Golden Age of Flight". Checkout on

Michael John Peterson

Debbie Croysdale I have never regretted doing that with my voice and Japanese students. The only way to make things come alive is to get people involved in something for which they have an interest. What we spent was worth every bit of seeing the students of all ages, with their parents, and members of the community loving what they did so much they wanted to do it again. From this groups I have a number of them who have gone on into performance, becoming teachers, Everyone on stage was committed sufficiently to drive hours to get to rehearsal, and I spent time being sure that I spread out the schedule to not make it impossible. I was afraid I would have to accompany and just didn't have time to do that preparation for a score that is challenging. It was about 2 weeks before opening that my wife pushed me with "do you really think you can pull this off.". I was certain when I repliced YES, because I was so certain that it would all come together. The end of that week I came across a lady playing in the local mall. She was marvelous. I asked if she was local, and told her what I was trying to do. She had trained classically and was a brilliant sight reader. I've gotten to know her entire family. Her oldest son told me this year of his interest in Japanese. I wrote a lot of my own materials, and shared them with him .... and the cycle continues with paying things forward, and passing on what we know. I have certainly appreciated your work in this fickle medium of performance and costuming. Stage 32 is a guilty pleasure to see what people are doing, and knowing that I have added to the ranks of those who are engaged from soul to body with similar fire.

Karen "Kay" Ross. Thank you also for the invitation this weekend. I usually stay background but so much which was shared here has elevated my weekend. I'm hoping that the work of a young man who wrote a musical will gain some support from contacts I've tried to make. His is a world of high functioning autistic with some degree of Eidetic Memory and has the entire score he composed in memory, as well as the script he wrote for his tribute to a series of books which have captured his imagination since he first read about wizards. There are hurdles, but I've already located a few former theater/musical collaborators with interest from what I've made available to them. Wish us luck in making the magic available to all those whom Stage 32 touches, and with the inestimable value your kind words and prompting made to my weekend. Sally (actually Karen "Kay" Ross) forth and conquer.

I will be watching more of what you share as well as much of what I've seen this weekend.

Thank you very much "doomo arigatou gozaimashita"

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