Gregg Barnes fitting for Legally Blonde

View this YouTube video to see a final check up fitting for Elle.  Gregg Barnes shows some of his sketches –both pencil and painted versions.  Note the fitting process in the background, the actor input and the fitters–from

Overview of Professional Fitting Formats

Every shop conducts fittings in a different way, with different people in charge of the fitting.  Some shops prefer formal, hushed fittings set up as a complex ballet of precise steps and silent assistants who have been forbidden to speak and directed to wear black clothes so they disappear in the mirror.   Other shops prefer casual fittings with refreshments, music and easy banter.

Shops that fit stars or important paying clients will create fitting rooms that look like salons with tasteful decor, sofas, lamps, writing desks for the fitters.  Some places install a large dais and lighting instruments to simulate the final effect under stage light.  In some projects, the star or performer cannot travel to a distant shop contracted to do the work, and the designer must hire a temporary fitting room at a studio or elsewhere, hiring fitters or ask distant shop employees to fly to the studio for the fitting.

Other fittings are done under impossible circumstances- in an airport, in a trailer, in the middle of a workroom with messengers stomping by, in a bathroom, behind a rack in a rehearsal hall or in a hallway.   There may be protracted discussions over who /what is allowed in the fitting room- spouses, vocal coaches, children, gurus, cell phones, personal assistants.

In commercial projects, independent film, smaller theaters, theaters On and Off Broadway, and most free lance designs, only the design team has a global understanding of the entire project, while shop staff and vendors are charged with one aspect of the project.  The shoes, hats, wigs, under pinnings, garments and jewelry may come from different sources.  The milliner may not know what the wig will look like- it is up to the designer or the team to communicate the larger picture.  Sometimes the designer has to rent fitting facilities or use the fitting rooms supplied by rental houses.

In many regional theaters, opera houses or theme parks the Costume Director or Lead Costumer may be the only person with a global view of the show.  The Costume Director is charged with delivering a show regardless of whether the designer is in residence.  To meet the demands of opera, the Costume Director may have to fit hundreds of chorus members in just a few days, or may have to fly to Italy or Japan to remount a large rental or co-production.

In most university costume shops with undergraduate students, the Costume Shop Manager is a faculty/ staff position charged to teach the show process.  That person is ultimately charged with delivering shows on behalf of students, usually undergraduates

In a well staffed feature film or TV, the Wardrobe Supervisor is contracted equally with the designer for final responsibility for the project.  This dual responsibility is defined by union contracts and the producers.  Designer and Supervisor work as a team, daily negotiating overall progress and responsibilities.

Time Limitations

Regardless of format or final responsibility, one thing every fitting has in common is that competing interests are at work.  Everyone can end up frustrated and cranky unless a protocol is agreed upon ahead of time.  Every one wants time alone to accomplish a task- but often there isn’t enough time to accommodate everyone.

Many performing contracts pay the actor for the fitting time, and the producer resents the costs.  Directors and choreographers must release the performer from rehearsal, and some will purposely sabotage or ignore your time.  Some stage managers will refuse to honor costume fitting requests.   Equity contracts severely limit the time of day and length of time a fitting may occur before extra costs are incurred, and travel time counts as part of the fitting.  Film contracts don’t begin early enough to adequately fit all but the principle day players.

Negotiating Your Fitting Process

The successful designer will learn to negotiate the fitting process ahead of time. Let go of the idea there is only one way you ought to be doing a fitting.  Some shop staff prefer fitting time alone with the performer before the designer sees the garment.  Other shops ask the designer to entertain the performer while they pin, diverting the actor from interfering with the fit or cut of a costume before everyone is ready for their input.   If you are working with a new shop or in a new theater, NEVER ASSUME they will work the same way as the last shop you just came from.

Figure out ahead of time what you, as a designer, need to do your work.  Do you know this performer requires special handling?  Is your director picky about some detail?   Do you hate white muslin mock ups for black costumes?    Most shops develop a default system that works for their unique institution, but they can negotiate something different.  IF you have very strong preferences, the shop would like to know that earlier in the process, rather than being surprised in a fitting.    Most of the time the designer will have to bow to some less than ideal circumstances, yet still remain responsible for the work load accomplished in each fitting.

Holly’s Note about Assuming

If you ASSUME anything = U will make an ASS out of U and ME.   Always ask questions!

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