The Ideal Fitting

As a designer, you will format your own fittings on many types of shows.  As the previous discussion indicates, each circumstance will be different. However, what should you strive for?  When talking with a producer who has no idea what a fitting requires, what can you confidently request as truly necessary to the process?   Who should be in the fitting, and should you hire people to help?  The tighter your time or space requirements, the more difficult it will be to organize everything; additional help is a good investment of time and effort.

Always keep in mind what the GOALS or objectives for any fitting.  You must leave with enough information on every aspect of the costume to take the next steps toward completion.  Be prepared to offer “stunt” garments just to aid the fitting process.  These items are spare socks, a shirt, t-shirt, slip, or whatever is required to attain a proper fit– you can pick the proper item later once you establish the need.

You  may have to think of creative ways to provide the following, or assign multiple tasks to yourself or others, but all the following items are necessary for fitting success.

Physical Space

  • A private space for actors to change- remember they will strip to their underwear
  • Enough space for 3 to 4 people to work in the room
  • Adequate light for fitting and pinning – poor vision will create errors and slow the pace
  • Full length mirrors and adequate space to stand away from the mirror
  • Hanging racks and shelves in the room or nearby to hold all the costume choices for quick turn-  around
  • A chair for the actor to try on footwear

Personnel- Who Does What?

Learning to assess a fitting and doing a proper set up is not only an excellent job qualification, but can ensure a beneficial use of everyone’s time.  The more efficiently time is used, the better the end result will look.  Everyone wants to be proud of the finished product, and efficient fittings are a strong key to success.

Regardless of who actually asked for the fitting- the designer, the shop, or a crafts artisan– the designer must assess the overall success or failure of each fitting, and check with the parties to make sure all the goals were accomplished.  If a project is not turning out according to expectations, it is up to the designer to find out what to do.  The object of every fitting is to get the correct information you need to proceed to the next step.  You will waste everyone’s time if you must contact actors for more information later.

  • Designer or Assistant Designer—set up each fitting, pick up all items from vendors, check and refresh fitting supplies or fitting kit, take fitting notes and distribute to all vendors.
  • Fitter—Often the vendor’s pattern maker, draper or the proprietor.  In resident shops, the Draper or Costume Director.  Many designers or assistants must fill this function themselves on small budget shows
  • Crafts Artisan—for specialty items,  this vendor will also require a representative to fit pieces, check footwear or alterations to rented accessories
  • Costumer—label, sort garments back to the show rack,  arrange timely rental or shopping returns during the “grace period”
  • Designer– explain the large picture to the actor, make new choices from the rack if items don’t work, view the overall look, negotiate character and movement requirements.  Please note the designer will often be too busy with these tasks to take full notes or pin alterations.  The more tasks one person must do, the slower the fitting will progress
  • First Hand- in professional shops this position silently assists the Draper or Fitter, writing notes of everything the fitter does to the costume for later reference.  They always stand ready to hand pins to the Fitter or Designer (ask whether fitter prefers large or small safety pins, straight pins and whether heads should be in or out for fastest work)  In this case, the design team does not track fitting notes unless they suspect that shop may not complete the task for whatever reason.  Our fitting room at UCI is so small, we often ask the Assistant Designer to fill this function.  However, you may have an undergraduate Design Assistant who would appreciate the opportunity to learn the fitting process.
  • Observers- in some cases at the end of a fitting an intern, stitcher or apprentice may be invited – with everyone’s permission- to view the garment on the performer.  This step is a vital learning process and reinforces why a particular technique was used, or allows the stitcher to make informed decisions later.  Some things just cannot be explained in writing, and a quick look will speed later work.  In large shops this can be a thrilling moment for apprentices who have proven themselves worthy of learning the next steps.  You  may nave an undergraduate Design Assistant who may appreciate this opportunity.

Fitting Kit

Many designers carry their own fitting kits in easily transported file boxes so they may do measurements or fittings in a number of circumstances.  It has happened more than once that a producer surprises us with information such as “Today is the only day she will be in town- can you do it now?”  You must be prepared to grab your kit!

Take the time while a student at UCI to notice what supplies are in our fitting room, and duplicate this for yourself as a portable system.

  • Measurement forms- digital and/or hard copies, body, foot tracing and head measurements
  • Digital camera- take full length front and side views of the actor and their head for construction vendors, and future reference
  • Measuring tapes- keep these everywhere for fitting, shopping and measuring.  Keep one in your car, in your kit, in your purse, tucked in your show bible at all times. I prefer a tailor’s measuring tape with cardboard tab on the end for graceful inseam measurements
  • Small, easily used sharp scissors, seam ripper, safety pins, straight pins
  • Manila tags to label garments- you may later paste digital Avery labels on these to save time
  • Elastic, twill tape
  • Shoe insoles, heel grips, shoe laces, thin and thick socks, a pair of knee-high hosiery to help shoe fit
  • Hat sizing foam (rolls of window insulation foam from hardware store)
  • Collar extenders, bra extenders, studs and cufflinks or copper brads as substitutes
  • Suspenders,  a belt or two to determine best way to wear trousers
  • Ring sizers- plastic mandrel or sized loops
  • Hair color ring- hair samples to match the actor’s hair
  • Hem marker- you  may often find yourself without the standard ruler/puffer contraption.  You may have to improvise another way to accomplish this.  Marking hems is one of the most time consuming steps in a fitting, be sure to allow adequate time when you schedule.


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