Every resident shop evolves a fitting system that works for their particular institutional needs.  Since UCI is an educational institution, we fit student performers and train student designers in our costume shop.  The fitting system we use simulates professional practice so designers will learn proper skills, yet we also have our own peculiarities to accommodate the needs of other areas or departments.

As an educational institution we have certain freedoms from contractual limitations. We do not dress celebrities, or employ First Hands to hand pins to a cutter in the proper way, set up the fitting room supplies each day, renew the panty hose/ tshirt drawer, silently take notes.  We don’t have a receptionist to greet the performer, provide water or tea, show them to the bathroom first, and guide them to the fitting room.  

In some cases, our student actors are new to performing;  teaching them how to be in a fitting is an important part of using time well, and gaining their trust.  For early career designers it can be nerve wracking to juggle all the decisions and discussions at once.  The following system intends to walk the fine line between teaching design and accomplishing our work in a timely manner.

Successful Preparation

We work on deadlines; sometimes it is easy to concentrate only on what we want to accomplish in the fitting.  We forget there are other people involved.  To properly set up your fittings, first imagine how you feel when you are a new patient at the doctor’s office.  You don’t know where anything is, you don’t know if this office is like your last doctor.  You DO know, however, visits like this always involve you undressing and sitting in a cold room with unfamiliar equipment you don’t want to touch by accident.

A professional office- and costume shop- will develop a soothing routine to put everyone at ease.  This is accomplished by someone telling us exactly what to do,  where to lay our clothes, who to expect next, and how to know if someone is going to enter the room.  And this time for explanation also teaches young actors what to do.

Respecting Privacy

Always step out of the fitting room when an actor strips to their underwear. Many actors and designers have cultural, religious, medical or personal modesty requirements and we must honor those.   If an actor needs help with the underwear stage,  provide someone of the same gender to assist them.  Some performers have no modesty requirements whatsoever and will jump out of their clothes before you know it.  Know your own comfort level– if you are uncomfortable, ask the actor to stop while you leave the room.    If you experience repeated discomfort with anyone in a fitting, please talk the Costume Shop Manager.

Our policy at UCI requires that actors wear underwear for their fittings.  Sometimes an actor may agree to a fitting at the last minute at your request, but may come from a dance class or other situation where they may not have full underwear.  Please be prepared to provide some clean stock underwear or reschedule the fitting.

If you will be fitting a corset or other underwear that requires adjustment, provide a thin chemise or tube top for the actor to wear under the corset.  The actor will eventually wear a launder-able layer next to the skin for performances- it is most efficient to anticipate this and  provide the garment early.  Then it will be fitted under the garments and we avoid nasty dress -rehearsal issues.  Always explain what you will do and ask permission before inserting bust pads or touching the actor’s skin.

Setting up the Fitting

Please read the main Fittings Page to prepare for this step. The designer and/or assistant will set up the fittings well before the actor arrives, providing all rental, shopped and stock items.  Consult with the fitter ahead of time for proper underpinnings or other requirements.   The fitter will bring made-to-order items into the fitting room.

Set goals with the fitter what would both of you like to accomplish in this fitting?  Would you like to fit in order of costumes worn, or work on all builds first, ending with rentals?  Decide ahead of time so everyone can be in the right place with the right stuff.  NEVER ASSUME anyone else knows why a fitting was called- discuss this with all parties.    Determine who will fit each garment.  The draper/ fitter will fit all made-to -order items.  The designer or assistant may do common fitting items such as trouser hems.  The Shop Manager is always ON CALL to assist or fit any garment.  Consult Vera ahead of time to alert her to complex issues or garments.   Ask for help  if you are unsure or would like a second opinion.

Assign tasks. During the fitting the Assistant Designer will operate as a first hand, dressing actors in finished garments as needed, take notes for the cutter and designer, hand pins to those doing fitting, running for additional supplies or garments as needed.   The Assistant Designer plays an active and important role in fittings, but to keep distractions to a minimum we ask the ADs to focus on asking questions that clarify note taking.  Please save complicated issues or opinions for after the fitting when we can adequately focus on your questions.

If you have no assistant to help that day, please consult the Shop Manager for help.  Do you have class right after the fitting and need someone else to put your garments back on the rack?  Don’t let your fitting be disorganized.

Make sure the fitting room is presentable. This is where you do your work as a designer—does the room represent you well?  IF the fitting room is a mess from another fitting, has pins sticking dangerously out of the carpet,  has overflowing trash cans or you are knee deep in debris, please ask Vera for help.  She won’t always know of a problem until some one asks about it.  This is your fitting!

Design Aids

  • Costume rendering, working drawing and period silhouette guide must be in the room for everyone to judge the fitting.
  • Final fabrics still on the rolls.  When fitting a mock up, show the actor the final fabric, hold the fabric up to them for a final color check and pattern or scale assessment.  The performer will understand each item better if they can see the final look.  The fitter can see the final effect, and the costume designer can answer questions about proportions, silhouette or cut using the sketch and real fabric as a reminder.
  • Digital camera- get in the habit of documenting each costume in the fitting.  Yes, there will be some hilariously incomplete items, but pictures will jog your memory when you’ve fit many garments in a day.  This step also makes list making easy, and you can insert them into dressing lists
  • Dye swatches or color swatches.  This is an ideal time for the designer to hold colors up to the actor to make a final decision.

Measuring or Fast Fitting Aids

  • Measuring tape, foot measuring device, hem marker, ring sizer, hair color swatch ring, skin tone swatches. You may have to re- measure an actor, or use a shoe fitting device to determine actual shoe size.  Be prepared to take a foot tracing, a shoe measurement, a hem marking.  The shop should provide the measuring aids, and they often stay in the fitting room for handy access, but always check to make sure.
  • Fast Fitting Aids — provide panty hose, socks – thicker or thinner for that show, suspenders or belt to hold pants in the proper place for hemming, sticky foam to a hat to make it fit.   Although many fitting rooms keep a large supply on hand, check ahead of time.

Costumes to be fitted

  • Hang each costume to be fitted in the fitting room.  Hang each costume together in order.
  • Fit entire costumes as much as possible.  Everyone must see the entire look to make decisions.  Do not call an actor in for fitting unless you have almost all the pieces.  It is wasteful to repeatedly call actors in for single peices, and you will quickly run out of legal fitting time in union situations.  Your actor will be exasperated, and you will lose credibility.  (See “stunt items” below)
  • Provide fitting options, and hang each with the correct costume.   Always have 2 or 3 options for shirts, shoes, etc.  It wastes time if the designer must fish around the rack or if we must race out of the room to find more shirts or shoes. This also creates a disorganized, unprofessional tone.  If you have more options than will fit in the room, provide a rack just outside the door.
  • Pre-screen rentals and stock items. Never trust anyone else’s measurements on items from stock or rental sources.  Do not waste time falling in love with a rare- but mismarked- item.   Check that each garment is indeed alterable– is the CB seam or hem already let out all the way , and you were hoping it could be made longer?  Don’t wait for the fitting to discover what you can’t fix.  Are there horrific mended areas or stains that you couldn’t see in the dim rental house?  Do the closures function?  Always check vintage mens trousers for a presentable zipper area.
  • Provide “stunt” items for the fitting for missing items.  If you have not found the right shoe or shirt, provide a fitting shirt in about the right range and color to aid the fitting and the overall picture.  Provide shoes with similar heel height to a hem length may be taken.
  • Character and Gag Bits – a very important part of your set up is pulling accessories or flair that could belong in your story world. Pin these on muslin covered hangers so each is visible.  This will serve as a design library during fittings so you may assign hankies, suspenders, scarves, glasses, watches, comedy bits, etc with your actor while you see the entire costume in context.   Your actor will be part of the process, and you will create finished costumes quickly.  You don’t want to spend the final prep day scrubbing up a long list of accessories!  You will also generate an efficient and exact shopping list as you go through fittings– need more patterned handkerchiefs, period suspenders, etc?
  • Undo fastenings for fast fitting, especially shoes tied in pairs, rows of tiny lacings, etc.  We don’t all want to stand around watching as one person tries to undo the undoable shoe lace.
  • Treat items as gifts. Take the time to wrap things beautifully, steam and set hats onto head forms, present items as if they are very special for you and the actor to “shop” among.  This sets a professional tone. If you have a box of battered hats beaten down in stock, no one will feel special about those choices!   Remember, a fitting is also where you sell your ideas!

Meet and Greet

Greet each actor when they come into the shop, don’t let them float about wondering what to do.   Let them know if the fittings are running on time, offer a chance to visit the rest room or have a drink of water.  Let them know what you will be fitting that day, and ask if they have a class or other pressing time restriction.  If you or they are running late and there will not be enough time to do all of the fitting, consult Shop Mgr or Fitter for alternate plans.

Show the actor into the fitting room.  The designer will take a very brief moment to show the rendering, explain the character choices, tell them what will be fitted first, introduce the cutter or other staff and explain how the fitting will go.   Tell them exactly what to put on first, where to put their clothes and give directions how to ask for help.  (Remember, this part is like being a new patient!) Knowing what to expect will help them trust you.

If you cannot do this step because you are in the fitting room, this is an excellent task for a new undergraduate assistant to begin learning the fitting process.

Fitting Order

There is no one single way to conduct a fitting, and every place has its own procedure.  Determine ahead of time what order you will fit the costumes.  The shop may be on a tight schedule and would like to fit build items first because they have other fittings that day.  OR the shop may want to stitch an extra 20 minutes while you fit rental items first.  Here are some time saving tips to consider:

  • Underpinnings must be first.  Never fit costumes from any era before the 1970s without the actual underpinnings.
  • Body Alterations such as fat pads, pregnancy pads must be fit before the garments they support
  • Fit in Body Shape Order— fit all the garments at once that will go over the same corset or fat pad.  Climbing in and out of under bits is time consuming
  • Priority Order– most important items can go first if you think you may run out of time; rentals that must return during a grace period, built garments the shop cannot work on further until decisions are made, etc.
  • Show Order- if an actor plays multiple characters that share items like trousers or shirts in several costumes, it may be most efficient to fit in show order.  This method allows you to track each item and speed fast changes.  Solve as many logistic issues as you can this way to avoid nasty dress rehearsal surprises.
  • Process of Elimination for mens suits.  Before asking the actor to climb into multiple trousers and vests, quickly slip the suit jacket on.  The jacket is the most difficult- or expensive- item to alter, so you will judge the suit by the jacket fit in many cases. If the jacket turns out to be the wrong period, doesn’t fit across the chest or shoulders or is the wrong body length, you will know that right away and can move to the next suit quickly.  Once you find the suit most likely to succeed, then ask the actor to put on the full suit for detailed fitting.
  • Rentals reverse fit– this is a fast system developed for film and opera, where hundreds of people must be fit in a day.  Dress the actor fully to choose all the pieces they will wear.  If garments don’t fit well, add a single safety pin or alligator clip at the alteration points– just enough to hold the garments on the body or to the proper length.   Once the entire look is determined, fit outer garments first., such as coat and suit jacket that will be worn with garments under them.   (Make sure you are not fitting over any large wads of fabric in an under layer)  Take those off to fit the next layer- vest, sweater, tie.  Take those off to do a careful final fit on trousers, shirt.  To make this work, you must have a fairly satisfactory initial look, and make note of sleeve lengths ahead of time.  For more complex alterations, please see “Fitting Inside to Outside” below.

The Fine Art of Fitting

How do you fit a garment?  Fitting skills take years of practice to master; we learn this from watching fitters at work on many types of garments.   Eventually you will learn through practice.

While gaining experience, the best rule of thumb for the beginning designer is to fully dress the actor– do not try to judge just one aspect of a costume.

To assess proper fit, compare the dressed actor to your period silhouette fitting guide.

  • Determine what body points the garments actually hang from—the shoulders or the waist.  Garments that hang from the shoulders include coats, jackets, shirt waist dresses, blouses, etc.  Garments that hang from the waist include corsets, pants and skirts.
  • Take a moment to study the break points of the body that affect movement- shoulders, elbows, bending at the waist, the knees.  If any of these are too restricted, the garment must be altered. or may not be suitable.
  • Study the hang of a garment- is it swinging to one side, or backwards?  Imagine a plumb line hanging from the actors neck.  If in doubt, tie a small heavy object on a string and hold it up to the pit of the neck to check the hang.  People often have shoulder higher than the other, or one hip higher.  Either the actor or the pattern may be uneven.
  • Once you’ve studied the overall effect, begin fitting from the top to the bottom, and from the inside to the outside.  Depending on where the garment falls from, fit shoulders, waist and then hips.  Fit close body garments before fitting jackets or sweaters. (Please see Rentals Reverse Fit section above for a fast method suitable only if costume fits fairly well from the beginning)
  • Look at the garment in the mirror to lend distance and perspective.  This will give you a better idea of how the garment will look onstage.
  • Don’t forget about ease.  With the exception of spandex items, we need 2”-4” of room inside a garment to sit, walk, bend or breathe.  Do not fit too tightly to the body.
  • Ask your actor to move occasionally.  The human heart requires gross movement in the limbs to adequately pump blood.  An actor may be too shy to ask for a break and may become sluggish or faint.
  • If you require an arm or leg to be in a certain position for a long time, supply a brace or support for the actor.  Not only is this considerate behavior, but you will be able to have a more accurate fit without rushing or working around an actor wiggling to get blood back to their limb

Remember Your Actor

Your actor must feel like the right character in your costume, or they have to feel like a million dollars!  Remember that your actor has feelings, fears and desires.  Ask them for input when its appropriate.  Experienced actors will pipe right up with their opinions; students may feel too intimidated to express problems.  That does not mean the problem will vanish– it will reappear in dress rehearsal when everyone is nervous.  This timing robs you- and the shop- of precious time to solve issues ahead of time.

At the end of a fitting if your actor hasn’t said anything, ask for their opinion.  Read their faces carefully- they will rumple their brows when they don’t like something.  Its OK to stop a fitting to say “You look like youwant to cry- can you tell me what you’re thinking?”   Sometimes they need assurance you are using so many pins not because they are deformed or ugly, but because the rental garment was badly built by the original maker.



Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.