Costume and wardrobe inspiration: The burning question.
The burning question: Where do I get my costumes and wardrobe?
Everywhere. That’s the short answer which is true but frustrating to anyone that happens to ask. For anyone with a level of desire exceeding vague interest I’ll give you the long answer. Just don’t blame me if you fall asleep a few sentences in.
Without giving you an in depth fashion timeline and history which is easy to look up elsewhere anyway, I’ll concentrate on why I choose the portrait wardrobe items that I do and where I've found them. A few points I’d like to make: I don’t have a formal education in costume or fashion design. I do have a passion for any period TV or film and I do look at lots of pictures for pleasure or inspiration. I love vintage clothing styles and quite often read articles on different era’s. I save many things for many years. I like to do things on a very tight budget because I like the challenge. I don’t try to accurately emulate any particular time period with true authenticity, because frankly it gets boring and I don’t always have authentic pieces. Lastly I sew. I leave that lastly because I don’t sew well.
Wardrobe is one of my favorite aspects of designing a shoot because it gives many of my hobbies a good outlet. I love costuming and vintage clothing. I love seeing it on screen and in pictures. I’m naturally drawn to to it visually and I tend to hoard items for years.
I don’t mind sewing little things that I know I won’t find or am too lazy to shop for. I used to sew more when fabric was easy to get and it was harder to find what I wanted in a shop. Yes this was pre amazon.com kids! I have a basic machine that I suppose could be called analogue. Nothing fancy there at all. I have a serger because I detest wrangling a rounded hem. It’s not something I’m great at or have spent any time getting better at.
I feel fortunate that my photography gives me an excuse to indulge in vintage shopping and I’m relieved of guilt picking up an odd item at Ross. I can enjoy my sewing because I know it doesn’t have to be perfect and I don’t have to get better at it if I don’t want to. The challenge of finding things around my own house and in my own closets is part of a creative process I don’t think I’d enjoy as much if I was just buying full costumes online. Not to mention it wouldn’t be cost effective to buy those costumes on spec and perhaps never feel inspired to use more than once.
Without further painfully long exposition, I’ll break down the wardrobe in the images below. I will add that most of the costumes below were put together spending less than $20.00.
The cobbler here is wearing a puffy shirt I sewed about 10 years ago. It’s part of a french aristocrat costume I’d made for a party. The pants were his but outgrown so I whacked off the leg bottoms and let them fray. One of the bottom leg portions i put a seam in and used it as a hat. The apron is just a canvas apron I had in the kitchen pantry probably from Target. The shoes I found in my sons closet discarded as out of style and left behind when he went to college. I figure anything still here is free game! So you see I was honest when I say I get my costumes from “everywhere”. It’s the colors and textures and lines that suggest a particular time and that’s what I aim for.
Here’s the same gent shot about a year later. As you can see he’s moved up in status. Same puffy shirt from the cobbler above now paired with a leather jacket we had in the coat closet I think this is actually still worn on a regular basis. There is a bit of black cape with gold accents showing. This was part of a Don Juan costume I’d made for an 8 year old boy long ago but it’s made plenty of appearances. This is all layered with a fox (I think it’s fox) stole I bought from an antique store many years ago. It wasn’t well maintained at the time and still hasn’t been so it’s not suitable for regular wear...unless you’re going for the frayed and ragged look. The hat is a recently bought beach shade hat that I flattened the crown and tucked an ostrich feather in. The pins have been photoshopped out so it could be returned to its former use. The chain is from my own costume jewelry stash. Lastly the ruff was made for this shoot using a length of scrap lace and about 50 straight pins. I managed to have run out of time to sew the pleats in it prior to the shoot so the poor guy had about 50 pins about to stick him in the throat at the time. Again, not a period accurate portrayal but it does hit enough notes in line color and texture that it does a fine job.
In this picture there is a green cotton skirt that I sewed last year, paired with a corset and lace cardigan I ordered online. I made the hair piece years ago. It hangs out in a drawer with other odds and ends.
The dress in this picture is actually two pieces. The top portion is from a “sexy” Marie Antoinette costume I made years ago but it’s great because it’s short I can pair it with any number of full shirts or dresses.
This silly peasant girl is wearing a napkin on her head, an off the shoulder blouse from forever 21, an old skirt from Old Navy and a piece of an old shower curtain that was left over from some long ago project as an apron.
Going a little more “modern” this dress I picked up at Goodwill a few years ago. It’s got a great silhouette for a 40’s or 50’s look. Her shoes are from my closet purchased at forever 21 but I like the heal, the toe shape. The guy is just wearing his own jeans but it’s the fedora from Target and JC Penny tie with vest I rescued from my husbands goodwill purge that point to the particular era for him.
This is one of the few truly authentic pieces I have. 60’s evening gown purchased from an antique store.
I love this dress for its versatility. It was purchased at Ross some time ago. When I’m out shopping it’s great to run into a piece like this that has so many uses. The empire lines that make it useful for a Jane Austin or Napoleon/Josephine type look, a full skirt to pair with an earlier Marie Antoinette styling or a simple vintage off the shoulder classic ball gown shoot.
This is actually a ladies jacket. That I still wear on a regular basis. Luckily the guy was tall and slim and could get it over his shoulders. I could only shoot a closer crop with this since it’s a modified pea coat designed for a lady and it hit him above the belly button. However, the collar, brass buttons and color were perfect. The necktie is a length of scrap material that I quickly sewed into a tube and tied.
If you are interested in seeing more items and their uses there are a few more here. As you can see it really all comes down to collecting versatile items, paying attention to what lines were popular during different eras, the textures, the tones, an accessory, that really stands out as an indicator of time.