The Actor’s Wardrobe

For those in the film industry, wardrobe refers to the costume or outfit an actor, performer or extra wears while on a TV or movie set. These outfits can be everyday clothing to stock costumes to those costumes made from scratch.

When an actor auditions for a role they will fill out and complete a casting form with their personal information, body sizes and measurements. Upon the actor booking the role, this information is then sent to the wardrobe office/department and/or a phone call is made immediately to the actor to review or collect his/her particulars including measurements. The actor must have this information readily available even if it has been submitted at the audition/callback. A measurement sheet is needed by all actors or those going out for principal auditions.

After the wardrobe designer/assistant has talked to the actor (parent for child actors) over the phone and taken down their information they will shop for the actor’s wardrobe sizes either at a local mall if everyday attire is to be worn for the shoot or they will schedule a fitting for the actor to come in and try different stock outfits or pieces on. If the assistants have bought out the stores in the mall the actor will be called again, but this time to schedule a wardrobe fitting at the production office in the costume department.

The wardrobe fitting scheduled by the wardrobe assistant will be for a day and time that’s convenient for both parties. The actor will arrive 15 minutes early for the fitting and bring any article of clothing he/she has been asked to by the wardrobe assistant. This usually happens for fittings for commercials. An actor might be asked to bring a pair of dress shoes or running shoes, belt, vest, etc. If the wardrobe is used in the commercial the production will pay a fee to rent that article of clothing from the actor. This action usually rewards the actor with additional payment. Special clothing and/or equipment rents out for about $25.

As payment goes, actors get paid to participate in wardrobe fittings. They get paid for a 2 hour call, but it usually takes under an hour to complete. Sometimes an actor will have to participate in multiple wardrobe fittings especially if he/she is having their costume made for them. As the actor tries on different outfits, different combinations of outfits or ideas for original pieces a photo will be taken of the actor in each outfit. These photos are then sent to the director and/or producer(s) to get final approval. The director may select an outfit or outfits from these photos or ask the designer to come up with other options or suggestions.

Extras are background performers that fill in the areas around the actors. Extras are asked to bring or supply their own wardrobe of three complete changes from head to toe including accessories. In extras holding, the performers show the wardrobe assistants their wardrobe choices. The assistants will then approve an outfit from the extras choices or suggest a new outfit by putting different items together. Once approved the extra is okay to step on the set. Sometimes extras have special requirements and will be booked on a production because they own a particular outfit such as a tuxedo, floor length gown, Halloween costume, sports uniform, etc. Extra employment hinges on the wardrobe an extra has in his/her closet. Extras supply their own wardrobe because it’s less hassle for the production. It’s fast, easy, all clothing fit’s the first time and there’s little cost to the production.

Movie pre-production for wardrobe can start about six weeks ahead of shooting. The director and/or producers are shown drawn artist conceptions, coloured and swatched with small pieces of costume for each character. These samplings offer an idea of what the proposed costumes/wardrobe will be worn by the actors. Instructions are given about the cut and fit of the costumes, alterations to existing stock, etc. Costumes built or made from scratch usually involve a costume designer. The designer researches the era or time period, shops for the materials, designs the ideas/concepts and puts together the pieces for the costumes. Costumes designed by designers are primarily Historical or period pieces, fantasy pieces and/or modern/futuristic.

The Academy Awards rewards designers. Best Costume Design is the category for costume designers and it has ran from 1948 to present. For this category costumes are made or created by the designer for all the characters/performers in the film. The designer’s team can consist of tailors, seamstresses, appliquers, dyers, cutters, breakers-down (they make the items look worn), boot makers, hat makers, jewellery makers, etc. The winner of the 82nd Academy Awards for Costume Design was Sandy Powell for The Young Victoria.

Productions give the costume designer/wardrobe department a budget. For everyday clothing bought from stores, but not selected by the director for the performers, will be returned to the various stores for refund. Wardrobe warehouses boast rows and rows ceiling high of costumes ready to be rented for specific period pieces. Costume stock are pulled from their racks and shelves ready to clothe the actors. These warehouses also have boxes and boxes and boxes of accessories as well. From all the different types and sizes of footwear, hats, gloves, jewellery to masks, head-gear, underwear or other uncommon specialty items such as army fatigues, peasant rags or zombie duds, etc.

On the set of a movie there is always a wardrobe trailer as part of the circus. However, the actor’s or performer’s wardrobe is hung up in their trailer before they arrive for the days filming. All pieces are delivered to the performer along with underclothing, especially if the weather is cold. Actors place hot packs in their footwear, pockets and/or around their body and are given a cover up jacket. The jacket serves to conceal the wardrobe, keep the actor warm and protect the costume from the elements.

On set, there are wardrobe assistants that look after the actors. They make sure all wardrobe is put on correctly, there are no alteration problems or pieces missing and they make sure everything is in it’s right place and worn the right way. Each outfit the actor wears will be photographed for continuity purposes. Once an actor has changed into his wardrobe he will go to the wardrobe trailer for approval before heading on to set.

To sum things up, wardrobe is an important piece of the giant movie puzzle. Costumes make the actor’s character come a live. They help the actor transform into his/her role. For the extras, they may be in the background, but in costume they feel connected to the TV or film. And the audience, we get to sit back and take it all in.

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