Unseen Fashion: Costume & Performance

Whilst our eyes are fixated on the catwalk, we often forget that the television shows we watch every day, the theatre shows and films we go to see, all have to be clothed and fashioned.

The main difference between clothes for performance and those for the runway is that the costume designers are not designing a product for market. Costumes are not for sale directly, they are part of a production or film that is ‘sold’ indirectly to an audience.

Although they share techniques and ideas with fashion designers, the costume designers will use them to help create a narrative whereas the fashion designer is more concerned with creating demand.


Photo via Hanna Puskarz

There has however, been a trend more recently for the fashion industry to engage with narratives. Karl Lagerfeld has become interested in the creation of the dream, the escape from reality into a land of history or mythology in his shows. And, I think fashion shows in general are becoming more theatrical events, where the clothes are part of a wider creative view and the viewer engages with the product in a more indirect way. They have certainly come a long way from the days when designers used to show the latest collection in their shops to a select group of customers.

In many ways this highlights how the line between costume and fashion is blurring, and it is not just fashion taking cues from theatre and costume.


The growth of television as a medium has led to expanded opportunities for costume designers and has seen many of them gain influence over mainstream fashion. Designer Janie Bryant‘s hugely popular Mad Men series, which popularised midcentury styles again, is a frequent reference on the catwalk.

Since Mad Men, Bryant has collaborated with Shoes of Prey, Maidenform and Brooks Brothers – the suit she designed for Brooks Brothers based on Don Draper’s look, sold out of all stores and online within 10 days. And by 2011, she was designing an entire, 1960s-inspired Mad Men collection for Banana Republic.

Performance and fashion now overlap and combine in ways not seen before. I think this makes costume design an exciting and diverse field to go into.


Photo via Hanna Puskarz

AT LCF we have a cluster of 4 performance courses: three undergraduate and one postgraduate:

What makes LCF’s offering unique is its practical focus. We have workshops, several industry-facing projects within the courses and excellent work placement opportunities, thanks to relationships with the Royal Ballet School and the National Theatre. We aim to develop creative, confident and experimental designers who will push the boundaries of costume beyond its established traditional role.

You can also see that our offering goes beyond just costume design, we  have courses for 3D effects and hair and makeup. What is exciting is that students on all three of our BA courses can collaborate and learn from each other in order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of performance.

costume rhea-thierstein studio

Photo via Rhea Thierstein

For those wanting to hear more about this side of fashion, I am excited to announce that I have an interview with leading Costume Director Jane Petrie, behind films such as Suffragette, Fish Tank and Moon, coming up soon, as the second part to this month’s Unseen Fashion feature. She talks about her route into costume and gives her advice to those looking to enter the industry.

Check back here later this week to read, but for those who cannot wait, you can read more about our costume and performance courses in the links below.

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