Things You Should Know When Designing Costumes for Your Characters

Costume design is a powerful storytelling device. Here's how you can use it in your own films.

The elements of mise-en-scène (or "everything in the frame that makes up the frame") play a pivotal role in the storytelling process, from the size of your shots to the way you dress the set, and one such element you should never ignore or leave to chance is costume design. The way you dress your characters is just as important as how you light your scene or direct your actors, but this skill is often quite underdeveloped (or not developed at all) in novice filmmakers. If you want to take your costume game to the next level, the team over at The Film Look gives you a few pointers on how to get started in the video below.

Choose costumes that communicate 

Costumes speak volumes. They can tell audiences where and when something is taking place, who your character is, what's going on in a scene, and what is going on in the story. Costumes give your characters their persona and your story visual depth, so it's not enough to have your actors wear the clothes they came to set with. Take some time to develop the costumes of each character and see how you can communicate story elements with your choices.

Make them pop

Another thing you'll want to consider when designing costumes is color, not just of the clothes you'll be using, but of the set(s) they'll be appearing in. You'll want to choose materials that bring your actors out from the background, rather than blend them into it. In other words, if you're shooting against a brick wall, it wouldn't be wise to dress your actors in red; perhaps blue or a vibrant yellow would work better.

Keep styles consistent

In real life, we all wear costumes, don't we? I mean, I have had the same exact style since middle school, so if someone were to draw a caricature of me, I'd be dressed in a black T-shirt, skinny jeans, black tennis shoes, and a black beanie. (If I don't wear that damn beanie, my child doesn't even recognize me.) Keep that in mind if you're designing several different costumes for a single character. Each of them will have their own unique style and any deviation from it will most likely be obvious and confusing.

What are some other costume design tips? Let us know down below in the comments.     

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4 Comments

My free pro tip for you:

If you don't want your actors look like cheap dressed hillbillies (like in the video above), search for a local designer/dressmaker. Those people are there to support the film. They have experience and give you even more ideas you can work with.

Do it right or let it be.

January 25, 2018 at 4:13AM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator/Owner
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Maybe it's because I'm a bit of a watch nerd but I find the choice of the wrong watch really distracting. Watches are so individual and can really tell a lot about the character's personality as well as the time period that the film is set. This isn't film but is a good example... A recent advert from the Australian government featured an average blue collar construction worker. Only problem was that he was wearing a $7000 luxury watch which completely destroyed the legitimacy of the commercial and created all kinds of bad press - Watches in film also offer a moment to create an iconic timepiece. Think Gosling's Drive Patek, Walken's ass aged Lancet, Sheen's Apocalypse Seiko or Bond's nato strapped Rolex.

March 6, 2018 at 9:46PM, Edited March 6, 9:55PM

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Matt M
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The way you dress your characters is just as important as how you light your scene or direct your actors, but this skill is often quite underdeveloped in novice filmmakers. Cheap Mens Designer Clothes

June 27, 2018 at 12:35AM

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I think it is very important to dress your characters correct, but many filmmakers are of low quality and struggle to do such a thing. A company called Designer Menswear have a great selection of men's designer clothes for costumes.

July 27, 2018 at 3:14AM

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Designer Menswear
Managing Director
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