Character Costuming

Lesson 4: Character Costuming


Learning Objective: Students will demonstrate their ability to make appropriate, period accurate, costume decisions by creating two costume designs for a character within their selected production.


Materials Needed:

Western costume (on display)

Renaissance costume (on display)

White board

Dry-erase markers

Drawing Paper

Colored pencils/markers


Hook/Warm up: Have students take the first 10-15 minutes of class to observe the displayed costumes and create a background story that uses these costumes.  They should be able to justify their story with specific observations they made about the costume.  For example, the character they are creating is a hard-working mother on a farm because she has an apron that is slightly soiled.


              Split the class into groups of five and have each student share the background story they created.  As the teacher, walk amongst the groups and listen to the stories being shared.  Have each group pick two different background stories that will be shared with the class.  After each group has selected two people, have those selected come to the front of the classroom and share their story with everyone.  If the story is vague and doesn’t point out details, ask the student follow-up questions like “why did you think your character does ____ for a living?” “what helped you come up with that idea?” “how would this costumes choice have helped them do ____ in their life?”



After the selected stories are shared, begin a class discussion to analyze the costumes on display.  Have students answer the questions…

  • What era is each outfit from?
  • Why do they recognize it?
  • What does the fabric say about the character that will wear this costume?
  • Is the character poor, wealthy, or middle class?
  • Can you conclude anything from the pattern of the costume?
  • How were you able to identify all of these things? And what else would you research to learn more? 
  • Where have you seen similar costumes being used? (western could be productions of Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, western TV series… Renaissance costumes could be seen in Shakespeare productions, medieval festivals…)


Point out that students have unknowingly done a little research on these time periods before class today, even if it was simply through observation.

  • Ask students if they’ve had to formally research any specific time period before. It could have been for a class project, theatre production, or just for fun. 
    • If a student has, ask them about their research process. What resources did they use?  Did they look into costumes specifically?  Were they surprised about any of their findings?
  • As a class, identify different ways to research costumes. (Write this list on the left side of the board)
    • Possible answers: google, films that take place in the specific time period, fabric stores and their costume patterns, books, magazines…
  • What things should they be paying attention to? (Write this list on the right side of the board)
  • Popular fabrics used, occupations of characters, how were the fabrics made back then, cut/design of costumes, social status…


All of the things discussed are important things to keep in mind in order to create a period-accurate production.



Have students think back to the show they’ve selected to research for this unit and begin to brainstorm the kind of costumes they would like to use for that particular show.  Using the lists on the board of research resources and important things to pay attention to, have the students apply what was discussed and do their own research for their individual productions.  Students may have access to library computers, magazines, possibly even the costume closet (if there’s easy access to it). 



Using the research done in class, have the students create two costume designs for their selected production.  There should be one male costume and one female costume.  Students will be provided with paper and colored pencils.  For the students that are uncomfortable with drawing, they can have access to the library computers and printers and can come up with different costumes through pictures.  Another option would be to have students write a detailed description of the costume they would like to create.  Each student, no matter how they decide to create their costume, should write a description of the costume and justify why they decided on each piece of the costume.  It should answer the question of how the decision supports the character’s time period, occupation, social status and other things that were listed on the board.

Papers will be turned in at the end of class and points will be given for their justifications of the costume. 


If students finish early, challenge them to create another costume for a different character in the production they’re researching.  They will continue to create costumes until the end of class.  Each character costume created can be displayed on their final bulletin board.