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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic

Costume-mode: Resistance is Futile.

Hooray, it’s my first real rant post!

Roll sound, speed, mark and… Action!

As a costumer, I’ve been trained to have a critical eye when it comes to costumes & clothing on stage & camera. The more time you spend in a costume shop or on a film crew, the more details you start to notice (in all aspects of a production) and taking note becomes second-nature.

It’s a habit that can be annoying and hard to turn off – just ask my poor husband.

Me: *groan*

Husband: What?

Me: Nothing.

Husband (pushing pause): What.

Me: The actor’s tie-knot keeps changing position from shot to shot – it’s distracting.

Husband: Have you even heard the characters’ conversation?

Me: Umm… sort of… no, not really. Could you… rewind it a little?

Husband: *groan*

Yeah, it’s not always easy to just let entertainment be exactly that – entertainment. Work-mode is always running just below the surface. (Eep, I’ve become a costume drone!)

I really dislike black fabrics or anything dark without texture. On camera, the shadows disappear and you just see a dark blob. Because they look so striking on camera, deep blacks are usually reserved for well-lit funeral scenes. And if black clothing is used, it’s in limited amounts and is usually a soft black.

Meanwhile, gleaming white is usually too bright (or hot) on camera, and it seems to glow and pull the focus to the white object. This is why I am usually compelled to dim the white a little with a slight brown or grey over-dye – like the tea-dyed lace for my 1912 Princess Slip. (In the business, this is known as “tech”-ing it.)

Large high-contrast prints (especially black & white ones) can look like home décor and usually overwhelm the wearer.

Small high-contrast prints (like bright pinstripes) can look like they are vibrating, especially in HD. Would somebody please advise the evening news anchors about this?

I cringe when I see groups of matchy-matchy outfits (think family Christmas photos of everyone in the same silly sweater & jeans). Coordinating is good, but it’s best to keep everyone different enough to share focus (or make one person stand out to force focus, if that is the point of a scene).

I could go on for days with the little do’s and don’ts for dressing someone for camera, but I’ll just say that there are times that my costuming skills can also help when planning for photos. Since photography is just non-motion film, a lot of the same conventions still apply. (I like to think that my aversion to white-white also helped Camille’s wedding dress photograph so well for her nighttime wedding.)

This brings me to another side effect of being a film costumer (theatre costuming is similar but there are subtle differences): my professional training bleeds over into my view of everyday fashion as well. My closet is full of outfits that reflect my costuming preferences, and I dress for “the part” depending on circumstances & events.

I’m currently working on a personal sewing project with the goal of redoing my blog banner and possibly my avatar. I’ve had the general concept in mind for over a year, but I’m still working out all the details.

I had an orange fabric with white polka dots picked out for a retro dress, but I decided to do a screen test with it and another orange fabric with smaller dots. (My costuming instincts were raising red flags about my first choice, so I had to make sure.)

My two fabric options – both orange with white polka dots.
Original choice on the Right.

I took a few photos of both fabrics draped over a chair in the setting I plan to use for my photo shoot, and then I could compare them on the computer screen more objectively.

Screen tests of the fabrics in my chosen (sneak peek!) photo shoot location.

After seeing the fabrics on screen, I changed my mind about my fabric – I liked the smaller polka dot better in the setting. The orange disappears on my original choice and doesn’t stand out from my bright blue fridge and chartreuse walls, especially as a smaller photo. I want my dress – not my fridge – to be the focus of my banner (even though the icebox is really cool and eye-catching).

Conclusion from my screen test: the fabric I ended up liking better was one I thought was a little too bright in person but it looks amazing on camera and from a distance.

Now if I could just decide if I need to fuss with toning down the overall brightness of the fabric just a little, I could cut out my 50’s style dress and start building… There’s that dang costumer-mode trying to take over again!

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12 responses to “Costume-mode: Resistance is Futile.

  1. agirlinwinter August 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Very interesting post! I love that orange fabric, can’t wait to see the finished dress.

  2. purplepincushion August 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Personally, and as a fellow costume tech geek, I say go for the brighter and don’t tone it down. I think it is fabulous, and sometimes we just need a dress that sings “I’m fabulous!”

  3. purplepincushion August 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    P.S. I am working on a similar project. Hoping to have pictures next week. 1949 wiggle dress in electric olive green (I don’t know how else to describe the color!).

    • Brooke August 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      Alrighty, I’ll be fabulously bright then! =)

      lol – when I read the words “wiggle” and “electric olive green” for some reason my brain thought “glow worm”! That sounds like a fun project and now I’m dying to see what that color looks like!

      • purplepincushion August 24, 2012 at 7:36 pm

        Lol! Yeah, you are pretty close, a shade darker than that. A serious glow worm:-) I am horrible at taking pictures so I hope there are some others that can get a good picture when I am finished. We are going to a classic car show and they are having a pin up model contest called “Starlets not Harlots” and the requirements are actual period vintage or handmade vintage. I am hoping it is as fun as it sounds like it is going to be!!

  4. soisewedthis August 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I LOVE your blue fridge!! The walls in my kitchen are a similar color, but my fridge is boring. I notice when an actor’s hair changes between shots, haha. My husband showed me a clip from a movie that was set in a time before there were watches and you can see an extra is wearing a watch in one of the shots.

    • Brooke August 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      Thanks! I had a boring white fridge for years but I painted my walls (they’re a textured paintable wallpaper) knowing that one day I would finally get my retro fridge.

      Continuity is hard to stop noticing once you see something wrong! I used to be able to ignore it if I wanted to but hours of being on a quiet film set watching a monitor in silence (you can’t hear the actors unless you have headphones) take after take and you start looking for something wrong just to give yourself something to do! I spent a few months on a “suit & tie law show” and it made me really start focusing on ties because it was all I had to watch for on set, hehe.

  5. Karen August 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    I am so smitten with orange of late – and your “second” fabric just reinforces my delight in the color! It will be perfect in a ’50s’ dress. I’d love to watch a movie with you sometime!

    • Brooke August 24, 2012 at 8:39 pm

      I didn’t realize how much I like orange until I looked around my house and saw all the little pops of it in EVERY room. Lime green is my favorite color but I seem to like orange almost as much.

      The only problem with watching a movie with me is that my work-mode is catching – my husband has started picking up on continuity now too, hehe!

  6. thevintagetraveler August 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Fascinating. With the side-by-side photos I can see what you mean. I’d have thought the orange was too bright as well.

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