How to make a Movie Costume

Making the costumes for our actors was so much fun! Especially the movie costume for our female lead Tamara, who plays the Black Forest Witch. If you compare the initial sketches with the final product, it’s amazing how close we actually came. In this tutorial we want to show you how to make your own costumes.

Black Forest Witch Movie Costume
Tamara Roming in the Black Forest Witch Movie Costume

It’s very important to know where to look for advice. You can find a lot of tips online, but most of them are for different purposes than for TV or cinema. Costumes for Halloween, Cosplay, Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) or stage plays have different needs than those for a film production.

To make a great Movie Costume, certain textures and materials are better, while some should to be avoided. Silk, for example, is bad for audio. If you are using Lavalier microphones, it produces a scratching and squeaking on the soundtrack. On the other hand, a checked or striped pattern can cause a flickering image. Some of these problems, you just can’t anticipate. That knowledge will come with experience. But the first rule of creativity is: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just make sure you are quick on your feet to find solutions.

1. Research your Movie Costume

Getting movie costume ideas is easy. When you are doing your scribbles, you are looking for what’s imaginable – you are basically free. Now comes the hard part. You’ll have to research your costumes and look for what’s actually possible.

The cut of the costume

Research is not only relevant for so called costume movies, like period pieces, but all movies that require an eye on clothing. It’s time to check your vision for historical accuracy as well as practicality. What kind of clothes did people really wear? How did they wear them? What is different nowadays? Is your idea practical for the circumstances of your characters, e.g. can they run in the dress you designed?

Visual Research for Movie Costumes
Historical Research for Movie Costumes

If there’s a match between your vision and reality, it will probably put a smile on your face. If not, don’t give up hope. Let’s be honest, it’s always better to have a good looking costume on screen than a terrible one that’s historically accurate. Of course we wanted to do our fantasy series justice. That’s why we decided to go for the more modern looking cut, even though we knew that people in the 3rd and 4th century didn’t sew clothing. They still tucked them with brooches, sewing came much later. Because it’s closer to our understanding of clothes today, it’s more familiar to the audience and easier on the eyes.

Colors, patterns and textures

Movie Costume Colors
Historical Colors worn by the Alemanni

Research is always driven by questions. What colors were in back then? What colors did people actually have available? Who was able to wear them? How many different materials did they have? With what kind of patterns? It’s good to have a certain variety, but not as much as to be all over the place. Like with colors, too much variety makes it seem staged and inauthentic. We decided to go with a a vibrant dress for the main character and grey tunics for the boys with dark trousers.

2. Costume Design or Costume Coordination?

Black Forest Witch Movie Costume
The Black Forest Witch Movie Costume

There’s a big difference between costume coordination and costume design. Costume coordination means that you don’t create costumes from scratch. It means that you use preexisting costumes and coordinate them in a way that they work together. You can compare it to the casting process: Just find the right costume for the job. We bought ours from the costume maker Burgschneider.

As you can see, the colors of the undergarment and overdress are reversed compared to our concept. Apparently, that was a much more common look. To make it even more realistic and appealing, we had to age the dress and make it seem used. It looks especially worn and ripped apart around her ankles. For this kind of destruction, we used a metal brush and sand paper. For the dirt we used wet Acrylic paint. In LARP circles, where people recreate whole time periods, they use actual dirt. In my opinion, you don’t want to be too authentic in that regard. A smelly movie costume is a bad costume, not just for the actors.

If you don’t change the clothes in any way, you should consider going for rentals. It could be much, much cheaper. However, be aware that historical movies look kind of goofy when the costumes are all new and shiny. The trousers for the boys we borrowed from our friends at Magie der Schatten, the German Fantasy Trilogy.

Costume accessoires

To complete Tamara’s costume, we needed a couple of accessories. Some amber jewelry I found on a flee market, some I bought via Etsy, the Ebay of craftsmanship. A beautfiful place to find all kinds of stuff. It’s not quite cheap, but there are some amazing artists and craftspeople out there who build literally everything. To find the belt, I searched for handwoven Wiking belts. In the end, those little details make the outfit complete.
Movie Costume Accessoires:
Amber bracelet and necklaces

3. Fitting the Movie Costume

Fitting the movie costume is an important step that you often don’t have enough time for. Especially as an independent production. It was important that Tamara would not trip over her dress while running through the Black Forest. We figured, a short fitting the day before the shoot would be enough to determine how much we had to shorten the dress. In the worst case, we would have had to change the dress. Having a dressmaker for that purpose comes in handy (thanks, Mom). Fortunately it all worked out and we didn’t need to make exhaustive alterations.

Practical considerations

For the boys, it was much clearer from the get-go: Tunics are worn in a loose way, so it was a quite natural fit. One concern was the cold up in the mountains. With temperatures around 32 °F, exposing your neck and feet for longer periods of time is super stressful. Therefore, we bought some cheap grey sweaters to put them underneath the tunics, to at least help the upper body to stay warm.

Adjusting the Movie Costume
Adjusting the Movie Costume with Jonathan Elias Weiske

What do you think about our tips on making Movie Costumes? Share this article and your opinion on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter! For those who are interested in tutorials, check out the story on how to build a Wizard Staff. If you want to see it all in action, watch the teaser for our TV series.

Sven Eric Maier
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