Costumes can make or break the audience’s ability to believe a show – and a costume plan can make or break the costuming process. If you’re leading your show’s costume team, begin with a plan to help you stay organized before, during, and after the production.

Benefits of a Costume Plan

A costume plan (or costume plot) helps you track all the pieces in your show, from large dresses to incidentals like hats and jewelry. While it may take some work, an organized costume plan can help in every step of the process.

  • Before the show: Track pieces as you assign them to characters, then follow their progress throughout pre-production.
  • During the show: Tells the costumer exactly where any pieces are supposed to be, with ready-made checklists to run through before the show. The run crew will also know what (if any) pieces need to be set up in the wings or transported on stage between scenes.
  • After the show: Consult the plan to remind the crew what your company can keep after strike and what needs to be returned to another company.

How to Start a Costume Plan

You’ll first want to decide where to keep your costume plan. Some may prefer to write one by hand, but paper copies can be easily lost or hard to share. A spreadsheet made in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets is easier to edit and share, keeping everyone up-to-date on the show’s progress.

Sample costume plan sheet

Part of a costume plan for a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, created in Google Sheets

Next, determine how you’ll organize your plan. You could sort entries by scene, character, ownership status, or some other field. But you’ll want to be consistent and systematic, preventing you from losing or forgetting about pieces.

Your costume plan may change throughout the production, and that’s okay! Your plot should reflect the current status of the costumes, even if they’ve shifted from your initial idea.

7 Must-Haves in Your Costume Plan

Now that you’ve decided where to begin, knowing what to include on your spreadsheet is just as important. Be sure to record each of the following pieces of information in your plot:

1. Scene Information

Some costume pieces may need to be worn for some scenes in a show, but not others. Joseph’s coat in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, for example, needs to be brought on stage by one character, worn by a different actor, removed by another, and then used again at the end of the show – all by different actors, depending on the director’s blocking.

Dividing the show into scenes and marking costumes accordingly can help you track where pieces need to be, particularly if they’ll be used in multiple scenes and places during the run. It can also help you see when and where any quick-changes occur.

If the script doesn’t list individual scenes (or those listed in the script aren’t working for you), talk to your director and stage manager. They can help you divide the script into more-manageable scenes.

2. Character Name

Who’s wearing the costume? Note any situations in which pieces switch between characters or are used as props. You could list the actor’s name instead, but that might be cumbersome (especially if multiple actors are playing the same role, such as if the show is double-cast or an understudy takes the stage). If you’re so inclined, you could color-code your plan. Assign a color to each character or just to principal characters and ensemble groups.

3. Ownership

Is the piece borrowed or did your team construct it? Pieces made by your crew will be easier to spot in spreadsheet form, allowing you to start assigning them early in the production process. This column will also help you easily determine whether you’re allowed to make significant alterations to a piece.

4. Status

Is the piece stage-ready, or does it still need alterations? (And have you started it at all?) You can also use your spreadsheet as a way to assign and track progress on any alterations.

5. Color Notes

Good costume design uses colors to help the audience easily identify characters or traits. Colors can help the audience distinguish characters from each other, or (alternatively) suggest how characters are related. You might include a column in your plan that tracks what primary colors are associated with each character and their costume(s).

6. Transition Notes

Indicate whether the actor will need help changing out of the costume and into another, as in a quick-change. You’ll want to assign costume team members or run crew to help actors with quick-changes, though you might not be able to anticipate all of them until you’ve run through the show a few times.

7. Type of Item

You might also think about your costumes as smaller segments – for example: tops, bottoms, shoes, and accessories. This will help you make sure you have a full costume for each character.

With a comprehensive costume plan, you can keep your whole cast and crew up to date with your design as it comes together.

Andrew Koch is a writer and editor from Cincinnati. He thanks his wife for sharing her custom-built costume plan for this article.

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