Our costumes are made by our team of skilled costume makers in our restored and redeveloped workshops in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Our costumes can be on stage for well over 100 performances, so they need to be made to withstand the wear and tear of the stage. the skills we have inhouse include tailoring and costume-making as well as dyeing, printing, leatherwork, beading, corsetry, millinery, mask-making and jewellery-making.

We are one of the few theatres to have our own in-house armoury, producing breastplates, belts, swords and shields, as well as weaponry made from specially moulded plastic, leather, and unusual materials. 

Our 30-strong team of costume makers moved back into the new workshop with some of the best facilities for costume-making, in summer 2021. The restored Grade II listed buildings now sit alongside newly created spaces with more space and daylight. 

The costume journey

Planning and Measuring

The Costume Designer for the show meets our Head of Costume to discuss the general requirements of the design, which historical period it draws on, and look at the budget and costings. The designer is allocated a costume supervisor to work with them throughout the design and construction process.

All the actors are measured. Over 50 measurements are taken from each actor, as well as details of any allergies. 

Fabric samples

Next, the Designer and Costume Supervisor begin to sample and buy fabrics, visiting fabric shops in London and Birmingham as well as consulting a large pattern room in Stratford-upon-Avon where fabric samples are kept from both national and international suppliers.

Printing & dyeing

If the designer requires a particular colour or pattern, fabric can be dyed or printed by our Dye Department. We use 60 kilos of dye powder and 800 kilos of salt during an average year.

Cutting & sewing

Fabrics are handed to the cutters in the workrooms. We draft all our cutting patterns ourselves according to the specifics of each design. Once the fabric pieces are cut they are handed on to a team of makers who start the construction in time for the first costume fittings. 

First fitting

The first fitting with an actor lasts around 30 minutes. The designer decides on the visual look of the garment, the length of the hem, style of trim etc, while the makers concentrate on how it fits and the technical aspects of the costume. We work together to ensure actors get costumes they like and feel comfortable wearing. 

Alterations and breaking down

The costume is returned to the workshops for the adjustments required after the fitting. Fastenings are added - we try to avoid using zips as they can get stuck in a quick change, and Velcro is noisy, so we often use industrial strength magnets. Many costumes are ‘broken down’ to look worn, using tools such as a cheese grater, sandpaper, Stanley knife, blow-torch, emulsion-based paints and fabric paints.

Once the production is up and running all the costumes have to be maintained on a daily basis by the Running Wardrobe team in the theatre. There's a constant list of running repairs and all shirts, tights, socks and other linens have to be washed after each performance.

Special knowledge is needed to care for delicate fabrics and elaborate costumes are dry cleaned as necessary. Most costumes aren't washable so we often use inner layers that can be removed and washed. 

After the show

When a show comes to an end the costumes go into our Costume Store, where they may be reused by the Costume Workshop as well as made available to hire to amateur and professional customers. 

Costumes from previous RSC productions have been hired out from the Company’s Costume Store, appearing in films and television programmes including Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, Braveheart, Merlin, Dr Who, Don’t Tell The Bride and many more. 

A career in costume

There are many routes into a profession within the Costume Department. All staff are trained to a high standard. Although some learn these skills on the job, most have a relevant degree-level qualification in addition to specialist professional training.

Alistair McArthur, Head of Costume, originally trained as a stage manager. He worked his way up in the costume field with positions at the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Opera House, in addition to employment as a freelance costume supervisor. "Once you leave any costume-making course, the best thing to do is to find a freelance maker who is willing to take you on as an assistant. You can only learn so much in a college and you learn much more actually doing the job." 

The restoration and redevelopment of the Costume Workshop is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and The Government's Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, with additional support from the Garfield Weston Foundation, Lydia and Manfred Gorvy, The Foyle Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation and other generous supporters