Men's Costume

Out of the Spotlight #6

Our highly skilled costumiers can turn their hands to designing and creating a costume from any period or place to bring a show's setting - and a character's personality - to life.

For our male actors, bespoke uniforms, robes, doublets, suits, and shirts are made and stitched by hand by our specialist Men’s Costume team.

Junior Men's Costumier David first came to the RSC on a two-week work placement before landing a permanent job with the department. He took us through some of the most memorable costumes he's worked on so far.

Gaining confidence

One of David's favourite costumes came from the 2016 production of The Alchemist: "I made a black and white doublet for Tom McCall as Kastril with leather trim and really exaggerated black puff breeches. Tom’s quite an active actor and he felt the costume helped create the character. I’d been here for around six months and it was probably the first costume I felt really confident about at each stage of the process."

A man in large black breeches, a white ruffled shirt, and an ornate waistcoat.
Tom McCall as Kastril in The Alchemist (2016).
Photo by Helen Maybanks © RSC Browse and license our images

A mix of styles

David recalls working on the costumes for The Merry Wives of Windsor (2018) as one of his biggest challenges: "Tom Padley's doublet was designed as a complete mix of doublet-making and modern suit tailoring. It was really interesting to make because a doublet and a suit are made and finished in very different ways, so merging the two and having to work out the order of construction was challenging. The fabric was stretchy, and it had a peasecod belly shape (exaggerated stomach padding) – adding to the challenges."

Two men in suits with exaggerated collars and hemlines.
Tim Samuels and Tom Padley as Shallow and Slender in The Merry Wives of Windsor (2018). Show designed by Lez Brotherston.
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images

Prepared for anything

Being adaptable is an important part of working with costumes. David says: "You have to be prepared for anything and everything in this department. One minute you could be making uniforms, the next it’s togas, then Victorian frock coats or tail coats. I made an elastic plastic outfit for Salome and that was strange!

"Designers can ask for anything and, to some extent, you’re at their mercy. They could give you the greatest fabric in the world, or the most challenging. The shows are so different and sometimes there’s no conventional way to make something, so you have to be adaptable. You could be altering costumes for a modern show in the Swan Theatre, making breeches for a period show in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or something completely different. Being flexible you learn to juggle your time between the shows."

And making the costume isn't always the end of the process: "The technical rehearsals can be challenging. On stage a costume can look completely different or move differently and that’s when the actors wear them for the first time. It’s the unknown of what's going to be in the notes coming back to you for alterations."

A man with a red headdress and feathered shoulders stands on the shoulders of a man in a military-style jacket.
The Company in Salome (2017).
Photo by Isaac James © RSC Browse and license our images
hands in a workshop making a crown

Out of the spotlight

Out of the Spotlight gives a voice to the people who work behind the scenes to make our onstage magic happen. From costumiers to carpenters our skilled teams of people are working in our Stratford-upon-Avon workshops to create and build costumes, props and sets that help bring our shows to life. We share the challenges and triumphs that take place away from the spotlight.

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