Creating Olivia's gowns

Kara Tointon plays Olivia in this production and wears four dresses and an overgown during the production.  

Simon Higlett's designs for Olivia

The evening gown

Olivia's Costumes 2

The skirt is pinned over a petticoat and bustle with a mock-up of the top section of the dress. This is known as a ‘toile’ and is altered throughout the fittings to make sure when the final version is made, it fits the actor perfectly. Once this is completed it is boxed up and taken on a minibus to our Clapham rehearsal rooms with members of the Costume Workshop team for a fitting with Kara.

Kara had a two and half hour fitting session – around half an hour per dress – to get the shape and drapes right on her body; then the dresses were brought back to Stratford to be finished.

After the fitting, the bodice was made in fabric from Broadwick Silk on Berwick Street, London, who use period prints in their fabrics. Costume Supervisor Karen Large went out to source the material with designer Simon Higlett.

Simon and Karen also found a piece of antique Victorian lace in the shop, with beautiful detail in a faded off-white colour. They found more antique lace in the RSC stock room and dyed the new lace to match the trim. The lace is pinned for a final fitting with Kara, after which the trim will be stitched into its final position. 

Olivia's Costumes 3

Simon draped chiffon and more velvet over the front of the skirt to achieve the shape he wanted. Karen tacked the drapes in place by hand ready for the final fitting. The skirt was machine-stitched after the fitting to stay taut and maintain its shape.

3 hours before the dress rehearsal Designer Simon Higlett added the finishing touches. The hem of the purple dress was finished whilst Simon discussed the additional detail needed around the waistband to make the dress line up. Simon wanted the hanging white lace and bead from the top to be replicated and stitched to the waist.

The Overgown

Olivia's Costumes 4

The dress above is a complete toile of the overgown. For the toile the Costume Workshop team used a dark purple velvet left over from a previous production and cotton scraps, so that Kara could try on the dress and have it fitted to her. The team then used the toile as a pattern for the final piece. The team then finished this version and sent it to our Costume Hire Department, so it didn’t go to waste.

After the fitting with Kara, the overgown was created out of black velvet. The jacket was then sewn, and final decorations were added. The skirt is hung from a mannequin so the velvet can drop, if it was hemmed before the fabric falls into its final position the hemline would be uneven.


OC 5


The seams in the skirt are very long and attaching velvet to itself is tricky as the texture allows a lot of slippage in one direction but friction in the other. To get the seam right, the costume team had to hand stitch the edges together and pin it before sewing together on the machine. They also used a walking foot on the sewing machine to keep the two pieces together as it grips on each side. Once the skirt dropped into its final position, the petticoat and jacket were added.

What’s worth noting is some of the equipment used in the Costume Workshop. After seeing the black dress on stage, Simon decided it needed to sparkle. To attach crystals to the lace detail, the costume team used a panini sandwich press to heat the glue, and then tweezers to transfer the crystals to the dress. There is a specialist device to heat individual crystals which the millinery team use but with the quantity needed the panini press works better.

Our 2017 production of Twelfth Night premiers on Marquee TV on Saturday 11 April with the watch-along starting at 7.15pm. Marquee TV are offering a 30 day free trial of their service, visit to sign up.

You can join the ‘watch along’ by posting comments live on Twitter during the performance. To get involved, follow the RSC - @theRSC - and use the hashtag #AlmostLiveFromTheRSC. 

*Please note that you will be asked to enter your billing details, but you won't be charged until a month has lapsed (at which point you'll be notified that your trial is coming to an end). This free trial expires at 11.59pm on Monday 13 April. 

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