What a character is wearing is the quiet language that speaks throughout the film, even when no line is given. Many things are said through a garment, the color, texture, fabric weight, style and condition.

There are messages that we say about ourselves everyday when we dress. Some of us take more care then others in what we wear, whatever care does or does not go into what we wear, we are communicating some message.

When needing to cut corners on production costs for wardrobe, it is important to not neglect the significance of this tool of expression. One thing to consider is the character and how he or she lives and what tone you want to express through the garment.

Once that is established and the look is defined, decide what is most important to the style and feel you want to achieve for the character. Having a clear idea of the message you want to convey through the clothes will allow more flexibility when selecting what exactly makes that statement.

Thrift Stores

When working within limits there are a few things I have done to stretch wardrobe funds. Thrift stores can be a great place to find a basic men button downs, or a simple black skirt- those key elements that build a look and are quite cheap. These basics can be cut or added on to create a new look.

For John Gray’s character, in the short film John Gray I had a picture of a man in a tail coat as inspiration.  I found a regular black suit coat at a thrift store and simply cut the front sides short and allowed the back to stay long. I added some cuffs with scrap fabric and the look was accomplished. Because the film was steampunk genre I used metal washers for buttons on the coat cuffs. This was a last-minute decision but worked great. I did not have to rent a tux or spend all day looking for tail coat.

While creating a wardrobe for Rem, a young gypsy sort of trickster, I found a plastic alien in the toy section of the thrift store. By taking it apart, I discovered excellent shoulder pads and weird snake-like elements to make a necklace and charms for her hat. By keeping a broad feel for her look, I was open to see something useful for her wardrobe that may have been overlooked by sticking to exact sketches.


Do you know this character in real life? Finding someone who is the same size and lifestyle as the one you are dressing for the film and who is willing to have their clothes featured in a film will considerably cut costs. Be sure to make a written agreement with this individual in the case that an item is lost or damaged in the making of a film.

Cutting Corners

Be aware of what scenes in which the garment will be worn. Does it get torn?, soiled?, slimed? or rained on? etc… and how many matching clothing items will you need? Rarely will a film actually be scheduled around wardrobe, but if funding does not permit the purchase of 8 matching suit coats, finding solutions to this will be key. Depending on how close the shot is, you may be able to use a slightly different coat of the same color and make without it being noticed.

Local Theater Houses

The local theatre houses often have a great selection of costumes and wardrobe. Establish a relationship with their wardrobe person and be sure to mention them in the credits. Remember to sign an agreement and have a plan in the case or damaged or stolen goods.

Costume Shops

Renting from a costume shop is another option, again remember that the replacing a rented or borrowed garment can end up costing in the end, so be sure the use of the garment in a scene is clearly not one that will compromise the item and put you in a greater financial bind if you need to replace it.

What are your costume tips and tricks? Have any wardrobe malfunction stories?

Sarah Hascher


Sarah Hascher is a native yankee, but wears her southern charm like a necklace. She designs, creates and moves like the waves.

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