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Historical Clothing Guides for Theater Costumes

By: FUN Monster

Costume designers often are called upon to create clothing for a variety of shows set in many different time periods. Each time period has its own unique set of details that must be properly interpreted for a successful costume, and it's important that the look be correct not only for the time period but for the age, gender, and socioeconomic class of the character wearing it. With a bit of research, however, it's possible to re-create the fashions of just about any place and time.

Ancient History

  • Ancient Greek Dress: The Metropolitan Museum of Art provides pictures and descriptions of ancient Greek clothing and delves into details like the differences between a tunic and a peplos on this page.
  • Fashion in Ancient Greece: This educational article discusses the daily wear of people in ancient Greece. Descriptions of women's cosmetics, attire, and accessories are also provided.
  • Egyptian Civilization Daily Life: Clothing and Adornment: The clothing, cosmetics, and grooming of ancient Egyptians through various time periods are illustrated here. Especially helpful are the details about what ancient Egyptians of various classes wore.
  • Ancient Costume and Modern Fashion: A scholarly examination of fashion in ancient Crete, Greece, Rome, the Americas, Mesopotamia, and other civilizations provides context and details about clothing across the ancient world.



  • Renaissance Clothing and Sumptuary Laws: Sumptuary laws declared which classes of people were allowed to use which fabrics and trimmings in their clothing. This had a large impact on Renaissance fashion for every class, and this article can help costumers understand what characters would be able to wear what fabrics and types of clothing.
  • Beauty Adorns Virtue: Italian Renaissance Fashion: The dress, grooming, and cosmetics of Renaissance portraits are analyzed for clues about upper-class dress during the period.
  • Clothing in Elizabethan England: The enduring popularity of Shakespeare makes Elizabethan costuming an important skill for costumers. The elaborate details of clothing of the upper classes are discussed in helpful detail here.
  • Costuming for the Lower and Middle Classes: Elizabethan England 1570-80: This guide covers every detail of making Elizabethan costumes for the lower classes, including color schemes and footwear. Fabrics and construction methods to avoid are also detailed.
  • 18th-Century Fabrics: Understanding the fabrics used in different eras helps costumers understand how to construct period-correct costumes. This discussion of fabrics, colors, and patterns provide great insight into 18th-century fashion.
  • Looking at 18th-Century Clothing: Hamilton has catapulted the fashion of the founding fathers back into the mainstream and is driving productions of other musicals and plays about the period. This overview of American 18th-century clothing published by Colonial Williamsburg is particularly helpful, since it is illustrated with clothing from Williamsburg's archives along with contemporary portraits and gives details about fabrics and construction methods.


  • Regency Men's Clothing: Jane Austen dominates the Regency era, and characters like Mr. Darcy are an excellent representation of the simplified men's clothing popular in the era.
  • Fashion Sense or Sensible Fashion? Clothing in the 19th Century: The National Park Service has published this extensive guide covering the century in detail, including waist measurements of women in corsets and commonly used color palettes.
  • Women's Clothing: The University of Vermont compiled this study of women's silhouettes in the 19th century, using photographs from the era to illustrate the various silhouettes popular throughout the decades.
  • How to Dress as a Pioneer Woman: Westerns and Little House on the Prairie popularized the image of the frontier woman, whose dress was quite different from that of her urban sisters. This article details everything about her clothing, from her undergarments to her coats.
  • An Edwardian Lady and Her Fashion Wardrobe: Upper-class Edwardian women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries dressed in highly decorated, ornately detailed clothing. This illustrated guide of clothing types popular with upper-class women covers the wide variety of clothing each woman would own and wear over the course of a season.


  • Titanic Costume Designer on Wardrobe Details You Might've Missed From the Film: The pre-World-War-I fashion aesthetic was popularized by Titanic and re-energized by Downton Abbey. Here, the Titanic costume designer discusses some of the details of the period.
  • 1920s Fashion is Not What You Think it Is: The most common image of 1920s clothing is the flapper with her bobbed hair and drop-waist dress, but 1920s fashion is far more complex. This article helps show the variety of styles in costuming.
  • 1930s Clothing and Fashion: Fashions of the 1930s were heavily influenced by the Great Depression. However, the decade is also known for its highly feminine women's styles. Men's clothes, meanwhile, were highly masculine. Learn about how the cut of the clothing defined the look here.
  • Fabulous 1950s in Film Fashion: Film often captures the zeitgeist of fashion, and the 1950s were the perfect marriage of high fashion and fashionable films.
  • Mad Men's 40 Best Looks Ever: Mad Men was set in the 1960s, and the costume designers were given the opportunity to showcase a variety of looks from the decade. Beatniks, secretaries, debutantes, housewives, hippies, and children were all featured, and these images are a treasure trove of ideas for costumers.
  • Stranger Things: Costuming 1980s Nostalgia: Stranger Things and The Americans both capture the look of 1980s America, a task made more difficult by the fact that so many people watching the shows remember the decade. This article describes the difficulty of costuming an era far enough back to inspire nostalgia but close enough to be remembered.

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