Buildings That Teach: The Costume Shop

Buildings That Teach is an ongoing series that looks at the buildings on campus and explores how the space around us plays a role in the teaching and learning process at Williams.

Space is highly valued in costume shops, which have a reputation for being small, dark, and unaccommodating. But at Williams’ costume shop, an abundance of space is available. The shop’s central location facilitates movement throughout the building’s performance and rehearsal spaces, dressing rooms, and storage facilities, encouraging communication and collaboration among Williams’ performing arts departments. Its sophisticated equipment aids designers in producing beautiful costumes and also allows students to learn the craft of costume design.

The Costume ShopHoused in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, the costume shop is the site of nearly 400 costume alterations and creations each year, so space is a key factor in ensuring all that work gets finished. Costume shop supervisor Barbara Bell and her assistant Samantha Patterson, are incredibly enthusiastic about the shop’s facilities. Bell notes the importance of having “the space [to produce] the standard and quality of costumes we want to produce” and visiting costume designer Anna-Alisa Belous agrees that the shop provides a good space to work through all stages of costume creation and alteration. Bell and Patterson also work with between eight and ten students during most semesters, and another eight to ten students help out during peak performance seasons.

The costume shop’s central location, “allows everyone to find us,” says Bell, adding that people come and go throughout the day for meetings and costume fittings.  Her team values interaction with students, faculty, and the public, and the space’s location and open layout are especially conducive to such communication.  The costume shop also has several specialty rooms, which include laundry rooms, fitting rooms, and a dying room.  And the entire space’s single-level plan allows the entire shop to easily accommodate movement between storage facilities and specialty rooms without stairs or elevators.

Bell and Paterson also grateful for their equipment, particularly the JUKI industrial straight stitch sewing machines, which they say are a “godsend for dance costumes.” Students are also able and encouraged to take advantage of the sophisticated equipment. Patterson says the opportunity for students interested in sewing, costumes, or fashion “to learn on a machine like this” is a valuable experience.

Often working 14-hour days during performance seasons, the “positive working space” of the costume shop “means that we can stay that long,” says Bell.  She and Patterson clearly they love what they do – and the space where they do it.